Three Freeleagus brothers came to Brisbane in 1903 and bought a café at 223 George Street. They presented themselves as Comino’s—from Sydney, capitalising on Arthur Comino’s success in Oxford Street and doubtless replicating what they learned from him as young migrants. The brothers urged patrons to enjoy luncheons and suppers at short notice in their “oyster and dining rooms,” which also supplied hotels and clubs and filled family orders. When the Freeleaguses announced in 1906 that extensive alterations to their “well-known city dining rooms” included an upstairs saloon, they were trading as P. Comino—Peter was one of the brothers. Lobsters, crabs, and New Zealand blue cod were on the menu and they delivered all kinds of game daily in the city and suburbs. On the day they reopened, the brothers donated the entire takings to the General Hospital.
Confident in their growing business acumen, the Freeleagus partnership left the Comino brand behind when the Paris Café was remodelled again in 1912. At that time the shop was described as Freeleagus Bros Paris Café, 223-225 George Street, corner Queen and George Streets, formerly Comino’s. Advertising proclaimed that the “New Paris Café” had been beautified and modernised and offered special provision for ladies. The chef and the manager had forged reputations in England and on the Continent and they welcomed visitors at any time to inspect the kitchen. When the shop reopened on January 16, customers were invited to sample afternoon tea free of charge between 3pm and 4.30pm.
A soda fountain featured when the Paris was remodelled for the third time—in 1919. Drinks were offered along with pastries and confectionery in the front area, and morning and afternoon teas and lunches were served in an airy room beyond. The upstairs dining area included a Ladies Room, where only women and patrons accompanied by women were admitted, although proprietors were careful to point out that the shop still catered for the “mere man.” Reservations for after-theatre suppers were welcome.
A wing was added to cater especially for businessmen’s lunches and afternoon teas when the Paris was completely remodelled in 1924. Silverware and linen cloths spread with dainty cakes, scones, and sandwiches suggest that ‘afternoon tea’ was akin to today’s high tea. An orchestra played in the afternoons and evenings, and patrons could reserve tables. The Paris catered for parties and was promoted as a venue for banquets and wedding breakfasts. Advertising emphasised cool relaxing surroundings, the chef’s long experience in leading catering establishments, and the manager’s nine-month sojourn in America. By this time the business involved ten brothers, of whom Christy Freeleagus had emerged as leader. He invited a number of guests, including a Health Department representative, to lunch followed by a tour of the renovation and a demonstration of its modern appliances. When the shop reopened the following Friday, ladies were given hand-painted xylonite fans as a memento of the occasion.
In March 1933, after 30 years, the goodwill, lease, fittings and appointments of the Paris Café were up for sale. Freeleagus Bros had engaged architects Hennessy, Henessy, and Co. to remodel the Paris Café yet again in late 1929 but this project probably never eventuated. From May 1930 to July 1931 the Paris was under the management of one Mr Herbert—who served crab, fish and oyster suppers and promoted the café as a venue for Bridge, Mah Jong, and birthday parties—and then the Freeleaguses took over again. The FOR SALE notice suggested that the right buyer could “bring the Paris Café back to the splendid position it used to hold.” Like many ventures, the Paris Café was a casualty of the Great Depression. Can you add to the history of this once very elegant café by unearthing a photograph? And one of those xylonite fans must be stowed under a bed somewhere…
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