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Coffee Palaces in Adelaide

Home > Adelaide > Architecture | Cafes | Coffee | Historic Houses | Vintage and Retro | Lists
by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
I enjoy writing about Adelaide and its many attractions. If you think Adelaide is boring, the problem is not with Adelaide. Please click the link to Like my articles, and subscribe to see more.
Published October 21st 2012
Do you have Scotch?
Coffee drinking as a social pastime has become extraordinarily popular in recent years. It is a catalyst for communication for business people, while others use coffee places to socialise and network throughout the day. They have almost universally replaced going to a pub in Adelaide as the preferred place to meet.

The author of a recent report on revitalising Sydney's laneways commented:
If coffee was regulated to the point that it was only available from Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, Westfield or David Jones, we would have a very different city. The role of the coffee bean as a social lubricant would be vastly diminished. The chain stores and retail giants don't have that certain je ne sais quoi that a small, unique and personal café develops. Barely a business deal would be done, a poem written or long conversation completed.

It is not a new phenomenon though, as over 100 years ago the Coffee Palace hit a peak in its popularity. In the 1800's attitudes began to change towards alcohol consumption, and a strong Temperance movement in Australia began agitating to ban consumption.

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West's Coffee Palace, Hindley Street Adelaide

By the 1880's a large number of Coffee Palaces were established around Australia, although they were more popular in Victoria and South Australia. These Coffee Palaces were often huge, grand and elaborately decorated buildings designed to compete with hotels. In effect they were hotels that did not serve alcohol, but provided food, drink and accommodation for their customers.

In Adelaide one of the best known was West's Coffee Palace at 110 Hindley Street, which can still be seen today. It has a beautifully ornate frontage which is best viewed from across the street to appreciate the upper levels.

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The Austral Stores Sign Remains

This unusual building was originally constructed in 1900 and called Austral Stores but in 1908 it was leased as a Coffee Palace, becoming known as West's Coffee Palace in 1919. It was actually quite modest compared to some interstate Palaces - the Federal Coffee Palace in Melbourne movement was the largest and tallest building in the city when it was built in 1888. There are pictures of a number of interstate Palaces on Wikipedia.

There were many other Coffee Palaces around South Australia. although lots have been demolished by now. The former bowling alley on Colley Terrace is believed to be one of those.

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Semaphore Coffee Palace

Another Coffee Palace that still can be seen is at 80 Esplanade Semaphore. While not as ornate as West's, it is still an impressive and grand building.

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Semaphore Coffee Palace

There were many other Coffee Palaces around the state, even a McDonald's Coffee Palace on Hindley Street which can be seen here. You can see images of others at Waikerie, Renmark and Tailem Bend, Beachport and Mount Gambier. Others Existed at Lyndoch (now a private house), Victor Harbour, Peterborough, Terowie, Port Pirie, and Kadina.

Very few Coffee Palaces still remain today, and I am not aware of any that continue their original function. In many cases the buildings were unprofitable for the Temperance Movement in the long run and became became hotels.

Perhaps something to reflect on as you sip on your cappuccino. How long will our current coffee craze last?
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Why? Everyone likes coffee
Where: All over SA
Your Comment
makes you wonder what was understood to be 'coffee' in an age of tea. Would they roast and grind, or buy from that big grocery warehouse down the road (now Living Arts, worth a story). Did they use that Coffee Essence from a bottle like we did in the 1940s-50s, I wonder.
by (score: 2|557) 2168 days ago
My pop was the doorman at Wests Coffee Palace. He lived and worked there in the 60's and 70's. I loved that everyone in Hindley Street knew him. A trip to visit him in town was so exciting!
by Paula McManus (score: 3|3790) 3575 days ago
Dave, you are a genius! Would you believe... At the local museum, I photographed a photo of Liverpool railway station (Where I live) in 1916 which overlooks the Georges River. The purpose of the photo was to show the large military camp across the river from the town. When I got it home and zoomed in I fairdinkum freaked out. Over looking the river was the Liverpool Coffee Palace. Even today, there is no place in Liverpool to sip on a brew with river views but almost a hundred years ago you could. So I was wondering when did coffee palaces become cafes. I cant find a word about our coffee palace anywhere but a google of coffee palaces found your article!! Shame I cant paste the photo on to here. Anyway, super work buddy, you've helped to open my eyes into another world!
by glenop (score: 2|827) 3111 days ago
I had no idea! Really interesting, Dave.
by Justc (score: 2|139) 3808 days ago
Thanks :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11309) 3808 days ago
Even Riverton in the Gilbert Valley had a Coffee Palace!
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11309) 3802 days ago
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