Whenever I return to Bondi Beach, I make a bee-line for cosy bookshop café, Gertrude and Alice.
During the decade or so I lived in Bondi, Gertrude and Alice, on Hall Street, was my home-away-from home; a place to sit and sip a soy chai, surrounded by masses of second-hand books, listen to Bob Dylan and flip through a fascinating book or three.
Colourful folk would waft in and out of this casual and cosy literary den, and due to the intimate nature of the communal tables, you’d witness people flirting, babbling, or relaying very personal info to each other – e.g. “I’m so depressed. I’m an insomniac. I hardly ever sleep and it’s killing me.”
Or: “I love this girl so much – but I can’t stay with her. She’s not ‘of the faith’.”
There’s always something – or someone – new and vibrant at this lively haven for bookworms.
And G & A’s lure extends way beyond its beachie locals. You can be immersed in a history book, and look up to see a famous actor or fashionista queuing to buy their corn fritters with sweet chilli and lime sour cream.
The one constant during my regular visits: the ever-present Stevie Nicks look-alike, Jane Turner, the woman who founded the joint, named after Gertrude Stein and her lover, Alice Toklas.
On a recent visit to Sydney I sat down with Jane and had a chat.
When did you start G and A?
In 2000. I’d been working in a second hand bookshop in Glebe. I was a single mum with kids. A friend had been travelling and said she’d seen some great café-bookshops, and that we should start one! So together we started Gertrude and Alice – named after Stein and Toklas. My friend lasted in the business nine months, but then thought it was a lot of hard work, taking her away from her writing. So I bought her out. The place was popular from the start. I didn’t expect it to be such a hit . We had live music and author events, always working at ways to keep it interesting.
But you ended up having to move?
Yes, and I thought we’d have to leave Bondi – then something else turned up, just a couple of doors up. It was a smaller space, but we’ve made it work.
Is it how you wanted it?
I guess it is. I’d love a bigger space. Then again, people love the fossicking. If you keep it too super-tidy, people can’t explore!
Have many celebs come through the door?
Yes, lots of local TV identities, actors and so forth. We have a policy not to speak to celebs – we leave them to do their thing.
Can you give us a few names?
Orlando Bloom caused a bit of a sensation when he came in one day. Russell Crowe’s been in here, Claire Danes, Gerard Butler, Ben Mendelsohn, Barrie Humphries and Simon Baker. One of the Game of Thrones actors was in here the other day.
Gertrude and Alice has become a bit of a celeb in her own right of late, has she not?
Yes, we were on Channel Nine news recently. We got robbed – and there was such an outpouring of emotion from all our customers. I was so touched. People shared the thief’s photo on social media – and the police found him! I feel so blessed to have received such support from the community.
And much social interaction goes on at the tables. You’ve seen birth, deaths and marriages over the years?
Yes, we’ve had at least one proposal here. And a wedding!
I’ve seen a few rare and exciting collectable books over the years. They don’t seem to be that expensive here either?
No, sometimes we do get our hands on something fantastic. But we always charge at the lower end of the scale. That’s just how we are!
Gertrude and Alice is at 46 Hall St, Bondi Beach.
Starfish Photographs: Peter Rigby