Gus' Cafe was opened by Augustin "Gus" Petersilka, in the '60s in Canberra. Gus was a pioneer for outdoor dining, and his run-ins with the local beaurocracy are legendary. Originally from Vienna, he bought European dining concepts to Canberra, at a time when those in charge of these type of things weren't ready for such a radical idea. Gus was arrested on one occasion, his restaurant stripped of furniture and fixtures, with the lot dumped in the street. This was for disobeying the laws of the time. On another occasion, council officers made a night time raid, taking down poles he had erected outside. To say he had a hard time bringing the attitudes of those in power around is an understatement. However his efforts didn't escape notice, and he was named Canberran of the Year in 1978, in part for his work in bringing the beaurocrats around.
These days, outdoor dining is common place, and being able to sit outside while enjoying a meal or coffee is taken for granted. For me, Gus' Cafe is the best place in Canberra to do this. It has indoor seating available, but the majority of tables are outside, on the footpath next to Bunda Street in the city. Smaller tables line the outside of the cafe, and larger tables are located in an enclosed area next to the street. In the warmer spring and summer months, the walls of this area are completely open, the roof providing shade from what can be a very hot sun. In the cooler months, plastic walls are rolled down, providing much needed protection from the cold. Gas lamps warm the area, and it's possible to be toasty warm even on sub-zero degree nights. A large vine grows along the street side of the area, green and shady in summer, losing it's leaves in winter and allowing the sun to shine through.
However the main feature is the large oak tree, that grows in the centre of the area. The enclosure has been designed with this beautiful tree in mind, with a large gap in the roof allowing it to spread over the roof. At a table under the tree, you can relax in its shade, and enjoy the breeze drifting through.
Gus' Cafe is one of Canberra's best people watching locations. It's easy to lose a couple of hours, sitting at a table with a cup of coffee, watching people wandering by, or loosing yourself in the conversation of the other people around you. It attracts a varied crowd, from professional types winding down after a long day in the office, to students working on essays. It's common to find people sitting alone, immersed in a book. Gus' is the place I often go to write, sitting alone, jotting down thoughts in my notebook. If I'm looking for inspiration, I go to Gus'.
For those with an interest in technology, Gus' uses a wireless PDA network for taking orders. Your waiter or waitress will take your order on a Palm PDA, and transmit it directly inside, where your order is prepared.
Gus' has an interesting menu, and is a great place to go for a casual meal. The fixed menu is varied and interesting, and caters for all tastes. Vegetarians are well catered for, with, among other things, fresh salads, lentil burgers and a pumpkin risotto that I can personally recommend. Other options include focaccia, pasta, and a huge steak sandwich (that comes with beautiful fried carrot strips). Light meals are available, such as nachos, or potato wedges served with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. The specials board is constantly changing, and often features seafood. And after a long sleep in on Sunday morning, a trip to Gus' to sample from their all day breakfast menu is just perfect.
As well as this, Gus' has an awesome assortment of cakes. They make a great baked cheesecake, but my personal favourite and recommendation is the most incredible toffee caramel cake. Soft caramel cake, covered with warm, sticky toffee - even when you're so full you can't imagine taking another mouthfull, you can't stop eating this cake. If you're eating with another person, and are even slightly full, share it!
Gus' is fully licenced, serving wine, beer and spirits. You can also BYO bottled wine. Even though it is licenced, I've noticed that most people don't drink alcohol there. If you're at Gus', you're there for the coffee, which is some of the best in Canberra.
Waiting staff are friendly and professional, and you are served quickly. Meals don't take forever to arrive, and the food is always fresh, and very tasty. Although it's a cafe, their meals are easily as good as most restaurant meals, but without the high price tag. Expect to pay from around $8.00 for a light meal, up to $20 or so for some blackboard specials. Breakfast meals start at just a few dollars for toast, to around $14.00 for a big breakfast (and I promise you, it's BIG!)
Gus' is casual dining at its very best. Whether you're visiting alone, or meeting up with friends before going out, you always feel welcome at Gus'. And if you've got a bit of time to kill, nobody tries to hurry you out, so you can just linger, and watch the world float by.
Corner of Bunda Street and Garema Place
Phone (02) 6248 8118
Gus' is fairly easy to find, and just about anyone in the area would be able to direct you straight there. It sits right on the corner at the end of Garema Place
- which is not a street, but a pedestrian area in the heart of the city. Just look for the enclosure with an oak tree sticking out of the roof, and you've found it.
Open 7 days a week, opening at 7am, closing late. Gus' is one of the few places in Canberra that you can go to, and get something to eat late at night. You don't need to book, simply turn up, and grab the first available table. It's normally busy - it's not unusual at all to go there on an evening in the middle of the week, and find the place full.
Inside is non-smoking
, however you are able to smoke at any of the outdoor tables.