Long before the days of Max Brenner or Gloria Jean’s, the humble milkbar was the favoured meeting place where you could grab a chocolate shake and box of Fantales. Despite many of Sydney’s original milkbars closing down, there’s been a resurgence of the milkshake culture. Michaela Morgan compares the old with the new.
Milkbar by Ish
105 Regent St Redfern
It’s a sweltering day in Redfern and the electricity at Milkbar keeps cutting out every few minutes. The jukebox in the corner seems like it’s playing a secret game of musical chairs, stopping The Blues Brothers’ Sweet Home Chicago at unexpected intervals. It’s been a 30 minute wait for a table, but a quick glance at the menu soon erases all memory of this.
Triple cheeseburgers, chicken wings, a Maltesers tart and even Chiko rolls are just some of the treats on offer at Milkbar. Plus there’s a brunch menu that boasts crab omelette, a Japanese breakfast curry and a chilled rice pudding with macadamia praline.
The milkshake list reads like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It features 10 concoctions including a mixture of coconut macaroon ice cream, vanilla braised pineapple, yuzu and lemon and lime curd, known as the ‘Chuck Norris’. We opt for the ‘Bounty’, a velvety mix of coconut milk, homemade chocolate sauce and toasted coconut, well worth the $7 price tag.
The electricity holds out and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Run Through the Jungle blares through the jukebox as our food arrives. The chicken wings are gloriously deep fried. Not just your standard ‘dude food’, they’re accompanied by a vinegar and shallot sauce with caramelised onion and chunks of garlic. The discount cheeseburger ($5) is deliciously simple with a home made bun, beef from Urban Food Market, cheese, pickles and ketchup.
For those keen to have the full milkbar experience, there’s even an old arcade game machine where you can join in the blackboard tournament with Frogger, Galaga, Pacman and Donkey Kong.
Shakin’ All Over Rating: 4.5/5
Burgers: $5-$16 (For the triple bacon cheeseburger)
Must have: ‘Ai’s Freaking Awesome Chicken Wings’
Open: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 7am-4pm, Friday: 7am-10pm, Saturday: 9am- 10pm, Sunday: 9am-4pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Cards Accepted: No, cash only.
Olympia Milk Bar
190 Parramatta Rd, Stanmore
The Olympia is one of Sydney’s original remaining milkbars. It sits unassumingly on Parramatta Rd, with the lights always dimmed and the door always open. From the outside, with its dusty sign offering ‘Smokes n Sweets’, the milkbar is easy to miss, almost like the inner west’s own Leaky Cauldron.
Stepping inside the Olympia is like experiencing time travel, its not just the 50s melamine counter tops and period furniture, but the array of ancient chocolate advertisements. It’s a trip down confectionery memory lane of every major soft drink, ice-cream and sweets campaign. From Life Savers (Get a Hole Lot More Outta Life!) to a curious picture of a crocodile asking if you’re ‘Dying for a Solo?’. There’s also a reminder of sadly discontinued products such as Schweppes Cola and Nestle’s Milky Bar Strawberry Sundae.
The elderly owner of the milkbar is the strangest relic of all. He’s behind the counter til late at night, despite few customers ever daring to go inside and there are some strict rules to observe before ordering.
- Make sure you pay before sitting down
- Do NOT ask questions about the milkbar
- Photographs are a no no
So in short, he’s Sydney’s version of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Except with milkshakes. Order, step to the left and pay at the antique cash register. Today I’m in luck; I’ve caught him in a rare good mood. With a twinkle in his gold tooth he sets about making some strawberry and chocolate shakes. Adding to the milkbar’s mystery, he disappears below the counter to prepare the beverages. I’ve often wondered if he’s just opening a carton of Moove and pouring it into metal cups, creating Bamix sound effects for his own amusement.
The $3 shakes are a combination of sickly sweet syrup and ice cold milk. The flavours on offer are the traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, served in a tall metal cup with not one boast of anything organic or gluten free. Just a classic, old fashioned milkshake.
Despite the numerous cartons of eggs at the Olympia, there’s little in the way of food on offer. Buy sweets at your own peril as the retro wrappers do indeed contain stale chocolate. And Cadbury Dairy Milk’s vintage does not age well over time.
Shakin’ All Over Rating: 3/5
Flavours: Chocolate, Caramel & Strawberry.
Price: $3. An increase from the usual $2.70 he’s charged for the past few years.
Cards: Don’t even think about it.
Open: 7 days a week from about 9am til late.