As I wander through the streets of my hometown, I am constantly amazed at the ever expanding Adelaide cafe culture. Chains, franchises and independent coffee shops abound. It seems everyone is drinking coffee these days, and I have certainly been drinking more than my fair share while I have been in town. Some people prefer the chains like Cibos or Cocolat (Coffee Bean or Starbucks in Manila), as they know what they are getting anywhere in the city. Personally I prefer the quirky little independent coffee shops: Pave Alfresco on Norwood Parade, squeezed into a courtyard space between Trak Cycles and Yanni’s Yiros; Queenies opposite the Largs Pier Hotel, a stone’s throw from the jetty, its walls filled with the work of local artists; Pantry on Egmont on a suburban street in Hawthorn overlooking the railway line, or the Loose Caboose in the old Bowden Railway Station just off Port Road.
My new favourite is the Retro Vibe at Port Elliot.
Last time we were staying in Port Elliot, this building with its bull-nosed verandah and a small, sunny deck housed one of those over-indulgent, over-priced gift shops that abound in seaside towns to attract the swarms of holiday clientele. Today, as I wandered down the hill, it had morphed into a spacious, quirky cafe, full of vintage 50s posters, formica tables and square, red leather armchairs. Red glass water bottles stood to attention on top of the cake cabinet – filled with scrumptious looking cakes, mostly locally made, I am told. There is a back corner filled with gift options: a selection of bags and numerous crocheted hats, slippers and scarves, created by local residents, including one crocheted in video cassette tape – very Bruno Mars. A glass display counter offers a selection of 50s nick-nacks – like the Japanese barbecue condiment set in that garish 50s green. How have I lived so long without one?
Owner Michael moved here from the mid north 18 months ago and opened the cafe in December last year. His new project has rapidly become the most popular watering hole in town, with both the locals and the holiday crowd. Just across the railway line and past the war memorial, it looks out over Norfolk pines and the fine old blue stone buildings that line the Strand.
After all the noisy, jam-packed coffee shops of Manila – understandable when the population is 20 million not 20 plus – the elbow room and the peace are self-indulgent luxuries I revel in. The first time I popped in with my daughter, our host was on the verge of closing up on a slow (dead) afternoon, but he welcomed us in and was happy to stay open as long as we were comfortable.
Chatting about the whys and wherefores of his arrival in this small seaside town, once a thriving whaling station, now a prime destination for South Australian retirees, he began with ‘well, to cut a long story short…’ I have always loved that as an opening gambit. It inevitably leads to a good, long story. I settled in, and was not disappointed. Meanwhile my girl had found us a corner filled with large sofas and deep armchairs from where we eventually proceeded to put the world to rights over an iced coffee and a big mug of caffe latte – at last, someone else who doesn’t follow the annoying trend of coffee in a glass.
Today the morning crowd is being blown through the door like Mary Poppins, as the wind continues to torment and tease the coastline as it has been doing all night. My One & Only disappeared earlier to clamber around the rocks to take photos of a windblown sea, so he’s probably half way to Kangaroo Island by now.
I order my mug of latte and ponder the best place to sit: by the window at the pink formica table? Or in the back corner on the large brown leather sofa facing kiddy corner and a seven foot bookshelf? I pick the lighter spot by the window, to sit and reminisce.
Remember those kitchen chairs with the legs sloping out that grab your ankles and trip you as you squeeze past? And record players? The one in the corner actually works, although the records are sometimes a bit scratched and lurch through old favourite hits of my parents era. I throw on a Doris Day album that has never sounded as good as it does in this perfect 50s setting. There is even a mini, back-lit juke box, and old vinyls have been glued to the wall at one end.
Michael is chatty and friendly, and we stand talking with him for a few minutes before we head home, laughing together about some of the odder pieces of memorabilia he has unearthed.
According to the various reviews on trip Advisor, the cafe is a firm favourite with both locals and visitors, labelled “Port Elliot’s finest” with a “great atmosphere” and “the best coffee on the coast” . In my humble opinion, it is the best coffee I have had since landing in Australia. And not just because it arrived in a mug!
Should you feel the urge, you can even pop in for a Devonshire tea or high tea. Somehow we didn’t find the time for nibbles this time, but we will undoubtedly be back…