Greek Cafés & Milk Bars of Australia


Effy Alexakis & Leonard Janiszewski

In an Australia we still remember, in each suburb and every country town, was the Greek café or milk bar—open all hours, 7 days a week. Remember the Niagara, the Parthenon, the California, the Astoria and Paragon? They gave us more than milkshakes, lollies, ice cream and home style meals. With Modernist designs, American gadgetry and coloured light, cafés brought atmosphere, a touch of glamour, at times a hint of Hollywood—a little break from the mundane reality of local life.
As the good old days faded away, Effy Alexakis & Leonard Janiszewski took their camera and tape recorder, camera and pen into this vanishing world. They captured the faces and stories, the style and the ethos that gave our popular culture one of its most memorable expressions.

270 x 220mm, soft cover with flaps, 256 pages
First printed 2016, a new edition is now available
Halstead Press, Sydney, 2022

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Greek Cafés & Milk Bars of Australia

This long-awaited and beautifully designed book presents Australia’s Greek cafés and milk bars as a global phenomenon in the modern era. Food-catering enterprises run by Greek migrant/settlers successfully married Hellenic and cross-cultural influences with local needs. Greek-run cafés and milk bars populated Australian country towns and cities, merging local fare with new American food-catering ideas.

Prior to the explosion of American fast-food franchises, Greek cafés contributed to a major change in Australian eating habits. While a traditional mixed grill remained a favourite, Greek cafés were known for their introduction of American sodas, ice-cream sundaes, milkshakes, hamburgers, milk chocolate and hard sugar candies, into communities right across Australia.

Alexakis’ stunning photographs capture the decor of the cafés, their customers and the owners who worked hard to make their businesses successful. In harmony with Janiszewski’s text and oral history interviews, the era of Australia’s Greek cafés and milk bars is vividly brought to life.

Research undertaken throughout Australia and internationally highlights these catering enterprises as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for the Americanisation of Australian popular culture – not only affecting public eating habits, commercial food-catering ideas and technology, but also cinema, music and architecture. Throughout most of the twentieth century, Australia’s Greek cafés and milk bars were powerhouses generating unprecedented social and cultural change.

This definitive national publication brings together over 30 years of research culled from travels within four continents, selected from over 1,800 interviews and innumerable contemporary and historical photographs. Hundreds of Australia’s Greek cafés and milk bars are referenced within the book’s 256 pages.

The publication is a companion to the highly-popular and critically applauded touring exhibition Selling an American Dream: Australia’s Greek Café.

What they say about the book and the café exhibition

“It’s a monumental book with incredible archival images researched and saved by Effy Alexakis and a fascinating historical narrative told by Leonard Janiszewski that re-interprets contemporary Australian culture without rose-coloured glasses.”

Greek City Times

“The authors have travelled around Australia and overseas to photograph so many Greek cafes and milk bars and interview their owners (or family members who grew up working in their family-owned stores). It’s surprising to find so many originally established in Australian country towns, following Australia’s train tracks as they reach out from coastal cities… One forgets how much the milk bar culture owed to the post WWII American influence, offering milk shakes and sundaes, Peters ice cream and coffee… Savvy owners stayed open late on Saturday nights, adjacent to movie theatres to catch the pre- and post- movie attendees seeking coffee or just a comfortable place to continue a Saturday night date with a new beau.”

Belinda CoombsSydney Mechanics’ School of Arts

‘I'm an Aboriginal from Moree, NSW, and my dad, now 60, tells of how as children
they were barred from, I guess you would call them cafes, milk bars, etc. However,
there was a Greek family who would let the Aboriginal kids in. I guess migrant
Australians understood the plight of Aboriginal Australians only too well.’

Lucas James Swan

‘Some of those pictures take me back to my childhood. My father owned a milk bar cafe in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, in Sydney. It was called The Cyprus Cafe. I grew up there with my five brothers and sisters. We all lived upstairs. I remember T-bone steak was 25c.’

Michael Christopher

‘In Narrabri we had the White Rose Café and the Crystal Palace – and another one which I cannot recall the name of – all did very well. Especially when the farmers came to town on Fridays – they gathered for dinner and a good yarn. The picture theatre was nearby and at half-time they [the cafés] would be ten deep to get to the counters – wonderful memories!’

Robin Alexander