In the centre of this photograph is a sign that says LADIES. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the way to the toilets. But you’d be wrong. The sign marks the entrance to the Ladies Room. Oyster bars, otherwise known as Oyster Saloons, Oyster ‘Parlors’, and Oyster Palaces, thrived when oysters were cheap and plentiful. Many saloons were beside hotels or in hotel buildings, although they were not licensed. The Greek migrants who dominated this industry were faced with a choice when pollution and disease decimated oyster beds during the early 1900s: shut up shop and go back to Greece, or reinvent the oyster saloon.
The Ladies Room
The Ladies Room was a crucial part of this makeover. Only ladies and those accompanied by ladies could use the Ladies Room. Proprietors expanded the menu and began employing local girls. And the word cafe rather than saloon came into use. The blokey, pub-like atmosphere of the saloon gave way to that of a family venue. By the 1920s, the shop pictured, which was on Elderslie Street in Winton, was an ‘American Bar’. This meant that brothers George and James Andronicus had installed a soda fountain and were serving the latest American drinks. Refreshing in the outback heat.
The Greek cafe was also where we bought our confectionery. At the Golden Gate Cafe and American Bar, chocolate tins had their own showcase, while glass jars filled with lollies lined counters and shelves on the wall. Humbugs, liquorice allsorts, caramels, lollies of every shape and colour glistening in the afternoon sunlight.
My thanks to Katie Andronicus for sharing this photograph of her father and her uncle.