Brisbane Theatre Restaurants (since 1964)
A post war craze for theatre restaurant entertainment began in Australia, somewhat in opposition to mainstream theatres. Aimed entirely on selling to traditional theatre-going audiences, theatre restaurants started popping up in many parts of Australia in the 1960’s with extravagantly decorated imitations of the 19th century musical halls, medieval banquet halls, or other specially themed settings.
The theatre restaurants and dinner theatre employed many performers, creatives and technicians, either starting out in their careers, or who were often struggling to survive with occasional radio drama and irregular theatrical engagements.
Comedy plays and the staples of vaudeville were the mainstays of such venues.
The idea caught on in Brisbane when Jarrett Mesh Enterprises opened the Mark Twain Theatre Restaurant on Adelaide Street opened in 1964. Here they typically presented small plays in a proscenium setting. The Soho Theatre Restaurant opened the same year.
Soon after, the Living Room Theatre Restaurant at 60 Edward St, operated by Frank Mesh, opened on 27 September, 1967 with a production of “Who in the Hell are You?”, directed by Russell Jarrett and designed by Ken Lord. Weekly smorgasbord lunches became a popular feature. In 1975, the Living Room Theatre Restaurant moved to new premises on Margaret Street. The new restaurant had Regency style decor, seated 280 over 3 raised sections and 2 ‘celebrity’ boxes. The Living Room was unusual, in that most theatre restaurants at the time offered fixed menus, or menus with a very limited range of choices, making it easier to time service around the performance. The Living Room Theatre was famous for its melodrama alternating with pantomime and charged AUD $3.50 for a la carte dinner and show in 1976. Shows during the 1970s included Dracula, Revenge at the Golden Garter, and Mata Hari the Magnificent Spy.
Brisbane theatrical luminaries, many of whom trod the boards for the major theatre companies performed… Brian Cahill, Brian Tait, Rowena Wallace, Judi Connelli, Lance Strauss, Sheila Bradley, Johnny Watson, Harry Scott, Phil Moye, Hugh Munro, Arthur Frame, Phyllis Wass and Duncan Wass were just a few of the notable names. Ken Lord, and his wife Margaret (also know as Maggie) were active popular dinner theatre performers and writers.
The concept of themed premises, costumed singing waiters adding to fun, sometimes bawdy, live entertainment mixed with basic dining (food was typically not as important as drink) became popular with many more theatre restaurants opening and operating, including:
- Brentleighs Theatre Restaurant (on Lutwyche Rd opened in 1973, owned by Graham Newton, hosted by Sheila Bradley & Paul Charlton focussed on musical review and comedy, alternating with melodrama and charged AUD $14 for set priced menu and show in 1976);
- National Hotel (corner of Queen and Adelaide Sts at Petrie Bight, with musical revues in the mid-1970’s and charged AUD $10 for menu and show in 1976);
- Groucho’s (497 Lutwyche Rd);
- Crazies Comedy Restaurant (Corner Caxton & Judge Street, owned from 1987-1997 by Peter Gross who directed & performed);
- Henry Africa’s Theatre Restaurant (in South Brisbane at the Melbourne Hotel run by David Birmingham);
- Dirty Dick’s (12a Caxton St., from 1977 for a few years, run by Frank Baden-Powell);
- Bonaparte’s Retreat (237 St Paul’s Terrace, Spring Hill);
- MV Bonapartes Afloat (in 1981 was Brisbane’s first floating Restaurant moored at Howard St.);
- Maria’s Theatre Restaurant;
- Tivoli Theatre Restaurant;
- Tom Jones Dinner Theatre;
- New York, New York (on the top floor on Queen Street, also hosted by Ken Lord);
- Court of the Seven Lamps (at the Twelfth Night Theatre);
- Stagedoor Dinner Theatre (opened in 2002 in the Twelfth Night Theatre complex. Home to Starbuck Productions)