Dining in Melbourne in the late 1950s and 1960s
Melbourne dining in the late 1950s and 1960s
Melbourne was a city a-buzz in the lead up to the 1956 Olympic Games. Post Second World War European migrant families grabbed the opportunity to showcase their liquor and dishes, feeding and watering eager international visitors. European eateries started popping up all over the migrant areas of Melbourne. Melbourne’s culinary reputation was ready to thrive.
Then in 1960 a transformative restaurant licence was introduced and dining establishments boomed. This meant that hotels were not the only venues that could serve alcohol with food.
To set the scene, the entire population of Melbourne was less than half what it is today. Eastern, southern, northern Europeans and Britons were the city’s most recent migrants. Most families were living off one salary. The Melbourne CBD construction fever driven by mining opportunities, hadn’t yet dwarfed Melbourne’s city centre with high rise buildings. Smoking was socially acceptable and even encouraged indoors.
1960s Melbourne was the perfect storm for fine dining, restaurants, wine bars, cafes and hotels to flourish. Here are some of the celebrated establishments that hit the social pages. Most have since closed but a precious handful of these are still going strong today.
(main image: Coles Cafeteria 301 Bourke Street Melbourne | c.1953 | Lyle Fowler | Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria. )
Pellegrini’s Bar, 66 Bourke Street, Melbourne
(image credit: Debra McFadzean | State Library of Victoria)
OPENED: 1954 and still operating
You can choose to step back in time and experience Melbourne in the 50s and 60s today by heading to Pellegrinis Bar at the top end of Bourke Street. With its long narrow space, complete with mirrors at eye level, the endlessly lengthy bar, round red vinyl and chrome base stools and black and white chequer board flooring, not much has changed since current owners took over back in the early 1970s. Nostalgia lives here.
LOCATED: Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
In her obituary celebrated Founder, Gloria Staley, was described as a trailblazer. Gloria and her husband Blyth Staley bought Drossou’s, a Greek restaurant, with a vision to transform it into a stylish French dining destination. At the time of sale, Drossou’s had a rare Australian wine licence permitting them to serve wine, with or without a meal. This put Fanny’s ahead of the curve before the introduction of Victoria’s first restaurant licence.
Fanny’s Bistro evolved into a fine dining French style two storey restaurant that blushed with glamorous, lush floral arrangements and quiet opulence upstairs. Downstairs was described as a more casual but stylish wine bar.
TO FIND OUT MORE:
Gloria Staley’s Obituary: The Age > Trendsetter in finest dining experience
Little Reata, 68-70 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Image: ca. 1960 – 1969 | K. J Halla photographer | Gift from photographer to the State Library of Victoria
In a now historic building formerly housing Bayne’s shops and residences, Tom Lazar opened the Little Reata in 1962. Lazar came to Australia from Hungary, via Paris and was a man of many talents. Little Reata was not only a popular lunch spot for an affluent crowd it was also a folk music venue hosting bands such as The Seekers and Paul Marks. After opening Little Reata and Reata went on to establish successful vineyard, Virgin Hills. Little Reata’s was still operating as a late night Mexican haunt through the 1990s.
TO DISCOVER MORE:
Campari Bistro Cafe, 23-25 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
Image credit: c. 1967 | K. J Halla photographer | Gift of Mr. K. J. Halla, 1974 to State Library of Victoria
Terrazo laden Italian Cafe Campari is still thriving today in a multi-level version of its original single story building. There is not a lot of history to be found in State Library of Victoria, or National archives but we love that it is still thriving today.
TO DISCOVER MORE:
Cafe Florentino, 78-80 Bourke Street
Image credit: The Argus, Saturday 19 Nov 1955, Page 13 | trove.nla.gov.au
If you haven’t dined at Grossi Florentino and its choice of Florentino Upstairs, Cellar Bar and Grill, it is time you did. The impressive building at 78-80 Bourke Street has been continuously operating as a dining establishment since 1900. Testament to quality and passion transcending fashion, Grossi Florentino continues to be a sought after Italian culinary destination for Melbourne locals and tourists.
TO DISCOVER MORE:
Other notable 1960s established Melbourne eateries still operating today
There are so many impressive dining destinations throughout Melbourne that were popular in the 1960s and continue to operate today. Below is a list of a handful of these. Perhaps it’s time to plan a nostalgic year of dining?
- Toto’s Pizzeria, 101 Lygon Street, Carlton: established in 1961, you can still order an authentically Italian style pizza from Toto’s Pizza House today.
- Leo’s Spaghetti Bar, 55 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda: opened in 1956 to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics and is still serving up generous plates of pasta today. Leo’s is an iconic St Kilda dining experience.
- Cuckoo Restaurant,508 Mount Dandenong Road, Olinda: formerly The Quamby (built in 1914), The Cuckoo Restaurant kicked off in the 1960s and is a popular tourist dining destination today with all its quirkiness and energy.
- Vlado’s Steakhouse Grill, 61 Bridge Road, Richmond: Vlado’s opened its doors in 1964 and still operates as a family business today. The walls are dripping with history. Vlado’s reputation for nostalgia, quality and service continues to draw hungry crowds.
On researching Tom Lazar of Little Reata - http://www.winecompanion.com.au/wine-essentials/wine-education/wine-encyclopedia/encyclopedia-a-to-z/varietal-to-voyager-estate/virgin-hills
On researching Little Reata’s heritage listing - https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/c186-central-city-heritage-review-part-3.pdf
On researching Cafe Florentino - Victorian Heritage Register > Places > 702
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