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California dreaming

California dreaming

California dreaming: oyster saloon to pleasure palace

For most of the twentieth century, Greek cafés in Australia were selling a dream — essentially an American dream. Offering popular, inexpensive eat-in meals, by the early 1910s, Australian Greek-run oyster saloons were installing American soda fountains and providing American-style ice cream, milk chocolate and candy. These products came out of Greek Australians' experiences of food catering in the United States of America.

Black and white photo of George Divolis standing in the doorway to the Anglo-American Café.
The Anglo-American Café, Melbourne, Victoria, mid-1910s.
Courtesy: I Nicolades and A Gunner.

During the 1920s, an insatiable public demand for these new American food catering sensations witnessed the transformation of Greek oyster saloons into soda/sundae 'parlors'. In the early 1930s, a Greek-Australian food caterer created the American-style milk bar.

From the mid 1930s to the late 1960s, the 'golden age' of the Greek café brought all these American food catering influences together and instigated a symbiotic relationship with cinemas – another adoption from the USA. Jukeboxes in Greek cafés featured American rock'n'roll, and even the Art Deco architectural style of Greek cafés and cinemas alluded to American rather than European designs.