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Where is the KingTomislav's, the first monarch of Croatia,picture ?
No place like home
January 18 2003
Ethnic food, culture, countrymen ... you can find them all without leaving town, as Mark Dapin found when he went around the world in 18 clubs.
Sydney plays host to a United Nations of ethnic clubs, representing countries as far apart as Vietnam and Portugal. Like the UN, they bicker and divide. Unlike the UN, they are united by a love of VB, which half the clubs serve in preference to any national brew.
Membership of registered clubs is open to anybody, regardless of race, religion or soccer affiliation. Visitors to ethnic clubs are always welcome and the clubs offer an authentic introduction to exotic foods, minority sports, rare beers, baffling politics and good old-fashioned weirdness.
The Nineveh Assyrian Club
The Assyrians have a social club, but they don't have a country.
"In the eyes of the world, we don't exist," says duty manager Sargon Raoul. "There's a lot of people who'll tell you we're extinct."
All Sydney's ethnic clubs try to recreate an imaginary homeland, but the Nineveh Assyrian Club makes the most spectacular effort. The building recalls a desert fortress, with clay brick crenulation over the main door, which is flanked by soaring palm trees and guarded by two gigantic winged man-bulls.
The Assyrians are the indigenous Christian people of modern-day Iraq. Their empire crumbled in 612BC and they have faced colonisation, persecution and attempted genocide ever since.
The bistro serves Assyrian specials on weekends. I try some meat and potatoes in spicy tomato sauce. It's OK, but I wouldn't go halfway around the world and 2600 years back in time for it.
Smithfield Road, Edensor Park, 9610 4655.
Jadran Hajduk is a soccer team from Split on the Dalmatian Coast and not, as I imagined, a Croatian national hero. The Jadran Hajduk Croatian Club is the smaller of two Croatian clubs in the same street. There seems to be a history of bad blood between them (and don't even mention the Croatian Club in Terrey Hills) but it's not the kind of thing a casual drinker can come to grips with. The Jadran Hajduk's most interesting feature is a bocce alley; it's least interesting is a bank of pokies.
130 Edensor Road, St Johns Park, 9610 1189.
The King Tomislav Croatian Club is home of the Sydney United soccer team. The huge clubhouse has a barn of a bar, with dozens of old men playing cards. (These card players appear to be a feature of every European club in NSW.) There are three large portraits in the room, none of which features King Tomislav, the first monarch of Croatia. The two Irecognize are the Queen of England and Franjo Tudjman, the controversial founder of modern Croatia.
I am peeking at a private function in the restaurant when the manager rumbles me as a spy and asks to see my identification. I am taken into the back room by a big man with a scar across his right eye and given a delicious plate of sausage, kebab, cabbage and chilli sauce. I am told about the planned renovations (they are going to knock through some of the walls, take down the gates, plant a hedge and put up some pictures of King Tomislav), and somebody manages to find a lithograph of a statue of King Tomislav in Zagreb.
223 Edensor Road, Edensor Park, 9610 6111.
Ukrainian Cultural and Social Club
This has to be the friendliest club in Sydney. As soon as I show the vaguest interest in Ukrainian culture (I ask whether it sells Ukrainian beer - no, but there is VB), I'm given a brief lecture on national drinking habits and bustled into an officially closed restaurant, told what to order and served a Ukrainian mixed plate for $6.50. The food - a meat-stuffed cabbage roll and a kind of deep-fried burger - is very tasty but, having already eaten at the Assyrian, Croatian and Serbian clubs tonight, I'm starting to feel the strain.
11 Church Street, Lidcombe, 9649 2285.
Although the Russian Club dates back to just after the Russian Revolution, the building seems a bit synthetic and new, somehow lacking in pedigree.
It is also strangely configured. The restaurant area is in a thoroughfare between the bar and the hall. I pass under a painting of warriors on the steppes and through an archway decorated with a Russian eagle, to reach a room lined with folk art depicting grinning Russian peasants in pre-revolutionary times.
For $10, the club serves a four-course lunch including borsch, brown bread and dessert. My $12 beef stroganoff was served with Soviet-era courtesy, but was rich and creamy.
Like the Ukrainian Club, the Russian Club offers $5 boxes of takeaway food - and very cheap pierogi - and plays host to a chess team.
7 Albert Road, Strathfield, 9746 8364.
The Hakoah was founded as a soccer team by Hungarian-speaking Jewish migrants, but the club cut links with the footballers in 1987, for financial reasons.
"Soccer doesn't have such a great following," says secretary Angie Lipman, "and this was a little Jewish soccer club."
Some of the Hungarian founders still visit daily, to drink coffee and eat the sweetest-looking cakes this side of Melbourne's St Kilda Road, but many new members belong to recently arrived communities of South African, Russian and Israeli Jews.
There is a good gym upstairs, equipped with free weights, punching bags, a climbing wall, a swarm of spin cycles and a Bondi-specific machine called a swimming trainer.
The Hakoah must be the only licensed club in NSW not to serve draught VB. It is certainly the only one I found to serve matzo ball soup.
61-67 Hall Street, Bondi, 9365 9900.
Czechoslovak Sokol Gymnastics Association
This Czech-and-Slovakian club is in an old school gymnasium, where local kids practise gymnastics. The restaurant - open at weekends - is the viewing gallery for the gym.
There are only four dishes on the menu and the Bohemian roasted pork with sauerkraut has sold out. I try svickova, marinated beef in vegetable sauce, and it is gorgeous - easily the nicest meal I have had in any club. The meat is generously served and perfectly stewed and the strange gravy is thick, sweet and spicy. It comes with about 3000 kilojoules of dumplings.
About half the patrons are Czech or Slovak, and most are old. The waiter who brings my Czech Pilsner Urquell beer is 78. He tells this to another diner, who replies with pride: "I'm 79."
16 Grattan Crescent, Frenchs Forest, 9452 5617.
In a satisfying accident of geographical fidelity, the Austrian Club in Frenchs Forest borders the Czech Club. Even better, there is a Dutch Club to the west (sadly closed for a long Christmas break) and a nearby Scandinavian House.
The Austrian Club is run by volunteers. There are no pokies here (or in Austria, for that matter). A large mural of the Tyrolean Alps dominates the wall overlooking the dance floor, but the imaginary-Austria effect is spoilt by a view of bushland and the Georges River.
The restaurant is another weekends-only affair. Schnitzel and pork knuckles are favourites. The beer, predictably, is great: try Schneider Weisse German wheat beer, or Austrian Gosser, available in dark or light.
About 8.30pm, Austrian folk musicians strike up a tune and the older couples waltz. It is oddly moving to watch them, dancing as if they were in another time, rather than another place.
20 Grattan Crescent, Frenchs Forest, 9452 3304.
Concordia German Club
One of the oldest clubs in NSW, the Concordia today is German practically in name only. Its sports teams have faded - only the old boys play soccer now - but the club has maintained a German choir and there is a German-style nine-pin skittle alley downstairs.
The Concordia draws customers from across Marrickville's ethnic mix, mostly to play the pokies, although the beer selection is excellent, with DAB on tap and Warsteiner, Gosser, Beck's and Hansa in bottles.
The Edelweiss Restaurant (speciality: pork knuckles) can be a lonely place on week nights.
231 Stanmore Road, Stanmore, 9569 5911.
Portuguese Community Club
Surrounded by factories, encircled by a goods-train line and directly under the flightpath, the Portuguese Community Club suffers from a location-location-location problem. It is a bit shabby but atmospheric. The bar is a fair place to drink Portuguese beer and the Vasco da Gama restaurant is probably justified in its claim to being the best Portuguese restaurant in Sydney. It isn't particularly cheap, however. I ordered the grilled barramundi ($16.50). Super Bock and Sagres are the beers to buy.
Fraser Park, Marrickville, 9550 6344.
Alexander the Great Macedonian Hellenic Club
The large, cabaret-style restaurant is packed with Macedonian families wearing some of the most startling Friday-night fashions outside Skopje. A silver-haired gent in a white suit and red silk shirt stands out among stiff competition.
A band strikes up what I guess is Macedonian music, joined suddenly by a booming, disembodied female voice, then a torch singer wearing a skimpy, skin-tight red dress appears, belting out what may well be a much-loved Macedonian standard.
Meanwhile, the waitress serves an incredibly good-value plate of grilled meats and seafood ($25 for more than anybody could eat) washed down with Greek Mythos beer.
I leave when the male crooner starts kissing men in the audience, but this might well encourage other people to stay all night.
160-164 Livingstone Road, Marrickville, 9560 9766.
The oldest Greek club in NSW, the Hellenic Club includes an icon-and-souvenir shop, which is useful if you want to pretend you've been to Greece, or if you've returned from a Greek holiday and forgotten to buy a present for your niece.
There is a bar for old Greek men - mostly single guys without families, who spend a lot of their time in the club - and a good-value restaurant that is more popular with cops from the nearby police centre and lawyers from the adjacent courts than with the regular Greek clientele.
251 Elizabeth Street, city, 9264 5128.
International Nippon Anzac Club
The restaurant of the Nippon Anzac Club is decidedly more Nippon than Anzac, whereas the bar is pure digger. Most of the lunchtime diners are Asian, tucking into sushi and sashimi in a below-street-level dining room.
The salmon sashimi lunchbox is salmon sashimi with rice and salad, served on a rock. Not "the rock", as in ice, but "a rock", as in something that is igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary. More Eastern colour is supplied by a large Japanese light, a fish tank and a giant kanji banner over the sushi bar. Asahi Dry beer is available at the bar.
229 Macquarie Street, Sydney, 9232 2688.
Chinese Cultural Club
I am not ashamed to admit it (OK, I am) but I once stood on stage and sang Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree at the karaoke bar of the Chinese Cultural Club. As if to expunge the memory of my shame, the club has since moved to another building.
Open seven days until 3am for the evil triumvirate of TAB, Keno and karaoke, the Chinese Cultural Club stands next to a pagoda-style shelter in the Haymarket heart of Sydney's imaginary China.
Specials listed in the restaurant include lobster, dim sim and, alarmingly, parrot - but this turns out to be a fish. The club serves a workmanlike, fairly cheap yum cha, including the usual pop-art desserts in fluoro colours that do not occur in nature, but there is better to be had outside in Chinatown.
Level 4, 25-29 Dixon Street, Sydney, 9211 1033.
The Mekong used to have a restaurant, but it suffered the same problems as the Chinese Cultural Club: there are perhaps 60 good Vietnamese places within five minutes' walk.
The Mekong is as close as you can get to a casino without hiring croupiers. Among the forest of pokies sit three large Lightning Strike virtual roulette wheels and one five-players-against-the-house video-blackjack table.
Asian beers are sometimes served and at weekends Vietnamese ballroom dancing is popular.
117 John Street, Cabramatta, 9724 6688.
Rembrandt Dutch Club
The Rembrandt Dutch Club began as a snooker team, became a club, split into two clubs, then one club closed.
"And now," says Mia Joosten, "whoever is Dutch and wants to play billiards, they turn up here."
"Here" is closed when I call (the club is open only on Friday nights) but Joosten assures me she serves regional food on Dutch dinner nights: Dutch croquettes, Dutch sausages and Dutch chips ("It's not your yellow, soggy chips - they have to be crisp") washed down with Amsterdam beer and Grolsch. On an ordinary night, fresh bread, smoked herring and eel are available.
87 Dunheved Circuit, St Marys, 9623 2569.
According to the 2001 census, there are only about 5000 Spanish-born people in NSW and they are widely dispersed, so it's strange there should be an imaginary Spain in Liverpool Street in the city. From the window of the Spanish Club bar, you can see a Spanish pub bistro, a tapas bar and a Spanish delicatessen.
All around the bar, people are speaking Spanish and drinking VB (although San Miguel is available). The restaurant upstairs can't match the local competition for quality or value, although it does host a flamenco dancer on Friday nights.
The Spanish Club is in a better position than most to move into the future. There has been a global explosion of Hispanic culture: J-Lo and Enrique Iglesias, tapas and the tango, samba and sangria. Management has plans to turn the Spanish Club into a trendy nightspot.
That's fine, of course. Just so long as they don't lose the lonely old blokes at the card tables - and the VB.
88 Liverpool Street, city, 9267 8440