Gundaga's famous Niagara Cafe for sale for only the second time in a century

The Niagara Cafe, the last traditional Greek-run cafe in Australia. Photo: Neil Newitt
The Niagara Cafe, the last traditional Greek-run cafe in Australia. Photo: Neil Newitt

The oldest continuously Greek-run cafe in Australia is being put on the market in what will be only its second public sale in 100 years.

The iconic 1902 Niagara Cafe in the NSW town of Gundagai, with its magnificent art deco features including its bar and mirrors, has been a regular with film stars and politicians during its long history, and is the last of the country's traditional Greek cafes.

Among its most notable visitors were then prime minister John Curtin and his war cabinet, who devoured a hearty midnight meal of steak and eggs in its kitchen in 1942 - and granted the cafe more generous wartime ration cards in thanks.

"It's going to be a huge sentimental move to see it go," said Tina Loukissas, whose family bought the cafe in 1983 and have been running it ever since.

"It's so full of character, and it's been our life for so long now.

The interior of the cafe hasn't changed much since the 1930s. Photo: Nick Moir

The interior of the cafe hasn't changed much since the 1930s. Photo: Nick Moir

"But I hope someone will buy it who will preserve its lovely historical features yet will also take advantage of its potential to make it even more beautiful.

"It has all the silver teapots and the original plates with 'Niagara' stamped on them, and is the oldest, and longest continuously Greek-run cafe in Australia."

Loukissas, 44, is planning to sell the cafe as her mother Denise, now 72, is suffering poor health and would like to retire, and her brother Tony fell ill. Her father Nick died nine years ago.

As the last such cafe still running - the future of the only other historic Greek cafe, the 1916 Paragon Cafe in the Blue Mountains, is still in limbo after closing in 2018 - there are fears that its sale could be the end of an era.

The Loukissas family Nick, Tina and Denise, outside the cafe in 1986. Photo: Effy Alexakis

The Loukissas family Nick, Tina and Denise, outside the cafe in 1986. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Macquarie University historian Leonard Janiszewski, who has documented the evolution of Greek cafes in Australia together with Effy Alexakis, says it would be a tragedy if that were to happen.

"This cafe is an incredibly important place for all Australians," he said.

"It's part of our socio-cultural history. People have dreamed in there about their lives, whether young couples getting together and dreaming about their future, or others getting food and then going to see a movie nearby and continuing dreaming there.

"It's an historical icon. People could see a Hollywood movie and then go there and sit and experience its Hollywood art deco style.

The art deco features of the cafe's interior. Photo: Tina Loukissas

The art deco features of the cafe's interior. Photo: Tina Loukissas

"It's part of our heritage. One of the Castrission family who ran it from 1919 said it was like 'an oasis'. It will be very, very sad when they sell, but you can't live on nostalgia."

The cafe was established in 1902 by a Kytherian Greek, Strati Notara, and then continued with the Castrission family who installed the art deco interior and exterior in 1938 - transforming the eating house into a "pleasure palace", according to Janiszewski, the co-author, with Alexakis, of the book Greek Cafes and Milk Bars of Australia.

It was always promoted as "Australia's Wonder Cafe" with its semi-domed ceiling, once painted as a night scene with stars onto which lights would shine. That was later destroyed by fire and never replaced.

It still retains much of the furnishings, and charm, of that time, with American-style bench and table seating, and serving hamburgers, steaks and spiders - a soft drink with a scoop of ice cream.

An image of the cafe in 1938, taken from the Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia project, Macquarie University. Photo: Supplied

An image of the cafe in 1938, taken from the Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia project, Macquarie University. Photo: Supplied

Many visitors say it reminds them of the 1950s TV show Happy Days.

The cafe has yet to be valued and comes with a three-bedroom house behind.

Local real estate agent Ross Tout, the branch manager of Elders Real Estate Gundagai, said it was difficult to put a price on it, although the National Bank building nearby, with a four-bedroom apartment above, sold three years ago for $600,000.

"It's hard to say what it would be worth as it's so historically important and has been a part of the Gundagai main street for such a long time," he said.

Tina Loukissas in the cafe in 2002. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Tina Loukissas in the cafe in 2002. Photo: Effy Alexakis

"It would have to be half a million dollars, if not more. But it's hard to put a price on the goodwill a business has, and that has been there in a good spot for many years."

The cafe is usually open seven days a week from 9am until 7pm, but recently its hours have been growing shorter, although business is still steady.

Loukissas said she hoped the cafe would end up in good hands. "I doubt it will be bought by a Greek family but times move on," she said.

"The young generation aren't so interested in old cafes any more, but it does have so much potential for someone to do something really good in here. They could keep the art deco elements but modernise it, and really do well."