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The Federal Coffee Palace @ Melbourne's GPO

Home > Melbourne > Architecture | Cafes | Coffee
by Jen Legge (subscribe)
Canadian girl living and loving Melbourne. Mum, freelance writer and chaser of all experiences worth talking about.
Published July 9th 2014
Coffee, croissants and killer columnar structures
I'm a sucker for three things.
1. Anything quintessential Melbourne
2. A reeeaaaally good butter croissant
3. Being so inspired by a stunning display of architecture that it renders me speechless.

My afternoon dining experience at the Federal Coffee Palace at the old Melbourne GPO building ticked all my boxes.

The stately entrance to the Federal Coffee Palace

And the coolest bit of trivia EVER - the GPO building is literally the heart of our great city. All road distances from Melbourne are measured in kilometres from Melbourne's GPO.

In my countless days of working in Melbourne's CBD, I regularly scurried past the grandiose, heritage listed building that proudly occupies the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, usually bombing up from Flinders Station, running frighteningly late for work. I always pined to go in and check it out, but sadly, I never did. Well with my mumma visiting from Canada, I naturally spawned an irrepressible urge to give her the classic Melbourne City afternoon - needless to say, I knew just the place.

Architectural perfection

The Coffee
The coffee at the Federal Coffee Palace is silky smooth and just so yum. I ordered two lattes for myself, one straight after the other, a rare indulgence for this frequently rushed mummy. The second one was a decaf, yes lame I know, but it's the ultimate test of a decent coffee place - if their decaf is good, then it's absolutely a cut above the rest.

The tempting menu

The Croissants
Okay so $5 for a plain croissant is only slightly on the more expensive side but ask for it warmed with butter and jam and the flaky goodness will not fail to impress beyond your wildest pastry dreams. The lightly browned outside, crisped to perfection, complimented the soft and sweet decadence on the inside. Again, we ordered a second round with positively no hesitation. The all day brekkie and lunch dishes looked and sounded scrumptious - the next time I go to the Federal Coffee Palace, I'll make sure I'm ravenous and ready for a meal.

Flaky deliciousness

The Service
Another reason the place was so delightful - the staff are so incredibly nice and attentive. Each and every one of the three different servers we talked to was unreservedly pleasant, I almost couldn't believe it. They actually seemed somewhat delighted by and grateful for our presence, which is quite refreshing, if not staggering.

The Experience
Now, all this food and service perfection is fabulous and everything but I'm all about the experience of a place. And the Federal Coffee Palace at the Melbourne GPO is the grande dame of Melbourne architecture dating back to the 1850's, so an experience is truly what you get.

Arch beauty

I felt so humbled to be sitting there, a lowly croissant gobbler and coffee guzzler, to look up and see the towering pillars, ornately detailed with neo-Renaissance style adornment, providing the foundation to the masterly crafted sky high arches. Every direction I look, every feature that caught my eye presented beauty and symmetry and perfection. I really was in awe of how lovely it is, as it was my first time at the GPO. There's nothing like the first time for anything. In that moment when we experience something for the first time, it's a deeply resonant feeling, a true guttural reaction that you aren't able to replicate again. So do yourself a favour and step inside this beauty to feel it for yourself, within yourself.

This enchanting building completely won me over, meanwhile transporting me to a different era, so much so that I got super curious about its history. Sparing you an overload of detail, here's what I found out.

The History
The Melbourne GPO building is now considered one of Australia's most important public buildings and it certainly has the requisite rich and commanding history to support such a reputation.

Originally built in 1859, with a much grander second level added by 1867, and a third level constructed in 1887, the building originally served as Melbourne's main post office, with customers being served through each of the charming Elizabeth Street classic arches, with office and mail sorting space inside.

After an extensive refurbishment in 1919, the interior sorting hall opened to the public and remained so until 1992, all the while Melbournians flocking to the Australia Post GPO to mail letters, pay bills, buy stationery and check their PO boxes.

For almost a nerve wracking decade, the future of the building's role was uncertain as Australia Post, in 1992, announced its pending closure. Still remaining operational as Melbourne's beloved central post office, several development proposals came and went. Finally in 2001, it closed to the public and plans were underway to convert it to a proposed retail complex.

The Melbourne GPO opened for trading, as the retail centre it is today, in October 2004. Presenting with a modern flare that has aptly retained the important heritage feel and features, today's Melbourne GPO is a retail, dining and leisure sight to behold.

The Name
Through the temperance movement in the late 1880's, the uniquely Australian term 'Coffee Palace' was coined for lavish hotels erected for multi purpose or mixed use entertainment. These social hubs included hotel rooms and large scale facilities like ballrooms and elaborate dining rooms. These hotels didn't serve alcohol, as the very foundation of the temperance movement focussed on the restraint or abstinence of alcohol consumption. Despite its role as a post office, the style of the GPO was so comparable to that of the original 'coffee palace', that somewhere along the way, the name was adopted for the cafe.

Take the time to see what the fuss is about. Melbourne's GPO has unintentionally, yet completely, woven itself into the hearts of Melbournians. Be amongst the countless who adore the building, its tales from the past, its role in our local culture - and its divine coffee and croissants!

Be part of the hustle and bustle while dining Al fresco
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Why? It's the heart of Melbourne
Where: Corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Sts, Melbourne CBD
Your Comment
I love architecture and coffee so really enjoyed your article. Great writing and images as well
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|5695) 1951 days ago
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