Percy’s Corner: everything old is new again

45 Nerang St, Southport

Thank God we’ve reached an age where ‘Everything old is new again!’

Live long enough and you’ll have hallowed places to cherish: the ballroom on top of a hill where you danced the night away, a Spanish fronted church where you were married, a hotel where you first heard the blues or one of the greats – Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, or Louis Armstrong. There’s an affection we hold for special places, and when they are plundered our hearts break a little.

On an early morning in 1979 a sword was thrust through the heart of every Queenslander with a sense of history. The 1880s built Bellevue Hotel was razed to the ground as the city slept. Three years later it was Cloudland that fell; in 1999 our own Spanish Mission style Infant Saviour Catholic Church in Burleigh.

Perhaps we learned something from this. Today, we seem to be trying harder to keep our heritage intact, treasuring both our memories and their physical keeps.

On the Gold Coast, one of our best is the Old Ambulance station in Southport. Its most famous ambulance officer Percy Raby, oversaw the construction of the building in 1919. He married, moved in upstairs, raising a family and working there for more than 30 years.

Percy was renowned for his kindness, enthusiastic service and the efficiency with which he ran the service. “…he gives in service far more than he could ever be paid…” The Queenslander said of him in 1935. With no hospital in the area, the ambulance service covered an area from Coomera to Burleigh. We can only imagine the medical emergencies he must have encountered in the burgeoning coastal community, and how many people he helped!

Lovingly restored in 2002 by John Howe, the Old Ambulance Station now houses ‘Co Spaces’, a cooperative tenanted workplace.

At the front of the building, where Percy Raby once served locals in the clinic room, the tiny espresso bar Percy’s Corner provides a different sort of service. Opened by Sara Eagles and her (soon to be) husband Liam Howe, Percy’s is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best brews in Southport.

“We grew up on the Coast and were connected to the building through family. Returning from Sydney, the opportunity arose to open here. We’ve always loved coffee and wanted to open a place that brought fabulous coffee to Southport,” Sara told me. There’s thought gone into the decor, the doors specially made to match the building, original floors restored to their former glory and vintage items added to complement the refit.

Percy’s is a haven of the converted; specialty coffee drinkers, that is. There’s no disputing the quality of the beans, single origin Kenyan, Sumatran and Costa Rican, but the choice remains: ‘How would you like your coffee prepared?’

With beans sourced from Single Origin Roasters, you can choose espresso, siphon, cold drip or pour over. Coffee’s priced at the standard $3.50 to $5.00, however the level of service more than pays its way. It’s a time intensive, loving celebration of the bean!

My short black ‘pour over’ is undertaken with scientific precision. The extraction of the brew at approximately 200 degrees takes the best full floral tones from the beans, leaving any fat and bitterness in the grounds.

I find it hard to tear my eyes away from Barista AJ’s intriguing moustache, but when I do, I see that he’s brought out the scales, weighed the exact amount of coffee, and begun the pour. I soon find out that I’ve been making my pour over incorrectly, dumping the whole amount of boiling water into the filter, too hasty to allow the coffee to ‘bloom’! AJ pours slowly around and around the cone, wetting the beans, stopping partway as if at a given signal from the scales, before finishing off the pour.

It might seem fussy to some to get precise water temperatures, to weigh the beans and water, to follow this elaborate ritual, but the result is a great cup of coffee! It’s a perfectly balanced brew, the short black showing off the excellence of the beans, a hint of honey and sweet syrupy body. Yes, dear reader, AJ has persuaded me to abandon my usual flat white, if only just this once!

I’m also enjoying a Bagel and lox (smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and capers), one of the few bites to eat on the tiny ‘kitchenless’ menu. Baked Egg and bacon cups, loaves and slices, and organic Granuesli could be other choices for a meal on the run.

Percy Raby is not just recognised here through the name of the espresso bar, or its fine level of service above and beyond what you pay; there’s also credence given to the heritage of the building and the pieces of history Percy left under the floor.

Taking up the lino during the renovation, John found layers of newspaper beneath, no doubt used to provide insulation to the floor. They covered the period from 1944 to 1947, from Percy’s hometown of King’s Lynn in England, as well as local Brisbane and Sydney papers. John had the forethought to retain these treasures, and they can now be read in a bound book in the café, laying bare the differences in social mores, the tidbits of social scandal, as well as now treasured cultural snapshots of a bygone era.

I understand the lunch break ‘grab a coffee’ routine, but why not take your time when visiting Percy’s Corner, not just to experiment with your coffee, to check out the vinyls lurking under the table, but also to soak up a bit of history, to look and listen to whispers of the voices of those who have gone before.

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More reading:

Southport Heritage Walk:

Strand, O 2011, ‘Coffee’s slow dance’, New York Times, 9 February, viewed 18 May 2014,

Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast


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