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Café Society in Canberra

Garry Raffaele


Canberra, the national capital of the Great South Land, Australia has, according to Prince Philip, no soul. Admittedly he made that remark many years ago, but it has stuck. Not that too many Canberrans complain, you understand. It means that what we have we keep. Tourists come and go but the rest of the country still thinks of us as the centre of government and the centre of boredom.

Some years ago, just as the '80s were beginning, something stirred in Canberra. And it was cafe society. Slowly the beast rolled over and, within a few years, Canberra had a handful of coffee houses that attracted the cognoscenti - the artists, the media stars, the photographers, the writers.

Chief among these at this time is Tosolini's, an oasis in Canberra's major retail area. Begun many years ago as the smallest of small tea houses, "Tosser's" bought the store next door, knocked down walls, redid the decor and set up a most delightful cafe.

Run by the brothers Tosolini, the place (with inside and outside seating) serves excellent coffee. And, while the food is of an estimable standard, the coffee house (like all good similar establishments) survives and prospers on both its brew and its atmosphere.

The Canberra Theatre is but a step away and visiting artists, national and international, drop in for a demi-tasse. Local TV and radio personalities talk loudly on mobile phones while the froth bubbles in the metal jug.

Tosolini's is cheek by jowl with the bus depot but manages, through application, to ignore this generally terminal atmosphere. Canberra has other coffee houses - like Lella and Cafe Kaos - but Tosolini's, with its Mediterranean walls and art and "beautiful people" waiting staff - still gets the nod as the national capital's premier spot for "le café".

Garry Raffaele is an Australian writer and photo journalist. E-Mail:



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