Remember the milk bar?

  • A black and white photo of a man with his arm around an older woman standing behind the counter at the Fitzroy Milk bar


    Fitzroy milk Bar

    Tamworth, NSW, 2006. Photo by Effy Alexakis

  • A black and white photo of 2 men sitting back to back in milk bar booths


    Peter (Beneto) and Jack (Ioannis) Veneris

    Blue Bird Cafe, Lockhart, NSW, 2002. Photo by Effy Alexakis

  • A black and white photo of the interior of the Astoria Cafe


    Astoria Cafe interior

    Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW, late 1940s. Photo courtesy P. Marendy

There’s a great exhibition touring nationally which explores the origins of the humble milk bar and it offers much more than a trip down memory lane.

It offers a chance to peer through the bottom of an iced chocolate glass to see how the American Dream was brought to our shores through the first Greek run milk bars. Greek immigrants had cut their teeth decades earlier on the east coast of America as they came to terms with the modern society they found there.

The first milk bar opened in Australia in Martin Place in 1932 but, despite 5000 people turning up, it wasn't until the 1940s that the heyday of Australian milk bars began in earnest, with the first wave of Greek immigrants coming to Australia. They refined the art of dining, provided easy access to restaurants and successfully melded local cuisines with the latest trends; soda fountains and the first fast food.

Selling an American Dream: Australia's Greek Cafe documents this rise of recreational dining and changes in styles of food consumption, the influence of art deco and early modernist curvilinear architecture, as well as many poignant stories of Australia’s early immigrants as they came to terms with how to survive in their new homeland.

At the Café Delux you can still find hand-cut chips, homemade syrups and ice creams, all of which are served to you over the original soda parlour countertop!

If it inspires you to see the real thing, there are several original milk bars still in operation around the state; there’s the Paragon in Katoomba, the Olympia in Stanmore and recently M&G visited the seriously retro Bells Milk Bar in Broken Hill. But the one we can't wait to visit is the Café Delux in Brewarrina! This Pippos family establishment is one of many of milk bars owned and operated by the family throughout north western NSW and Queensland. At the Café Delux you can still find hand-cut chips, homemade syrups and ice creams, all of which is served to you over the original soda parlour countertop! 

ABC Radio National recently interviewed the curators Joanne Bach and Leonard Janiszewski on Bush Telegraph. Visit the site and download the whole interview to hear some of the wonderful historical facts: did you know that a milkshake was originally sold through pharmacies as a health drink? Containing fresh milk, eggs, fruit, chocolate and sometimes a splash of alcohol, the milkshake was shaken and taken as a ‘pick me up’ drink. Remarkable how things change!

This is a wonderful exhibition developed by the Macquarie University Art Gallery and toured by the National Museum of Australia. It has deservedly attracted attention wherever it travels – currently it’s at Hurstville Museum and Gallery and heading soon to Cowra Regional Art Gallery.


Museums & Galleries of NSW helps small-medium museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres create exciting experiences for visitors and, through this, thriving local NSW communities. We don't run museums, galleries and cultural centres but we care about those who do. We develop their skills, connect them with others in the industry, provide funding, point visitors their way, and give them access to ground-breaking exhibitions.

Museums & Galleries of NSW is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.

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