Carmen at the International Coffee Lounge

Carmen at the International Coffee Lounge

Carmen pours coffee for a guest at her International Coffee Lounge.


Carmen, the founder of Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge, was a flamboyant personality. A transsexual with a colourful past, she returned to Wellington from Sydney in 1967. Approaching middle age, Carmen decided she needed her ‘own stage’ on which to star. She took the right of first refusal on a clothing factory with a four-bedroom flat on the upper floor. It was located at 86 Vivian Street – next door to the Salvation Army.

In many ways Carmen’s was like other coffee bars of the era. The opening hours were long, initially from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., and later from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. The menu was straightforward but adequate: coffee, tea, soft drinks and a great variety of toasted sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones. The difference was in the décor, the staff and the availability of sex. Carmen referred to her waitresses as hostesses: ‘that is what they were, and with the exception of the lesbians, all my girls were boys or had been boys at some time. They had to be beautiful. That was the mark of my establishment.’ While she gathered around her people of all sexual persuasions, it was never a rule that her entertainers and coffee shop workers had to be prostitutes.

Staff were encouraged to sit and talk with customers to make them feel comfortable. A ritual known as ‘the cups’ was devised whereby a customer could signal his sexual preference without needing to engage in a potentially embarrassing conversation. Regular customers were also able to liven up their coffee by purchasing a nip of brandy.


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Posted: 30 Dec 2012

Have been told the book by Paul J martin Carmens International Coffee Lounge (Sydney) is a wonderful read, would anyone have a copy they would like to sell please???