Side Story Cafe at Marrickville Library, Marrickville
When James Brown, one member of the trio behind Double Roasters, did a walk-through of the new Marrickville Library construction site, he rang his business partners straight away. “We’ve got to get this,” he told them.

The library was completed in 2019 and incorporates the heritage-listed buildings that once made up Marrickville Hospital, with Side Story occupying one side of the modern street-level foyer. Grand timber poles reclaimed from bridges support the vaulted ceiling, and the walls facing the street are floor-to-ceiling windows.

It’s a beautiful backdrop for the cafe, where Brown and his team serve up a small menu of locally made cakes, pastries and sandwiches, as well as Double Roasters coffee, roasted a few streets away on Victoria Road. Fortify yourself with carrot cake so addictive Brown calls it “dangerous”, then get lost in the library’s collection of 85,000 books. There’s seating both inside the library and in a sunny courtyard outside.

313 Marrickville Road, Marrickville

Gertrude & Alice, Bondi
Gertrude & Alice has been selling books on Hall Street in Bondi for so long that owner Jane Turner remembers one of her current staffers visiting the shop in a pram as a baby.

Turner named the store for the avant-garde couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, after reading a biography about the pair. “Their home was a Paris haven for writers and artists like Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway,” she says. “There were so many actors and writers in Bondi, I thought it would be nice to have the same sort of vibe where people could congregate around the communal table.”

Come to browse the collection of exquisite vintage children’s books or pick up a copy of Marcus Zusak’s latest (the author is a Bondi local), and take a seat at the table for a bowl of lentil stew and a house-made chai. Both menu items have a cult local following and have remained on the menu, unchanged, for 20 years.

1/46 Hall Street, Bondi

Cafe Noun at Green Square Library, Zetland
With an impressive glass prism for an entry, interactive artworks on display, award-winning architecture and a subterranean garden, Green Square Library could easily be mistaken for a contemporary art museum.

Cafe Noun occupies the entry foyer and spills out into a sunny courtyard. Even with the library closed indefinitely due to Covid-19, the cafe is both a thoroughfare for those heading to Green Square Station and a destination in its own right.

Owner John Di Giorgio sees it as more than a place to get coffee (although Noun’s brews are good, using beans from Three Pence Roasters in Sutherland Shire). The daytime menu includes bacon and egg rolls, waffles, crumpets, a range of things on toast, and a variety of bowls. At night, espressos turn into Espresso Martinis and there’s live music in the courtyard, which means – when the library reopens – you can borrow some books at last call (7pm), then head outside for a glass of wine and some tunes.

355 Botany Road, Zetland

Sappho Books, Glebe
Meredith Baillie opened Sappho Books on Glebe Point Road in 1996, but she had her eye on a different space down the road – the former Glebe Youth Centre. “It was boarded up, extensively vandalised, with smashed windows and graffiti, but I still wanted it,” she says.

Baillie eventually managed to secure the massive terrace shop in 2004, where she’s spread a second-hand, humanities-focused collection and cafe across six rooms, two levels and a back courtyard (where the decades-old graffiti has been preserved).

At night, the passageway adorned with murals and fairy lights between Sappho and Gleebooks next door opens, leading to Sappho’s small bar. “We do live, semi-acoustic music every night, and it’s become a launching place for young artists,” says Baillie.

For the neighbourhood, Sappho is as much a community space as it is a bookshop and eatery. “I find it really moving when people tell me they have a sense this is their place. It’s got a human connection that gets lost in the Westfields of the world.”

51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Ampersand Cafe & Bookstore, Paddington
On a sunny day, Ampersand’s bustling courtyard is so enticing it distracts from the three-storey bookshop inside. But a bit of exploration reveals a collection of 30,000 books over three levels, and seating to suit everyone from extroverts to hermits.

Owner Irene Goldsworthy loves to watch customers explore. “People discover themselves in a bookstore,” she says. “Walking through, you open yourself up to the unknown and learn something new about yourself.”

Although Ampersand splits its attention between the cafe and book sales, it nails both sides of the business. The book collection, which spans philosophy, history, first editions, fashion and children’s literature, has been carefully curated. The cafe menu is just as considered, with most items made from scratch.

“A lot of love goes into the cafe,” says Goldsworthy. “We make our almond milk by hand, and the brownies are gluten free, made with the almond meal left over from making the milk. We also make our own jams, pies, everything from scratch.”

Pick up a house-made chai and a book of poetry and settle in on one of the regal red-velvet armchairs at the top of the staircase.

78 Oxford Street, Paddington