Ever wanted to turn back time or wished you could have been somewhere in an era so fondly remembered by so many.
Wollongong will get a rare opportunity to do that soon when the Charcoal Tavern is reborn at the original site on the ground level of the new 21 storey Signature apartment building.
The eatery at 18 Regent Street was synonymous with fine dining in the Illawarra for decades.
And was enjoyed by everyone from a big boss of BHP at the time who used to arrive in a Rolls Royce, to nervous boyfriends who saved up for a special night out so they could propose to their loved one in style.
Talk to those closely connected to venue over the years and that was a nightly occurrence.
But the challenge for Ken Tugrul and whoever he gets to run the new Charcoal Tavern will be to recreate the character, ambiance and romance of the original restaurant that started life as the Harrigan family home.
Many involved in the iconic eatery in decades past know how passionate Mr Tugrul is to see that happen. And have some helpful ideas about how to recreate the same feel as the original in such a modern new building that towers above the original site.
Some would love to see a fountain similar to the original in front of the new eatery with its inward curving facade.
Weekender asked the original singing chef Gaetano Costanzo, maitre d' of many years Alex Marlos and former owner Hilton King to share their memories and shed more light on why the Charcoal Tavern holds such a special place in so many hearts.
They all said they want to be there the first week it opens to help recreate the same wonderful atmosphere everyone remembers.
Among Mr Marlos's memories were Scott Radburn and Rodney Rude doing impromptu performances and Wollongong's singing chef most knew as Ross who was heard every night adding to the atmosphere from the kitchen.
Mr Costanzo said Ross came from his middle name Rosario. He originally earned the title of singing chef from people who would hear O Sole Mio, Arriverderci Roma or a Tom Jones song while he was preparing up to 150 meals a day.
His daughter Tina Watt said he was always singing and still does in retirement. He grew up in Sicily and sang on the job from the time he started work on a fishing trawler with his father at 14.
It wasn't long before he wanted to learn to cook the seafood he caught and began training as a chef in a hotel that became a restaurant. He has always had a love of food and music which he believes are the key ingredients to the recipe for a good life.
"When I was in Italy I always loved to sing in the kitchen," he said.
"That is where I met my wife and she bought me to Australia.".
When he arrived as a 19 year old in 1969 he initially worked at The Fraternity Club before moving to the Charcoal Tavern in the 1970s where Alex Jeffries and his father encouraged him to bring his Italian style of cooking. It started as a trial and lasted 25 years.
"I have always loved singing and cooking. It is part of my life," Mr Costanzo said.
"At the Charcoal Tavern we had the best customers in Australia. And the staff were like a family to me. Everybody was happy. They all worked as a team.
"Alex and Wendy Jeffries were always nice to us. I worked for John and Monica Graham for a few months to and they were also lovely people."
Mr Costanzo said the food at the Charcoal Tavern was good because the ingredients, especially the seafood and lobster, was fresh from the boat. He said the steak was also the best in Australia. He also made a lot of pasta.
"My favourite dish to make was the Chateaubriand," he said.
"When Alex Jeffries opened Antics at the Downtown Motel he asked me if I wanted to do another six years with him. He was a good boss and looked after me. Altogether I worked for him more than 30 years".
Mr Costanzo later opened his own restaurant called Mamma's Kitchen at the Bally Hotel before it relocated to the Cabbage Tree Hotel and finally Woonona.
He also worked at Panorama House before he retired but still cooks at home where his neighbours get to hear his dulcet tones floating down the street accompanied by the mouth watering scent of his Italian dishes.
When people ask him what he thinks about Ken Tugrul opening a new Charcoal Tavern he says 'bloody hell it is good'.
"It will be nice when they open," he said.
"I will be there and I would love it if Alex Jefferies comes with me. We could share so many memories.
Mr Costanzo said if the owner or operator likes the idea he would be happy to bring some of his favourite recipes and recreate some of his famous dishes for them in the kitchen.
He said he still loves fishing and bringing his catch home to cook and would love to catch up with many of the people he used to work with and customers such as Susie Elelman who he still has a soft spot for in his heart.
Even though he has done many things since the Charcoal Tavern Mr Marlos said people still come up to him at least once a fortnight who remember him from the iconic eatery. He managed it for seven years when John and Monica Graham ran the restaurant.
It was his first job after doing a new hospital management traineeship at Ryde College that was launched in the 1980s when the Government brought teachers from Europe to teach Australians hospitality.
Mr Marlos worked in many Sydney restaurants during his training but his first job as manager was at The Charcoal Tavern.
"It was the restaurant of restaurants," he said.
"It had a great reputation from day one. It was synonymous with dining and had such a great atmosphere. So many people got engaged at the Charcoal Tavern."
Mr Marlos said John Graham was an absolute gentleman who loved to network and Monica Graham worked hard behind the scenes. They employed him to be 'the host with the most".
Mr Marlos said the Graham's wanted to continue the culture of providing a great customer experience that Alex Jefferies and others had created at the popular venue.
"It was such a close team," he said.
"We all gave it our all."
Mr Marlos said people still come up to tell him how the level of attention the Charcoal Tavern staff gave its customers doesn't exist any more. It was where diners could stay for as long as they liked.
"The food was very good and the service was excellent. We were all as passionate as one another."
Mr Marlos said the building also had character which added to the amazing atmosphere of the Charcoal Tavern.
The extensive wine list was also a big drawcard. He said he has never sold so many expensive wines before or since from a cellar that was located below the old homestead. The bottles still had dust on them when they were brought to the table.
"The cellar was underground. We would have to open a hatch and go down some very steep stairs. There were some very expensive wines down there".
Mr Marlos is looking forward to the new restaurant opening and would love to visit and help recreate that atmosphere. He said he was willing to work a few shifts and relive his former role for diners. He said in its heyday the Charcoal Tavern was the place you went for a special occasion.
Mr Marlos said in its heyday people didn't dine out as much as they do today. But they were given 'the royal red carpet treatment' every time they came to the Regent St eatery.
"We treated everyone exactly the same".
Mr Marlos said the Chateaubriand was still the most popular dish when he was the maitre d' and helped create the romantic atmosphere the Charcoal Tavern was famous for.
"If you were going for a special occasion the Chateaubriand was completely silver served and flambéed with brandy at the table," he said.
"That was the dish to have to impress someone. People would pre-book flowers and the wine and the staff were always ready with congratulations.
"During the years I was there we made it into the Hall of Fame. We were named the best restaurant in NSW."
Mr Marlos said it won't be easy to recreate the Charcoal Tavern but if anyone can do it it is Mr Tugrul who is so passionate about dining, wine and Wollongong. Under his stewardship the city has a chance to relive a wonderful era that many thought gone.
"I am keen to come over a few times just to see what he is doing. To bring back the same atmosphere would just be amazing. If he can find the right person to run it it will be so good.
"I really believe this is something special for the Illawarra. The Charcoal Tavern really was the special place to dine. Table 13 (The Booth) was always booked out way in advance. It was a bay window with a leather booth in it".
"It was an honour to work in a place with so much history and atmosphere. From one owner to the next everyone really put their heart and soul into it which is why it has the name and reputation it still has now. I used to work in Sydney but the Charcoal Tavern was as good as it gets.
"When my brother got married their the guests from Sydney couldn't believe how good everything was. The service was just impeccable. The staff always went beyond the call of duty".
"If the new operator invites me to come in and do a few shifts, I certainly will and wear the bow tie like I used to. I will also be going there with my family when it opens as a customer so my children can enjoy the Charcoal Tavern experience".
Mr Marlos said something else that added to the atmosphere was the Rose Lady who went around the tables with roses and a camera providing a memorable experience for diners.
"I was always so impressed with her. I don't think she missed one weekend. She was a very nice lady who made everyone feel special.".
Hilton and Marianne King operated the restaurant for two years when the Sydney Olympics were on before leasing it out to Nick Manias's brother Bill Manias in 2001.
Mr King said the GST had a huge impact on the restaurant but the Charcoal Restaurant has always held a special place in his heart because it is where he and his wife had their first kiss. They have now been married 30 years.
It had always been his favourite restaurant and was where he took clients. The Kings bought the property from the Harrigan family after the GST hit and sold it before moving to Port Macquarie where they now live.
They still own property in Wollongong and regularly return. They are familiar with the 21 storey Signature building, are impressed with its look and are excited to hear about Mr Tugrul's plans for a new Charcoal Tavern. And have some memorabilia they are happy for him to include including a giant artwork that was mounted on the western wall.
"It was one of the really significant trademarks of the Charcoal Tavern. It was an important part of Wollongong's history, and we relish the thought of helping to perpetuate its memory," Mr King said.
"We are passionate about the Charcoal Tavern. We remain devoted to the memory of that place. It was the place to go in Wollongong. There was nothing else quite like it."
Mr King said another thing that would help recreate the character of the original Charcoal Tavern would be a pool fountain like the one that was in the front yard of the original restaurant and homestead.
"People loved that. They would sit there and look at the fountain. That would be a way to make the new Charcoal Tavern just a little bit more like the old one".
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