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.