Sydney: Ampersand Café & Bookshop

So many books, so many different neighbourhoods, so many beaches, so many floors of books – Sydney is an inspiration in many ways and has been captured on lots of pages. Vangel gives us an extensive reading list of the city and a cup of coffee in his Ampersand café & bookshop.

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Interview with Vangel Cvetkovski, co-owner of Ampersand café & bookshop.

Which three books of Sydney would you recommend to a person visiting the city?

I know the limit is three, but there are many, so I will recommend the following:

Sydney is the birth place of Patrick White, one of Australia’s great authors.  Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. Apart from writing some short stories, White wrote two books set in Sydney – Voss (1957) and The Vivisector (1970).

Henry Lawson, who wrote in an earlier period than White did, is just as famous.  Born in Sydney, Henry Lawson wrote in prose and verse, about the plight of the poor in Sydney at the turn of the 20th century.

Living Together (1974) by Frank Moorhouse is set in Balmain, Glebe and Paddington.

Literary Sydney, A walking guide.  Takes you on a tour down memory lane, to the haunts frequented by such famous writers as Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Peter Carey, David Malouf, Germain Greer, David Williamson and many more.

According to Guy Peppin, our book store manager, the following are his recommendations:

Sydney by Jan Morris
Harp in the South by Ruth Park
The Penguin Book of Australian Short Stories
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
The Fatal Shore By Robert Hughes.

Please tell me a bit about the literary scene in your neighbourhood.

Paddington is a thriving hub of literary activity.  Its Bohemian setting played an important part in the development of literature in Sydney during the 1930’s.  Paddington is the home of University of NSW (UNSW) Centre of Fine Arts (COFA), where aspiring artists and writers are learning their craft.  COFA is situated directly opposite Ampersand, so it is no surprise that some of its students can be found milling around the premises behind the counter or as customer sipping coffee, absorbing the ambiance and vibe and enjoying our great food.

Paddington was infamous during the 1930’s for more sinister reasons.  It was the home of the Razor Gang. A motley crew of gangsters who extracted their pound of flesh from their foes using razor blades found at barber shops.

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What’s the story of the bookshop?

Ampersand is situated in a heritage protected building. Originally it was a butcher shop. Some of the rails and hooks can be seen suspended from the ceiling. These as well as the ceiling are also heritage protected and cannot be removed or changed in any way. At some stage in the not too distant past the building had a chicken shop, selling roast chickens. Around ten years or so ago, it became Gertrude & Alice, a cafe & book shop. Gertrude & Alice changed hands around 7 years ago and became Ampersand under the new owner. The theme and colour tones were changed in February 2014.

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What are the challenges nowadays in Australia to run a bookshop – and which ideas make Ampersand Café & Bookshop unique and special?

It is no secret that the Internet has made significant inroads into the printed media. Fortunately, there remains a steady demand for printed books. With Ampersand, it is second hand books.  There is something special about holding a book, reading its cover and back page, the inside page, to find out where, when and by whom it was first published. Or the next page, to read a note written by someone who had carefully chosen a book for a special person. And more interesting is finding a makeshift book mark, a leaf, a herb, a handwritten note, an old newspaper or a neatly cut portion of an envelope, all adding to the charm of picking up a book from one of the 30,000 books found on Ampersand’s book shelves.

Ampersand is special because of its people.  It has Guy and Bethany, looking after the book store, both of whom are passionate about literature and finding that unique, interesting or hard to find  book, to put on the shelves.  Some books are ordered and delivered to customers without ever hitting the shelf.

The front of house staff is friendly, and most have an arts background, be it acting, costume design, writing or painting.  The kitchen staff is equally creative and constantly invent a new dining experience with European and Asian influences. Their creativity is constantly being challenged as consumer trends now move towards paleo and raw foods. They no doubt are up to the challenge.

Ampersand has three levels, and four dining areas where people can find space to sit back, relax, and have a meal, drink tea, coffee or some of the exotic drinks out head barista dreams up from time to time.  The basement room is vast and reminiscent of days gone by. It comes with two grand chairs that have seen better times. A story goes that in one chair sat a ghost named Peter, with whom only one customer could communicate.

It is no surprise that Ampersand has been voted by the Best Coffee and Tea House in Sydney two years running.

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Can you recommend a few of your favourite places near your bookshop?

Paddington has arguably the best preserved architecture in Sydney, and possibly Australia. A walk off Oxford Street past Glenmore Road reveals rows and rows of well-preserved terrace homes that date back to the mid-1800. Diagonally opposite are the Army Barracks built early-mid 1800. A casual stroll past the building easily transports one to the old days. It is easy to imagine men dressed in red coats, black caps, long muskets, parading in the courtyard, or receiving orders from the superior. A visit to the Paddington markets, a ten minute stroll up Oxford Street is a must. People looking to find the latest trend in fashion and style gravitate to the many fashion and furniture houses found in Oxford Street.

Ampersand Café & Bookshop
Opened in 2005 as Getrude & Alice, since 2008 Ampersand.
Owned by Vangel & Irene.
78-80 Oxford Street, Paddington, 2021 Sydney, Australia.
Monday – Friday 7.30 – 17, Saturday – Sunday 8 – 17

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