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Tsindos: The legendary Greek tavern of Lonsdale Street in Melbourne

When I first saw Tsindos tavern on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, Victoria, it was a summer night with live Greek music calling me from a small alley full of people. Passengers would stop to listen to rembetika, some would sit at tables and enjoy Greek food in a place that, for the last 40 years, continues to promote Greek tradition.

As almost every Greek place in that central part of Melbourne, which years ago used to be the heart of the community, Tsindos tavern comes with a migrant story.

Tsindos tavern on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, Victoria.

Cypriot Neofytos Tsindos came to Australia at the end of 1965 on the ship “Queen Frederique” to find his uncle’s family in Melbourne. His father urged him to leave because he saw the problems coming to Greece, first with the British and then with the Turkish side. He remembers trying not to cry in front of his parents when a small boat was transporting him to the “Queen Frederique.”

“I cried when the boat turned,” Mr Tsindos tells The Greek Herald.

After working at his uncle’s Italian restaurant in Melbourne, Mr Tsindos was called for military service in the Vietnam War at the age of 18.

“The Australian government was casting lots. It fell on me,” he remembers.

Because he was a migrant, Mr Tsindos had the option to leave Australia instead of serving.

Neofytos Tsindos opened his first restaurant in 1969.

“I didn’t want to go back and I didn’t want to go to war,” he says. “If it was to go and fight for Greece or Cyprus, I would say ok.”

After taking a big trip to England, France and Italy, where he worked as a waiter, he returned to Australia in 1969 and opened his first restaurant. Five years later, Mr Tsindos was in Melbourne when the Turkish invasion of Cyprus took place. He had just returned from a trip to his motherland.

“When you’re away from something you don’t feel it as intensely,” he says.

He remembers though how he felt when, years later, he visited Cyprus and was allowed to cross over to the northern occupied side.

“What you feel when you enter and see the Turkish flags is a shiver, something like panic comes over you,” Mr Tsindos says.

Tsindos tavern opened its doors in 1983.

A trip to Greece through taste:

Tsindos tavern opened its doors in 1983.

“Back then, here in Russel, Lonsdale and Swanston Streets, all you could hear was Greek. There would be seven to eight Greek restaurants. Melbourne was the third largest Greek city in the world,” he says.

Today, 90 per cent of the customers are of other nationalities and 10 per cent are Greeks.

In the past, Tsindos would make every cooked food you could imagine. Today, one can find moussaka, gemista, kokkinisto and sometimes different dishes.

Tsindos is of course a place to enjoy amazing small Greek plates such as tzatziki, saganaki and eggplant salad. Appetizers stand high in costumers’ choices. Ordering them means starting a trip to Greece through taste, just by opening Tsindos’ door on Lonsdale Street.

A large portion of Tsindos taverns customers are of other nationalities and 10 per cent are Greeks.

Before I leave, Mr Tsindos points at the pictures on the walls, showing us his family members, leading back to decades ago. There is also an old Greek tourism poster of a man posing in front of a blue window.

“People always say it’s me in the picture,” he comments laughing.

From politicians to singers and tennis players, the celebrities who have visited Tsindos are numerous. Mr Tsindos knows though that parties, as well as meeting lots of people every day, is something that ends when the time comes to close a restaurant. Then, people tend to usually forget the owners.

“That’s the fate of a tavern owner,” he says with a laugh.

Today, he is still there. Helping from time to time his son, who is running the place, to pick up the phone, talk to costumers, and to thank them when they stand up to leave after a full meal, happy, with smiles on their faces and a warm feeling in their hearts.

That’s what you carry with you leaving Tsindos tavern in Melbourne.

Celebrities, politicians, singers and tennis players are among the many people who have visited Tsindos..
Published in The Greek Herald, click here