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Reading between the wines

Food and hospitality writer Jess Ho proposes that we stop romanticising reading books in cafés and begin reading in wine bars instead.

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We need to stop thinking that reading books in cafés is an enjoyable thing to do. I get it, it feels romantic. You can sit where that shard of sunlight hits you just right in a nook with a coffee you didn’t make, looking intelligent in a public place.

But reality comes at you fast when you’re shifted to the smallest table in the venue because you’re on your own and that table’s usually next to the toilets or the kitchen where your coffee order is forgotten, and numerous waiters repeatedly ask you if you’d like to see the food menu. Once you’ve been pressured into eating, you have to put your book down because these days, café food has at least ten components on it, even if you’re just ordering avocado toast.

You can blame rising rents, wages, food costs and overheads, but every seat in any venue has always been viewed by owners as an hourly spend per head because Australia doesn’t subsidise unliveable wages with tips as a standard practice. Every business has a different sweet spot, and sadly, even if you’re ordering a large-sized, double shot something with an alternative ‘milk’, you’re barely paying for the dishie to sign on for the day. If we normalise reading a whole book over a coffee in Melbourne, there would be no cafés left in Melbourne.

Instead, I propose reading in wine bars. I understand that $14 is considered a cheap glass of wines these days, but that’s kind of the point. Treat yourself, have another. If you decide you need a snack, it’s not from waiters looking to fill a head spend, it’s on your terms. Better yet, wine bar snacks are always edible with one hand. Think: oysters, croquettes, salumi, cheese, fried things. One hand on your book, one hand on your food. What a dream.

Also, do you hear that? Me neither. Wine bars are designed to be soft, romantic places so the rooms are always quieter. It’s the perfect environment for reading with multiple glasses of wine. Speaking of romantic spaces – you won’t have to go searching for that shard of sunlight – bars are designed to have very aesthetically pleasing lighting because it’s where people go on dates.

If you are self-conscious about being on your own, don’t be. Single diners thrive at bar seats because it’s the best place to people-watch between pages. So, pull up a pew. Your bartender will also be relieved that they don’t have to make small talk with you because you have your book to keep you company. Win-win.

Wine, snacks, warmth, service, book. It’s the perfect combination. Throw in your contribution to keeping a small business thriving and you couldn’t be more Melbourne if you tried.

To celebrate the release of their memoir,  Raised by Wolves, Jess Ho is speaking at the Wheeler Centre on Thursday 28 July as part of Melbourne City Reads. Book your ticket now.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respect to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.