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Cafe Style: five Auckland cafes and their style tribes

Cafes play host to the city’s vibrant and distinct microcosms — entire eras of my life can be matched to the hospitality institutions that served me at the time.

Cafe Style: five Auckland cafes and their style tribes

Aug 24, 2023 Cafes

“Where do you live?” 

It’s a simple enough question — one that recently triggered a personal identity crisis.

I sold my soul for suburban Mt Eden last year. Our coming-apart-at-the-seams flat in Eden Terrace could not go on. We’d been patient with the always-broken plumbing system, the sash windows that wouldn’t stay up and the oh-so-charmingly-racist landlord. Sacrificing our old place for a functioning home, however, came at a grave loss: our much-loved neighbourhood cafe. 

The bustling hub of our local had brought particular solace in lockdown, those dire hours where the closest we came to interacting with strangers was hardcore analysis into the window of every soul en route to grab caffeine. The cafe had a very specific crowd. Great for my ego. Plainly, the cool of the regulars would trickle down.

Auckland is a tribal city. Cafes play host to the city’s vibrant and distinct microcosms — entire eras of my life can be matched to the hospitality institutions that served me at the time. Some cafes achieve the great glory of becoming a precious regular fixture in a tribe’s weekly routine. As my boss always tells me, time is the most valuable currency in the world, and one which is often deeply invested in hospo haunts. Ever so expressive and calculated, style cues — and hence clues to cafes frequented — can be as small as a shade of yellow or the texture of one’s sock. 

The theatre of human life is the greatest and most affordable form of entertainment. We’re all just a little bit silly. So, go, sit at these arenas, and embrace the spectacle.

 

Daily Bread
Ruling Tribe: The Clogging-Along Boys

An ever-so-democratic shoe, the Birkenstock ‘Boston’ is the ultimate manifestation of the Ponsonby branch of Daily Bread. A surprising crowd-pleaser, the Boston has two distinct groups of fans — band members and business boys. (When I say ‘boys’, mind you, I mean it to apply to all — a redefinition recently endorsed by the three grown women of indie band Boygenius.) The contrast of these very different lives epitomises the beauty of Daily Bread. The first group are often a little dishevelled, leaving you wondering if they’ll wipe the excess sugar from their cardamom buns on their jorts … But the dirt is a stylistic choice, not a problem of hygiene. If it wasn’t, these musicians would likely be alone rather than protected by a hip army of Salomon sneakers. On the opposite side of the Daily Bread spectrum are our business boys. So committed to being seen that they’ll stop in during their commute to Commercial Bay — an attempt to prove that, yes, you can be in property management, wear a pinstripe-and-pintight suit and be trendy. Both groups hold out a mutual hope that the blue of the Slim Aarons’ prints on the walls will bring out the warmth of their skin this winter. 

 

Coffee Pen , Eden Terrace
Ruling Tribe: Freeze Your Jeans Fanatics 

Pen feels more like a community hub than a cafe. Its regulars match the architecture of the space, their dress slightly outdoorsy (70% of them have been camping twice), with a utilitarian edge. The style of owners Yas and Fumi Hisai, too, is undeniably echoed by their patrons. Think Scandi-cosiness, burnt-orange tones, an abundance of quilted outerwear and lots of great denim. Not just any denim, though — it’s that stiff, quality shit. The type that you care enough about to follow some wikiHow article on how to freeze your jeans. Beware, however. Also often present at Coffee Pen is that great antithesis to birth control: chic children. Mini Alexa Chungs clad in custom patchwork, matched to their parents, with both tiramisu tarts and nepo-baby trajectories in furniture design laid on the table in front of them.

 

Candy Shop, Newmarket
Ruling Tribe: New-Age Wellness Gals

Candy Shop sweeps the board for being the most flavourful tribal melting-pot. Honouring this, we must pay our respects to the handbag, fashion’s greatest emblem. Spotted: a Louis Vuitton ‘Speedy’, a black canvas tote featuring a denim keychain (subsidiary of the lipstick effect), a Nike bum-bag with a giant logo, that Swedish backpack from early Instagram days … It’s the wild west for the sake of good matcha. There’s one reigning cowboy in this town — the New Age Wellness Gals, the product of Newmarket’s buffet of elevated exercise classes. Our wellness junkies are addicted to posting on their Close Friends stories, and live for using their very functional jumpers as scarves. Even if they are jersey material. They carry the ambiance of the cafe as they head off to their boxing class, where they’ll punch to the beat of an AI-remix of Ed Sheeran.

Florets, Grey Lynn
Ruling Tribe: Butter Yellow Prehistoric Hipsters

It’s a well-known fact that humans often look like their dogs, but it’s less well-known that this also rings true for food. “Think oatmeal-toned clothing to match the organic wheat that all their bread is made from,” says my friend Eliza about the Florets crowd. Here the tribe is made up of former hipsters and their modern iterations. A personal favourite of mine, the hipster mum, is an especially respectable specimen. These mums signal their cool with ribbed wool socks strategically pulled over (instead of under) sports leggings. Luxury is celebrated, but quietly; they are less likely to whack fellow cafe-goers with branded baby strollers. The tribe has a weakness for butter yellow — the shade is often seen slathered and accessorised with sage-green herbs on their wheat sourdough. It’s also everywhere in their wardrobes, which are chock full of garments by our local designers who similarly hold a kink for this shade. Florets is also a time machine. Innocence shining out of their eyes under wolf-cut bangs, the mid-20-somethings from media agencies across Tāmaki, lining up for oat flat whites, are oblivious to the future in front of them.

 

Bestie , Karangahape Road
Ruling Tribe: The Wired Headphones 

To see Dr. Martens at Bestie is as much of a given as a tax scandal emanating from the PWC building. Bestie is truly a rite-of-passage cafe. A safe haven; a recommendation passed down to new Aucklanders. Perhaps the reason it’s such a reliable rec is down to the cafe’s most loyal tribe, the cooler-than-me teenagers who look like they’re having a competition-to-the-death of alternativeness. Winner of the contest? Anyone with long wired headphones — get measuring, baby. Think aggressively obscure baby tees with slogans like ‘My mum doesn’t want your advice’, vintage Rip Curl and zip-up hoodies done two-sixths of the way up. It’s like watching a live-action version of Larry Clark’s Kids. We could all learn from these teens’ artful executions of identity, especially when they’re offering up a free tattoo moodboard left-and-left-and-left.

Part of our Best Cafes 2023 feature (thanks to Karma Drinks!).
This story was published in Metro N°439.
Available here.

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