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Celebrating suburban coffee

By Paul Costigan - 20 April 2016 20

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Sitting down on a recent Sunday to catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee (or two) in Braddon, reminded me of why it is not my favourite place to go on a weekend – let alone during the week.

There has been a lot said by the marketers of Canberra about the ‘cool’ places to visit, being Braddon, Kingston Foreshore and New Acton. None of these are high on my list of recommendations for visitors.

And I have often wondered about the reactions of so many of Canberra’s small business owners of the cafés in suburban Canberra to this government’s messages that favour several areas over so many others – all of which have their particular charm.

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Once I would have always recommended Dickson for its very successful cafés. I still go there often – as I can walk there as do many of us. The corner with the trees remains a favourite. Thank god for the early planning that installed those trees.

So while I would still favour Dickson as a spot to meet, with the rise in parking costs this destination has dropped off the top of my list for people who need to drive to meet others – and wish to relax and not worry about the parking times and costs.

So where then?

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My suggestion to anyone moving around town to meet others is to make sure you check out just about any of the smaller suburban shopping centres. In recent times, amongst others, I have been to Chifley, Curtin, Mawson, Hackett, Lyneham, O’Connor, North Lyneham and Narrabundah to catch up over a coffee and possibly a meal.

A couple of decades back these local shops were just that – a supermarket, maybe a fruit shop, butcher and other services such as a chemist, doctors, post office, newsagent etc.

Canberra, like so many other cities, has developed a strong culture whereby people meet outdoors and love to catch up over a cup of coffee – or other such drinks – and a snack or two.

How things change. Our suburban centres have had their harder economic times but most have since reacted to the current trend for people to spend part of their leisure time in cafés. Canberra’s local shopping centres have largely morphed into these social hubs.

When I was in Braddon, we had planned to go to one of the more popular venues. Unfortunately it seemed that several groups were treating the space as a playground for their children. There were at least six children on the move darting around the tables.

Curiously while this one was reasonable busy, the one directly opposite had three customers. That’s where we headed.

But now for a message to those who run these venues. Music is great, I listen to heaps of it in the car, here at home and elsewhere (the headphones are on right now listening to Lucinda Williams). But when I want to talk to someone in a café, I really want to be able to hear what the other person is saying. I do not go there for the loud overhead music.

The café that we entered had loud bland pop music playing. We were about to change again when we realised that a couple of the tables were on the edge of the outdoor space and that there the music was not so intrusive.

The message is that music can provide an ‘interesting’ background, but that’s where it should be – in the background. Please!

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There are many positives to be had by heading out to the suburbs to have a coffee. Free parking – and the chance to shop at a smaller supermarket – not being Colesworth.

One downside is that few of them have much of an ambience outside the front door. There is still a bit of a way to travel when it comes to how these centres could be upgraded.

A decade or so ago there was a strong push from the government urban unit to upgrade the open spaces in and around the suburban centres. Looking at many of them today, it is obvious that the time has arrived again.

Maybe some of those funds from the ever-increasing sales of land could be better spent on suburban centre improvements and landscape design. Maybe it is time to seriously increase the budgets of the relevant ACT Government urban procurement and management sections.

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So what was it about Braddon that was not so appealing? That will be another post on another occasion.

Meanwhile it would be good to hear from others on their recommendations and/or experiences with meeting up for coffee in suburban shopping centre cafés. All comments welcomed.

(By the time I finished this piece, I was listening to Rhiannon Giddens.)

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Recommended Music – try Rhiannon Giddens on youtube. Great voice – she was previously with Carolina Chocolate Drops – her 2015 album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, remains fabulous.

There’s decades of Lucinda Williams music – here’s a couple of later songs on NPR

What’s Your opinion?


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Celebrating suburban coffee
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Masquara 6:45 pm 26 Apr 16

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone want to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

Bookplate at the NLA used to be blissfully silent and library-appropriate, until it changed hands two years ago. Now they run what seems to be streamed Spotify at random volumes.

Masquara 6:44 pm 26 Apr 16

HenryBG said :

Firstly, congrats on your music taste.
Ainslie is my recommendation for local coffee, both for indoor and outdoor seating. Next would be Lynham. My own suburb of Campbell needs help!

There are two coffee options in Ainslie – are you referring to the place next to the pharmacy, or the one at the other end of the shopping centre? (Or Edgars?)

miz 6:30 pm 26 Apr 16

Anyone tried Common Grounds at Gowrie? It always seems to be shut when I think of stopping off for a coffee . . . .

Wendeborg 12:01 pm 26 Apr 16

Firstly, congrats on your music taste.
Ainslie is my recommendation for local coffee, both for indoor and outdoor seating. Next would be Lynham. My own suburb of Campbell needs help!

Ezy 8:32 am 22 Apr 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

I used to go to Braddon a lot but have recently stopped going due to the noise. Its not music or even the over-loud conversations of some, its the motorbikes which have recently started parading, often over the speed limit, up and down the main street making far too much noise for it to remain a pleasant place to be.

This isn’t something that has just started recently… Lonsdale Street has always been home to cars and motorbikes. Even my dad has told me stories of him cruising the street in his car as a teenager. Yes, motorbikes are noisy but I deal with it because we live in a city with other people.

All of this “Oh no – this city is too noisy!” is ridiculous. There are plenty of properties for sale in the country if you are after the quiet life.

emd 7:42 pm 21 Apr 16

Great to see Curtin, Chifley, and Mawson rated a mention – three of my favourites. I also like Biginelli’s at the Kambah shops on Mannheim Street, the bakery at Hughes, Little Billy’s in Weston, and EQ at Deakin. Good coffee, quiet ambience, easy parking, and maybe some nice cakes are pretty much all it takes to keep me happy.

GoW 11:41 am 21 Apr 16

I used to go to Braddon a lot but have recently stopped going due to the noise. Its not music or even the over-loud conversations of some, its the motorbikes which have recently started parading, often over the speed limit, up and down the main street making far too much noise for it to remain a pleasant place to be.

Mordd 7:27 pm 20 Apr 16

If you’re looking for something quieter and out of the way in the Woden region I can recommend the cafe at Lyons shopping centre. Otherwise I tend to go to the outdoor seating in Tuggeranong on the main drag for my breakfast and coffee.

rubaiyat 6:07 pm 20 Apr 16

Thankfully if you are in restaurant with Stygian lighting, like Loni Redini, your iPhone has a very handy flashlight on it.

btw I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Braddon has had its day.

All the new dull developments have practically knocked off all the lively pop-ups which were the reason to go there. Sadly any one of these places, sitting in parallel shopfronts, is starting to look just all the others, and we are falling for American style super fit-outs over the food which should be the real drawcard.

rubaiyat 4:52 pm 20 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

dungfungus said :

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone wants to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

I’ve got to say, I have more of an issue with people talking loudly, or echoes than with loud music. Aside from at bars, I can’t remember the last time I thought a cafe’s music was too loud, but with voices it happens all the time.

That’s because people have to talk louder than the music to be heard. 🙂

Happened to me recently in Orange’s top restaurant, Lolli Redini, which has excellent food if only I could have heard what the waiter was saying, or he hear us, or actually see the food in the dim indirect downlighting falling between the tables and not on them.

Through the “smart looking” design, they had completely opened up the interior of an old cottage and rendered the walls with cement, making a perfectly parallel echo chamber. As the echoes drowned out individual conversations, everybody progressively raised their voices to the point of unintelligibility.

We tried to talk to the manager about it but she couldn’t make out what we were saying. She probably concluded that we were telling her a what wonderful ambience the restaurant has.

Maya123 4:16 pm 20 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone wants to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

I’ve got to say, I have more of an issue with people talking loudly, or echoes than with loud music. Aside from at bars, I can’t remember the last time I thought a cafe’s music was too loud, but with voices it happens all the time.

That’s because people have to talk louder than the music to be heard. 🙂

crackerpants 3:46 pm 20 Apr 16

As a parent/non-trendoid I’m loving the revival of suburban coffee – we even have a cafe (Niugini Arabica) at the Duffy shops now (shops best described as “homely” 😉 ) It’s small, but they roast their own beans sourced from PNG, there’s seating outside and the playground right next to it for when the kids can’t possibly sit still a moment longer. They have a TV/music playing but it’s easy enough to ask them to turn it down if there’s no seating left outside. It’s really lovely to be able to walk to our local cafe for a Sunday afternoon treat as a family. There’s no tram stop, but ample free parking.

Lurker2913 3:32 pm 20 Apr 16

If you want to see your local shopping centre or something else in your local area change, don’t think “I wish”, consider joining a local community group and make the change happen. If there is no local community group in your area, start one. You do not have to do it from scratch. Other community groups are happy to share their documents etc and share their experiences.

If you are waiting for the territory government to do something, you will be waiting a long long time.

madelini 3:08 pm 20 Apr 16

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone wants to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

I’ve got to say, I have more of an issue with people talking loudly, or echoes than with loud music. Aside from at bars, I can’t remember the last time I thought a cafe’s music was too loud, but with voices it happens all the time.

Nilrem 12:44 pm 20 Apr 16

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone want to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

Especially that boring generic background music used by those venues that are too cheap to pay APRA royalties.

Ezy 12:11 pm 20 Apr 16

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone want to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

If people can’t tolerate other people’s music, children or conversation – then maybe a cafe isn’t the place for them. Maybe they’re better off visiting a local library or staying home.

Maya123 11:49 am 20 Apr 16

Texpat said :

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone want to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

+1.
I have walked out of cafes to avoid the loud music. I don’t enjoy needing to shout. Yes, music can be atmospheric, but that can mean it’s bad atmospheric; a place to be avoided, instead going to a quieter, more pleasant cafe.

Zan 11:12 am 20 Apr 16

Thank you, Paul, for commenting on the noise level. If anyone want to do reviews of any place that has no or very quiet music I will go there. Music is such a personal thing and I do not want to listen to your music as I prefer my own. When are cafes, shops and centre owners going to realise that people go to these places to do business NOT listen to loud music. Some say it is atmosphere but loud music is just noise in these areas.

madelini 11:00 am 20 Apr 16

Interesting article, but it will always be tough to encourage government funding in areas that aren’t commercial hubs – Braddon receives more funding because it is central, accessible and trendy – a sounder investment than suburban centres. Dickson, too, is more likely to receive attention than Hackett or Lyneham shops.

Canberra is lucky in that there are a lot of very talented cafe owners choosing to operate at the smaller shopping centres – in addition to the ones mentioned above, there’s also Common Grounds at Gowrie, Stand By Me in Lyons, the couple of places in Yarralumla, The Knox in Watson. Given that these suburban centres were designed to be functional rather than as a social hub, we’re very lucky in that there are so many creative and innovative people willing to put something new in there, and have them succeed.

reddy84 9:28 am 20 Apr 16

Braddon has paid parking, very little available and not so nice amenity yet still seems to be an incredibly busy place. I go their because its busy, I stay for the coffee and because it caters to a broad range of demographics. Lonsdale Street Roasters and Sweet Bones have a great atmosphere and cater well for people with young children.

There have been a number of great small coffee shops popping up in the old local centres such as Aranda and Cook shops on the north side. Coffee shops have revitalised many spaces around Canberra.

Perhaps Tilleys in Lyneham would be a good choice for you. They play jazz but there are some kids around.

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