First published on 15 Aug 2011. Updated on 19 Sep 2011.
City Convenience Stores and 7-Elevens have made the suburban milk bar a thing of the past, but a couple of 50s relics are still shaking up strawberry-flavoured treats in Sydney’s Inner West.
The first one that caught Time Out’s eye was the old Olympia Milk Bar on Parramatta Road. The place hasn’t seen a lick of paint in decades, tiles are missing, and holes in the front windows have been boarded up with wood, but there is something quite charming about the classic art deco flooring and old ice cream posters. The cracked and rusty sign out the front reads ‘Smokes Sweets’, but the joint’s main trade is milkshakes.
It seems the owner is pretty tight on his electricity bill, because we’ve never actually seen the place with the lights on, and we also doubt the place has seen a restock in several decades as the chocolate boxes behind the counter are all empty. Legend has it that the old man that owns the place made a promise to his late brother to never change the look or menu of the milk bar that they once ran together. We don’t know if the story is true because the old guy doesn’t like to chat. Take a seat at one of the Formica tables, tuck into a bargain caramel shake, and make up your own mind about the Olympia legend.
A few suburbs away in Summer Hill, there’s a milk bar that is eerily similar. George Poulos has been selling milkshakes at the Rio since the early 50s and 60 years on the place looks as if it has seen little change – except, of course, in the number of customers. Only one item sits on each of the milk bar’s shelves – one chocolate bar, one packet of crisps, one loaf of bread – which makes us think that Poulos doesn’t exactly have his work cut out for him. This is probably for the best. He makes a decent milkshake, but does so at a shuffling pace.
Olympia Milk Bar 190 Parramatta Rd, Stanmore 2048. The Rio Smith St, Summer Hill 2130