It doesn’t matter which store you enter, they all have that familiar soft bell chime the minute you push open the door.
I find it fascinating that even today, in our world of online shopping, fast food, cheap milk and bread, and Status Quo waving big foam hands around, we can still find the classic milk bar on the corner or a corner nearby. And I encourage you to discover your local!
The inner west is filled with classic corner stores boasting shop counters and shelves filled with interesting items from coloured pens to raspberry licorice, mints to hair ties, toilet rolls to onions, the item you have gone in to find is usually there. Milk Bar owners, most likely living above or behind the store, seem to have a knack at having the right ‘last minute’ items you need ready in stock.
Perhaps it’s because they live and breathe the store 7am-8pm, 7 days a week.
But besides from the highly sought after milk, bread and newspapers, these familiar stores can offer so much more, you just need to pretend you’re a child again.
Stepping into one of my favourite inner-westie milk bars located opposite Williamstown Beach train station, I’m always thrilled to purchase one of the homemade dips or other Lebanese goodies from the counter: cabbage rolls, dolmades, tabouli. Add to this a sweet treat such as a baklava, Queen’s Finger or a Bird’s Nest and you have yourself a pretty impressive beach picnic. You can’t go pass the kebab though, the spiced minced lamb delight complimented with pinenuts and a dob of this Milk Bar’s special hummus is something to keep going back for.
The Milk Bar on the corner of Ovens and Stephen Street in Yarraville is just as special. This local gem has a glorious display of freshly packed mixed lolly bags placed in a neat grid-like pattern on the counter. There’s 15 lollies in every bag (choc buds, freckles, snakes, teeth, pineapples and milk bottles) and it’s hard to resist picking up a pack for your pocket as you purchase your paper.
It’s touches like this that make every Milk Bar unique. A point of difference, whether it is the homemade goodies for sale, the ‘vintage’ Tazos on display behind the counter or the brilliant retro-esque signage screaming Mirinda, Kirks, Tarax, Tab Cola, Gobbledock, Ruffles, Smiths, Peters.
There’s something fun about rediscovering candies from your youth that would make your eyes pop: Big Boss, Fags (now called Fads), Zappo, Hubba Bubba (remember when bubblegum used to be 50c and you’d get a free tattoo?).
Milk Bars are still a step back in time – the worn linoleum grey-marbled tiles, the timber and glass counters, the signs unashamedly advertising tobacco, the cans of Tarax lemonade in the fridge. Next time you walk past one, look up and check out the sign display most likely stating that ‘Tobacco’, ‘Cigarettes’, ‘The Herald’ or ‘The Sun’ can be found inside. Take a peek at the fonts used in the familiar words MILK BAR. And poke your head inside, there’s treasure to be found. Grab yourself a Killer Python and a can of Pasito to snack on after your Saturday afternoon lawn mow.
My favourite Milk Bars
Zac and Jenny Take Away Milk Bar, 74 Railway Crescent, Williamstown
Forget lugging an esky on the train, pick up awesome Lebanese goodies for the perfect beach picnic.
TT Milk Bar, 204 Somerville Road, Kingsville
Great selection of Kirks drinks to align with your fish and chips bought next door.
Milk Bar, Corner Ovens and Stephen Streets, Yarraville
Cheapest toilet paper and tissues around.
Milk Bar, 87 Anderson Street, Yarraville
Excellent lolly counter.
Photographs by Paul Large.
This article first appeared in The Westsider, October 2015 issue.