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Back in time at Marios

Marios

Marios

Thirty years ago Marios changed the way Melbourne and, by extension, Australia thought about cafés, and to celebrate the occasion, owners Mario De Pasquale and Mario Maccarone are going to party like it's 1986. Later this month the Fitzroy institution is dropping its menu prices (but not alcohol) to what they were when the doors opened on Brunswick Street three decades ago.

Translated, that means for one day only coffee will be a dollar, eggs on toast $3.50 and lasagne $4.50. There could be a stampede. What's best about returning to the past, though, is not about the cheap coffee and bargain pasta, it's about how these prices focus the attention on how little has changed at Marios since coffee was being sold for a buck.

 The café stands as testament to the value of having all the fundamentals in place. And those fundamentals were assembled by two professional waiters, working in fine-dining restaurants in Melbourne, who created a business entirely based on the idea of a place where they wanted to hang out that didn't yet exist.

And so there were (and still are) sharply dressed waitstaff, linen on the tables, terrazzo floors, a jazz soundtrack (Miles, Miles and more Miles), art by local artists for sale on the walls, an all-day breakfast, a kitchen that opens late every night and a dedication to solid, reliable coffee, like you get in a bar in Italy.

All these things seem unremarkable now, but they were mostly as unheard of in 1986 as some of Marios' alumni - Maurice Terzini, Pete Evans and Karen Batson. (Full disclosure: back in the mists of time I worked there too, as a waiter.)

Marios is a place that has been remarkably influential on the café scene, particularly in Melbourne, but also the rest of the country, showing Australians a compelling template for smart yet relaxed dining. "We wanted to be both classy and casual," says Maccarone. "We looked a bit like a restaurant, but you could still come in and get Vegemite on toast."

And that's what they did. Marios' 30th birthday this month is a good time to remember and to give thanks. And get yourself a cheap meal.

Prices will drop to 1986 levels on Thursday 28 April, from 7am to 10.30pm. Marios, 303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, Vic, (03) 9417 3343, marioscafe.com.au

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