As Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow for 2016, I’ve spent the past nine months unearthing the Greek shops that once dominated the Brisbane C.B.D. Oyster saloons, cafés, and milk bars popped up like mushrooms on the inner-city streets from about 1895. By 1980 they were gone. Christie’s Café, which was one of the last to go, still shimmers in people’s memories—oyster omelettes with Nanna on the balcony overlooking Queen Street—so that’s where I decide to start.
A writer friend passes me a phone number and I head off to interview a daughter of the family. There were two cafés you know, she says straight off. Christie’s was 217 and the other was the ASD, though we called it 352. I hope this makes sense to her. What does ASD stand for? She has no idea. That makes two of us. Her dad, Christos Stahtoures, came from Greece in 1918 at the age of eighteen. But his name was troubling for Australian mouths so he became Mr Christie. It’s a start.
But those three little letters niggle away like a prickle in your undies. I enter ASD into the search box on Trove and start tunnelling. An hour later, during an understandable lapse in concentration, the unkempt little research gnome in my brain hands me a scrap of paper: Drouzos had a café in Queen Street. D might stand for Drouzos… Or not, the gnome says, and shuffles away. A scrap of café trivia. It wasn’t relevant. I didn’t record it. Stupido—the word echoes from within the labyrinth that is my brain. I heard that!
Turning to The Greeks in Queensland: A History from 1859—1945, where Denis Conomos has swept up the crumbs of a hundred café stories, I run my finger down the index. Drouzos, Apostolos Sotiris—ASD! The entry is brief but Conomos notes that Drouzos’ Café at 352 Queen Street, sometimes called the ASD, was one of the largest cafés in Brisbane in the 1920s, boasting a confectionery counter, a milk bar, forty tables, and sixteen staff (127). Christie bought Drouzos’ shop around 1921 and another—the legendary Christies Café at 217 Queen Street—in the early 1930s. Now we’re getting somewhere.
It feels like doing a jigsaw with most of the pieces missing. In desperation, I search for ‘café’ in the John Oxley digital photograph collection, and scroll through pages of thumbnails, knowing it’s too broad, knowing it’s futile. I’m about to give up when a faded streetscape catches my eye—the lower end of Queen Street in 1924—three tiny letters on an awning. The original is stowed out back in Ernest Hulett’s photo album so I retrieve it, photograph the original, and zoom in. And there it is. On the shop in the right-hand front corner. The letters ASD. Of all the shops I will unearth in the months ahead, this is one of the few photographs I will find. I lean back in my chair and a smug little smile blooms on my face.
That’s how it works—a question, some background knowledge, an interview, a reference book, a website, and an image that appears because some wonderful librarian wrote ‘café’ in the description.
For more stories go to https://greekcafesinbrisbane.wordpress.com