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One of Australia’s oldest milk bars has closed its doors after the local council ordered it to be shut pending vital repairs to its ceiling and façade.
Now friends are rallying around the elderly Greek owner of the iconic Olympia Milk Bar, in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Stanmore, hoping to help him to save the building so he can start serving his famous chocolate and vanilla milkshakes once again.
“It’s an amazing place and it would be terrible to lose it,” says one of his friends, Effy Alexakis. “That’s his life and he has nowhere else to go, and has no family. His life is that shop.
“But I’m not surprised that the council got involved. I think they’ve been turning a blind eye for a long time. All the front is ready to collapse and while he had some repairs done, they look pretty shonky. I think it really is a health risk now.”
The Olympia, and its reclusive owner Nicholas Fotiou, aged in his 80s, are local sentimental favourites, with the milk bar keeping a fit-out that’s arguably the most complete left in the country from the 1930s. It still has its original etched glass plates behind the back bar, a panel advertising ‘ice cream sodas’ and coloured terrazzo that says ‘Olympia’.
But since its glory heydays of serving patrons from the picture theatre next door, and being listed on the NSW Heritage Register for its historical, aesthetic and social significance, it’s fallen on hard times.
While Mr Fotiou, who lives above the milk bar, was serving milkshakes, tea and sandwiches up to last week behind a badly fractured front window, parts of the ceiling have now collapsed and the plasterwork has become a pastiche of cracks and running repairs.
He declined to talk when approached by Fairfax Media.
The Inner West Council said they moved to close the premises down after notification from the community about its condition.
“At the moment, the bare minimum requirement is internal propping, but council is working with the owner and a family member towards a longer-term solution to ensure the premises are safe,” a spokesperson said.
“Council will not force a sale [but] it cannot give authorisation to reopen until the building is made safe for both the owner and the public.”
Mr Fotiou bought the building on Parramatta Road in 1959 with his late brother John.
Once nicknamed ‘Dr Death’ because of the gloomy interiors, he can still be seen sitting inside most days in the dark, looking out.
“It would be a very sad occasion if it did close down permanently,” says Leonard Janiszewski, a Macquarie University history academic and co-author of the book, Greek Cafes and Milk Bars of Australia. “They would be closing a chapter of history.
“It’s a shame too as milk bars are now undergoing a nostalgic revival and many bars are picking up on that and producing hybrids of various milkshakes. But I know he has tried to do some repairs and hopefully he will be able to do the ones necessary now.”
The milk bar, legendary for its appearances in songs, novels, documentaries and artworks, has its own Facebook page run by supporters who are currently drumming up offers of help.
A commercial real estate expert on Sydney’s Parramatta Road says the premises, although in a poor state of repair, could now be worth around $1.5 million, with their value having risen by maybe 20 per cent in the past two years.
“In this particular area of the road, the story is one of change and transformation,” says Kristian Morris, principal of Ray White Commercial NSW Sydney city fringe. “It’s been like a promised land for a long time as people talked about what might happen to it, but now, with the WestConnex underway, things are really beginning to change.
“Prices of property there are definitely going up and there’s a lot of conversions going on, while a lot of people are still holding on to their properties to see what will happen. I know that milk bar, but don’t know what will happen to it.”
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