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.
The picture says it all: it’s pretty much a textbook example of a Used To Be A Pizza Hut. But it’s actually not that much of a stretch. Pizza Hut dine-ins were fully licensed back in the day (!), so all that Liquorland have done is do away with the doughy, yeasty stuff to make room for more booze.
In Port Macquarie, that’s actually kind of an affront. Back in 2003, the town set a national record for the most amount of pizzas eaten in a day. According to the Port Macquarie News (and really, who’d be better qualified to know), 4890 pizzas were consumed on Saturday, December 13, 2003. Whether the record still stands is unclear, but since those figures came from Domino’s, you can bet a similar record for most amount of toilets clogged in a day was set on December 14.
It’s not all bad news for Port Macquarians jonesing for a fix of crusts thick, thin or stuffed, however: they’re still makin’ it great at this downgraded Hut down the road. For those who knew the dine-in Pizza Hut experience biblically, the above picture is a sad sight, and for everyone else, it’s a shocking reminder that there’s a Video Ezy still in operation.
It’s obvious to anyone passing through that Newtown has very…exclusive tastes when it comes to restaurants. It may surprise you to learn that once upon a time, the famously trendy and bohemian suburb was home to its very own McDonald’s, which opened in 1983. Just 15 years later, Ronald and friends were run out of ‘town by the area’s changing demographic, which rebelled against the Golden Arches’ high-fat, low-cleanliness approach by voting with their livers…but that’s another story.
But some fast food vendors didn’t learn from Mickey D’s drubbing. Case in point: the hot pink, pizza-tossing also-rans Eagle Boys, who evidently thought that Newtown’s absence of junk food was a void waiting to be filled. If they’d just taken the time to walk about five seconds up the road to discover the ‘vegetarian butcher‘ they might have gotten the hint early. Instead, they stood their ground, took the risk, and last January, paid the price.
Now, in fairness, this location had a long history dispensing trashy food; it was for years a Pizza Haven, a pizza chain so innocuous that even the bloodthirsty firebombers of Newtown didn’t see it as a threat. It wasn’t until Eagle Boys bought out the chain in 2008 and added that obnoxious day-glo colouring to the otherwise handsome corner building that drastic action was home-delivered.
Despite a statement from Eagle Boys teasing the outlet’s return, no such move has yet been made. And while the Boys sit in their hot pink nest wondering what went so horribly wrong, it might now dawn on them just why the Colonel and Pizza Hut gave King Street and its residents such a wide berth. Fittingly, all that remains of Eagle Boys’ unwanted, doughy legacy is a kind of hot pink neon halo above the door.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep a good burger down. For those who haven’t followed the long, sad story of the Hartee’s hamburger franchise, here’s a quick recap.
With the advent of American fast food franchises in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, Kelloggs teamed with the US-based Hardees burger chain to start Hartee’s, the first Australian fast food restaurant (despite its very red white and blue beginnings).
It was a near-instant success. Whether it was down to underlying xenophobia towards overseas brand names, smart management or just plain delicious burgers, by 1973 Hartee’s was king of the fast food hill in Australia.
Complacency became the daily special from then on, with a series of extravagant HQ upgrades and new outlets sprouting like weeds all over Sydney. Despite this, the chain was beginning to haemorrhage cash at a pretty severe rate, and McDonald’s was aggressively making major headway into the Australian scene. Something had to give.
And give it did, here at the Bankstown Hartee’s in 1975, when a current affairs program, acting on a tip-off, exposed the outlet as having served dog food in burgers. Overnight, Hartee’s packed up and disappeared, leaving only husks behind, and that’s where the story seems to end.
Except thanks to reader Phil, there’s a final piece of the puzzle to be put in place. I’d previously written that only the four former Hartee’s above still existed in any form around Sydney… Well, we all make mistakes. Just ask Bankstown Hartee’s.
Behold, the Manly Vale Hartee’s still stands. It’s currently Gilmour’s Comfort Shoes, but it pretty obviously fits in with the Hartee design.
In fact, this may be the most well-preserved Hartee’s still in existence. The Gilmour’s sign appears to be stuck on over the red roof, so it’s possible the Hartee’s logo remains underneath.
The original lights are still in place, designed to illuminate the Hartee’s name. Also still in place, as per Phil’s advice…
The original outdoor seating area! Now it’s presumably the shoe shop manager’s car park (c’mon, look at the prestige offered by that strange piece of land). Inside are just shoes, but really, they’ve served worse and called it burgers.
It’s not really a happy ending, or an ending at all, but it is (I’m guessing) the final footnote on what by now must be the most definitive account of the Hartee’s affair out there. There are still many mysteries surrounding the story (truly, more questions are raised than answered), but maybe one day one of those faceless, guilt-ridden Hartee’s executives will come out of hiding and reveal more. Hell, I’d even settle for the guy who served the dog food. As ever, if you know more, please let Past/Lives know. And RIP Hartee’s – we hartlee knew ye.
In the meantime, let’s take a minute to remember those four powerful words that watered more mouths than Mount Franklin, that were a city’s guilty pleasure in a time before Big Macs and Whoppers…in a time when a nation could feed itself.
Let’s go back to the early 1990s, when someone had a bright idea: ‘How about a series of 50s-style Americana-filled burger restaurants…in Sydney!’ If that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. Hungry Jacks had been trying for years to evoke thatHappy Days flavour, but it just wasn’t washing with the Whopper-eating public. HJ has quietly phased out the Americana over the last ten years, but it’s not uncommon to walk in and find pictures of Elvis and Marilyn adorning the walls, a jukebox in the corner and fries so stale they could only be from 1958. The mastermind behind Route 66 had clearly decided that HJ wasn’t going far enough, and launched the above restaurant at Revesby around 1994. It wasn’t some Mickey Mouse venture, either – there were TV ads imploring hungry viewers to ‘get their kicks’. Within the impressively chromed exterior, girls in miniskirts served up grilled burgers, fries and shakes to patrons amid 50s tunes and checkered floors, while outside the owners hoped to recreate the burger joint atmosphere by providing plenty of parking and a drive-thru service. By all accounts the burgers weren’t bad, but one of the many mistakes the owners made was setting up shop across the road from an infinitely more accessible McDonald’s. Route 66 sits along Canterbury Road, with customers forced to enter and exit via the busy thoroughfare. The customers didn’t take long to work out that it was easier to get into the McDonald’s, and by 2000 the Route 66 dream was over. There were a few Route 66 locations beside this one, but I’m not sure whether they were all part of the same franchise or not. Prestons featured a notorious Route 66 for many years, where hoons really did congregate en masse, much to residents’ discontent.
After Route 66 bit the dust, the site played host to a variety of Lebanese restaurants, all forced to wear the chrome. Today, the chrome is as shiny as ever outside Hadla Ice Confectionery. All of the post-Route 66 ventures to inhabit the place tried and failed to disguise the 50s decor (Hadla’s come the closest), but if you didn’t remember what it was, you probably wouldn’t question it. The only real evidence that Route 66 was ever here is the drive-thru…
…which is now closed off, and has been cleverly converted into an outdoorish seating area for Hadla customers. It’s still chromed up to the max, and gives you a clear idea of what Route 66’s drive-thru customers must have endured in the restaurant’s tireless efforts to send you back to 1955 (maybe they should have had an 88mph speed limit for the drive-thru?). Seeing places like this always makes me wonder about the people who would have worked there – young girls and guys paying their way through uni or getting some extra cash to save up for a car while in high school. I wonder if they look back on their days at Route 66 fondly, or whether those few months or years have been wiped from the resume. I wonder what the owners are doing now, how they must have felt when the writing was on the wall, and if they ever drive past and think about the happy days. The quest to inspire nostalgia in others has become nostalgia in itself.
If you have any stories to share about this place, I’d be fascinated to hear them.