Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

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Taco Bill's (aka Mexican Cantina)

379 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne

Location

North-eastern corner of Clarendon and Napier Streets (originally 181 Clarendon Street)

Memories

A favourite Friday spot. I seem to remember that it was Barry Wells who knew the restaurant as a local and initiated the  move there as he had spent time in Mexico, although he always claimed the fare was definitely American-Mexican rather than true Mexican.

On early visits (it was then unlicensed), we weren't sure what to drink with “Tex-Mex” - the guy at South Melbourne Cellars [1] across the road  recommended Scrumpy, a rough and ready cider then marketed by Wynvale in two-litre glass flagons - it went well with the food until one tried to stand up and realised just what the alcoholic content was.

It was called the Mexican Cantina when we first went there, later becoming the first Taco Bill's and managed by a five-foot nothing who was definitely more Tex than Mex (not sure whether he was a Bill).

History

The building was originally the Forester's Arms Hotel, first licensed in 1865 when the address was shown as 181 Clarendon Street.

The Forester's Arms was de-licensed as part of the first examination of the South Melbourne district by the Licensing Reductions Board in May, 1909, when it was noted that there were five other hotels within 200 yards.

Two others, the Britannia on the corner of Clarendon and Dow Streets and the Rose of Denmark (in Napier Street) [2] adjacent to the Taco Bill's car park were closed by the 1920 hearing, the other three, the Limerick Arms on the corner of Park Street and the Cricket Club and Emerald (then Hill's) to the east survived.

After closure, the building was listed with dual occupants until the late 1920s when it housed a printing works for many years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was used as a bakery before being refurbished and re-opening as the Mexican Cantina. The Cantina also embraced 375-77 Clarendon Street, last noted in directories as a radio shop.

Today

Like Leo's, the College Lawn and a couple of others, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be the successful principle applied to the entire Taco Bill chain.

The building however carries a fairly dubious sign claiming to the "the first of the chain" and having opened in 1967 - sorry, Mr Taco (or Mr Bill), it was definitely still the Mexican Cantina when our photo was taken in the late 1970s.

The ""original" Taco Bill's appears to have been in Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, first noted in directories in 1968, but as the sign says, probably from 1967.


[1] Remarkably, South Melbourne Cellars is still run by the Batsilas family, originally of Spanish descent. Equally remarkable is that I discovered during earlier research into the Britannia that my maternal great-grandfather once ran a fruit shop in the Cellar building in the 1880s and 90s - the building then hosted two shops, the pair combined into one as some later stage.

[2] The Rose of Denmark has its own moment of glory in the historical sun - although there was an Albert Park football club in existence, an Emerald Hill football club was formed in 1874 at the Temperance Hall further west in Napier Street. Members were not happy with the name and a later meeting at the Rose resolved to change to South Melbourne. South Melbourne and Albert Park merged in 1880, using Albert Park's colours of red and white, but the South Melbourne name,.  The rest, like everything else that "just happened", as they say in the classics, is history!