Greek culture has a long history of being represented in Melbourne. Melbourne is home to one of the largest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The story of the Greek Quarter in Lonsdale Street is amplified by the broader history of Greek presence within the inner city, a history that can trace its beginnings to the gold rushes when a handful of Greek immigrants joined the rush for overnight riches.
It was after World War II that the Lonsdale Street precinct evolved as a enclave of cafes, restaurants and businesses set up for, and by immigrants, for whom Greek culture was a way of life. The culture found many expressions, from the orthodox faith through to political movements, clubs and brotherhoods, and by gathering with friends in cafes and restaurants.
It is an old story, a pattern repeated in immigrant communities worldwide. The post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way to the new land – were in search of the familiar ambience of the homeland, and a place to feel at home as they established themselves in the new country. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language newspapers and company.
Many newly arrived immigrants lived in city boarding houses, and in the rooms of the Continental Hotel that stood on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale Street. Responding to their needs there emerged clubs above the restaurants and cafes of Lonsdale Street.
The quarter reached its peak in the 1960s through to the 1980s, with a mini revival at the end of the 1990s when many Greek bars and nightclubs sprang up om Russell and Lonsdale Streets like mushrooms after autumn rain. There was a second mini revival, coinciding with the winning of the Euro Cup, when the precinct became a centre of celebration, the natural place to party late into the night.
Being the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world after Athens and Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s Greek sister city, the Greeks have based their community in Lonsdale street since the early 1900’s.
For over 100 years people have been playing tavli on the al fresco tables drinking coffee or ‘Kok’ and it continues attracting locals and tourists who enjoy the food, cakes and culture our precinct has to offer.