Classics and discoveries: Murrie Harris at The Press cafe on Hunter Street, Newcastle. Picture: Marina NeilThe Press Book House & Café, 462 Hunter St, Newcastle, Mon/Wed/Fri: 7-4; Thu: 7-6; Sat: 8-3; Sun: 9-2.
Selling books under the same roof as your coffee and enjoying a lasting and dedicated following has always proved to be an elusive achievement here in Newcastle.
Twenty odd years ago there was an elegant establishment opposite the old Newcastle Herald offices on Bolton Street in the East End. Tastefully arranged around bookshelves were a select number of tables at which well-dressed coffee drinkers would sip to the cerebral sounds of classical music. The ceilings were high but so were the prices. It sometimes felt more like a minimalist art gallery for the well-heeled than a place for a student to sink into a cosy corner with a second-hand novel.
At The Press Book House Café on Hunter Street, Murrie Harris and Ivy Ireland have arranged their shelves a little differently. With an espresso machine at the front of their bookstore and long, communal tables nestled between the novels at the back, they have created a cerebral atmosphere that is less about exclusivity and more about community and inclusion. You are unlikely to see anyone sipping to classical music in here. As the artistic and the unkempt share their ham and pickle sarnies ($10) in an atmosphere that only a needle crackling along old vinyl can create, the ambience at this bookshop is more of a blue-jean 1970 than a blue-blooded 1790.
But none of this means that The Press perceives itself to have reached an untouchable level of cool. This is in no way a café where a roster of surly adolescent girls will make you feel unwelcome because you have not been named after an Indian spice powder. The same couple of blokes making sandwiches and coffees have been here for years.
If anything has changed, it has been the adoption of a philosophy that says your stay should be as long as you want it to be. For every bohemian university student lounging at The Press there is a sharply dressed lawyer who only has time for a $2, cup-through-the-window espresso.
For those with less pressing priorities, Murrie will refill your cup all day long with a rotating single origin filter coffee for $4 – perfect for those who find something on the shelves that they just can’t put down.
If your tastes lean more towards your easy drinking, milk-based coffees – a James Patterson rather than a James Joyce – then these baristas can certainly be relied upon to keep you focused on flipping the pages.
For reasons that have nothing to do with their reputation down South or the quality of their blends, their Melbourne-based roaster Gridlock’d still enjoys a relative anonymity here in Newcastle.
Alternating between the High Beam and the Ghetto Blaster blend, The Press boys have ensured that their following have stayed dedicated to the standard of coffee as much as they have the quality of the literature.