Café writing is an opportunistic sport, and if you are paying your way during your stay in a café, then all manner of places can be suitable. Nevertheless, it takes a particular kind of venue to encourage longer stints of work, some hard to define X-factor that makes a place particularly comfortable and good for writing. For this reason, the quality of coffee is of secondary importance to me - my list of the best coffee venues in inner Melbourne looks quite different to the list below!
Of course, while selection of venue is important, it is equally important to observe an etiquette of café writing. This basically amounts to paying one’s way by ordering coffee, drinks and/or food, and not taking up tables at meal times when other people need them and none are free - unless of course you intend to eat. I find that if I stick to these two simple rules then I remain comfortable staying in a venue, and with that level of comfort comes a solid basis for getting some good, hard work done. Becoming a regular also helps enormously - if the staff know you are there to write, but that you also pay your way, then they will usually be happy enough to see you and won’t bug you too much between coffees. Doesn’t hurt to tip the waitstaff either.
So this is my current (short) list of favourite writing venues, most of which are located in downtown Melbourne.
No. 1 on my list, for practicality and atmosphere, is the Federal Coffee Palace at the GPO on Elizabeth Street. This place is good any time in daylight hours, seven days a week - they almost always have a few tables and spots free, so there is less incentive to move on quickly. The setting is suitably European, and it is great for people-watching. They are also quite friendly there and don’t seem to mind you lingering over your coffee. Particularly good for weekends.
No. 2 is Mess Hall on Bourke Street, which is great but it can get busy around meal times, and at breakfast on weekends. Still a nice sunny spot to dream away a few hours, and good coffee too.
No. 3 is C&B Café on Block Place. Gets busy around meal times, but you can usually ensconce yourself there for an hour or two if you pick your moment wisely. Excellent for crowd watching as a backdrop for writing.
No. 4 is is one I haven’t tried for a while, but an old favourite: Rosati on Flinders Lane, which is best for Monday to Friday stints. There is lots of room to move, and they don’t mind if you stay for a few hours. Although I haven’t done so recently, I have in the past often stayed there for up to 2-3 hours working without feeling like I needed to move on. I hope it hasn’t changed.
No. 5 is a bit of a cheat - it is simply the café that is closest to hand, wherever you might find yourself. It is a simple fact that nearly any place will do in a pinch, particularly when you find yourself out of your normal habitat, wandering about the city or the countryside on other business. I particularly love bakeries and cafés in small country towns, where they are friendly and the pace moves a little slower. If you can take a little time out of your day while you are on other business, you can get some good work done. (I attempted this a little unsuccessfully for an hour by the seaside yesterday, see this post here.)
My ‘second string’ list has places that are great venues in terms of atmosphere, but they lack practicality, mostly because I feel as though I need to move on from them pretty quickly. These include: Journal at the City Library on Flinders Lane, which has great coffee but a small space, and it gets busy; ditto for The European on Spring Street; Pellegrinos and Florentinos Cellar Bar on Bourke Street; and Mr Tulk on Latrobe Street at the State Library of Victoria.
These places have good atmosphere but are, frankly, more suitable for those merely posing as café intellectuals, rather than those of us who would rather at least try to get some work done while drinking coffee and inevitably still looking like posers. Opening up your Macbook might make you look and feel quite cosmopolitan in these environments, but it is hard to settle in for any length of time as they are venues in demand from the socialising public. (More on such matters here - take particular note of point 5! I don’t care what Scalzi says, I still like writing in cafés, even if it is part mating ritual. His advice is otherwise excellent. While you are canvassing different opinions, try this from Malcolm Gladwell. That jerk with the laptop? C'est moi.)
What are your favourite café writing venues in Melbourne, or for that matter elswhere in the world? What are your selection criteria?