All posts by Narrelle

The Waiters Club

Although the sign says The Waiters Restaurant, everyone knows this place as The Waiters Club. It’s a very simple Italian restaurant, upstairs at 20 Meyers Place, Melbourne.

Image from Tripexpert

There’s nothing flash about The Waiters Club – it opened in 1947 and by 2009, it didn’t appear to have been refurbished since the 1970s, with its white walls, dark wooden tables, an arched window overlooking a burgundy canopy, and chalkboard menus. (It’s not updated its look much since then either.)

Originally, it was the restaurant inhabited by Melbourne chefs and waiters  once their own restaurants had closed up in the small hours. It served traditional Italian dishes and cheap alcohol, the latter in defiance of Melbourne’s strict and limited licensing laws. Reputedly, visitors had to give a password to enter the door at the top of the narrow staircase, like a first floor speakeasy for pasta.

The sly grog days are long gone, but the aura of a seedy past clings to the restaurant, with the owners’ encouragement, because of an incident in 1978 which began as a daring raid and ended in hilarious farce.

The Waiters Club Siege took place on 31 March, 1978. 

18-year-old Amos Atkinson, a hot-head who had fallen in with notorious Melbourne gangster Chopper Read, had a run in with the police. After pursuit, Atkinson and his friend Robert Williams pelted up the stairs and ended up taking the 30-odd diners and staff hostage. Atkinson then came up with the bright idea of threatening to shoot hostages unless Chopper Read was released from prison. 

Read had recently held a gun to a judge’s head, and so the authorities were naturally reluctant to comply. The police did nothing, leaving Atkinson hanging.

Atkinson’s next bright demand was to send a hostage out with the message that Atkinson wanted to speak to his mum.

Mrs Atkinson, bless her, showed up in her dressing gown and a hundred tons of attitude. She marched up the stairs, hit her son on the head with her handbag, told him to give himself up, and he did.

Far from trying to hush it up, the Waiters Club owner, Dennis Sabbadini, proudly has the newspaper clippings framed and hung on the wall for people to read and marvel over. Not only Dennis but all of Melbourne has been dining out on that story for forty years.

Image from Time and Tide blog

You can read more details of the most bogan siege in the history of suburban small time crooks at:

I’d intended for Frank and Milo to go there for dinner in Number One Fan but they never made it. Perhaps they’ll saunter along in Kiss and Cry.

My Library: A is For Arsenic by Kathryn Harkup

Cheering, flaily-hands thanks to Sally Koetsveld, who gave me A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie as a gift two Christmases ago, before I went to Lorne for a break.

Kathryn Harkup is herself a chemist, as well as a writer and avid reader of Christie. This makes her the perfect choice to write about the kinds of poisons Christie used in her stories from the combined storytelling and scientific points of view.

Some of the books I get for research I dip in and out of. Some, like this one, I read cover to cover. A is for Arsenic was perfect reading for a beachside holiday. Well. If you’re me.

It’s not an A-Z, but 14 letters of the alphabet are covered, describing the poisons most commonly used by Christie in her stories. Agatha Christie’s background as a dispenser in 1917 and beyond meant she was very familiar with several common poisons and their effects.

Harkup examines the stories in which they’re used (usually mostly spoiler-free or with clear warning before the spoilering commences). She talks about each poisons origins, whether they have antidotes in both the historical and contemporary contexts, how right Christie got the symptoms in the story and exactly how these poisons work in the body to kill the victim. The latter is pretty technical, but also very clearly laid out. 

When you write both Victorian-era and contemporary crime and horror, a book like this is a superb helpmeet. With it, I can determine, for example,  how much either Dr Watson’s medical background, or Holmes’s as a chemist, will inform their responses and deductions, how easily a poison might be obtained, and how long it might take someone to expire (or be saved!).

A is for Arsenic is entertaining reading on its own, but as a tool for the writer, it promises to be both a useful reference work and a probable source of inspiration!