Number 1 on this list, Loading Zone, has since closed and Meadow Café is now in its place.
Update June 7th 2017
Number 3 on this list, Milk Crate Cafe has now moved a short distance away to 14 Moore Street and is now called Courtyard by Milk Crate.
Tucked away gems worth tracking down
Canberra has a thriving café scene, with the city streets lined with a variety of modern and cosy cafés - from black steel industrial to historically quaint - and everything in between. There are also little pockets of tucked-away cafés, where word of mouth between locals gets customers through the doors. As word gets around, they become just as popular as any other Canberra café with a certain exclusivity about their secretive nature. It is almost as if café owners seek out the most unusual location, so their customers can enjoy the hunt of tracking it down. They are right. Cafés aren't the only secretive venues in the city, with the entrance to many bars just a number on the door, or in Molly's case - you require a GPS coordinate to find it! The following cafés don't require that kind of effort, just take note of the address and start looking in the general area - you will find it eventually!
1/ Loading Zone café opened in 2013 and has established itself as a popular, casual café in the heart of the city. As mentioned above, it is actually located in a Loading Zone in Odgers Lane behind the historic Melbourne Building - just look for the small sign out on the roadway. The view from this back of house café is all city grunge, with artistic graffiti, industrial sized rubbish bins and original exposed red brick. It is Canberra's first and only laneway café and unless you know about it, the only way you would find it is if you used the laneway as a shortcut to the city carparks. Once you find it however, it is a secret that you pass on.
Loading Zone is particularly popular with workers for breakfast during the week, with delicious and healthy options such as "Breakfast bruschetta with poached eggs, Dukkah and broad beans" or "Smashed avocado with native thyme ,goats cheese and pearl barley and puffed rice - on sourdough with bacon". For lunch, why not try their pastas, gourmet salads, risottos, seafood, variety of freshly made paninis or something off their extensive Specials board. Open Monday to Friday only. See here for their Facebook page and details. Also see Google map here for directions.
2/ Hideout is a small café that is hidden away amongst the offices and government buildings in Barton, just a stone's throw from Parliament House. It is another venue which relies on word-of-mouth, however it seems to have more than enough customers - as they are literally lining up out the door! Hideout has become renowned for its delicious coffee and claims to have "The Best Coffee in Canberra" and when I went to try it - it was certainly up there.
With so many workers in the area, it is particularly popular for takeaway coffees to take back to the office, with a loud speaker to announce when orders are ready and several baristas working their magic behind the counter. Hideout is off the main roads and blends in well to its office surroundings, but once you track it down - you will be back. Open Monday to Friday only. Due to its "hidden" nature, they don't have their own Facebook or website, however see the Harvest website here (who are the owners) and scroll down for the address - or see the Google map. For a full article on Hideaway, see here.
3/ Milk Crate café is located in the CBD, tucked away behind a main road and in behind large trees, into the corner of a building. This café takes up very little room but when they unpack the milk crates to sit on, the café spills out into a sunny courtyard. I discovered this café by chance one day walking through the city, however it seems that most local workers in the area had jumped on the Milk Crate bandwagon early, with many people seen out the front waiting for their takeaway coffees. If you dine in however, sit back and enjoy the delicious food on offer, with Turkish and American influences. Although not strictly "hidden", this café isn't easy to find, however it is another one that you will remember and return to, time and time again. Open Monday to Saturday. See here for details and Google map. For a full article on Milk Crate, see here.
For the people of Canberra and visitors to the city, the cafés around Canberra are a big part of daily life. They provide caffeine and sustenance, but they are also a social area to connect with each other and create a community feel to where we work, live or play. Although these three cafés may be hidden in some way, they all welcome you like an old friend when you walk in the door. Hidden - yes, but certainly not in hiding. Enjoy tracking them down!
Pull up a milk crate and see why Milk Crate is so popular