One thing about Melbourne cafes is that there is no template for a "Melbourne cafe": the best are embedded in neighbourhoods, and take their character from them, in design and food and in the kind of people who hang out in them.
Cafes are remaking Melbourne's public space, and although they are still about consumption, it's local and personal, and the owners are mostly small business people. They are often young, energetic and entrepreneurial, a sign that you can make your way in Melbourne with a good idea and hard work. Cafes give us an enlarged sense of what it means to live in this city, with a connection to community that chain stores and shopping malls can never make.
While I live in Surrey Hills, I work in the CBD and love what it has to offer in terms of coffee, food and wine. Check out a few spots that I visit regularly.
Melbourne Brother Baba Budan is one of Melbourne’s most celebrated coffee spots — locals love it. The café takes up a relatively small spot on Little Bourke Street, but the baristas make you feel welcome as soon as you arrive, knowing almost every customer who comes through the door, as well as their order. The décor, meanwhile, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘pull up a chair’ — the ceiling of Brother Baba Budan is covered in wooden seats. I pulled up a stool on the floor instead and sampled a latte made with Seven Seeds beans. (Serious coffee connoisseurs may be interested to know that the man behind both Seven Seeds and Brother Baba Budan, Mark Dundon, was also the original owner of South Melbourne coffee hotspot St. Ali.)
The most famous of Melbourne’s decorated laneways are situated near Flinders Street Station. Degraves Street and Hosier Lane are like a constantly evolving art gallery and I love to visit them each time I’m in the city.
My favourite alleyway, however, is in Chinatown and is a dead end not spotted by many people. It’s called Croft Alley and has a bar called The Croft Institute hidden at the far end—try to find it next time you are in town.
Tell us what is around the corner from where you live or work or just hang out. Everybody loves to check out what is new in food, wine and coffee; so spread the word.