The first decent coffee in Perth

Site of the Devonshire Arms Hotel

Site of the Devonshire Arms Hotel

Here in the Dodgy Perth office we have blood type Coffee+. So it’s no surprise we’re excited to hear about the impending launch of a café dedicated to Perth’s first ever bean roaster, Mr Henry Saw.

But in 1852, Henry only sold the roasted beans. He didn’t actually make any coffee. Which for the lazy types in our office is no use at all.

So, the question we asked ourselves was: where was the first decent coffee shop in Perth?

Surprisingly, there wasn’t one until October 1883, when Mrs Woods became manager of the ‘Burnett Coffee Rooms’ in the former Devonshire Arms Hotel. This was on the corner of Hay and Barrack, where the Connor-Quinlan building now stands, currently best known as the home of pen retailer, T. Sharp.

It was no coincidence that a former pub was converted to a coffee palace. This was one of the heights of the temperance movement, and anything that could stop working men drinking was considered a good thing.

Matthew Burnett was a controversial temperance enthusiast. His critics said he was a con man, who got other people to build coffee shops for him in the name of religion, without him having to pay a cent. His followers thought him the man to save Australia from the demon drink.

In either case, Mattie has the honour of opening the first decent coffee shop in Perth.

Mmmm… coffee.

There’s trouble brewing at the coffee stand


You’d be forgiven for not recognising the above building. Its face has completely changed, losing all of the detailing, into the boring blank canvas now called Grand Central Hotel on Wellington Street.

Built in 1903, the Grand Central Coffee Palace was a magnificent hotel, but a hotel without an alcohol license. Didn’t stop a succession of owners selling beer under the counter. Usually to undercover police officers. With predictable results.

Today, it is a grungy backpackers. The sort of backpackers that gets reviews like this on TripAdvisor:

This place is full of junkies. The beds and rooms, bathrooms, kitchen and common area are truly disgusting. We’ve never stayed in a place like it. Booked for a week but could only stand one night in this hovel.

A century ago, reviews would have also been negative. But back then it was not the owners’ fault.

It was only shortly after opening that the Palace was in trouble. Just like our TripAdvisor guests, visitors would book in for a week but depart in a filthy mood after only one night.

To cater for Perth’s late-night crowd, the council had allowed a café-de-kerb (coffee stand to you and me) to operate directly opposite the Palace on the other side of Wellington Street.

The council, in its wisdom, had also installed a public urinal on the site too. Which attracted even more of the inebriated class.

As soon as the pubs closed, all the drunks in town—of both sexes—would flock to the coffee stall to get some caffeine and a hot pie.

Bedlam then ensued, as brawls broke out every night, and ‘disgusting language’ was shouted until two or three in the morning.

Those guests in the front rooms of the Palace would simply pack up for a quieter hotel somewhere else.

The council said they would try to find somewhere else for the café-de-kerb. This was beyond their capabilities, though, since no new site was apparently available anywhere in Perth.

So, next time you’ve had a night out in the CBD, and feeling a bit tipsy, grab a coffee and a pie, head for Wellington Street and relive the good old days.