In Australia, The Long Lost Milk Bar Was A Cherished Hangout Spot

Australian milk bar storefront
Australian milk bar storefront - Kokkai Ng/Getty Images

There's a deep-rooted comfort in frequenting a neighborhood business. Whether it's a cafe, eatery, or even a local grocery store, familiarity creates a sense of community. Cultures around the world all have their own regional renditions of businesses that bring locals together. Be it the breakfast and coffee-serving kopitiams in Singapore and Malaysia or the Mexican pulquerías -- bars that serve a fermented agave sap called pulque -- there's a range of casual and convivial establishments worldwide.

In Australia, one such neighborhood meeting point is called a milk bar. These establishments combine aspects of corner stores, diner-like eateries, and candy shops, and -- perhaps most importantly --  provide a dependably comforting hangout stop. Inspired by American soda fountains, with an analogous nostalgic flair, milk bars created a dose of comforting memories for Australian children in the 20th century. Unfortunately, a combination of factors has nearly completely wiped the business model out, with only a few scattered milk bars now surviving across the expansive nation.

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Milk Bars Were Unique, Privately Owned Convenience Store Hangouts

Close-up of milk bar seating
Close-up of milk bar seating - Kokkai Ng/Getty Images

Milk bars kicked off in the early 20th century, opened by Greek and Italian immigrants who were inspired by soda bar culture in the United States. Their existence especially flourished in rural communities alongside roads and railways. Serving as beacons for goodies -- whether it's a newspaper, an ice cream, or a salad sandwich -- they inspired not only comfort but also connection. And, in bustling hubs like Sydney, they were outfitted with additional space and flourishes.

Until the 1970s, milk bars were family-owned and incorporated personal style. Each one would have distinct offerings backed by a unique and comforting atmosphere and staff that valued customer service. A milk bar trip was typically about far more than just shopping. In addition to household necessities, patrons could also pick up some local gossip or an extra treat.

Sadly, the expansion of car culture, accompanied by a recession and the emergence of chains, caused the concept to go extinct. Only a few milk bars remain, often with a boutique spin serving tasty bites and a throwback atmosphere. They serve as a reminder that patronage to a local shop is more than just part of a routine, but part of someone's livelihood, too.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.