Thursday, December 25, 2008

Subterranean Adelaide Blues and I'll have a flat white please


As we quaff down our daily Cibo grande skinny flat whites listening to the gentle dooff-dooff of ambient Euro disco club Mediterranean, do we ever stop to think about the days when there was no real coffee in Adelaide?

We have 1950s Italian immigration to Adelaide to thank for the introduction of the barista and expresso coffee. Thank God for the Tropicano Cafe and Caon brothers', La Cantina in Hindley Street.

Alongside of the burgeoning revolt against the Nescafe instant, grew a radical new culture of the Subterranean Cafe - epitomised by the Catacombs on the corner of North Terrace and Hackney Road. Here you couldn't get an alcoholic drink, but you could get a cheese and asparagus sandwich, snog your girlfriend in a dark corner or hear the protestations of folk musicians. Doubtless it was a percolated coffee a la Melbourne Street's Gingers (which I think, closed in the 1980s). Please feel free to correct me on this.

Stephen Atkinson (Adelaide Review, 2004) cites a 1964 Bulletin article which describes the Catacombs as a 'portal to an underworld which carries with it subversive intrigue [reeking] of the seedier, bohemian side of life'.

The Angry Penguins (apart from playing some of the radical, subversive, music on offer in the sixties) has, perhaps, the last living relic from those Catacombs days in bassist John Kemp who not only ATE cheese and asparagus toasted sandwiches but actually PLAYED his first gig at the Catacombs.

Recently and fortuitously, I stumbled across another living Adelaide 50s cafe relic - Lucias at Adelaide Central Market. While there was not really enough room to swing a guitar neck, the waft of real coffee; the black and white tiled floor; accompanying red and white checked table cloths and (most importantly) strains of Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind were historical respite from the franchised homogeneity of the cardboard cup.


In the 1970s, the baton was passed to other cafe impresarios such as Maggie of Maggie's Tavern in Kent Town. This has since become Claire and David Grahams' Tin Cat Cafe and is, coincidentally, a mere block away from the musty memories of the Catacombs. The Tin Cat also whispers the esscence of the 50s and 60s with its chrome-clad chairs and the omnipresent hiss and whiff of real coffee.

This is where the Angry Penguins will perform their 2009 Fringe Season to awaken the homesick subterranean senses, trading dooff-dooff for Dylan and muzak for Mitchell. Stay tuned!

Andrea Duff-Duff

3 comments:

John said...

Hi Andrea

No, your description of coffee at the Catecombs is not quite right. Actually, the coffee there was 'not quite' a cappuccino. It was a kind stove-top milky concoction. I can still taste it!

J. Bromley said...

Hello Andrea

This is Jill Bromley. George Bromley and I owned the Catacombs for about 10 years. I have to tell you we had a real and great Italian coffee machine - Gaggia as I recall. George took great pride in buying freshly roasted beans from a Greek Grocery shop in Hindly Street ... then he insisted on grinding it "as necessary" ... in the break between performers.
Coffee on the menu was only long black, short black and cappuccino ... but we made whatever people wanted. Strong, weak, double shot, less milk, more milk ... all the regular customers had special orders. As to the milk ... there was no stove-top. The milk was unpasteurised and full cream in order to make the best froth. We were all trained by George to get the milk just right ... plunge the steamer at the perfect moment to heat the milk all through and never, ever boil it. We had a reputation for some of the best coffee in Adelaide so I'm not sure what you were asking for John .. a flat white perhaps? Well serve you right ... that's no way to drink coffee :-)
I had never had a better coffee until my son started roasting his own fresh beans in Stirling ... using the bread maker and a heat gun!
Cheers, Jill

Angry Penguins said...

Great to hear from you, Jill. I wish I could have one of your coffees right now!!

Please do come to our show at Cafe Komodo on December 13 at 2.00pm and I will personally buy you a coffee.

It's great to see a part of Adeladian history link with our little blog.

Andrea