From the 1930s to the 1950s Greek cafés did their best to fulfil the dream of elegance and glamour that drifted down to Brisbane streets from the silver screen. American soda fountains, chrome counters, and bevelled mirrors reflected images created in Hollywood’s dream factory, and Brisbane society, dolled up in satin gowns and slicked down with Brilliantine, stepped out to see and be seen in places with names like the Savoy, the Ritz, the Astoria . . . and Christie’s—that mythic place Brisbane residents speak of with a kind of reverence normally reserved for Cloudland.
Christos Stahtoures came to Australia in 1918 when he was eighteen. He worked in the A.S.D. Café at 352 Queen Street. Not yet 21 when the building came up for sale, Christos put his age up in order to purchase it. By the 1920s the A.S.D. was one of Brisbane’s largest cafés, with a confectionery counter, a milk bar, a dining room boasting forty tables, and a staff of sixteen. In the basement, Mr Aroney and Mr Bavas made boiled sweets and toffees, Mrs Bullock made chocolates, Mr Kluver, a professional pastrycook, baked cakes, buns, pastries, pies, sausage rolls, and Cornish pasties, and one afternoon a week Christos’s brother Peter made ice cream.
In the early 1930s, Christie (or Mr Christie), as he became known in Brisbane, acquired a second shop—at 217 Queen Street. In 1934 he returned from abroad with new ideas, advertising that this shop now featured a “new and modern drink bar” that dispensed orange and lemon squashes, ice cream sodas, and 4d milk drinks, including milkshakes and malted milks in all flavours, iced coffee, iced chocolate, Trinidad Coffee Malted, and something called R&M Special. The 4d Milk Bar was a successful marketing concept in the early 1930s. Christie also installed a chef who had served “Hollywood notabilities” and would offer Queenslanders something entirely new: special chicken and salad delicacies and “delicious tit-bits.” In 1937 Christie bought the building at 217-19, took out a mortgage, and set about renovating the building—his shop, the shop next door, and a clothing factory upstairs—as one premises.
Christie’s Café Beautiful reopened in February 1938 after a £20,000 makeover. Above the awning, an open-air balcony overlooked Queen Street and two life-size gazelles leapt through Art Deco clouds. The shop front gleamed with black, grey, and red carrara glass. When patrons stepped inside, glass counters dazzled them with cakes, pastries, and pies on the right, and chocolates and sweets on the left. An unusual Island Milk Bar had pride of place in the centre, and seating for 48 lined the walls. At the rear, a wide staircase swept patrons up to a large mirror on the landing, and then staircases on both sides ushered them to the top floor, which seated 104 diners. Round mirrors bounced images of Brisbane society across this room. At the rear, an orchestra played during the lunch and dinner periods on a raised dais decorated with neon lights, and music drifted from a gramophone at other times. Folding, glass doors opened across the full width of the restaurant onto the balcony, where three tables were much sought-after. Carrara glass lined the walls on both levels to a height of 4 feet, and above this was the latest in wall fashion—Craftex. The two-tone green colour scheme, which featured polished green maple doors, was ideal for Brisbane’s climate. Waitresses wore white jackets with white blouses and black bow ties, and pinned white flowers in their hair. Their skirts, shoes, and stockings were black. Having been in business for almost 20 years, Christie said the café was “the fulfilment of his ambition to give the public a modern structure reflecting the gay atmosphere of cafés on the Continent.”
With the Wintergarden and Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Regent and Odeon cinemas nearby, Christie’s opened at 8am and did not close until after 11pm. Staff worked three shifts. The actors, opera-singers, and ballerinas who played at Her Majesty’s often ate at the café, but rarely before a performance, so staff stayed back to serve stars like Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier when they arrived around 11pm. Leigh and Olivier played in School for Scandal in 1948 as part of a six-month Australian tour, and their attendance at a debutante ball at Cloudland after the performance on 30 August made front-page news next day.
The Stahtoures family lived upstairs at 352 and ran both shops for the best part of two decades. Christie drove to the Roma Street markets each morning, leaving Peter to manage 217 and Eugenia (Mrs Christie) to open the shop at 352. A nursery maid cared for the children. The café had a telephone and a switchboard with two lines out and four extensions, including one to the living quarters upstairs; the children had only to lift the receiver and say, “I want Mummy.” Both shops were known as Christie’s, and both catered for wedding receptions and advertised Cakes and Chocolates Made Daily. Baked goods, confectionery, and ice cream were made exclusively for the two shops at 352 Queen Street, and a lad pushed a wooden cart between the two. During the war, Christie’s work was deemed essential for the functioning of the city but Peter’s enlistment had a dramatic effect. Christie and Eugenia had to employ managers. They closed the upstairs dining room at 217-19 because of staff shortages. Christie suffered ill health and Peter came home ravaged by malaria. The old A.S.D. was refurbished during 1946, and became the Green Dining Hall, where waitresses sported green uniforms, but Christie drowned at Margate the following year after prolonged illness. Eugenia sold 352 Queen Street in 1947.
Eugenia continued to operate the shop people remember as Christie’s. Her second husband was Italian, and in 1956 they procured an espresso machine and a Granita machine from Milan. These were installed in the Island Milk Bar and were among the first machines of this nature in Queensland. The family remodelled Christie’s again in 1958. They sold the building in 1975 but the café operated until 31 January 1976. The building was demolished soon after. The shop Brisbanites call Christie’s traded for almost forty years and holds a special place in our memories.
Courier Mail “Modern Trend Followed in Christie’s £20,000 Café” 8.2.38 page 18
Telegraph “Christies New Refreshment Delicacies” 28.6.34 page 3