The Coles Luncheonette

Cathedral Arcade

The Nicholas Building in Swanston Street, Melbourne is wonderful… there are lots of cool shops and little businesses upstairs and in the lovely Cathedral Arcade that runs through to Flinders Lane. The Nicholas Building was designed in the 1920s by Harry Norris, and the only blight is the ghastly discount market in the basement selling stuff like $10 watches.

Take my advice and don’t buy a cheap watch. I had a Seiko watch for 25 years until I lost it at the Information Online Conference in Sydney. The “Genuine Seiko” watch I bought from Hong Kong on eBay for $40 turned out to be rubbish, as I should have known – genuine Seiko watches do not arrive in a Glad ziplock bag. Anyway, back to the Nicholas Building…

From Swanston Street, go down the arcade and turn towards Flinders Lane, then just before the street look to your left and you’ll see a couple of old signs for “iced drinks” and “salads”. These signs, next to a closed-off stairway, are all the that’s left of the marvelous Coles Luncheonette.

The ground floor of the Nicholas Building was home to the city’s third Coles store until the late 1970s. It was much smaller than the two larger stores in Bourke Street, probably catering to people dashing in on their way to Flinders Street Station. Down in the basement was a fab diner.

The Coles Luncheonette looked like those diners you see in old American movies, with a curvy counter and chrome stools. It was dine-in only. I went in once to get a milkshake but the luncheonette lady said “sweetie, I can only serve you if you’re sitting down”. So I sat down and waited for the milkshake to arrive in one of those frosty steel containers.

The Swanston Street Coles was the first to close  in the late 1970s, followed by the wonderful main Bourke Street store that closed a few years later. I used to love to have a pot of bad tea and terrible scones with jam and fake cream in the art deco Cafeteria here, sitting at the big arched windows overlooking Little Collins Street. Now David Jones men’s store, there’s a seriously cool coffee place at the Little Collins end, the Sensory Lab, which is as far away from Coles Cafeteria as you could imagine.

ps: if you’d like to take a trip back to Melbourne’s shopping past, visit the free ‘Til you drop exhibition at the State Library. It’s on until the end of October.


7 responses to “The Coles Luncheonette

  1. Gosh. This brings back the memory of many family trips into the city to meet up with my Dad after work. We’d always go to the Coles Cafeteria (in Bourke St). I remember eating boiled eggs, and looking longingly at the rows of coloured jelly in cups 🙂

    Is Forges of Footscray still open? I haven’t been past there in a while, but they still had a cafeteria which reminded me of the old Coles ones …

    Thanks for this lovely post 🙂 I’ll have to take a closer look at the Cathedral Arcade next time I’m over that way.

    • I went to Forges a few years ago and the cafe was still there but it looked very sad. Did you go to the art deco Coles that is now DJ’s or the other one further up the street? I always chose the DJ’s one , it was more special.
      Oh and I remember those jellies too!

  2. strawberriesofintegrity

    Thanks for this. I did see the ‘Til you drop exhibition when I was in Melbourne for VALA. Great that there is still something left of the Cole’s Luncheonette- but sad that that is it. I used to like going to a restaurant/coffee shop with my mum in Sydney on George St- late 60s/early 70s I think it was called Cahills and they served dishes of icecream with hot caramel sauce. I remember going to Wolworths or Coles in Sydney- can’t remember which for a milkshake too.
    Googled Cahills’ and found this – Cahills’ restaurants were known for ice-cream cakes and waffles, but the fondest memories were for their caramel sauce—which could be purchased in waxed paper tubs to take home.
    thanks for taking me back Tony. K

    • It’s not too long ago that my friend Michael and I would go to the Kambrook Cafe in Block Place. I used to get the fish fingers lunch special. The manager at the front desk would announce “A table for the young gentlemen!”

  3. i remember the coles in footscray very well even as far back as when it had its caferteria down stairs with a soda fountain down the back of it were my mum would buy me banana splits. Then in the later 70s they built a cafe upstairs were me and other high school friend would go for a snack, you had to serve yourself using a tray then pay the lady on the till at end really wish it was still there … bring back the 70s..

  4. Thanks for this lovely post.I am going to keep my eye open for these old signs next time I am in town. I remember the Cole’s uniforms…buttery yellow dresses and a little cap. Was there red and white check or stripe too.. not sure. I had a friend who worked in the Bourke street one… I think it was as late as 1974/5. Would that be right?!

    • I seem to remember the uniforms being red and white checks but you could be right about the yellow! I remember going to the Bourke Street Coles cafeteria, opposite Myer, at least in my first year at university so that would be 1978 and I think it kept going for a couple more years… happy times!

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