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Tilley’s Devine Cafe

By Niki van Buuren - 2 June 2014 37

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In a desperate attempt to capitalise on my final day of holidays and get some university work out of the way I’ve come down to Tilley’s for breakfast. Armed with a small stack of textbooks and my laptop, I’ve got an entire booth to myself.

It’s Sunday morning – the place is packed, inside and out. A melting pot of Canberran culture; retirees, tousled young people still soaked in last night’s revelry, families. In the haphazard collection of single booths at the back a handful of students tap away at laptops, their third cup of coffee close at hand. I enter through the side door and a jack russell terrier smiles up at me while its human companions chat amiably over poached eggs and muesli.

Inside, the combined body heat of over a hundred patrons has raised the temperature; it’s uncomfortably warm though I know the alternative is to be outside, where it’s uncomfortably cold.  The girls behind the counter wearing black bow ties and white shirts struggle to hear orders while a recording of some nondescript jazz music plays over the cacophony of morning conversation. It’s like a cabaret.

Many patrons like myself are here alone, either to soak up the atmosphere, catch up on important work or to simply enjoy having a meal without the bother of sustaining conversation.

When you walk in you can’t help but notice the distinct influence of the old Film Noir flicks of the  early 20th century. It’s dark, it’s plush, and it’s sexy. At 10am on a Sunday you can still be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a bar at 10pm on a Friday night. You could almost imagine Humphrey Bogart or Rita Hayworth sidling up to the bar and ordering a martini.

It’s less the martinis (although, I imagine you can order one) than the great food that I’ve experienced at Tilley’s. The poached eggs on toast with hollandaise is a particular favourite of mine (with a side of mushrooms and hash browns, of course). I like my caffeine as much as the next public servant and the girls serve one of the best mochas I have tasted. For those who like a little variety, there’s a specials board that changes regularly. If you’re up for after-work drinks there’s three beers and cider on tap, an extensive wine list as well as a selection of spirits and bottled drinks. I’m a cider girl and they always have my favourites on hand.

Named for the infamous Tilly Devine, a Sydney gang member and madam in the 1920s, Tilleys opened in 1984. It was the first licensed outdoor venue in Australia and the first to ban indoor smoking. Tilley’s is recognised as a fantastic live music venue, although live music gigs were scaled back in 2005 in order to concentrate on the restaurant and bar.

In the past the venue has played host to musicians such as Architecture in Helsinki, The Whitlams, The Church, pianist David Helfgott and Missy Higgins among others.

Tilley’s is one of my favourite places to go in Canberra; it has the cosmopolitan feel of many of the so-called hipster hang-outs in Braddon, but without the pretentiousness that those hipster hang-outs are accused of. No ironic lumberjack beards here. Tilley’s is unapologetic in its vibe. It is what it is, and if you don’t like it then don’t bother showing up.

Tilley’s Devine Cafe is located at the Lyneham shops, corner of Wattle and Brigalow streets, Lyneham. Open from 8am until late. Coffee window (Wattle st entrance) open from 7am. Check out tilleys.com.au for more information.

Niki van Buuren is a Canberra-based writer and teacher. This is the first of a new series on RiotACT devoted to iconic and less well-known Canberra venues.

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What’s Your opinion?


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37 Responses to
Tilley’s Devine Cafe
1
wrigbe 12:16 pm
02 Jun 14
#

My kids love it. They have worked out that if we order dessert at the same time as mains, you get the dessert first! Its a special treat to be able to start on dessert first, then just when you think you are sugared out, your delicious savoury mains arrives. You can eat that and then if you still have room you can finish off your dessert. Either way all courses are very yummy.

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2
Avy 1:23 pm
02 Jun 14
#

Tilleys has gone downhill. Not bad for a coffee I guess.

And on an unrelated note, what is RiotACT’s policy on advertorial content?

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3
Canfan 2:03 pm
02 Jun 14
#

Avy said :

Tilleys has gone downhill. Not bad for a coffee I guess.

And on an unrelated note, what is RiotACT’s policy on advertorial content?

We don’t currently have any paid advertorial content. If that changes we will let you know.

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4
fabforty 5:35 pm
02 Jun 14
#

Hold on – was the Jack Russell inside ??

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5
old canberran 6:17 pm
02 Jun 14
#

When Tilley’s opened many moons ago it was ladies only, men would only be served if accompanied by a female. It was around the same time some of those ladies were trying to become members of the Canberra Club.
I assume Tilley’s is now open to all and sundry.

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6
HardBallGets 7:42 pm
02 Jun 14
#

Don’t rate it. Pass.

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7
aussieboy 9:39 am
03 Jun 14
#

Tilly’s takes us back to Canberra circa 2010, a time when Canberrans’ cultural ignorance was widely displayed in their of pride for the few very mediocre establishments that existed (Gus’, Babar, Happy’s to name a few)

Thankfully, this city’s dining options have come far (and prices are falling slowly into line with Sydney’s). Tilly’s has been left behind – average bitter coffee (not served at your table), $18.50 burgers and $16.50 focaccias – all topped off with that ludicrous 10% Sunday surcharge that would price cafes out of the market were they to try it on elsewhere in Aus.

It’s a real shame – Tilly’s is a nice place. Time for an update (and price cut).

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8
switch 10:06 am
03 Jun 14
#

aussieboy said :

Tilly’s has been left behind – average bitter coffee (not served at your table), $18.50 burgers

Never tried the burgers at Tilley’s. Are they as good as Brodburger’s?

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9
Codders111 12:42 pm
03 Jun 14
#

Decent food and drink; great atmosphere. Tilley’s is a cool place. It’s a tad harsh to put it in the same category as Babar and Gus’.

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10
wrigbe 12:50 pm
03 Jun 14
#

I have certainly heard the rumour that Tilleys use to be only for women (or males accompanied by women), though it was before my time. I arrived in Canberra in 1990, so more than 24 years ago. I think that they dropped the requirement for patrons to be women around when the Canberra Club dropped the requirement that their patrons be men. Obviously it still smarts for some :)

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11
MERC600 4:37 pm
03 Jun 14
#

wrigbe said :

I have certainly heard the rumour that Tilleys use to be only for women (or males accompanied by women), though it was before my time. I arrived in Canberra in 1990, so more than 24 years ago. I think that they dropped the requirement for patrons to be women around when the Canberra Club dropped the requirement that their patrons be men. Obviously it still smarts for some :)

It kicked off in 84, with some sort of Guvy grant which caused a stink.. No blokes allowed in without a female partner. Some Duntroon cadets got into strife there one night when attempting to enter. I seem to remember the no blokes thing being dropped after a little while.

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12
milkman 5:33 pm
03 Jun 14
#

I haven’t been to Tilley’s for many years. I got sick of the rubbish service and high prices and never went back.

Being a bloke probably didn’t help my cause.

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13
old canberran 5:50 pm
03 Jun 14
#

wrigbe said :

I have certainly heard the rumour that Tilleys use to be only for women (or males accompanied by women), though it was before my time. I arrived in Canberra in 1990, so more than 24 years ago. I think that they dropped the requirement for patrons to be women around when the Canberra Club dropped the requirement that their patrons be men. Obviously it still smarts for some :)

It wasn’t a rumour:-

http://goo.gl/EfZMvS

It caused a bit of a stir when it opened, that’s for sure. It really had nothing to do with the Canberra Club.
I just threw that in for fun.

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14
milkman 6:56 am
04 Jun 14
#

I haven’t been to Tilley’s for many years. I got sick of the rubbish service and high prices and never went back.

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15
astrojax 10:50 am
04 Jun 14
#

devoted to iconic and less well-known Canberra venues??

tilleys, ‘less well-known’ than what?

a pity it still isn’t used as a music venue – [was a] great place to see that non-descript jazz nikki mentions, and blues and other ‘smokey night club’ type music. but it’s a little over-priced for what is offered, though some yummy treats if you’re prepared to fork out.

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