Doris Goddard is sitting at the bar of the Hotel Hollywood. Her hair is done just so, the ruffles on her blouse are neatly pressed and her walking stick sits discretely beside her. She turns, smiling and asks, “You do drink red wine, don’t you darling? It’s very good for you, you know. Clears out your arteries.” On that note, she settles into the wooden booth, a steadily emptying bottle at the centre of the table.

Nobody mentions the Hollywood – tucked away in the labyrinthine streets of Surry Hills – without mentioning Goddard. She’s something of a Sydney icon, performing regularly for patrons, the souvenirs of her time as an actress and singer lining the bordello-red walls.

Born in 1930 and growing up in a house on Hereford Street, Forest Lodge well before it was “nice”, Goddard left Sydney in the 1950s for the glittering lights of London. Performing across Europe, America and Asia, she appeared opposite the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope in The Iron Petticoat, where she played a Russian spy, and in Geordie, where she played Helga, a Swedish shot putter. “I was more or less always living out of a suitcase,” she recalls of the time. “It’s not glamorous, but that’s what you do in show business, love, you go where the money is.”

Much of Goddard’s career involved singing cabaret in far-flung cities and strange situations. “I sang in Peking when Peking was closed to the world,” she says. “I was singing in the Orient, and this little fella came up – he spoke perfect English, by the way – he said ‘Would you like to sing in Peking?’ And I just laughed at him. I said, ‘You can’t get into Peking, it’s closed to the world’. China had locked its doors then, you see. He said ‘Oh, don’t you worry about that Doris. If you’d like to sing in Peking, you will’. He said ‘I am the Bolsero of communist China’ – the Bolsero is the treasurer. So I wasn’t going to say no to that. See, it’s not what you know, love, it’s who you know.”

Goddard’s stories are all similarly captivating. Infamous names are casually thrown into conversation. “Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she was mate of mine,” she offers up at one point. “We got on real well. But she loved clothes, oh you should have seen her wardrobe.” Indeed, her anecdotes read like the midnight scribblings of a Hollywood screenwriter: “We were in this Rolls Royce in the South, but it was bloody hot so we used to have all the windows down. One day they said ‘Doris, we’re going to have to put the windows up.’ The Pygmies lived in the trees around there and they were pissed off. They used to have these pipes with poison darts they’d blow out. So we had to put the windows up.”

Goddard is the kind of lady who doesn’t dwell on misfortune. “I’ve been married twice; I’ve been widowed twice. They were both in the Korean War and both killed as a result. One died in the war and then the other one died afterwards as a result of his war service. So two good husbands dead. I mean, it’s hard to get one bloody good husband. But sweetheart, that’s life.” She cradles her glass of wine, pausing thoughtfully before continuing. “It’s a long time ago. I don’t clutch everything to my chest.”

Eventually, Goddard came home. “My mother was having a whinge, so I thought I’d come home for a little holiday. But I never went back.” The first pub she owned was the West End at Balmain, followed by the Marlborough in Newtown “and there were a few others, but you tend to forget, darling”.

It was 1977 when she bought the Hollywood, a pub nobody much wanted because that area of town was considered a poor investment. “They used to say you could wash the blood off the walls at the end of the night,” she says. But it didn’t deter Goddard, who now lives upstairs. “I’ve never had a rough pub. I don’t allow it. They behave themselves or they don’t come back.”

Today, the Hollywood is unique in an area of Sydney where the gentrification of pubs seems to move at a super-human pace. It maintains a unique character, with foot-pedal faucets, wood panelled walls fitted by a local “jailbird” and the kind of carpet you’d ordinarily find in a Hoyts cinema circa 1997. And Goddard, of course – a fountain of wisdom for anybody fortunate enough to bend her ear across the bar of an evening.

“Sweetheart,” she says, “I have been happy no matter where I am. You have to make the fucking most of what you’ve got on the day you’ve got it. No one’s going to give it to you.”

Hotel Hollywood
2 Foster Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9281 2765