Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Marble Bar

The Marble Bar, Sydney
Marble Bar is the name of a town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, in the north western part of Australia. It is known for gold nuggets (the 413 ounce 'Bobby Dazzler' was found there) and hot temperatures (an average of 45 degrees Celcius in summer; for six months of the year the temperatures exceed normal human body temperature). But the Marble Bar is also an iconic Sydney watering hole under the Sydney Hilton, and was today the venue for a couple of apres-office Bellinis.

The extravagant decoration of the bar is made of - you guessed it - marble, 100 tonnes from Belgium and Africa. It was constructed in 1889. It is a riot of Corinthian columns (the ones with the ornate capitals - attentive readers will recall this 'capital question' being addressed on this blog some time ago). In the Marble Bar the capitals are made of solid bronze. The joinery is cedar, and stained glass and oil paintings complete the crazy Edwardian opulence. Fireplaces lined with marble (I've never seen them lit, but presumably they may have been in the old days), and ornate plaster ceilings fill out the decor, described as Italian Renaissance in style. Certainly the interior would not look out of place in Florence.

The bar was originally constructed at The Adams Hotel, now long gone, and was once called The George Adams Bar. Who was George Adams? The builder of the bar. It cost the then-enormous sum of 32,000 pounds, and the money was raised through a horse-racing sweepstakes called the 'Tattersalls Sweep' (an idea repeated much later with the 'Opera House Lottery' funding the Sydney Opera House. When Sydney gets a good idea, it sticks to it.)

It was moved en masse to The Sydney Hilton in 1968, and carefully dismantled and rebuilt in a below-ground location, reopening in 1973. As the Hilton's web site gushingly describes it:

Bellinis in the Marble Bar this evening
After years of colourful history, in 1968 the Bar received an "A" rating from the National Trust of Australia, and the entire structure was carefully dismantled, refurbished and rebuilt inside the Hilton Sydney. The grand re-opening was in 1973. In the following decades the bar hosted generations of international visitors and local revellers alike, yet the years took their toll. Smoke damage, staining and general wear and tear dulled the gleam of this world class masterpiece. To restore the bar to its former glory has been a labour of love, but each hand crafted column, rejuvenated cedar frame and perfectly shaped cornice now sparkles with renewed magnificence.
The Sydney Hilton underwent a major refurbishment in 2005, and during that time the Marble bar was shrouded in its underground cave, closed to prying eyes and thirsty drinkers, while it was carefully preserved from the reconstruction going on above, transforming the Hilton into its present incarnation as a slick example of modern architecture. But down below, the Marble Bar was carefully restored to its Edwardian glory.

If you have a few minutes, check out this rare old footage of Liza Minnelli in Australia in 1967, made for a TV show called 'LIZA'. Apart from hearing Liza belt out 'Click Go The Shears' and make 'On The Road To Gundagai' sound beautiful (for both of which it is worth viewing alone), about halfway through she enters the Marble Bar - from the street, which means before it was buried underground, and before its first refurbishment began in 1968. Fascinating!

Now this is an interesting story, and one that most regular Sydneysiders know, especially if they (like I) have spent years off and on patronising the lovely Marble Bar. We all vaguely know that it was moved from 'somewhere' by 'someone', and is protected by a heritage order, so that it can't be turned into a carpet-and-poker-machine emporium. But some aspects of the story might puzzle you. For example, why was the original building of the bar funded by a public sweepstakes? And who exactly was George Adams? The plot thickens...

George Adams
Statue on St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
It seems that the redoubtable Mr Adams (1839 - 1904), an English immigrant in 1855 (as were so many in the colony at that time, including your blogster's ancestors), after an itinerant beginning became the licensee of the Steam Packet Inn in Kiama. He often visited Sydney for the races and the Royal Show, and drank at O'Brien's Hotel in Pitt Street. After a boost from some sponsors (it seems he was a friendly kind of man) he bought O'Brien's, which was the headquarters of Tattersalls Club.

Here we need to digress. On Elizabeth Street in Sydney is a venerable institution known as Tattersalls Club. A short distance away on Pitt Street is City Tattersalls Club. The latter was formed in 1895 by a group of bookmakers disgruntled with a Judge’s decision on a race at Kensington. It seems there was an incident with a jockey weighing in with his whip, the end result being a disqualification of the horse first past the post and the bookmakers refusing to pay-out on the second horse, a hot favourite. By way of protest, the bookmakers left Tattersalls Club, the institution now on Elizabeth Street, Sydney, and City Tattersalls Club was born. I am awfully glad to have looked this up for you, because I always wondered why there were two (your blogster is a member of the latter, daring break-away institution. The former wouldn't have me - it is a club for 'men only'. Truly.)

City Tattersalls Club previously occupied the Graphic Arts building and the building alongside The Adams Hotel, where the Sydney Hilton Hotel now stands. Ah! So now we are back to George Adams...

When we return to the story of our hero, O'Brien's Hotel on Pitt Street has been renamed The Adams Hotel, and has a 'Tin Bar', which Adams converts to the opulent 'Marble Bar' at a cost of £32,000. All this did not come from the bar trade. Tattersalls Club members, meeting at Adams Hotel, subscribed to sweepstakes on race meetings (just like those run throughout Australia every Melbourne Cup day). Hotel regulars began to be included in the sweeps and in 1881 George Adams ran his first public Tattersall's Sweep on the Sydney Cup. Soon afterwards the anti-gambling lobby managed to outlaw this type of gambling, and Adams moved interstate, with legislation to stop his sweepstakes following him. Eventually he ended up in Tasmania (hey!) were he was able to operate legally, and where you can still buy a 'Tattslotto' ticket today:
[In 1885]Tasmanian Premier Braddon seized an opportunity to make an arrangement with Adams, offering him a monopoly on sweepstakes and lotteries in the state in return for disposing of the assets of the failed Van Diemen's Land Bank by sweepstakes, and a large licence fee. Over the next half century the arrangement proved profitable to both sides, despite an attempt by the commonwealth government to ban the delivery of mail to Tattersall's. The lottery became a national institution, with subscribers from all states finding ways to defeat the commonwealth postal ban. Tattersall's supplied the Tasmanian government with almost half of its total state revenue in the late 1930s.
Drawing the sweep at Tattersall's, 1879
Tattersalls is now run out of Melbourne, which explains why there is a statue of George Adams on St Kilda Road in that city. But the old man himself lived out his life in Hobart, and is buried there, under a headstone inscribed 'George Adams (Tattersalls).'


And the Bellinis? They were delicious, thank you. I think I should leave you with a recipe. As you may know, the Bellini was invented at another famous bar, Harry's Bar in Venice, a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. It is said that in 1948 Giuseppi Cipriani invented the Bellini recipe, inspired (I am not sure how) by the 15th century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini. Traditionally it is a mixture of fresh white peach puree and champagne. Here's how to make it at home:

Glass: Flute(champagne)

  • Step 1: muddle a whole peach (or skip this step and just pour peach juice in the the glass - one third of the glass)
  • Step 2: Tilt the glass and fill it with your champagne or sparkling wine
  • Step 3: Give it a stir with you bar spoon or any long thin object 

A sensuous cocktail, ideal for sipping in the opulent surroundings of George Adam's Marble Bar, built by gambling money and the colourful businessmen of nineteenth century Sydney. Here's cheers to them!

Marble Bar history from http://www.marblebarsydney.com.au/history.aspx
George Adams history from http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A030013b.htm
Tattersall's Lottery info and pic from http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/T/Tattersalls.htm
See also:

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