It looks like any other drab line of shops on a dreary corner in Dullsville.
So what’s the reason for our focus on this windswept Belmore street corner on such an unseasonably brisk evening?
I thought you’d never ask.
The Corner Grill Cafe has failed. The grill is dormant, the shakes are neither shaken nor stirred, and the chips remain a mere gleam in a spud’s eye. Don’t believe the signs; they’re open zero days, and there’s no home to deliver.
This location has long served up junk food to the masses – just look at the ghost sign on the building’s south:
And in that earlier time, the corner shop backed onto some kind of mechanic. It’s now an IT consultant, but the evidence is there:
Despite that, it’s nothing special. Just another small business caught in the thresher of the conglomerates that absorb everything we rely on. The blood has dried, and the scene of the crime is now available on a twelve month lease.
What caught my eye, however, was this.
This is what elevates the Corner Grill Cafe – and indeed, the whole block of shops – to being worthy of a handful of words on the internet. Someone cared.
Whoever it was that founded the Corner Grill, that did their research, signed the lease, had the signs made, ordered the milkshake powder and on whose orders thousands of coffee beans were ground to death, that person believed in their idea, as wholly unoriginal as it was, and they gave a gift to an audience they thought they knew.
They believed that this corner of Belmore needed the Corner Grill Cafe, and only in the way they could provide it. They believed that it would fly, that the air would benefit from the smell of juicy, flame-grilled burgers instead of cigarette smoke and desperate living.
They believed that the arcade games that used to make the adjacent corner shop (and countless others like it) sing still had a place, however abstract, on Yangoora Street. They believed that the community had a place for their dream, and they commissioned this artwork to prove it.
That they were wrong doesn’t matter. They left their mark, and these days, that’s enough.
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.
A burger…master. Mayor McCheese, I presume?
As we’ve discussed many times before, milk bars are dinosaurs: fondly remembered, but when they turn up in the wild they’re completely fossilised. Is Canterbury Road, Canterbury’s Burgermaster any different?
No. A look inside shows the sad, decrepit remains of what was once a kitchen where dreams were made and hunger was satisfied. And it’s actively rotting. Take a look at the same view just five years ago.
But what’s most interesting about this place, particularly from a visual standpoint, are the cigarette ads plastered all over the shopfront. They built these things to last:
As a product, Borkum Riff first appeared in the 60s, and judging by the depiction of the guy here, so did this ad.
In 1992, the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act came into effect in Australia, by which point cigarette advertising on TV, radio and local print media had already been banned. By 1995, familiar phrases like “Fresh is Alpine”, “You’re laughing!” and the ubiquitous “…anyhow, have a Winfield” had been completely erased from the cultural landscape, and nobody ever smoked again.
Perhaps aware that the end was nigh, these tobacco companies invested in some heavy duty glue for their final bombardment.
In the case of Port Royal, a heavy duty moustache was also necessary to seal the deal. Doubtless this heroic mo has inspired thousands to roll their own in the years since.
…anyhow, the thought of the combined taste of burgers, milkshakes and Winnie greens is absolutely doing it for me, and since we won’t be getting any here, it’s time to head off. There’s gotta be something open along here somewhere…
How common a sight is this? Even if we’re not living in the golden age of the take-away shop (and we really aren’t), you still can’t seem to swing a dead focaccia in Sydney’s suburbs without hitting one of these, or an ex-one of these.
For those readers too young (pfft, yeah right) to remember, let me take you back for a moment. In my day, you could go to these places called milk bars or take-aways, which were usually plastered in Coca-Cola advertising. Not Pepsi…never Pepsi.
They’d make hot food and keep it in these giant contraptions called bain maries, which made it impossible to tell how long it’d been there. Crucially, they were also trojan horses into the then-fledgeling world of ethnic food: Australians not open minded enough to actually go to a Greek restaurant might still have a souvlaki at their local take-away. Ingenious, really.
This particular take-away seems to have spent most of its early years as a residential property before taking the plunge into the deep-fry. The kind of fatty junk sold here probably filled the stomachs of the blue-collar workers who once populated the area, or the staff and patients of Callan Park Mental Hospital which is just across the road, but as times and tastes changed it was out with the milkshakes and schnitzels (mmm, together at last), and in with the coffee and rolls.
But let’s go back even earlier, shall we, to a time before deep fried food clogged Australia’s arteries…
You’d better believe Mrs. Cutting wasn’t serving up dim sims and Chiko rolls to her 50 guests. I wonder if Dubbo’s local papers still herald the homecoming of any travelling Dubbogan (Dubsider? Dubbocastrian?)
The celebrations didn’t last long, because by 1943 the Cuttings had cut loose, and the jocks were in.
As you can see, Mr. John Smith (dynamic name, no wonder he became Jock) lived right here in the mid-1940s while working as a labourer. SEE? I WASN’T MAKING ALL THAT UP ABOUT IT BEING BLUE COLLAR!
Ahem. But once Jock’s labours were over, business became a little…mixed. A dynasty that would last over six decades began here for a measly 1500 pounds. I wonder if the take-away was making 140 pounds a week?
As recently as last year, the newly minted Rozelle Coffee Lounge was still feeding the locals, but in a much harsher, more competitive environment. Go to Rozelle today and there are gourmet cafes on every corner, so the more meat-and-potatoes establishments face an uphill battle, and that’s probably why the Coffee Lounge isn’t around today.
As the suburb has become gentrified and all the blue collars have turned to ironic skivvies, there’s no longer any call for a place like this. The Coffee Lounge knew it, as it’s currently under construction, presumably transforming into something more suitable to today’s clientele.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll always find those Coca-Cola takeaways suitable. There’s something really…comforting about them. If you drive into a country town and things are looking unfamiliar and unsettling in a Deliverance kind of way, a place like this is all you need to soften the sound of the banjos.
JOHN: What do you think, darling?
ETHEL: I think I’d like to know a bit about the history of the place before we commit to anything. It looks quite old…
REAL ESTATE AGENT: That’s because it is, Mrs. Kelly. As you can see, it’s currently a lending library and a dry cleaner, but our records go back to 1895. At that time, this was the residence of a Mr. S. Spittle, furniture salesman. Spittle was a man known for his generosity, and he was likely here at home in bed on the night back in June of that year when he graciously allowed Mr. and Mrs. McKinelly use of Enterprise Hall, above his furniture warehouse, for a party.
Look, here’s the clipping from what must have been a very slow news day:
REAL ESTATE AGENT: Just three years later, Mr. Spittle had moved to another part of Newtown, making way for a Mr. J. Preston and his family. Under Preston, this shop became a newsagent…
REAL ESTATE AGENT: …which likely sold the very paper that, in 1901, contained the details of his granddaughter Rose Anna’s funeral train, which was headed straight for the Necropolis. Very sad. It’s believed she died in this house.
The records become a little hazy for a time after that.
By the 1920s, though, they’d gone from selling newsprint to, well, printing in their own style. If you wanted to have your photo taken in your best power outfit and then have your imperfections aerographed out, Dallimore’s was the place to go:
REAL ESTATE AGENT: Somehow, I don’t think rough-and-tumble Newtown was quite accepting of such an arty venture. Maybe one day…
Sure enough, the Kellys bought the shop, and only two years after that, Mrs. Kelly bought the farm…
…after which time John Kelly, formerly a milk bar proprietor, retired to Rockdale, and that’s where we lose the trail. It’s not until the mid 1980s that the chain of tenancy gets hot again, and what hotter place for it to do so than the Dew Drop Inn…
Hairdressers in Newtown are a dime a dozen, especially with slick, one-word names like Glitterbox. But if we look upwards, we see that this was once a very un-slick, many-worded Asian restaurant: the Dew Drop Inn.
It’s a name that’s usually reserved for seedy joints in 30s gangster movies. In fact the last place I’d ever expect to be associated with that name would be an Asian restaurant, especially – as the sign boasts – a gourmet one.
Unfortunately for this article’s integrity, the Dew Drop Inn seems to have dew dropped off the face of the planet, with nary a mention on the internet. All we can go on are the facts: one: it’s pre-1994 because it’s a seven digit phone number and two: it’s an Asian restaurant in Newtown without either an Asian name or a terrible pun.
And yet, for all this emptiness and lack of information, I’m intrigued. I need to know more. Did yew ever drop inn? Fess up in the comments.
Let’s dig deeper. According to this fascinating snapshot of an article from 1994, our location then became the State of Grace cafe.
Sheena Dunn, just back from New Orleans to open the State of Grace cafe, believes in the funky eclectism of the southern end. “It’s a strong neighbourhood, especially of artists and musicians,” she says. “This part of town really feels like what’s happening.” The cafe, open just one week, serves a silky Thai pumpkin soup, Spanish tortilla and home-made lemonade and coffee to the sound of S. E. Rogie and Miles Davis.
Gee, it’s truly a shame that we’ll never again be able to enjoy the eclectic funk of a Newtown cafe that serves tortillas and plays jazz music. Of note is that the article mentions the State of Grace had only been open a week; the article later provides the cafe’s phone number, which is without a 9. From this, we could assume that the shop’s preceding tenant was…the Dew Drop Inn.
But there’s one thing that’s bothering me. Given the suburb’s penchant for all things vintage and retro, could it be possible that someone just bought that sign and mounted it there as an artistic statement? Are we being tricked? Only in Newtown…