Milk bar is a term in some parts of Australia for suburban local shops or general stores. They are known as delicatessens or delis in South Australia and Western Australia, and as corner stores in Queensland. Milk bars are traditionally a place where people pick up milk and newspapers, and where school children purchase milkshakes or lollies.
The first businesses using the name "milkbar" were franchises opened by Burt Brothers in 1934. The concept soon spread to the United Kingdom
, and over 1,000 milkbars had opened by the end of 1936. Milk bars were known in the United States at least as early as 1940 as evidenced by contemporary radio recordings.
By the late 1940s, milkbars had evolved to include not only groceries, but also became places where young people could buy ready-made food, non-alcoholic drinks and socialise. Milkbars often used to include jukeboxes, pinball machines – later upgraded to video games, with tables and chairs to encourage patrons to linger and spend more money.
The milkbar as a social venue was gradually replaced by fast food franchises, such as McDonalds, and shopping malls. Much of the elaborate decor has disappeared from the remaining milk bars. They are still found in many areas, often serving as convenience stores.
Milk bars in Australia today almost universally stock ice creams
bars, soft drinks
and occasionally fast food
. Some also serve milkshakes. Although there are many fewer milk bars than there were during the 1970s and 80s due to changing shopping habits, most people living in suburban areas still have a milk bar within walking distance or a short drive of their home.
In the United Kingdom, the National Milk Bar franchise is an ordinary café / restaurant chain which is related to the original milkbars in name only. Most of these are found in Wales and near the Welsh border in England. In the UK, corner shops serve a similar function to milk bars in modern Australia, providing everyday groceries, sweets, newspapers and such.
There is a campaign in the UK to encourage school children to consume more dairy products, by installing 'milk bars' in schools. The idea is that if the dairy products are attractively presented and properly stored, the children will be more willing to buy them. The organisers behind the project work to develop links with school caterers, so that the handling of milk and dairy produce can be improved, and they promote milk consumption and encourage milk drinking to become a habit that will be carried into adulthood. The milk bar project has been extremely successful in Scotland for 18 years, and it is currently being extended across England and Wales.
In Popular Culture
- Milk bars were mentioned in a sinister context in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, in the guise of the Korova Milk Bar, a hangout where the delinquent Alex and his friends gathered to plan crimes and consume milk laced with narcotics. Burgess grew up in England during the period discussed above in which milk bars originated.
- In the movie Strictly Ballroom Fran's family runs a milk bar in Australia near a set of railway tracks. The milk bar was built for the film and was not operational. While filming the movie, health inspectors showed up and demanded to see their papers.
- A milk bar was featured in the fictional show Cow and Chicken in which the title character, Cow, was put to work singing in a "seedy milk bar" and her performance mimicked a run-down lounge act. The bar served at least milk and ice cream, though most likely it was not meant to reflect true milk bars.
- In the video-game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask there is a milk bar in the Clock Tower that serves milk from the Romani Ranch, a local farm in the land of Termina.
A "dairy bar" is the term for a similar restaurant/store common in the Northeastern United States, especially Upstate New York, which is a large producer of dairy products.
The term dairy is also used for these establishments in some places, particularly in New Zealand.