Ahhh.. The old adage: “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”. We all know of pop culture icons that have transcended generations to exemplify the old saying quite perfectly. The original Volkswagen Beetle is one that comes to mind. To be generous though, we could allow a few tweaks along the way that in no way detract from the original vision. Manufactured until safety standards deemed it unviable, perhaps the biggest change was from flat windscreen to curved. The Fender Stratocaster guitar is another example that comes to mind; thongs (flip flops!); country music, et al… All based upon their own unique simple formula, done well, that never needs improving. And so we come to the Fannie Bay Cool Spot; one of those iconic cafes also based on a simple formula that has allowed it to transcend through time relatively unchanged.
And for better or worse? – that is up to you.
My first recollection of the Cool Spot was as a young apprentice cabinetmaker making and assembling the joinery that would be installed before it’s official opening. Over the decades since, small, incremental changes have been made along the way – mainly to the decor. The generously sized tables and chairs have been turned over since the mid 1980’s but the seating plan remains the same; sensual black and white pictures from the 1993-2001 Lavazza calendars have appeared, disappeared, and returned; the original red PVC strip lighting over the serving and order counters has disappeared but should now make a retro-comeback; a much newer poster of Al Pacino sponsored by Vittoria explains which coffee is what; olde worlde Italian kitsch remains on the walls, however the resin or porcelain French/Italian chef figurine standing on the counter has now gone; local characters still sit at the same tables as they have done for the past 20 to 30 years (and these are not necessarily local celebrities, just faces you know as Cool Spot patrons); and huge colourful photographs of the Northern Territory landscape sit on the wall, totally ajar against the olde worlde Italian cafe ambiance.
I’d swear the place hasn’t been painted inside or out since it opened. And that’s probably because it is always full. There are mornings/afternoons/evenings where you are struggling to find a spare table within the large internal and external seating areas. And so typical of Darwin, you will either shiver with cold inside in the air conditioning, or swelter outside in the tropical climate despite the large awnings and fans.
The formula here is simple. Easily accessible, great tasting fresh food, large servings/portion sizes, extensive ice cream bar and cakes counter, simply wonderful coffee, open plan or semi-secluded tables, and with fantastic coastal views all encapsulated in an olde worlde rustic charm. And just like this tale of adventure you are reading, it is easy to get lost in time while visiting – which is exactly what we did when we visited recently on a lunch date. On this occasion I ordered the gourmet chicken burger and a cup of skinny flat white coffee from a cashier with a most pleasing, and happy attitude.
While waiting for the food, let me mention that the place isn’t without fault. Not exactly faults – but just quirks. The doors are heavily sprung and I have lost more than one glass of water or takeaway coffee as the heavily doors slammed close on me on the way out. The toilets are located down a rabbit warren of a corridor – take one wrong turn and I have no idea where you would end up; sometimes the servers will forget to provide you cutlery with the meal; there are stain marks across the ceiling where the timed air freshener dispenser on the wall has sprayed into the dining area; the original ceramic tiled floor isn’t dirty, just pock-marked with chips from falling crockery; etc… and the list goes on.
After returning to my table the coffee arrived in just about as much time as you took to read that last paragraph. Simply, it was one of the best coffee’s I had drunk in days. Including my own. Rich, strong, aromatic and robust – it was perfect. Couldn’t be faulted.
The burger then arrived, brought out by a happy, chatty server. A mountain of chicken breast, bacon and fresh salad, skewered between a flat toasted bun buttered with guacamole. Somewhere inside was a serve of cheddar in just the right proportion. And hot! This was as fresh as they come. The chicken breast was plump and juicy – perhaps a little salt needed. The guacamole was a knockout, as was the bacon – cooked just right. If anything, the burger ate better when turned upside down. An oddity perhaps, but it was just the way I was able to make it work for me. There was just the right amount of salad – it didn’t need beetroot or cucumber, shredded carrot, egg, or anything else seemingly ‘gourmet’. It was a well thought out and executed burger. A large serving of fries accompanied the burger along with a wonderfully tasty, zingy side dish of housemade aioli.
And this, dear reader, is why the Cool Spot seems to be the winner that it is. This was a generous sized meal. Too big a meal? Hmmmm…. not if you’re hungry. I’ve heard people complain that the Cool Spot is over priced – but really?! When the meals are this fresh, this generous, and this tasty, served up in this location, what would be a fair rival to compare it with? I don’t mind paying a few dollars extra – if that – when the formula works time and time again. If anything, I wish the cafe could be 50-100 metres closer to the view – but that’s not going to happen. The place is a product of a successful formula that has never really been tampered with. There has been incremental change, and changes of owners, but the Fannie Bay Cool Spot has never really strayed from the original vision.
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?