Remember the milk bars of the 1950s and ’60s? They were pretty glamorous locations with their chrome , glass and mirrors. Often run by Greek migrants, popping down to the humble milk bar was something of a social outing. We’d be served by waitresses in pretty uniforms, and one of the most popular items on the menu was a milk shake.
Milk bars were an icon of our childhoods. For many of us, they are reminders of simple, happy times. While the milk bar was family-friendly, when we were growing up the milk bar was definitely a place to be! There was an air of Hollywood about hanging out with our friends at the local milk bar.
Australia was full of milk bars from the 1930s onwards. Remember when groceries couldn’t be sold after 6pm? We’d just have to borrow from a neighbour or get some extra sugar on the sly. At the milk bar we could order hamburgers, flavoured soft drinks (sodas), American-style ice-creams. Who didn’t love the spiders and milk shakes?!
People who ran the milk bar knew everyone’s names and everything going on in the neighbourhood. They were extra kind too and sometimes, if you were lucky, you would get an extra treat on your visit.
The Black and White milk bar, in Martin Place, Sydney, was opened by Mick Adams in November 1932, after a trip to the United States. Adams was one of many Greek immigrants who operated milk bars, cafes and fish and chip shops in Australia in the early 20th century. Adams later went on to open more milk bars in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne — there were 4,000 milk bars at the peak.
Many of the milk bars we visited would be located near the local picture theatre, which allowed us to catch a movie before or after we’d enjoyed a milk shake.
Sadly, milk bars didn’t last forever and many have been taken over by 24-hour supermarkets, convenience stores or service stations, but many Baby Boomers will always remember the milk bar!