When the winter rain falls on Adelaide’s cold streets, the warm glow of La Buvette’s lights has a way of drawing in those intimate couples looking for a quiet drink together.
The French-themed café on Gresham Street fills up on the weekends but during the week the Tuesday-through-Thursday night crowds tell their own stories.
Back in 2014, state and local governments started talking about the need to encourage a sophisticated drinking culture in Adelaide. Instead of $2 shots and cheap pints, the idea was small bars that would sell boutique beer and wine at $15 a glass for those who favour conversation over EDM.
Four years on and La Buvette is one of the bars that carries that vision. On this night, I’m supposed to be meeting someone here to talk about romance in Adelaide and watch the couples but I’m getting the feeling that I’ve been stood up.
It is 6.30pm and the professional crowd in for a drink after work has started to drift away. They are replaced by lovers who arrive alone or in pairs. There are only three people in the bar at this hour until a young woman walks in and makes it four. She surveys the tables but doesn’t find who she is looking for. Instead she chooses a table away from all the others in the darkest part of the café and takes off her heavy black coat.
Five minutes’ later her guest arrives. He’s taller than her and handsome in a leather jacket and dark blue jeans. They embrace and she follows him to the bar where he orders a dark beer.
“Normally, I’m a bourbon drinker,” she says when he asks, her voice deeper than her small frame would suggest. Instead she asks for a glass of Rosé.
Back at the table, she sits with her body turned towards him and he sits with his back flat against the wall. He drinks quickly as she sips her wine slowly. He doesn’t seem to notice when she runs her fingers along her collarbone as he talks. Young men rarely do.
In walks a middle-aged couple who choose a table in the middle of the room. He wears a hipster beard and a beige checkered shirt beneath a sweater. She wears her hair short and bleached blond. Thick horizontal black and white stripes line her shirt and as she leans into him while they talk quietly. They are here for dinner and, in a moment she thinks no one will notice, she turns his face to hers and kisses him gently on the lips.
The couple at the next table over have just settled in. They are older, maybe in their early 50s. They’ve been together long enough now to be comfortable and don’t cuddle in a bar because they don’t need to. Instead they keep their posture straight and bodies turned in toward each other as they sip Grenache. They talk about work and family and friends and travel. They look each other in the eyes.
It’s been an hour now and I check my phone again. Still nothing. When I look up another man walks in. He’s six feet tall, has his hair slicked back, a pointed nose and RM Williams on his feet. He heads straight to the bathroom. Not long after him a woman bounces in. She is blond and tall and she holds herself confidently. She surveys the room and goes straight to the bench where she climbs atop a bar stool to look over the menu.
You can tell she’s British by the way she says: “I love it.”
When the man comes back he surprises her, by walking up behind and places a hand on each of her triceps.
“I didn’t expect you to be here so early,” she says.
He takes up a bar stool next to her and spreads out. She positions herself towards him. Once they make their order, he suggests they move to the corner table and she agrees. He leans on the table with his elbows as he listens to her talk about London and travel.
Word arrives that the person I was meeting isn’t going to make it, so I throw on my coat and move to leave. As I open the door, it’s possible to hear the wind begin to pick up. Outside the street is slick with rain and I turn up the collar of my coat. Behind me the warm lights of La Buvette glow in the street and I go home, alone.