THE first automated glass-washing machine in New South Wales, and the second in Australia, was installed in the bar of the Plaza Hotel, above Wynyard Railway Station, George Street, Sydney in 1946.
When Plaza Hotel manager, Alphonse Parer switched on the machine for the first time on Friday August 2 1946, it immediately unshackled his barmaids from valuable time hand washing glasses – a task that prevented them from serving thirsty customers at what was then the biggest beer selling hotel in the state.
The area around the Plaza Hotel became infamous after dark in the 1940s as a recognised ‘pick-up’ for Australian servicemen.
The ‘Wynyard ramp’, beside the Plaza Hotel and leading into the underground railway station, gained a reputation for “street-women” and “teenage irresponsibles”. For more on the seedy-side of the Plaza Hotel precinct visit the Time Gents’ story: Before The Cross there was Wynyard
The Plaza Hotel’s barmaids though were no time wasters when it came to pulling beers.
The barmaids, Billie Williams and Gladys Henwood were amongst the quickest beer-pullers in the state. Billie Williams was said to be able to serve a customer every five seconds, and empty an 18-gallon keg in about 30 minutes. Gladys Henwood, of Bondi Junction, could do the same. Read more about Billie and Gladys at the Time Gents story: Sydney Barmaids’ Beer Challenge
Billie and Gladys’ pace at serving customers was given a boost with the introduction of the automated glass washing machines. The glasses were placed on an endless belt, the slops ran away, and the glasses passed over three rinsing fountains.
The first sterilised the glasses in water of 190 degrees Fahrenheit; the second cooled it; the third gave it a cold rinse.
Every chipped glass broke Immediately it passed over the hot water; the rest passed on and queued up near the tap. No towels were used; the girls didn’t have to put their hands in cold water.
The Plaza Hotel was built in George Street , Sydney in 1936. It replaced a small pub known as the Cafe Francais Hotel, which had traded on the site since the 1860s.
The Cafe Francias Hotel would have sat where the entrance, off George Street into Wynyard Station, is located today.
In a detailed history of the Plaza Hotel by Phil Harvey, the administrator of the Facebook Group, ‘Old Sydney Album‘, he writes that a grand hotel was planned in 1928 for a large the site that would take in the Cafe Francais Hotel.
The hotel was originally proposed to extend over and under Wynyard Lane and back 200 yards to Carrington Street, on land owned by the Railway Commissioners, that was also set to be the site of Wynyard Station.
The £1,000,000, 13 storey hotel was to rise 170 feet with a 175 feet frontage to George Street. The hotel would also have a 200 feet frontage to Carrington Street and have 500 bedrooms, various dining rooms, lounges, snack bars, and cafes.
Due to numerous problems with construction and government red tape, the proposed hotel was never constructed and instead a two-storey hotel traded on the site for almost 30 years.
Work did start on the 13-storey hotel, however it remained a hole in the ground above Wynyard Station in 1934. The North West Champion newspaper reported on November 21 1935: “The great Plaza Hotel is rising slowly at Wynyard station…”
That same year Joseph Gardiner had a temporary bar built over the excavated site, which stood on stilts and faced George Street.
The hotel had only progressed up to the first floor above George street by 1937. This section contained restaurants, cafés, bars and connections to Wynyard Station, including what would become known as the infamous “Wynyard Ramp”.
The site was split in two about 1962, with ‘Wynyard House’ replacing the Plaza Hotel on the George Street side, and The Menzies Hotel built on the Carrington Street side.
The name was officially changed by the NSW Licensing Court from “The Plaza Hotel” to “The Menzies Hotel” on September 17 1962. The Menzies Hotel was named after Sir Archibald Menzies, a pioneer hotelier.
By the mid-1970s the Menzies Hotel was the state’s largest liquor selling licensed premises. The acquisition of Shell House, next to the hotel, in 1979 added a further 196 rooms to the hotel.
French chain Accor took over the management of the hotel in 2000, and it closed in about 2016 to make way for the NSW Government’s Wynyard Railway Station precinct redevelopment. It was demolished in 2019.
- With thanks to Phil Harvey, the administrator of the Facebook Group, ‘Old Sydney Album‘.
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