In 1967 a new era in the Americanisation of Australian food began. King’s Cross in Sydney was the location of the United States R&R Centre after the Australian government agreed to accept American servicemen on rest and recreation leave from the Vietnam conflict. The Bourbon & Beefsteak was among many bars and restaurants serving American-style food (many say at inflated prices) that sprang up to cater for the visiting GIs. The trade was said to be worth $9 million a month to the area.
Servicemen on leave were bussed straight to the Chevron Hotel in Kings Cross. Alternatively, they could opt to be met by a representative of the Country Women’s Association and whisked off for a homestay, where the atmosphere would be considerably less frenetic and the food definitely home-style.
The Bourbon & Beefsteak opened in 1967 and was operated by Bernie Houghton, a Texan who had served in the US Military and had shady connections both to organised crime figures and the CIA. He decorated the bar with American memorabilia. There seems to be little record of the actual food.
On my (first) honeymoon in 1969, we ventured into the Cross, although not to the Bourbon & Beefsteak. We had:
…”several meals at an unassuming establishment in Kings Cross. The menu there offered fillet steak and mushrooms for 75c. However, they were out of steak. They were also out of the Chili con Carne I ordered. The following night, they were not only out of steak but out of bread. We didn’t go there again.
Our breadless night in Kings Cross was rescued by a visit to that great Sydney institution, Les Girls All-Male Revue. Innocents from the south that we were, we marvelled at the astonishing figures of the “ladies”, laughed at the off-colour humour and found the audience nearly as entertaining as the performers. A middle-aged couple next to us became progressively more outraged as the show went on – at least, she did. After one particularly suggestive line they got up and flounced out, Mrs in the lead with a rather reluctant Mr trailing behind.”
The R&R scheme wound down in 1971 but left a legacy of extreme partying at the Cross. The Bourbon and Beefsteak became known for groups of young men (including Australian cricketers) behaving badly. After Houghton died the bar was sold and its star dimmed. It was reinvented as The Bourbon. In 2018 plans to redevelop the site provoked an outcry from locals.