Rant from a Writer: An Ode to the Terrible Café / by Jim Lounsbury

In my neighbourhood there are some very cool cafes. Warm wood and dripping with plants and carved New Guinea masks – they make the slowest, best coffee you could imagine. They attract the beautiful people. You need to line up to get in. They serve breakfast salads and brunch curries. The art work is intriguing and vaguely disturbing. They use a lot of sumac and the eggs are from vegan hens. You will spend forty five dollars in here, no matter what you came in for. You might take home some house-made beet relish.  

You cannot write in these cafes.

What a writer needs is a terrible café.

 It seems counter-intuitive of course. Are we not artist’s – creators of culture? Are we not ‘the cool folk’?

We are not.

What we are is nerds. We are word-nerds. We crave company and noise and light and movement and caffeine and of course parametres, and so we need cafes to keep us from sleeping or Netflixing ourselves to death. But we are not cool – we gaze at our laptops threading words in and out as hunched as any programmer, constantly debugging, fretting over the lines of code that just won’t work. We are focused on minutiae, worried about people who do not exist. We argue with ourselves, whispering things in strange accents, pulling faces and gazing like serial killers at other patrons while we think. We are anything but cool.

And so we need the terrible café.


These are easy to find. Follow the pensioners. Look on the cheap streets adjacent to malls and several roads back from the beaches. Look for signs that suggest they are sponsored by an Italian coffee blend. Sniff the air for burned milk, or burned coffee… or both. These cafes, with their Ikea art and pinewood chairs and self-serve water are perfect. The corner table is inconvenient for anyone but the seasoned café writer, the coffee unpalatable by all but the determined and the very old. The prices – so reasonable as to be astonishing. They serve twelve varieties of the “melt” and still use parsley as a universal garnish. Your coffee is ready before you finish ordering and it tastes like an Australian road mid-summer. The toast is square and white, the avocado un-smashed and vigorously salted. It is BYO sriracha and fix-your-own table.

And you can stay ALL F*CKING DAY.

For three dollars twenty.

There are no repeated requests for new coffee orders, no side-long sighs from French Bulldogs waiting on a table and you will not form a backdrop for anyone’s Instagram feed. The patrons of these cafes are still using Nokias and they are turned off to save the battery. The staff don’t have time or interest in cool, they have malted milkshakes to make and jam options to explain. They love your loyalty, remember your order and throw in half an Arnott’s shortbread finger with your coffee. The cafe will probably share a single toilet with the massage place next door. 

This is where you belong. This is where novels get written - in the fluorescent, raisin-scented air of the uncool café - and when you find a gem like this keep it secret and keep it safe. Learn to love the coffee. Learn to digest the cheese. And get your goddamn book written.


This post is dedicated to several Eastern Suburbs locales, but was actually written on the hard benches of the Café Gallery in Eastgate shopping mall, where the service is lovely, the pensioners plentiful, the coffee is caffeinated, and I regularly stay for eons. Thank you.