Melbourne-Sydney rivalry extended to the bar-room, with beer-pouring challenge

AGILE BEER – PULLER, Windsor (Melbourne) barman, Cyril O’Brien, who can serve 1000 pots an hour. His employer, Mr. A. J. O’Mahony, will give £100 to charity if any other Melbourne hotel-keeper has a faster beer puller.
hotel windsor melbourne c1945
The Hotel Windsor, Melbourne C1946 when barman Cyril O’Brien skillfully pulled the beers. Picture: Supplied

TWO Sydney barmaids — Billie Williams and Gladys Henwood — were not impressed by Melbourne’s champion beer puller, Cyril O’Brien, who boasted he could serve 1000 customers in an hour at the Windsor Hotel.

Newspapers across the country reported in January 1946 that if any Melbourne hotelkeeper could produce a faster beer-puller than O’Brien, his employer Mr. A. J. O’Mahony, would give £100 to the Children’s Hospital.

In one minute, during the five to six pm rush, a newspaper reporter counted 23 pots or glasses splashed across the counter by the acrobatic barman, who was said to be a teetotaller.

“Mr. O’Brien took the money, operated the cash register, and served correct change with every batch of drinks. He can pick up seven pots at a time, hold them as firm as a rock, and fill them.”

A columnist in a Perth newspaper, the Western Mail, responded by posing the question: “One would like to know how many more or how many less pots Mr. O’Brien could draw and handle expertly during the ‘swill period’ if he were exhilarated with alcohol.”

Two Sydney barmaids scoffed at O’Brien’s beer-pouring skills, stating they could serve customers a lot quicker than their Melbourne counterpart.

The Sun newspaper reported on January 4, 1946 that Billie Williams, a barmaid at the Plaza Hotel at Wynyard Railway Station, challenged O’Brien to a beer-pulling competition.

“Fetch Mr. O’Brien up here and we’ll have a competition. I can serve a customer every five seconds, and empty an 18-gallon keg in between 28 and 30 minutes,” Miss Williams said.

Another Plaza Hotel barmaid, Miss Gladys Henwood, of Bondi Junction, also said she could empty an 18-gallon keg in 30 minutes. The Sun reported that at times she had glasses, three-deep, extending for four feet, but had no complaints from customers. 

The Sun reported barmaids in Sydney hotels, between 11am and noon, could serve 12 customers at a time.

It is not known whether Billie Williams’ challenge was ever taken-up by O’Brien. But in what would have no doubt fueled Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, an official of the Federated Liquor Trades Union reportedly said at the time: “In Melbourne pots with handles are served. These are easier for the barman to hold than the glasses and schooners in Sydney.”

For a history of the Plaza Hotel at Wynyard station see the Time Gents’ story: Plaza Hotel, Sydney had the first fully automated glass washing machine in NSW 


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Categories: Barmaids, barmen, beer glasses, Melbourne Hotels, NSW hotels, Sydney hotels, Victoria hotels

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