Free wifi – the two words guaranteed to pique the interest of any creative type or freelancer that slaves away in front of a laptop every day. Luckily for us, Melbourne's cafe owners are discovering in increasing numbers that offering customers free internet access is a sure-fire way to guarantee return patronage.
So, whether you're working on that great Australian novel, burying your head in spreadsheets, or simply like to Instagram photos of your lunch, here are some of Melbourne's top picks for surfing the web over a bite to eat.
Having opened its doors in 2007, El Mirage is old enough now to be classified an East Brunswick institution. Set back from the street front, the refitted warehouse boasts a sleek, minimalist interior with booths along one wall, tables and outdoor seating for people watching. The no-frills menu is packed with reliable favourites like pancakes, eggs and sandwiches, as well as light lunch options including sweet corn and capsicum fritters and El Mirage's signature beef burger.
Free wifi is offered on weekdays, and there's a stack of carefully chosen magazines by the door – perfect for when you need a break from work.
El Mirage | 349 Lygon Street in Brunswick East
The versatile 1000 £ Bend is many things to many people. Part cafe, part bar, part art gallery, part cinema, the Little Lonsdale Street warehouse will celebrate its fifth year in a former motorcycle repair garage later this year. The menu has expanded in recent times – breakfast is served until midday (3pm on weekends), before a selection of burgers (the saganaki burger is a must-try) and salads take over.
It can be hard to find somewhere to sit among the mish-mash of communal tables, couches and benches, but the high-speed free wifi and chilled atmosphere make it an enticing place to lose an afternoon buried in your laptop.
Tucked away under The Wheeler Centre, The Moat may just be one of the city's best-kept secrets. Head down the stairs and past the astro turf into the warmly decorated cafe space – all red carpet, bluestone walls and floor-to-ceiling bookcases begging to be explored.
The Moat is open for lunch and dinner daily (bookings are advised on Saturday nights), and has a surprisingly comprehensive selection of cocktails, spirits, beer and wine for those that enjoy a sneaky drink during the day (hey, it's one up we have over office-bound folk!). Best of all, customers can access the State Library's wifi from both The Moat and Mr Tulk, on the LaTrobe Street side of the Library.
The Blackcat has been a familiar site on Brunswick Street for more than three decades, proudly occupying the same corner site as countless other Fitzroy businesses have come and gone. Cafe by day, bar by night, the Blackcat is perhaps best recognised for its vine-covered courtyard on adjacent Greeves Street. It's a quiet and shady spot to seek respite from the vintage couches and regular DJ sets inside.
There's a small menu, local coffee and a carefully selected list of craft beers, plus time-restricted wifi with every purchase (meaning you'll have to keep downing drinks if you plan to stay online for a while).
North Melbourne's Auction Rooms takes coffee seriously – just check out its revolving list of 'coffee of the day' and its take-home beans so you can recreate the flavours at home. Named Melbourne's Best Cafe in last year's Age Good Café Guide awards, Auction Rooms' menu playfully plays homage to the building's history as an auction house, with meals separated into "opening bids" and "counter bids."
Exposed brickworks, high ceilings and recycled materials lend a sense of casual sophistication, and you can work inside or out, with wifi available in the courtyard.
According to the Dancing Dog's website, "drinking here reduces your chance of dying in the next 12 months by 50%."
We don't know if there's any medical evidence to substantiate that – but we do know that this multi-purpose Footscray venue is an unheralded gem. Open from 10am on weekdays, there's a menu of toasted sandwiches, foccacias and pizzas during the day and free wifi throughout. It's a cosy space inside, and opens to a large beer garden at the rear.
In addition to the wifi, there are a few other reasons to visit the Dog (as locals know it), like daily Happy Hour specials, trivia nights and – mark it in your diary now – $2 tacos on Wednesday evenings.
This quaint St Kilda cafe can get busy on weekends, but it's worth the wait. One of the few cafes with reliable and free wifi in St Kilda, Dr. Jekyll serves a breakfast and lunch menu and pumps out cup after cup of organic, Fair Trade approved Espresso Syndicate coffee. There are communal tables and benches both inside and out, but spots to work privately and uninterrupted, too.
With little signage out the front and a stream of creative types always milling about, Dr. Jekyll is clearly a favourite with locals. The downside? It's only open until 4pm, so you'll want to be good with deadlines.
Brunswick Street wouldn't be Brunswick Street without Joe's Garage. You won't find anybody claiming the mainstay cafe serves the best food in Fitzroy, but it has a huge menu of perfectly enjoyable snacks, pizzas, pastas and burgers, as well as a selection of to-die-for cakes, all of which come in generous serves. Separated by the kitchen, Joe's is divided into a dining section and a more relaxed space where high benches offer enough space for your laptop, tablet and whatever else you need to work.
And, open until 1am daily, Joe's is the perfect place to go and send that late-night e-mail that just can't wait until the morning.
Main Image Credit: Loandsons