Now Open: A Whimsical, Labyrinthine Cafe in a 150-Year-Old Former Auto Parts Shop

Written for Broadsheet

On a street corner in Ascot Vale, past a grand old green and ivory facade, is a whimsical new cafe laced with old-world charm. In some ways, Old Man Drew is a labyrinth mistaken for a cafe; it takes more than a few (panicked) moments to spot my friends for brunch.

The clashing, contrasting decor of the eatery’s six very different spaces is an amalgamation of family heirlooms and community contributions. “One lady brought us in some bamboo plants from home, another lady brought in some floral saucers,” says Dorothy May Brown, who, along with her daughter Emma, owns the former auto shop, which has been in their family since 1957. “[Locals] have been really kind to us, I think [because] it’s a family that has been here for so long, they’ve supported us.”

On ground level, exposed-brick walls, hanging plants and timber furniture surround a staircase with elaborate wrought-iron balustrades that’ll take you down to the underground cellar. Its bluestone dining room is cosy, fitted with an old leather chesterfield couch, gas fireplace and a Queen of Hearts-inspired chessboard.

Back above ground, check out the provedore, a nod to the time the building spent as Twinem’s Grocery Store in the 1860s. It stocks a selection of jams, olive oils, chocolates and other bits and pieces.

Step through another walkway and into the light-flooded atrium, where the adjacent kitchen pumps out reliable, agreeable brunch fare such as hash browns with halloumi, eggs and aioli; homemade beef pies; smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels; and Panko-crumbed chicken on brioche with slaw and aioli. On the sweeter side, there’s toasted crumpets with caramelised banana, oozy salted caramel, vanilla mascarpone, candied nuts and sticky caramel popcorn. Or tropical fruit salad with coconut yoghurt.

The two-storey-high glass ceiling pours natural light onto brunchers below, and the 24 vintage mirrors hanging from one wall provide even more bright and airy vibes. “Half of those would be off dressing tables that we’ve inherited,” says Brown.

Continue past the kitchen to the dog-friendly garden, where vegetable plants call a rusty 1940 Bedford truck home. The truck belonged to Victor Drew, the cafe’s namesake, who ran the used auto parts business on the site. Ornate hedging and colourful flowers sit around a weeping tree adorned with fairy lights. Mis-matched wrought-iron tables and chairs are from Drew’s wife’s personal collection from the 1930s and ’40s.

“[There are] lots of little hidden secret parts where you can sit and have a meal and feel like you’re the only ones in the garden,” Brown says. You might catch Frankie the chihuahua wandering around, too. “We tell everyone he’s the CEO, and he actually believes it.”

I thought the grand tour was over, but Brown leads me to another staircase, this one grander, and ascending. At the top, a dining room and balcony overlook the atrium below, but around the corner is the most enchanting room yet; Miss Violet’s Tea Rooms, named after Brown’s godmother.

Light streams in through delicate, white-lace blinds, splashing the white-starched tablecloths and crystal chandeliers. Detailed cornices and blush-pink wallpaper accentuate the floral patterns on the Royal Albert china, while delicate swan-shaped cream puffs rest in the prep kitchen alongside petit fours, ribbon sandwiches and scones with jam and cream, ready for an imminent tea party.

Old Man Drew 
359–361 Mount Alexander Road, Ascot Vale 
(03) 9375 4024

Mon to Fri 7am–3pm 
Sat & Sun 8am–3pm

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