It seemed like a match made in heaven: a Mickey D’s right outside upper George Street’s Metropolitan Hotel. A greasy fast food basin would have been – and for many years, was – the perfect catchment area for empty stomachs hoping to dilute the copious amounts of alcohol they were about to ingest over the course of an evening out.
So what went wrong?
As a name, the Metropolitan has stood on this spot since 1879. Before that, this part of old Sydney town wasn’t so metropolitan. Prior to 1834 this was a lumber yard: thirsty work, so that year it was released from its status as Crown land for development as a hotel, originally the Castle Tavern, and later as the preposterously named La Villa de Bordeaux.
Publican P. Wilson’s continental experiment didn’t bring the boys to the yard, and by 1867 the building, which included a dispensary, a tailors and a drapers shop, was empty. 1879’s drinkers were more amenable to the idea of a pub on this corner, and thus the Metropolitan was born.
Once the shawl of sophisticated metropolitana fell over the site in the middle of the Victorian era, it wasn’t easily lifted. As with so many Sydney pubs, a brewery took ownership – in this case, Tooth & Co. The excess real estate attached to the building was employed, in 1910, to transform the Metro into a new breed of 20th century super pub. Thus Tooth’s dispensed with the dispensary and tailors, a bottle shop was added to the ground floor, and the neighbouring terrace, built at the site’s inception in 1834, was incorporated into the metropolis of George and Bridge.
In the last century the hotel has changed owners a few times. In the 1930s it was the Bateman’s Metropolitan. In the 60s, it was part of Claude Fay’s hotel portfolio. Today, it’s back to the plain old Metropolitan. This lack of ownership qualifier perhaps distills the idea of a ‘Metropolitan hotel’ to its purest essence – it belongs to no one, to everyone.
Or perhaps we should stick to talking about the ground floor.
McDonald’s and a night on the plonk used to be synonymous, but over the years there’s been a move by imbibers away from processed junk and kebabs, and toward a traditional pub feed. Pubs have seized on the move, providing eateries and “classic” menus in newly renovated wings of what were once snooker rooms or smoking lounges.
Even the trusty kebab has been elbowed out of contention by the schnitty. Where did my country go?
So in a rare move, this McDonald’s beat a hasty retreat to less discerning pastures. You don’t often see the Golden Arches admitting defeat, let alone leaving up scads of damning evidence of their tenancy here.
Poor form too, the Eye Piece, which has opted only to invest in the ubiquitous trend of the pop-up store rather than a real shopfront. As Sydney rent prices continue to accelerate towards Uncle Scrooge-levels of ridiculous money, shop owners have fought back by negotiating shorter terms. This means there’s no need for a total shopfront fit out, which in this case has laid bare the failure of Ronald and associates.
Funny choice of location for an optometrist though, isn’t it? Specs downstairs, beer goggles upstairs.
It seems like a match made in heaven.
If you’re planning on visiting Ashfield, wolfing down a Chinese meal and washing it down with an icy cold Coca-Cola, I’ve got some bad news for you: it won’t be a golden experience.
As you may remember, there was a time when things, particularly restaurants and take-away shops, went better with Coke.
John Pemberton’s miracle tonic was being poured wherever you’d see signs like this, usually with the tiny-lettered name of the venue pushed aside to make more room for that contoured logo – as if it needed any more exposure.
The thinking was that unless you advertised drinks were available, you’d alienate thirsty customers, or worse still, make them think you sold Pepsi.
I’m not sure how well Coke goes with the kind of unpretentious Chinese food Golden World would have sold. I do like the chutzpah of Golden World to name itself that, and then set up in the very un-golden world of Ashfield.
I also can’t help but feel for the person or persons living in that upstairs room back in the Golden years, with that bright red and white sign glowing outside their window all night. I hope you finally found peace, whoever you are.
Golden World’s deal with the sugar devil expired long ago, but odds are the brownest of the brown liquids is still sold at today’s Xinjiang Noodle House. They probably sell Coca-Cola, too.
And as for those panning for gold in Ashfield, get yourself up the street. Golden times await…
Cast your mind back to a time when you’d get the bus down to the beach, when the air was scented with coconut oil, Alpines, Chiko Rolls and the exhaust from the Monaro idling in the car park there while the driver chats up those bikini babes.
Back when the skies were blue, phones were hardwired to the wall, and petrol was leaded. Sound familiar? These are Brighton beach memoirs of a different kind, an experience shared by an entire generation, and one that’s just about relegated to the history blogs.
It sure doesn’t look familiar. While the bus stop seat is unmistakably 70s beach culture, the view from the Grand Parade down to Ramsgate Beach ain’t what it used to be. Sure, I’ve picked a particularly overcast day to exaggerate the point, but I wasn’t the one responsible for this:
Where once you would have run up the beach Baywatch-style, hotfooted across the scorching road, and basked in the relief of the shade before heading in for a Cornetto or a Bubble O’ Bill on a hot summer’s afternoon, today’s terrible world provides you with only painful memories.
A world so terrible that selling ice creams, icy cold cans of drink and burgers across from a beach is no longer viable. What happened?
Even if you were running up the beach with your filthy-ass dog, hotfooting between hostile traffic and basking in the relief of knowing you won’t have to vacuum sand and dog hair out of the car later, you’re outta luck.
I don’t actually know why you’d start up a business like this in a location like that. This kind of shop should be zoned strictly as milk bar. It should be official. You should be hauled off to prison for even attempting a farce like this.
Then again, since it’s for lease, we don’t know that isn’t how it went…
Haunting reminders of the good times remain. The Streets sign here proves that only the most desirable ice creams would have been on offer (face facts: nobody wanted Pauls).
Luckily, we can take small comfort in the fact that that uniquely Australian Streets logo is still smiling down on the beach.
Elsewhere, we can (barely) see that the Pet Salon’s bolt-on sign is covering the familiar Coca-Cola bookend ads commonly found on milk bar awnings. Imagine the disappointment the day the local beach crew showed up here for their hot chips and Cokes, only to find lice cream and fine-tooth combs up for grabs? No wonder they hung up the Billabong shorts and Piping Hot rash shirts (ha ha, just kidding. Nobody wore Piping Hot).
I’ve made the call before, but once again it’s relevant: if we, as a nation, were to tear down these signs and expose the past we crave so often, we could transform this country overnight. We’ve buried the time machine, and all we need to do is dig it up.
It’s thirsty work, I grant you. I’ll bring the icy cold Cokes, cuz we sure ain’t getting them here.
BACKWARDS UPDATE: Straight from the formidable Google Street View, it’s a shot of this milk bar from 2007! Strangely, the Streets sign was covered by a Cornetto ad. Big thanks to reader Billy Bob for the heads-up on this one.
Say it to yourself just one time: themed restaurants. Takes you back, doesn’t it? Right back to oh, say…the long, hot summer of 1993, when Australia’s first Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon opened at this very location in Parramatta. Here’s a terrible photo:
Dirty Dicks, Xerts, Hooters, Choys, Planet Hollywood… anachronisms all, and all either relegated to the central coast or the western suburbs, or simply wiped off the face of the earth. For some reason, the concept of the themed restaurant never quite took off in Australia the way it was hoped, and I suppose that’s one more thing separating us from Americans.
And speaking of…
Lone Star as a brand began in 1989, in North Carolina of all places. In its 26 year history, there’s never been a Lone Star outlet in Texas. I wonder how a Parramatta-themed restaurant would fare there? Texans, would you enjoy being screamed at by mental patients while trying to hold down a cold Whopper (RIP Hungry Jack’s)? Leave a comment below.
Apparently Parramartians (c’mon, pay it!) seemed like a more receptive audience for steak and ribs slathered in sugary sauces, and I dunno, vittles, or whatever else a Lone Star would provide.
Time for a confession: I never went there. And it seems I wasn’t the only one: in 2000, the already illusory relationship between Lone Star and Australian diners began to collapse entirely. In three years, 21 Lone Star outlets around the country were either closed or sold off, joining so many others in themed restaurant hell (where there are napkins, dress codes, and entrees instead of starters).
If you looked toward Parramatta in October 2011, you might have spotted a falling Star. It’s been sitting waiting for demolition ever since.
The side doors yawn open at passers-by, singing a siren song to urban explorers, graffiti artists and those in need of a quiet place to shoot up.
Around the back, metal struts sprout from the ground like steel weeds. Perhaps they were once for outdoor dining. Doubtless it still happens there.
Message to developers Dyldam (you don’t wanna know what that autocorrected to): when your derelict site has been broken into and abused this badly, you’re taking too long.
The Parramatta chapter of the Lone Star story may have ended, but the saga continues. Today, the brand sort of carries on under the name Lone Star Rib House. I…I don’t know how lone that star would really be. I’m no expert, but I think the steak and rib galaxies are pretty close.
Also, here’s a fun game to play: go to the Lone Star Rib House ‘About Us’ page and try to decipher the alien language used there. If you can work out what the hell they’re on about, you’ve done better than I.
By resisting the bulldozers for so long, Australia’s first Lone Star has become an anomaly in this part of Parra, a lone star if you will (clean out your desk – ed). Soon it’ll be just another block of units, but until then it’ll remain…remarkable.
DESTRUCTIVE UPDATE: Or will it? No sooner had this post gone up did the bulldozers awaken and make short work of the Lone Star. Look everyone, a falling star…
In East Hills, an unfinished unfinished thought drifts across the side of an otherwise unremarkable little building. If you wanted to nitpick (and if you don’t, why are you here), you could argue that today’s East Hills Take Away & Bakery doesn’t actually offer any videos, and the sort-of mural outside is nothing but elegantly inscribed false advertising.
You’d be right.
But ask yourself this: do you actually want a video? Because if you do, go across the road.
This shop, or Fred’s, as it’s known to the locals, is the video headquarters of East Hills. If you want 1988’s Black Eagle, 1989’s The Experts, or the double cassette Malcolm X from 1992, and you only want them for up to three nights, you come here.
I can’t help but ask. “So…does anyone actually still rent these videos?” I did it for you.
Fred doesn’t miss a beat.
“Mate, all the time! I had a few come in ‘ere this week even.” He gestures to the videos lining the walls. “They come in, they borrow them, and they bring ‘em back.”
But do they rewind them, Fred?
Fred is 79, and fresh out of hospital. I’d come by the week before and found a sign on the locked door: ‘Closed Tuesday, maybe Wednesday’. It was Thursday.
But now it’s Saturday, and here but for the grace of the video gods is Fred, ready to vend Mr. Bean Volume 1 to whoever hasn’t upgraded to DVD yet. Behind the counter is a menagerie of ancient video posters and promo items, and most startling of all, a dedicated rewinding machine. Be kind, eh?
“But they’re not as popular as the games,” Fred continues with a hint of pride. I think he might be referring to the arcade games in the room next door, standing like terracotta warriors amid piles of random junk, but no. He’s talking about the Sega games.
On the wall are dozens of games for Sega’s Master System console. For those of you unfamiliar, the Master System was released in 1987. Sega exited the home video game console business entirely in 2001. Fred could be the only one in the country still renting these games out, and he seems to know it. When I ask if the games are for sale, he snorts.
“Gotta be joking, mate.”
Uh, which one of us?
Inevitably, I ask about the shop across the road, hoping for a story of bitter rivalry between two video shops during the golden years of the format, something in the vein of Used Cars (available at Fred’s for $3 a night). Not for the first time in his life, Fred disappoints.
“That other shop used to be mine, I moved here about 25 years ago.”
Oh. So what had this been?
“It was a hardware shop, and next door was a newsagent. I got that not long after, and painted it up with me murals…”
He sure had. I’m not sure if decorating is the right word, but his tributes to the Sydney 2000 Olympics…stained the walls of the arcade next door. The piles of junk did their best to cover them, but the damage was done.
Why had he left the neat, compact comforts of the shop across the road?
“The video business just got too big,”
Stifling laughter, I nodded.
“What I don’t get,” he started. Oh, this ought to be good. “is why they left the sign up. Let me tell you, mate, I put the word out at the local school that I wanted a sign painted. A little girl offered to do it and I said righto, she done it, and after she goes, ‘I want three shillings,’.”
Hold on. Shillings? VHS became a viable home entertainment format in 1976, ten years after shillings got the heave-ho. Suddenly, Fred had become an unreliable narrator. Nothing could be trusted. Even my eyes could be deceiving me, I thought, as I eyed the can of creaming soda I’d bought. What had the expiry date been?
I left the shop, knowing there was nothing more to glean from old Fred. I probably couldn’t even get an article out of it. I squinted in the afternoon sun as my eyes adjusted from the dark of the shop, and that’s when I saw it. Just up there, on the pub side of Fred’s building. The remains of a painted sign.
It said ‘HARDWARE SHOP’.
Across the road, the undeniably handsome three shilling work of the little girl caught the sun. I’d been pondering the ellipses following the word. Had it been Fred’s direction, or the girl’s own flourish? Had she even known what a video was?
In the time of shillings, this word brought the promise of a high-tech future to the backwater East Hills, and Fred delivered it. And now, in that very future, he still does.