May 24 - 30, 2020: Issue 451
Alcohol In Restaurants Before 1955
By George Repin
People in restaurants and coffee lounges enjoying a glass of wine with their meal today probably have no idea of the limitations which applied, until the 1950’s, to the service of alcoholic beverages.
Restaurants with liquor permits were severely restricted. They could serve only “light wines” and “malted liquors” which could be “served only in a sealed bottle at the table at which the purchaser is seated and … opened in his presence”. The civilised practice, long established in Europe, of being able to have a single glass of wine with a meal was totally prohibited. No other alcoholic drinks, such as spirits, fortified wines or cocktails were permissible. Restrictions also applied to the design of restaurants with liquor permits. For example, they had to have at least 50 seats, which had to be individual chairs not loge or bench type seating – presumably for fear of what people might get up to if “inflamed” by alcohol.
A “meal” was strictly defined in the liquor laws as being “…of at least two courses at which the persons partaking thereof are seated at a table, and one course of such meal shall consist of fish or meats, other than in sandwich form, and cooked vegetables.” Salads did not comply and bad luck for the vegetarian.
In the evenings, unless it was convenient to eat between 6 pm and 9.30 pm service of a drink was unlawful.
Needless to say such restrictions severely impacted upon the popular night clubs such as the “glitzy” Celebrity Club (run by Joe Taylor) in the city, the atmospheric Carl Thomas’ in a former wool store in Macquarie Street with a fine outlook over Sydney Cove and The Roosevelt (run by Sammy Lee) at Kings Cross.
Various devices were adopted to circumvent the law. Some night clubs and larger restaurants invited patrons to place orders for their liquor requirements no later than 5.30pm on the day of their proposed visit. The establishment then purported to buy the patrons’ requirements before the hotels closed at 6pm and make them available to them when they ate. It some cases the liquor, in fact, was provided from supplies held by the establishment and sold illegally at highly inflated prices. Other restaurants with an established, regular clientele invited patrons to place orders with them, in writing, for their future requirements which would be held in individual lockers accessible when the patron visited. In some cases the number and volume of such “lockers” was greater than the area of the restaurant in which they were purported to be held. The extent of the illegal supply of liquor in restaurants - “sly grog” – was disclosed in evidence during the Royal Commission of 1953-1954.
Conditions for drinking in hotel bars were characterised by the expression “the 6 o’clock swill”. Even in up market hotels such as Ushers and The Carlton in Castlereagh Street the bars were packed before 6 pm when the hotel doors were closed in accordance with the law and service stopped. Men jostled to buy and line up on the bar glasses of beer before 6 o’clock to drink in the twenty minutes before the call “Time gents please” emptied the bars at 6.20pm – again according to the law.
Major changes flowed from the Royal Commission into the Liquor Industry.
In 1951, because of great abuses in the liquor trade and extensive corruption in the policing of the liquor laws, a Royal Commission was established by the N.S.W State Government. It was conducted by Mr Justice Allan Victor Maxwell. After 140 days of public hearings, the examination of 411 witnesses and the receipt of 109 pieces of written evidence the Commissioner’s report was released in February, 1954, with significant findings and recommendations.
Inter alia, the Commission concluded that “there can be no doubt upon the evidence that in the metropolitan area conditions associated with six o’clock closing are deplorable; apart from any other consideration, a refusal to attempt some reform involved in my opinion, the conscious perpetuation of a clearly established evil; in addition the present closing hour encourages sly grog and after-hour trading at ‘Black Market’ rates.”
While the Report mainly addressed issues not related to restaurants, subsequent action to amend the Liquor Act gave the Caterers’ and Restaurant Keepers’ Association the opportunity to press for the changes it had long been advocating. Amendments drafted by the Association, dealing with the service of alcohol in restaurants, night clubs and catering establishments, were submitted to the Minister of Justice by a delegation in June, 1954. They covered matters such as trading hours, type of food served, service of aperitifs, spirits and wines by the glass, and the provision of bars in restaurants where customers could have a drink before sitting down for their meal.
The Liquor (Amendment) Bill introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 1 December, 1954 was a historic sensible step towards allowing the people of N.S.W to enjoy drinks, served in a civilised way, with meals in restaurants.
Further changes were to come in later years but the first big move away from the bad old days had begun.
Image Description: The Bar, a painting by John Brack in 1954. Shows the phenomenon of the six o'clock swill.
Previous Reflections by George Repin
The Nineteen Thirties Remembering Rowe Street The Sydney Push Saturday Night at the Movies Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram A Stop On The Road To Canberra City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s Hill End The Paragon at Katoomba Seafood In Sydney How Far From Sydney? Cockatoo Island Over The Years The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991 Busby's Bore The Trocadero In Sydney Cahill's restaurants Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection Gloucester and the Barrington Tops A Millenium Apart Have You Stopped to Look? Gulgong Il Porcellino Olympia Durham Hall Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia Hotels at Bondi Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone The Goroka Show - 1958 A Gem On The Quay Staffa The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls The Coal Mine At Balmain The Hyde Park Barracks The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant Waldheim Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955 King Island Kelp The Mercury Theatre Around Angkor - 1963 Angkor Wat 1963 Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli Chairman Mao's Personal Physician The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross The Oceaographic Museum in Monaco The Island of Elba Russian Fairy Tale Plates Meteora Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska Cloisonné Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories Not A Chagall! Did You Listen? Did You Ask? Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand Borobudur Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells Murano University of Padua Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi Pula The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park Aphrodisias The Divine Comedy Caodaism Sapa and local Hill People A Few Children Cappadocia Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997 Hotere Garden Oputae Children of the Trobriand Islands Page Park Market - Rabaul Rabual Kotor, Montenegro Galleries of Photographs I Lascaux Galleries of Photographs II The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia Ivan Meštrović - Sculptor Delphi Gallery of Photographs III The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point San Simeon - "Hearst Castle" Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982 Russian New Year Mycenae "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska The White Pass and Yukon Route Totem Poles Tivkin Cemetery Krka National Park - Croatia Tavistock Square and the BMA Orthodox Easter Wieliczka Salt Mine A Walk on Santorini Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958 A Miscellany of Flower Images Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist Kraków Lilianfels Collonges-La-Rouge Gingerbread Houses Cape Sounion Delos Wroclaw Colonial Williamsburg Gruyères Strasbourg Coventry Cathedral The Roman Theatre at Aspendos Turkish Carpets The Duomo of Orvieto Rovinj The City Walls of Dubrovnik Monaco - Snapshots Bonifacio, Corsica Autumn in New England USA The Great Ocean Road Pompeii Didyma Lawrence Hargrave 1850-1915 The Corinth Canal Malta Snapshots of Amsterdam Café Central - Vienna The Forbidden City - Beijing, China A Ride on the Jungfrau Railway - 1954 Snapshots in the Highlands of Scotland 1954 Must See Sights in Paris - 1954 Corfu Reflections On the Nineteen Thirties The Gold Souk in Dubai Stromboli Ha Long Bay - Vietnam Lake Argyle The Bungle Bungle Range Langgi Inlet, W.A. White Cliffs, NSW - 1990 Sturt National Park - May, 1990 A Few Statues and Water Spouts The Dodecanese Archipelago Rhodes Lindos The Church on Spilled Blood - 2005 Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad Repin's In "Ladies In Black" Signs of the Times at Sydney Museum: Repin Inns
Copyright George Repin 2019. All Rights Reserved.