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.
Sydney’s Plaza Theatre was once one of many elegant cinemas and theatres lining George Street’s entertainment strip. Like many cinemas, its business was damaged by the advent of television, and today it has the distinction of being arguably the world’s fanciest McDonald’s.
Built for Hoyts in 1930, the Plaza sat alongside venues such as the Century Theatre (which became an indoor BMX track in what could only have been the 80s) and the Crystal Palace Arcade.
Despite many of its contemporaries being bulldozed around it, the Plaza stood firm until 1977, when it was closed as a cinema and reopened as Maxy’s, a disco skating rink. The changing face of entertainment.
Surprisingly, the idea of a disco roller rink wasn’t fashionable for long, and the Plaza played host to Mickey D’s and video arcades for most of the 1980s.
The Plaza’s northern end was once again immersed in the world of cinema in 1995 when the Stallone-Schwarzenegger-Willis-Moore joint Planet Hollywood came to Sydney, establishing itself in the former arcade. According to this photo taken in 1996, PH shared its space with Brashs, another 90s success story. By 1999, both ventures would be out of business.
Today, some lazy entrepreneur has taken the already-tacky Planet Hollywood aesthetic and adapted it into the Star Bar, another of modern George Street’s entertainment offerings. Not sure how many stars you’d see here these days. The Plaza in its present state is yet another example of Sydney trying to disguise the brazen pimping of itself to the lowest bidder by hiding behind facades of the past. If it looks vintage, it seems that much more respectable. What isn’t considered is that drunken eyes can’t appreciate all the lovingly preserved heritage fronts, and as George Street continues to slide into the gutter, the death grip it has on these buildings only serves to drag their illustrious reputations and history down with it.
STAR STUDDED UPDATE: Reader Cameron says: “Star Bar was originally created by Planet Hollywood to replace Brashs when it failed which had the same owner, Star Bar was created so Planet Hollywood could profit from gambling without tarnishing its family image. The two coexisted for a while. A bizarre fact, this restaurant was a real cash cow and extremely profitable when it closed, a case of embezzlement I believe. The real crime there was the removal of the original cinemas Spanish themed ceiling for the extra headroom and replaced with a high blue ceiling. The Star Bar is now run by the same group that has the even tackier Shark Bar! now with no sharks……”
Sounds like the sharks haven’t left at all, actually. It’s almost inconceivable that shady types would be running places like this (especially the Shark Bar), but there you go. Thanks, Cameron!
Continued from Part I…
In 1971, McDonald’s opened their first Australian restaurant at Yagoona in Sydney’s southwest. Hartee’s, as Sydney’s resident hamburger chain, returned fire by opening no less than four locations in 1972, eclipsing McDonald’s store count. Of those four, Liverpool, Canterbury, Manly Vale and Kogarah, only the Canterbury store still exists in any form:
The building still features the drive-thru lane and original roof, but apart from that nothing remains of Hartee’s. Seeing as McDonald’s didn’t open a drive-thru location until 1978, at Warrawong, this suggests that Hartee’s were Australian pioneers of the drive-thru service style. This domination of Sydney’s hamburger market continued into 1973, with locations opening at Moore Park Showground and Riverwood, while business was so good that the head office was moved from Earlwood to Mascot. By the end of 1973, Hartee’s sat comfortably at the top of Sydney’s fast food chain…
Australia’s experiences with American-style fast food started during the Second World War. Visiting American GIs helped the relatively young nation get a taste for hamburgers with cheese and fried chicken, while the influx of immigrants to the country introduced exotic food such as the souvlaki, pizza and kebabs. The major fast food franchises of today had all originated in the USA in the 1940s and 50s, and while Australia had been content thus far to survive on meat pies, milk bars and Chinese restaurants for take away treats, the 1960s ushered in a new wave. The fast food empires saw Australia as prime territory. Kentucky Fried Chicken was first to move in, establishing its first Australian store at Guildford in Sydney’s west in 1968. Pizza Hut opened its first store in Belfield in April, 1970. In that same year, amid the American invasion, the first major Australian-owned fast food franchise opened its store in Earlwood, NSW.
Seizing on the absence of hamburger franchises thus far in Australia (McDonalds would open their first location in 1971), Kellogg Food Products Pty. Ltd. had made an agreement with the American Hardee’s chain of hamburger restaurants to create ‘Hartee’s’, an American-style burgers-‘n-fries restaurant franchise. The first Hartee’s opened here, on the corner of Homer Street and Joy Ave in Earlwood, with the take-away shop below and the head office above. Unlike many other Australian attempts to emulate the American fast food experience, Hartee’s was a success – TV and radio carried the jingle “Hurry on down to Hartee’s, where the burgers are barbecued!”. Kelloggs planned for over 100 Hartee’s locations in Australia and New Zealand, but it didn’t quite work out that way…