Fish and chips shops are found everywhere in Australia. A forerunner to these familiar businesses was the Oyster Saloon, common from the 1880s until well into the twentieth century. It seems that every town in Queensland (no matter how far from the coast) had an Oyster Saloon. Brisbane, Laidley, Rosewood, Cairns and Rockhampton did to name but a few. Such establishments served and supplied cleaned and cooked fish, oysters, prawns, boiled ham, and grills from early morning to late at night. Keeping seafood from spoiling must have been a challenge at a time when refrigeration was not yet available and saloon keepers were dependent on ice. It is thought that local ice production was not available for years after the first Oyster Saloons appeared in Ipswich.
As early as 1864, Mrs Hunter was associated with an Oyster Saloon in Bell Street. In 1866 crabs came by steamer for F.W. Travis’ Oyster Saloon in East Street, opposite Mr Mitchell’s stores. Sometime prior to this the eatery was located in Brisbane Street. Mr G. Pastoors operated a Ham & Oyster Saloon around 1890 also in East Street, next to Hucker’s Furnishing Arcade.
By the early years of the new century the Martoos had saloons in Brisbane Street, opposite Cribb & Footes called the Club Oyster Saloon, and another in Union Street. In 1905 the City Oyster Saloon was opened by Mr J. H. Bearkley next door to his existing fruit shop in Nicholas Street. This business operated for several years however by Christmas 1912 only one such establishment remained in Ipswich – the Premier Oyster Saloon at 80 Brisbane Street between the Palais Royal Hotel and Qld Woollen Company. This building was formerly known as Rose’s Universal Emporium.
Premier Oyster Saloon was owned by John Black, also known as Jack. He purchased this business from Mr P. Lemnos in 1903. Black was the owner of 2 other saloons in the Brisbane CBD. His Premier Oyster Saloon advertised regularly in the local newspaper and would appear to have been a successful enterprise. In 1913 the premises were extensively renovated with a ladies’ room added. This was apparently the first time in Ipswich that such an amenity was provided for the comfort and accommodation of “ladies”.
(from Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 9 April 1903, p.1. Advertising.)
Saloons kept late hours and primarily catered for men. From time to time fights occurred and the protagonists often fronted the local Police Court. In one incident in February 1915 an employee of Black’s was shot during a showdown with 2 men over unpaid meals. A revolver was produced and fired resulting in injury to the saloon attendant. This was a real Wild West moment in Ipswich history.
That same year Jack Black sold the Premier Oyster Saloon to Peter Spathis who maintained the business for some years. Eventually however it morphed into the City Café that Spathis ran until 1933. The City Café itself was a well-known destination in Brisbane Street for many more years until it finally closed in the 1970s.
Information taken from:
Risson, Toni. Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill : Greek Cafes in twentieth century Australia, Ipswich: Toni Risson, 2007.