Standing Room Only
When I walk into the laneway, I assume it’s transitional, just a connector to the main road. Somewhere midway through, I see flocks of overcoated Melbournians gathered in the cold with cups of coffee, having important conversations that I could only assume are be about the perfect 63 degree egg. I think I’ve reached my destination: Patricia Coffee Brewers, but just to be sure, I check for a name board.
There is none. There is however, a tiled welcome mat saying Standing Room Only. That’s common for Melbourne, both the secrecy and the cheek, and I walk inside curious and tired from being out and about. Inside, the thermostat is set to a relaxing toast, and although it is 11 am, an unlikely time for a coffee rush on a work day, the space, no bigger than a shipping container, is humming. A handsome man at the front greets me with a genuine smile and a white linen shirt, and asks me what I would like. Do you have to put that on your resume, I wonder, when you apply to be a barista at places like Patricia — handsome, funny barista who looks great in hipster leather aprons?
I tell him I’d like a flat white and soon realise that the vein of minimalism carries on to the menus too — White, Dark, Filter are the only 3 items. He then hands me a tiny white square with a green light on it and I take it and start walking away, assuming it will start buzzing when my order is ready. It’s just the credit card reader, he tells me. “You aren’t the first, and won’t be the last,” he then assures, and we share a cute moment.
Patricia Coffee Brewers is located on the corner of Little Colin and Little William street and in one compact space, seems to pack in everything Melbourne has come to mean to me — great coffee, relaxed self-assuredness and tube socks. The first coffee was served in 2012, and while it may not seem like that long ago, they’ve since then built a pack of devotees and appeared on numerous esteemed coffee lists, like the global coffee tour in the Lonely Planet.
Unsurprisingly, like most good discoveries, Patricia Coffee Brewers has a restrained digital presence, making me like them that extra bit more. A barely-there webpage directs you to their Twitter and Tumblr account.
They aren’t active on instagram, but when you search their name, you will see several pictures of people with their signature cups of coffee. “Our last Patricia before heading out to Sydney,” says one. Others stand in front of the slate grey wall in colourful pants and hold up the victory sign like you would at a cult tourist attraction.
In an interview with Bureaux, the baristas and owners Bowen and Pip say, “We put people first, focussing on service, forming connections with customers and ensuring the staff have a fun working environment.” It must be hard having personal connections with the throngs of people who have made Patricia a part of their routine or their indulgence, but they somehow manage to do it.
You see it everywhere. The reading material is curated and niche, like at the coffee table of an uncle who happens to be a bibliophile. There’s the latest copy of the Lindsay magazine, On Identity by Stan Grant and Four and Sons, a publication “where dogs and culture collide”. There are newspapers mounted on large vertical wooden boards like something you would find in the state library. While I'm sipping my coffee by the window, they bring me a dark Columbian single origin to try, offering it to me like they would had I been in their living room.
Feeling seen and understood, I collect my things to leave — I’ve been there an hour, much longer than I had predicted for a standing-only cafe. I’d had a long morning, my feet and mind fatigued from criss-crossing the city. But all that has reversed and I’ve been returned to my true state, my best state — alert slumber.
I’ll be back Patrica, you’re a joy.
Image courtesy: Bureaux Collective