Eat, Love, Play: Food and Sydney's gay culture
SYDNEY: A special free talk at Surry Hills Library tonight will attempt to recreate some of the memories and stories from some of Sydney’s cafes, restaurants and supper clubs that have played a historically important role in the social lives of the LGBT community in this city.
The Eat, Love, Play talk by acclaimed writer and historian, Garry Wotherspoon (pictured), will take place as part of City of Sydney’s History Week.
The theme for History Week 2011 is ‘EAT History’ and is focused on looking at who ate what and where in the past, how we cooked and where our food came from.
While many of us today may stop by and have a late evening drink at the Colombian Hotel or a lazy Sunday brunch at one of the cafes along Crown Street serving all day breakfasts, many other food and drink hotspots known for welcoming their LGBT clientele have sadly been confined to the corners of history.
Wotherspoon is a former academic at the University of Sydney and the author of books such as Being Different: nine gay men remember, and City of the Plain: a history of Sydney’s homosexual and gay subcultures since the 1920s.
His talk tonight will explore how the partaking of food, and the places where this has occurred, have been an integral part of gay social life over the past century in Sydney, particularly prior to gay lib and law reform.
He explained to Gay News Network recently how a number of venues from the 1930s onwards helped place the Harbour City eventually as “one of the gay capitals of the world”.
“Three venues that were undoubtedly very important were Madame Pura’s Latin Café, in the Royal Arcade in the City, the Purple Onion, in Kensington (where KKK now is), and Capriccios, in Oxford Street.
“In the 1930s, the Latin Cafe, run by Madam Helen Pura, was a very cosmopolitan venue, serving excellent European cuisine, things like beef stroganoff, spaghetti bolognaise, borsch and Russian dumplings, foods that were unheard of in Australia at the time,” Wotherspoon said.
Celebrities and some high-powered elites were also fond of the venue, with the café so famous that it even appeared in Christina Stead's novel Seven Poor Men of Sydney, lightly disguised as the 'Roman Cafe'.
Wotherspoon told Gay News Network that places like the Purple Onion and Capriccio’s helped blaze a trail through the 1960s and into later decades; during a time when rigid gender and sexual norms were being challenged locally and across parts of the western world.
“The Purple Onion opened in mid-1962. It had wonderful drag shows, funny and witty, and great theatre, even being reviewed by theatre critics of the time.
“Its [Capriccio’s] drag shows were spectacular, lots of Sydney’s best known drag queens performed there, supported by leggy boys in sequined codpieces and little else.
“The cover charge at these last two places got you some food, which was usually a plate of Jatz crackers and cubes of cheese or chopped up cabanossi sausage, dumped on the table,” Wotherspoon added.
Eat, Love, Play with Garry Wotherspoon will be held tonight at Surry Hills Library from 6-7pm. The event is free, however bookings are essential. Please contact Surry Hills Library on (02) 8374 6230.