Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Writing away my days at Gertrude & Alice

Whenever I want to remind myself I’m not the only person in the neighbourhood working on the great Australian novel – or blog – I take myself down to Gertrude & Alice, a café/second hand bookstore in Hall Street to write amongst the general hullabaloo.

I missed this place so much during my time in exile that I even fantasised about starting my own store called Gertrude & Alicia. The premises I wanted was turned into a hairdressers before I could pack up my books so I settled for regular sojourns back to Hall Street to settle into my regular spot on the green velvet couch.

The menu has paninis, bagels, muesli, burritos, chilli con carne, mint teas, frappes and milky chai teas but I tend to stick to my favourites. I always have a latte and for those summer days when I'm still sitting there at lunchtime I'll have a salad of haloumi, lentils and roasted sweet potato. And in winter it’s hot chocolate (served with marshmallows) and Moroccan Lentil Stew.

“You cannot live on caviar and foie gras every day: sometimes a plain dish of lentils is all the palate craves, even if one insists that the lentils come from Puy”.
William Boyd, Any Human Heart

Even on the busiest days when every bench, stool and lounge is taken, the owner Jane Turner is tolerant of people sitting around for hours typing their novels, poems and Hollywood scripts into their Macbooks in between sips of coffee and has long encouraged local writers to consider it as a haven. You don't need to show credentials so the unpublished wannabe can sit next to the literary giant.

There’s always a great soundtrack playing and the relaxed, cosy ambience comes from the mismatched crockery, exposed brick walls, the gold mirrors, chandeliers, framed black and white prints of famous writers and thousands of books ranging from the latest Booker prize winner to the complete history of meerkats in southern Spain. 

I usually leave with an armful of books to add to my collection making my home resemble Gertrude & Alice (without the hip people), which is why I own enough books to consider starting my own bookstore.

A bonus is that you're bound to spot at least one person wearing a beret like we really are in Shakespeare & Co in Paris in the 1920s and Hemmingway is about to pop in to drop off his latest manuscript. 

While trying to become a 21st Century Hemmingway you can sit in the Hemmingway Room, which tends to be quieter than the communal tables in the main room and pluck reference books from the shelves on a whim. 

Or you can sit in the main room and wait for someone to ask you about your Magnum opus. And when they do, for a moment I feel like I'm making progress on a novel and not just entering random letters into the computer screen to fill in the time between trips to the beach. 

Gertrude and Alice on Urbanspoon


  1. Woohoo! Thanks, Rob, you are my first ever comment!

  2. Just smashed the Lentil Stew at Gertrude and Alice... tried to find a recipe online & came across this blog! Love it :)