A Short History Of Australia’s Milk Bars

Greek milk bars and cafés that began operating in almost every Australian city and town during the 1930s are responsible for a significant portion of cultures. They quickly changed the culinary culture by satisfying a burgeoning need for Hollywood glitz, flavour-infused milkshakes, ice cream, and attractively packaged chocolates. They were modelled after American drugstore soda bars.


Australia’s first bar is said to have been the Black and White Milk Bar, which Mick Adams—Joachim Tavlarides—founded in Martin Place, Sydney, in 1932. It had a sleek bar with soda machine pumps and shiny milkshake machines. With 5000 guests filling the bar on the first day, business was brisk. After a short while, weekly attendance had increased to 27,000.

Sam Nomarhis, who ran the café at the Capitol Theatre in Wagga Wagga in the middle of the 1930s, was seen on the left, second from the left. Other Greek business people with little English skills but plenty of drive quickly followed suit. It offered a delectable selection of homemade candies and chocolates that were just as unusual as the foreign movies the theatre showed.

In addition to the cuisine, the cafés and milk bar significantly incorporated American customs into their architecture, furnishings, and stylish uniforms. Many Greek migrants who had tried their luck on the Californian goldfields on the way to Australia were commemorated by the Astoria, Paragon, Niagara, Golden Gate, and Monterey.


There were allegedly 4000 milk bars owned and operated by Greek families by 1937. They maintained their family traditions and ways of doing things in the culinary industry inside a shared workplace, which offered them a social and economic footing in their new country.

While cafés and milk bars contributed to the emergence of contemporary diversity, actual social acceptability in many conservative groups took a long time to achieve. Numerous Greek restaurant owners Anglicized their names, hired Australian workers, and only served Greek food during private family parties.

They marketed elements of the American ideal, according to historian Leonard Janiszewski of Macquarie University, who has spent more than 25 years studying and chronicling their history alongside photographer Effy Alexakis. It was a dream package, and these cafes and milk bars quickly rose to prominence as the social hubs of the community where people gathered to talk, have meetings, and even hold wedding festivities. It was first-come, first-served.

But even the inclusion of Australian and British cuisine and jukeboxes pumping out American rock’n’roll couldn’t prolong the Greek cafés’ heyday.

Leonard said that many had already closed by the 1970s. But one may thank these Greek immigrants whenever you sip Coke, indulge in a decadent chocolate delight, visit the movies, or eat ice cream. They played a crucial role in the formation of Australia’s culture of communal dining.