This is how it works. You’re looking for information about Christies Café in Queen Street. You’re looking because the café shines in people’s memories. You’re looking because Christies sounds glamorous. But apart from recollections—the oyster omelettes, special treats with Nanna, a balcony overlooking the street—there’s little to go on. Christy Freeleagus dominated the Brisbane café scene in the 1920s so maybe Christies Café was one of his shops. A writer friend passes you a phone number: You should talk to Sister Elvera. So you make the call and head off to St Rita’s College to interview a daughter of the family.
There were two cafés you know, she says, straight off. Two Christies? No, Christies was the 217; the other one was the A.S.D. though we called it the 352. You hope that makes sense to her. A.B.C. was a not uncommon acronym that stood for All British Café, but A.S.D? What does it stand for, you ask. She has no idea. That makes two of you. It’s like doing a jigsaw with no box and very few pieces. Let’s start at the edges…
The shops belonged to her father, Christos Stahtoures, who came from Greece in 1918 at the age of eighteen with a name that was troubling for Australian mouths. So Christos Stahtoures became Mr Christie. He bought his first shop at 352 Queen Street in about 1921 and his second—the legendary Christies Café—at 217 Queen Street in the early 1930s. Now you’re getting somewhere.
But three little letters niggle away like a prickle in your undies. No amount of Troving turns up anything useful and then, in a momentary lapse in concentration, the unkempt little research gnome in your brain hands you a scrap of paper: Mr Drouzos had a café in Queen Street. D might stand for Drouzos, you suggest. Or not, the gnome says, and shuffles away. You can’t remember where you read that isolated scrap of café trivia. It wasn’t relevant. You didn’t record it. Stupido—the word echoes from within the labyrinth that is your brain. I heard that!
Brainwave. In The Greeks in Queensland: A History from 1859—1945 Denis Conomos has gathered together the crumbs of more café stories than can ever be told. You flip to the index and run your finger down the D column, grateful that, for today at least, you’re not interested in Comino. Just one Drouzos: Drouzos, Apostolos Sotiris. ASD! And wouldn’t you need an acronym in WWI Australia with a mouthful like that? Apostolos gets a brief mention on two pages and one of these (127) is about his café at 352 Queen Street, called Drouzos’ Café, and, sometimes, the A.S.D.
This corner of the jigsaw is shaping up but still you know little about Christies Café. A picture would be nice. You start wide—search term ‘café’—and scroll through pages and pages in the John Oxley Library digital photograph collection. Then suddenly, because some wonderful librarian wrote ‘café’ in the description, there’s a faded streetscape. The lower end of Queen Street in 1924. Three letters on the awning—you can barely make them out…
To your delight you discover that the original is stowed out back in Ernest Hulett’s photograph album. You retrieve it, photograph the original, zoom in, and there it is. On the shop opposite the Ophir Tea Rooms—now there’s a name—are the letters A.S.D. Other signage indicates that the café specialised in morning and afternoon teas and manufactured its own chocolates and pastries. According to Denis Conomos, the A.S.D. was one of the largest cafés in Brisbane in the 1920s, boasting a confectionery counter, a milk bar, a dining room with forty tables, and a staff of sixteen.
A smug little smile blooms on your face as you lean back in your chair like someone who’s just found a lost piece under the couch and snapped it into place. That’s how it works—a question, some background knowledge, an interview, a reference book, a website. Thousands of stories are waiting to be pieced together like jigsaw puzzles at the John Oxley Library; this has been one of them.
Read More: Denis Conomos The Greeks in Queensland: A History from 1859—1945 (2001)