It’s hard to imagine a vision of Melbourne when you could actually swing a cat without hitting a coffee house or tattooed barista. But it really wasn’t all that long ago. Case in point: Marios turns 25 this year.
Kind of feels like it’s been there forever, but coffee-drinking in Melbourne in the 80s wasn’t the Third Wave riot it is today. You couldn’t get Grinders in Glen Waverly. Ordering a long black in Frankston could set off waves of satanic panic. Sure, the inner city was relatively sorted, but the outer city? Not so much. So for many Generation X-ers born into those outer-suburban breeding grounds of discontent, Marios was a lighthouse to guide you into the life you wanted.
Many a modern-day coffee aficionado would’ve popped their proper coffee cherry at Marios, with its charismatic, whip-quick, waistcoated Italian waiters, flickering portable TV and yellowing cardboard Empire State Building. And while so many cafes have sprung up in these last 25 years as if they’re part of some cockamamie good-time government initiative – ‘By 2011, no Australian will be living without access to single origin coffee’ – Marios endures like the cafe equivalent of comfort food. It’s always there with great coffee, it’s right near the bookstore and it does all-day breakfasts so you can poached eggs on toast for a late-night dinner, or a killer Bloody Mary to file off the edges of a hangover. (Man, how many hangovers has Marios cured over the years? There’s a stat to contemplateâ€¦)
For first-timers wondering about the menu, is an uncomplicated array of classic breakfast options, hearty pastas, stylish salads and a handful of meaty mains. The specials are always good to keep an eye on, as is the cake cabinet. It’s an easy menu for all seasons – a bowl of bolognaise in winter, or avocado on toast with a glass of champagne in summer.
One of the first times I went into Marios as a teenage dork in the 80s, I asked the waiter (the one who looked like a cross between Clark Gable and Fred Astaire) for an Irish coffee (I know, I know. One of the characters in Tales of the City ordered them so that was good enough for me). He said they didn’t do them but suggested a long black with a shot of whiskey on the side. I said ‘hit me up’ and never looked back.
Here’s to you, Marios. You really know how to look after Melbourne.