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.