Journal of the Far Side – 4: The 1954 Coffee Bar

The pictures on the wall tell the story – they’re an homage to how the world was in 1954, the year that Pellegrini came to Melbourne and established his iconic coffee bar. 

It was also the year I was born, and a small assortment of Italian-owned coffee bars were a favourite haunt of my mother and grandmother when they met, three times a week, to catch up in the industrial but self-proud Bolton of the pre-sixties. It explains a lot… and I remember it, vividly. I also remember how happy my beloved maternal grandmother was when we were in one of those wonderful spaces. 


There’s nothing quite like Italian coffee. The taste is a seamless invocation of how the typically-small coffee bars smelled when you entered, taking your place at the counter on one of the plastic-covered bar stools, unless you were lucky enough to get one of the few small tables. 

I think grandma had an arrangement with Nonna Tognarelli in Bolton, because we always had a table…


Pellegrinis is typical of what happens to you when you travel Northwards through the inner grid of Melbourne’s CBD – see, I’m getting the hang of these ubiquitous Australian city terms – Central Business District; every major city seems to have one. 


The old and historic tram service will take you, for free, anywhere within the CBD’s rectangle, as will the swish modern ones, which cut across and out, but the former will ensure you stay within the free zone, whereas the latter pose a risk for the unwary!

In the Northern end of the CBD, the shops, bars and cafes become older and much more individual. It’s no accident that the city’s China Town is here, too, with a new version of ‘capsule’ bar stool eating that is reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s furtive meal in the classic film ‘Blade Runner’. 

None of this bothers Signor Pelligrini, sitting at the end of his quietly-celebrated bar and having his wife – another Nonna – be part of the occasional tourist’s photograph. 


Most don’t, though. They enter, and are immediately sized-up by the quiet and respectful regulars and the genial staff. ‘Are you capable of coffee and quiet?’ their expressions seem to ask…


We are, and were. Sipping our coffee and resolving to come back for my first-ever spaghetti bolognese breakfast the morning after… it looked so good…

It’s a pipe-dream. We have to be at the airport to get our return flight to Adelaide, to rejoin the Aussie branch of our loved ones. 

‘Seize the day’ captions the elegant lady in what is obviously a favourite image from that quieter and more contemplative era, long gone… We did. 

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017. 

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