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It’s been an Ella-va ride

Missing Redfern's Cafe Ella.

Art by Eleanor Curran

A large ‘SOLD’ sign now sits atop the awning of Cafe Ella. Last Saturday, 274 Abercrombie Street was sold to the highest bidder. The building, business, and all the furnishings and bric-a-brac inside no longer belong to Peter Borbilas and Priscilla Boswell, ending an era that began when they served their first coffee back in 1996. 

Cafe Ella was long a staple of the Redfern Run. Their homemade boiled bagels and warm atmosphere drew in crowds of local artists and university students. The sounds of Bob Dylan and Miles Davis drifted through the cafe, punctuated by footsteps heading up the creaky wooden stairs. The beige walls were decked with Paul Worsted paintings and bookshelves chock full of old records and second-hand book store finds. 

For a man who has never drunk a cup of chai in his life, Peter had mastered the recipe. His wife, Priscilla, could be spotted carting tray upon tray of Sydney’s best carrot cake and traditional Greek desserts from their home down the road (Nigella Lawson once stopped by to try the muffins).

My parents ate at Cafe Ella almost every day for the last seven years. They joined the gang of locals perpetually sitting at street-side tables in the sun. Cafe Ella offered my family comfort and an excellent cup of coffee through thick and thin — meals when the money ran out, a chai before a deadline day. 

But ours were not the only lives made better by this homely place. Over the years, Peter and Priscilla collected an eclectic gang of waiters and waitresses. Denise’s warmth and Fred’s quick wit pepped up the mornings of Darlington residents. Local sculptor Stella paid her way through art school there. Peter and Priscilla’s son, the trombone-playing Hugo, recently joined the Cafe Ella team.

Cafe Ella was no nonsense. It was one of the last genuinely affordable, friendly, family-run cafes, that will be missed in an increasingly shallow cafe culture.

The cafe shuts its doors at the end of May and will reopen under new owners. Priscilla hopes they’ll be able to boil a good bagel.

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