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Home Away From Home

Emma Macdonald

Sometimes, the whole idea of getting dressed up and venturing out to the newest place on Eat Street leaves you feeling a little overwhelmed.

What you really want to do is stay casual and hang somewhere where everybody knows your name. Here are four favourite locals we’ll always go back to.



For almost 35 years, generations of Canberrans have been retreating into the womb-like comfort of Tilley’s.

Dark wood and glossy maroon paint turns this rather cavernous space—it used to be the place to go for live music before it turned its focus to café operations—into something warm and intimate. Behind a long bar, a bustling all-female staff wear crisp white shirts and ties as they juggle orders ranging from quick coffees to gourmet food for long wine and jazz-soaked dinners.

The female staff is a link to the establishment’s ground-breaking history as Canberra’s first women’s space when it opened its large brass-handled doors in 1984. Men were originally allowed entry only when they were accompanied by a female companion—leading to all sorts of opprobrium. Having felt she made her point, trailblazing owner Paulie Higgisson loosened the policy and welcomed all respectful patrons to her establishment.

Tilley’s has subsequently established itself as part of the fabric of the city. Always open, always bustling, accepting of students through to pensioners— some of whom have standing table reservations every Saturday night when the stage lights up for live jazz—Tilley’s is a calming place for a long chat and a wind-down. It presents consistently good food on the fancier side of gastro-pub fare, in portions that are always value for money. There’s a specials board every day where seasonal dishes feature and a good selection of local beers and wines.

There is, honestly, nothing quite like it.

Tilley’s Devine Café Gallery | Open seven days, from 7.30 am Monday-Saturday and 8 am Sunday | Corner of Brigalow and Wattle Streets Lyneham | 02 6247 7753 |

Edgar’s Inn

Established back in 2001 to become a “local” for the People’s Republic of Ainslie, Edgar’s now pulls loyal crowds from right across the city—particularly when a big game of footy hits its large screens.

Owner Frank Condi has helped spawn a raft of pubs and clubs around Canberra—Public and Academy among them—but he reckons Edgar’s has that right mix of community and connection.

Some may call it something of a distraction—particularly when they are dispatched to grab bread and milk from the Ainslie IGA only to walk past a table of mates enjoying a chilled glass of something-or-other. It would be churlish not to pull up a stool and check in to see that everyone is OK, wouldn’t it?

With a capacity of 100 outdoors, and a more intimate inside space of 75 within a mainly wood- themed interior, Edgar’s buzzes on the weekend with brunch- goers, and late-afternoon drinkers soaking up the ambience of the live musicians who play there.

With a view of Mount Ainslie, and pizza flowing freely from the next- door pizza oven at Mama Dough, it’s hard to resist some nights.

Food is simple and hearty, and the beer selection is broad. Coffees are queue-worthy of a weekday morning and there’s no judgement if you linger for hours over one drink. It’s a corner where the pace slows down a little.

Frank loves that it’s a meeting place where often the temptation to order dinner rather than cook at home overcomes people as they walk past. So a spontaneous meal—such as a burger, or slow-cooked lamb and couscous— it is. It’s likely to be speckled with lots of conversations and your neighbours sitting nearby. Ainslie has never had it better.

Edgar’s Inn | Open Monday-Friday 7 am till late, Saturday-Sunday and public holidays from 8 am till late | 1 Edgar Street Ainslie | 02 6257 5488 |


Here’s a newbie that feels like it’s always been there. Recently opening its doors at the Cook shops, To All My Friends is all about craft beer, happy hour, and gourmet pizza washed down with, ah, more beer.

The brainchild of Shayne Taylor and Natalie Legg, who run Little Oink next door, To All My Friends is a gorgeous space—long and narrow with crazy floral wallpaper up one side, dark grey panelling and dark wooden recycled floors. Think Kinfolk Magazine with a touch of English pub and you’re there.

While the café next door has been running for more than four years, it was something of a snap decision to take over the next door space at the start of the year. But the couple fancied themselves as publicans, and already Natalie reports a strong contingent of locals are making it their hang.

The vibe is ultra-casual and community-based with a “community keg” raising money for charity each week. And even though it’s a pub, the place is kid-friendly and allows Little Oink patrons to literally carry on eating and drinking all weekend.

Natalie says it is the sort of place that embeds itself in the Belconnen region but also further across the city.

“It’s comfy but pretty—the sort of place where you could think of holding a thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth birthday—but also a really easy place to pop into after work rather than going home to start cooking dinner.”

It’s early days, but the appreciative crowds keep coming back and the pizza oven and beer selections are winning new fans.

To All My Friends | Open Wednesday to Sunday 12 pm-11 pm | 24 Cook Place, Cook | 02 6251 1699 |



Where else but Mum’s kitchen would you find yourself eating off mismatched plates and Formica tables? Indeed, the retro atmospherics of A Bite to Eat in Chifley are so homely it feels like you could put your feet on the table, or stretch out and have a nap on one of the sofas without any other patrons raising an eyebrow.

But would Mum serve up a Banoffee Pie Milkshake? With its salted caramel, banana, pretzel and an optional shot of Kahlua, the answer is probably no.

Nor is she likely to have the barista skills that earn this Campos Coffee- serving institution a dedicated coffee crowd.

A Bite To Eat is under new and enthusiastic management after earning a rusted-on clientele for its bohemian mish-mash of furniture, crockery, living room feels and hearty meals. Think all the homely classics that are actually too much effort cook at home—brekkie burgers and fritters, chicken schnitzel, fish and chips, and steak sandwiches.

A decent wine and beer list and a decision to serve dinner now allows patrons to move from early morning coffees and bircher mueslis through to late night snack of spicy chicken wings washed down with a Tumut Brewing Pilsner.

There’s live music, and a gorgeous and sun-drenched courtyard in which to catch up with friends, or simply slip into a book or daydream. Just like you did as a child.

A Bite To Eat | Open Tuesday-Friday 7 am-9 pm, Saturday-Sunday 8 am-9 pm | Chifley Place, Chifley | 02 6260 3703 |

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Home for Autumn 2018, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here.


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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