1960 Restaurant Licence introduced in Victoria

Balzac restaurant in East Melbourne was the first to gain a Victorian restaurant licence

The new restaurant licence introduced in 1960 allowed alcohol to be served with food. Formerly only hotels, registered clubs and wine saloons could legally serve alcohol, even with meals. Balzac restaurant held the first restaurant licence in Victoria, allowing alcohol to be served with meals until 10 p.m. Balzac, which operated between 1956 and 1993, was started by George and Mirka Mora who sold it in 1965 to John and Maria Kornyei. In the 60s, new licensed restaurants began to open in Melbourne.

Prior to 1960, newspapers in Victoria frequently reported raids on restaurants and nightclubs by the dreaded Licensing Squad. It was an open secret that certain Italian restaurants served alcohol in coffee cups. At a few restaurants, including Florentino, you could legally drink wine, since they had originally been licensed as wine saloons. Otherwise, if you wanted to enjoy dinner with a beer or cocktail to start and wine with your meal, the only choice was one of the posh hotels.

The introduction of the restaurant licence was a first step in the liberalisation of Victoria’s liquor laws which were, until that point, among the most conservative in Australia. A referendum in 1956 had failed to extend pub opening hours beyond 6 p.m., liquor could not be consumed in “dance halls” (aka nightclubs) and the purchase of “sly grog” was common.

Although the 1956 referendum had been defeated, elements in the Victorian Government realised that things needed to change. Prior to the Melbourne Olympic Games, one MP declared that the city would be “the laughing stock of the world” owing to its antiquated liquor laws.

In 1960, Judge Archibald Fraser, the chair of the Victorian Licensing Court, was sent on a trip to the United States and Europe to examine how liquor was consumed in hotels, cafés and restaurants. On his return, he summed up Australia’s drinking habits as “unique in the sense that they are deplorable”. Among his recommendations was a new restaurant licence. Introduced that year, the licence allowed restaurants to serve liquor with meals from 12 noon until 10 p.m.

To gain a licence, restaurants had to comply with certain building requirements. Balzac made several minor changes to its premises in order to qualify. The Age reported that Florentino was the next in line for a restaurant licence, which would replace their former wine licence once they installed “a 1/4 inch plate glass window between the restaurant and the bar”.

At the same time, supper permits were introduced, allowing hotels to serve liquor with “substantial supper” between 10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. In outer suburban watering holes, this led to an increase in live music on weekends. At around 10 o’clock, patrons queued to serve themselves from an uninspiring range of casserole-style dishes presented in a bainmarie. I recall many such evenings at the Whitehorse Hotel in Nunawading. Among the acts appearing there in the 1970s were Johnny Farnham, Billy Thorpe and Rose Tattoo.

White Horse Hotel, Nunawading, 1971. Image: Facebook – Billy Thorpe

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