It used to be a cake shop.
In the years Before Gluten (BG), in the years Before Gentrification (B$), long before the median price for a Sydney home was $1 million, it used to serve the type of giant, triple-decker desserts and pastries that would’ve made the Country Women’s Association proud.
There was only type of bread (white), the type of wonderbread our ancestors fought and won two world wars with. Kids also ate the crusts because otherwise you’d grow up with curly (or even possibly ginger) hair.
There was only type of sugar (also white).
There was only one type of coffee (unknown).
And everything was packed with glutens.
Later, in a nod to the times, it started serving sandwiches along with cakes, scones, lamingtons and Chiko rolls. If you ordered a salad sandwich, it only came with lettuce (not “cos” – cos didn’t exist yet), onion and beetroot. No one wanted the beetroot, but it was reassuring to know it was there. It was a touchstone of cultural consistency every bit as valid and reassuring as the gherkin in the Big Mac. Sure, no one wanted to eat the gherkin either, but somehow, it was important that it was there.
It was the sort of unpretentious place beloved by tradies and sparkies and labourers and mums with their kids: more school tuckshop or canteen that sophisticated café.
A simple place harkening back to a simpler time before iPhones and property portfolios and MasterChef teaching five-year-olds to expect penne alla arrabbiata in their school lunchbox.
A place that had perfected the bacon-and-egg roll and large coffee as its signature takeaway dish.
A Café for Old Men.
It was the bottle of pink Himalayan salt that first alerted me to the irrevocable changes in my Old Man Café. It rested on a metal table that looked like it had been crafted out of the wing of a Boeing 787.
Looking up, I realised that my Old Man Café has irrevocably morphed into a Middle Class Café.
Gone were the tuck-shop types, replaced by younger, better-looking waitstaff.
The menu was partially in Italian and full of dishes I barely understood.
For instance, the Caesar salad had become a “Contemporary Caesar Salad”, as if Caesar, former ruler of Rome and conqueror of Gaul, no longer cut it in a world where Asian slaw was served on cement slabs and watermelon juice came in mason jars.
I looked enviously at the kids’ menu – which served all the delicious things that were once on the adults menu like fish and chips and spaghetti and meatballs – knowing I could now never order off of it.
I imagined there was some kind of detector at the door that loudly went off if it detected anything with glutens in it.
I stared around at the young, hip types enjoying what I assumed were Bonsoy cappuccinos.
This was clearly a suburb in the throes of gentrification.
The mothers with their kids now wore activewear and lived in million-dollar houses and drove 4WDs.
The men were younger, bearded, aspirational, one eye on their dining partners, the other on the iDevices upon which they were furiously tapping.
The well-behaved children nursing babycinos were probably in Advanced Reading Classes and knew the difference between a tortoise and a turtle.
It was no longer a Café For Old Men.
I imagined all the tuck-shop-volunteer mums, the labourers in King Gees and checkshirts and even the roving pigeons and ibises all being bussed away to a less-salubrious suburbs to make way for the new customers.
I couldn’t fault the food and the service. But this café was no longer for me. Yet another sanctuary of my youth was no more.
This Old Man’s Café was heading the way of the Old Man’s Pub.
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” I muttered.
But there was no longer anyone old enough – or interested enough – to understand what I was saying.
My ebook military thriller The Spartan is out now on Amazon.