The days of the Normandie Inn may be numbered, but once upon a time the North Wollongong venue was the place to be seen.
Developers have been given approval to demolish the hotel and build a five-storey apartment block.
On November 25, 1950, the Mercury reported on the official opening of the "swank tourist hotel" saying it would be a red-letter day for gourmets as well as tourists.
"Monsieur Sravako Laszlo, the Hungarian chef, spent last night wrestling 12 husky turkeys into the ovens to feed 200 guests expected for the opening," the Mercury reported.
Wollongong MP William Davies officially opened the "lavishly appointed" hotel, while guest speaker Lebanon's Consul-General Mr Ghorra felt the need to state that "the Lebanese made good citizens in any country which they chose as their own".
Advertisements for the restaurant boasted of "continental cuisine" and the hotel's name regularly appeared in the Mercury's gossip pages as the place where high-profile out-of-towners went to dine.
Union Bank director Viscount Bridgeman visited the city and lunched at the Normandie in 1951, while underwear manufacturer Julius Kayser Australia chose the venue to show off lingerie fashions for 1952 - the highlight was "nightgowns cut on new continental lines".
In an indication that 1950s Wollongong was still a country town, when friends of locals came for a holiday the Mercury saw fit to mention their visit - noting that they chose to stay at the Normandie.
One of those visitors was a big deal - Fijian rugby player Semisi Baleca. At 1.92 metres tall and weighing 95 kilograms (a weight that was obviously unusual for the time), he had needed a special bed made for him while staying in Sydney.
That bed didn't come with him to Wollongong when the team stayed at the Normandie, though the hotel manager assured the Mercury an appropriate bed would be ready for Baleca when he arrived.
It truly seemed like the Normandie was the place to be seen; it held endless farewell lunches, retirement dinners, weddings and receptions.
Though it wasn't all plain sailing; in 1953 owner Michael Badran pleaded guilty to a charge of selling liquor on a Sunday.
Detective Sergeant Russell had gone to the hotel on a Sunday and spied beer bottles on four tables occupied by diners.
"The Normandie Guest House is regarded as a first class guest house, frequented mainly by travellers," police prosecutor Sergeant Smith told the court, adding that Badran had made a statement which claimed he had told his staff not to sell liquor on a Sunday.
That same year, Badran was also the victim of an unusual theft - someone broke into his office and stole his cigarettes. It may be an indication of Badran's standing that police were actually investigating the theft.
In 1954 Badran wanted to open what the Mercury called a "lubritorium" next-door to the Normandie; while the name may sound risque, it referred to a service station. Obviously nearby North Wollongong residents were quite unimpressed.
Through to the 1970s and 1980s, the Normandie was the place to go for wedding receptions and fine dining, but it seems its image had gotten stale by the 1990s.
In a profile of the new owners of the restaurant, the Mercury reported they were "still battling a perception by locals who see the Normandie as a place that offers 'frogs' legs' and a place where you have to dress in 'pearls and furs' to dine".
In recent years, the Normandie name seldom appeared in the Mercury's pages - and when it did it wasn't because of the dining.
One such example was in 2021 when a hotel guest set fire to his room and barricaded himself inside.
On a Sunday night the guest drank alcohol and smoked cannabis before deciding around 10.40pm to push his bed up again the doorway of room 215 and barricade himself in behind the coffee table and lounge before using the remaining furniture to start a fire.
Police managed to gain entry to the room, tasering the guest when he called out to them.
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