Apart from Harry’s Café De Wheels it’s hard to think of an iconic fast food outlet that has survived the ravages of time in Sydney. Even the current flagship Harry’s is an upmarket version of the old caravan which operated near the gates of the Woolloomooloo naval yard for over four decades from the late 1930s. The original pie cart now resides in the Powerhouse Museum whilst the Harry’s name has been franchised at a number of food vans throughout the burbs. Yet almost forgotten are a number of unique takeaways that brightened and nourished our city during the past 50 years.
I was recently shocked to see that the legendary 4 Seasons Chicken Spot, on the corner of Darlinghurst and Bayswater Roads in Kings Cross had disappeared only to be replaced by the slickly gentrified Big Daddy’s Burgers. For decades the ‘Spot’ was synonymous with late night and often heavily inebriated revellers chowing down on a slice of pizza, a bag of chips or just about anything fried in oil, well after midnight. The lockdown laws and then COVID obviously killed much of its business and it’s not surprising that the property recently changed hands after 35 years in the same family.
Somewhat short lived, compared to the Chicken Spot, was another nocturnal Kings Cross takeaway, the Yummy Yummy Food Bar. It’s heyday was the 1980s and it was a firm favourite with punters departing the Manzil Room and other music venues which then dotted the Cross. Nothing went down better after four hours of boozing, drug taking and head banging than a big greasy burger and post midnight all roads led to the ‘Yummy’.
The Cross of course was home to one of Australia’s first American style 24 hour restaurants at 86 Darlinghurst Rd. The Hasty Tasty, sometimes referred to as the “chew and spew it”, had a remarkable history dating from the wartime 1940s through to the 1960s and the r’n’r days of the Vietnam War. More than just a late night eatery it was a popular hang for sex workers, the criminal milieu and visiting soldiers and sailors. At one stage the ‘Tasty’ even became a home for regular AA meetings. As such an important part of Sydney’s social history it deserves its own biographer, but only scant memories survive.
Anybody who can remember Oz magazine from the 1960s might recall Martin Sharp’s eccentric adverts for Binkies Burgers, which operated from 212 Elizabeth Street in the city. Like the ‘Yummy’ it was relatively short lived and the shell of the colourful business remained for a numbers of years after its closure. I vaguely recollect it was a 24 hour business in the style of an American drive-in but like much of Sydney during that period, little historical info survives. At least some of the memory of Binkies has been immortalised in the amazing artwork of Martin Sharp.
Whilst there are no doubt many legendary takeaways, greasy spoons and food carts, that once preceded the onslaught of Maccas and Hungry Jacks, I have recalled only a few here. In other countries throughout the world, notably the US, many of the independent iconic fast food venues have survived the corporate assault, often passed down in families from one generation to the next. They have been cherished and enshrined in the popular culture. Not so in Australia, where the knock-em-down and redevelop ethos reigns supreme and exorbitant rentals often force these long held family businesses to the wall.
Finally if we are talking fast food and legendary, mention must be made of Henry’s Beefburgers in Waverley and its remarkable proprietor Arne Saeter. Modelled on the US Henry’s Hi-Boy chain, Henry’s in Bronte Road catered especially for the late night crowd in the 80s and 90s. Whilst the burgers were very average, it was Arne’s unique and engaging personality that won over patrons. A huge blues and r’n’b record collector he often had music blaring from the back of his shop and was always up for a conversation about the music he loved.
When US bluesman Hound Dog Taylor was in Australia, Henry’s was a must stop destination, likewise the portly Tort-Elvis from the reggae/heavy metal combo Dread Zeppelin. A visit to Henry’s was more about the experience than a bag of fries and a cheeseburger. Where else could you slurp down on a thick shake whilst listening to Pee Wee Crayton or Johnny Guitar Watson at 2.00am in the morning?