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  • Story by Marga Buenaventura  
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  • Tomboy is located at 356 Smith Street, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia

08/26/14 Tomboy Cafe, Melbourne

A visit to Tomboy Cafe is equal parts familiar and refreshing. Nestled among Smith Street’s hodgepodge of local haunts, Tomboy offers vegan-friendly fare in a space where retro enamel lamps gleam cheerily over salvaged brick and an irreverent mural flanks homemade furniture. Initially a shopfront for gluten-free pastry outfit Box Brownies, Tomboy has become a Melbourne staple with a socio-environmental advocacy for chowing down.

“We have a big emphasis on vegetarian offerings, and grow as much of our own produce as possible in our backyard,” says Pia Hambour, who manages the cafe with co-owner Georgina March. “Our menu features some sustainable meats, and all our menu items can be made gluten-free.” Hambour goes on to explain that Tomboy frequently reshuffles its menu to ensure every ingredient is at its seasonal prime. From the Winter-Spring menu, she recommends the house-cured salmon with an inspiriting medley of beetroot, dill, and a local gin called Four Pillars. The dish is accompanied by a bagel from nearby Five & Dime Bagel Company, smashed peas, pickled fennel, and a blood orange salad.

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Just as Tomboy’s food jives with the changes in its surroundings, its interiors takes inspiration from its building’s storied past. The cafe was initially a horse race betting spot with an old studio situated at back. “The story goes that in between having a punt, men would pop out the back to get their suits fitted,” shares Hambour. “We liked the idea that the building has always been a community meeting place, that laughter and banter are embedded in the walls.”

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To play up its charismatic design, the owners outfitted Tomboy with pieces sourced from nearby markets, country shops, and even from their own homes. Throwback touches like a repurposed milk bar sign above the counter and vintage speakers peeking from under the brick-laid bar have found their way into Tomboy’s charming enclave.

It’s easy to feel right at home here. Hambour and March have always sought to make the cafe feel like an extension of their own living spaces. Serving up healthful nosh is a big part of the holistic dining experience, along with great music and warm personal service from its baristas. And if one is lucky, Hambour says, patrons might even get a hug from their dog Oscar.

Neighborhood Recommendation: “We are lucky to be located on Smith Street, which is a thriving hub of artistic talent, amazing food, great bars and pubs, independent designers and art galleries, and recycled and vintage stores. Our favorites are Teriyaki Anarchy Sake, St. Crispin, Nook Vintage, USED, Everyday Coffee, and Vintage Garage.”