About The House Of Refreshment
Down amongst the Tigersnakes by the Yarra river is the Abbotsford Convent. Built one hundred years ago by the Order of Good Shepherd to provide shelter and spiritual support for vulnerable girls and women, it is slowly being turned into an arts, cultural and educational precinct. I’m sure the vulnerable girls and women would have preferred art, culture and education to the grinding routine of the Laundry. What has happened to them anyway?
I was first approached to open a cafe at the precinct in 2004 but it was a bit pink for me. I was asked again in 2005 but had to say again that selling low fat muffins wasn’t getting me all that excited. I wanted to open a Wog Bar.
I’ve always been fascinated by the shop fronts where men played cards smoked watched T.V. and drank tiny cups of coffee or V.B. at quarter to nine in the morning. What did these guys do? You weren’t sure if Skips were allowed in and if you did the welcome from the guy behind the counter made sure you didn’t take your coat off. Hospitality wasn’t on the menu. The display fridge had a half full tub of margarine, a couple of slices of ham and some curled cheese slices. How did they make any money?
Even my hometown, Mt Gambier had a couple. The Cosomopolitan, The Country Life and the up-market Gi-Gi Cafe where our Grandmother would take us for Iced Coffee and something called Continental Cake. It was at the Gi-Gi where I fell for the levered coffee machine. The steam and noise were not from ‘round ‘ere’ and I knew that from that day on I was on my way out of town. It took 12 years. At the time it was a bit of a toss up between the coffee machine or the deep fryer at the Blue Lake fish and chip shop which also had me under it’s spell. So that’s where the fish and chips come from.
So, to my astonishment, I’m able to pay tribute to those increasingly rare oases that I reckon have played an unheralded part in changing Melbourne for the better since 1953, the year the World changed, if you don’t believe me go ahead and take a look. Back then coffee came from a jar and you’d drink it at home. My dad had equipment that I thought must have come from a science lab he’d bring out and make coffee with when we had guests for dinner. It would splutter and spit out this black shit, if you weren’t careful would give you third degree burns. Everyone complemented Dad on the coffee but they were all pissed.
Now there are cafes anywhere you can squeeze one in. There’s even franchised chains. They’re even on fucking wheels. And they’re all shit. The people that work these places are like cardboard boxes on legs. Do they speak? Where’s the personality of the owner? Is there a warehouse somewhere they can buy the identical fitout? None of them come close to the timeless beauty of the Wog Bar.
Coffee, Beer, Snack. T.V. What more do you need? Not a low fat muffin in sight.
So dreams can come true I guess. Still no Cat’s flag but I’ll be walking on Terrazzo eating nun’s farts with my tiny cup of coffee. Pork products abound, salted nuts, curly nuts, nuts in a shell, cheese, a beer tap, some wine, Jackie Mittoo on the stereo the French Connection on the telly. Throw your rubbish on the floor, go outside on the terrace and fag all you like. You might forget you’re in Melbourne but you’ll certainly know you’re in the House of Refreshment.
Handsome Steve Miller - Jan 25, 2007