Tag Archives: Melbourne

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.

Review: Painting in the Shadows by Katherine Kovacic

After her fabulous debut, The Portrait of Molly Dean, Katherine Kovacic brings us another Alex Clayton mystery set in Melbourne’s art world.

Set in 2000, a year after the events in The Portrait of Molly Dean, art dealer Alex Clayton and her best friend, art conservator John Porter, are visiting the Melbourne International Museum of Art (the NGV in fictional disguise) for a preview of their latest exhibition.

A bittersweet note is already struck as it’s clear Alex has a mysterious but clearly unhappy past with MIMA. Alex’s discomfort is soon shoved aside first by the collapse of a gallery worker which damages the key piece for display (the real 1864 Landseer painting, Man Proposes, God Disposes, which remains undamaged by fiction) and soon after, the death of the gallery’s senior conservator Meredith Buchanan in front of the very painting she’s meant to be repairing.

Alex and John immediately notice some oddities about Meredith’s death and some of the items found where she died. The police, unfamiliar with the nuances of the art world, aren’t receptive to their doubts, inclined to believe the death a suicide.

As naturally nosy people, Alex and John decide at once that they’ll poke around some of these discrepancies and oddities they’ve found to see if there’s anything in it, and to hand over any evidence of murder to the police.

We all know how that tends to work out in a mystery novel.

John is quickly employed to oversee the restoration of such a valuable painting, giving Alex reason to mooch around the place as well, so they have plenty of opportunity to ask questions, go into cupboards looking for skeletons and generally be amateur sleuths.

The real Landseer, Man Proposes, God Disposes, makes a fictional appearance. Image from Wikipedia.

Alex and John’s long friendship is shown to wonderful advantage as they collude in how to follow up their hunches and suspicions. Their whole relationship is given more texture by the personal problems they’re each facing. Alex’s art dealership isn’t providing financial stability, and hanging around the gallery is making her reflect on that lost chance at MIMA all those years ago when the unnamed scandal saw her kicked out of the gallery. John’s difficult marriage is an earthy personal counterpoint to Alex’s professional woes.

One of the great charms of Kovacic’s books is how she brings her personal knowledge and love of art history to her work. Alex is surely channelling Kovacic in her capacity to talk with engaging passion and clarity about what a picture or artist means to her without disappearing down a well of art wank. (That said, there’s a hilarious scene in which Alex and John deploy art wank strategically for investigative purposes which is a favourite!)

Painting in the Shadows is nicely paced, balanced well between the mystery, Alex and John’s personal and professional troubles, the many other relationships, and the world of art. It’s clever and engaging, the protagonists are likeable and the denouement neat.

After the resolution to the mystery, enough personal titbits remain to fill in the background for another book.

There is going to be another book, isn’t there Ms Kovacic?

Buy Painting in the Shadows (RRP$29.95)