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Espresso Rialto Coffee Lounge, 1956

Architectural plan for the Espresso Rialto Coffee Lounge
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The Library has recently acquired the architectural plan for the Espresso Rialto Coffee Lounge in Kings Cross, which opened in 1956. Designed by Frank O’Brien (now O’Brien Glass), the lounge featured one of Australia’s first espresso machines – a stylish 'La Carimali' from Italy, and featured a stand-up espresso drinking area with curved glass fins giving each customer a private little nook to enjoy their espresso.

The Espresso Rialto was owned by Frederick Lamberger (1907-1986), a Hungarian-born artist who emigrated to Sydney in 1950. Lamberger worked briefly as a waiter, then a cosmetics salesman, a sewing machine salesman and an employee of the Registrar General’s Department, before opening Espresso Rialto, opposite the Darlinghurst Fire Station at 286 Victoria Street, in 1956.

The Coffee Lounge added to the European vibe of the burgeoning Kings Cross coffee and bar scene in the 1950s. As well as the stand-up coffee drinking area, which featured a formica surface and handbag shelf, its modernist design had bright buttercup yellow and cranberry painted walls, timber panelling, and a glass cake display case. The espresso machine was centre to the design of the small but stylish space, and the cabinetry was designed around it, including a pull-out bean bin with a glass front to show off the coffee beans to customers.

Lamberger ran the shop for three years before selling it and setting off on an 18-month trip to travel and sketch. When he returned he bought Espresso Rialto again (it had closed down whilst he was overseas) and renamed it ‘Espresso Ginza’, in honour of the three months he had spent in Japan on his trip. He sold ‘Espresso Ginza’ a few months later for a profit. Lamberger went on to found a bric-a-brac shop called the Kings Cross Museum. Lamberger sketched throughout his life and the Library holds his collection of drawings of Sydney and surrounds between 1950 and 1968, donated to the Library by his sister, Catherine Gluck.

This architectural plan for the Espresso Rialto Coffee Lounge is an exciting addition to the Library’s collections of mid-century modernist design. Read more about the Library’s collections of modernist architecture here.

- Anna Corkhill, Curator, Research and Discovery