What Coco Chanel did for fashion, Gertrude Stein and Alice Tolkas did for literature.
Aiming to translate Picasso’s passion for art by the means of words, this power-duo proved to be inseparable during their time in Paris in the early 20th century. Books, art and food acted as the predominant characters in their friendship.
Mixing an equal potion of the three formulas in one tangible spot for the 21st century audience is this haven called Gertrude & Alice Bookshop Café. Adjacently located in the tourist hub of Bondi Beach, this cafe owes more to the literary world than the hospitality industry.
Even before J.K. Rowling owned up to writing the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh cafe, writers had made a commitment to this liquid gold called ‘coffee’. Some called it their stimulant, while it was an additive drug for others. Today, cafes are inundated with the creative type – from designers, museum curators, writers, artists and musicians – where everyone owes a percentage of their creative work to this diverse hotspot.
Jane Turner, owner of Gertrude and Alice Bookstore Café, wanted to link her personal passion for books with caffeine and organic food. So she opened a bookstore café in the heart of Bondi, where book lovers and coffee addicts came together. With four communal tables, over 50,000 books, dating back to the 19th century, and a very successful café business, Gertrude and Alice has now successfully shoved the ‘print is dead’ argument out the window.
“There have been lots of people who have written their plays, books and stories in this café. It’s a very special feeling to have given them a place that provides fodder to their creativity. Although, I never understand how they write in the chaos and noise; coffee and sugar must get them through,” says Turner.
On entering this literary heaven, you are hit with an aura of intellectuality, intelligence mixed with freshly ground coffee beans. Before you can even admire the cabinet of fresh, organic food, the walls of books instantly distract you.
Gertrude and Alice inspires its customers in the most unique way, be it with a book idea or a marriage proposal. Turner says there have been several proposals, engagements and baby showers within the café. “It’s a funny feeling – I wear so many hats – writing mentor, barista, book buyer, matchmaker. There aren’t many places in Sydney where you’d get that,” says the owner.
Owing to its varied genre of books, Gertrude and Alice caters to every age group and nationality. You’re likely to see an 80-year old woman reading the bible, while sitting next to a hipster acquainting himself with the latest fad in yoga. A fashion illustrator might be sketching inspiration on a serviette alongside a backpacker reading the Lonely Planet guide on rural Australia.
“We’ve had a few fashion shoots here for magazines, but there are some word enthusiasts who find it offensive to place a $6000 dress against a pile of respected literature. Shows that we get some serious word-a-holics here,” smiles Turner.
Whether you love Hemmingway, Helmut Newton or Paulo Coelho, this place is worth a visit on your next trip to Bondi beach. Just order a piece of organic carrot cake, get a pot of their famous spicy chai and sink deep in the aura of this bookworm heaven.
46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach, NSW
Ambience 10; Food 8; Coffee 9