Let me just come out and say it – I dislike malls.
I’d much rather amble down shopping lanes with pretty facades or an open-air market, but malls and their ‘pay-for-your-parking public space’ is the norm in Pretoria. That’s why when there’s a mall-based enterprise that’s trying to be different and independent, I’m fully behind throwing our cash at their dream rather than another cookie cutter chain store.
The small but stylish Birillo Coffee is slotted into the space under an elevator in Glenfair Mall (Lynnwood Road). Moms with their weekly shop squeeze past you and all the cups are takeaway, but sit a while and you’ll see the charm.
First of all, the coffee is good and that’s the point. Owner Reone Louw says she chose the no-fuss set up and lack of a food menu purposefully to draw all attention to the caffeine. Inspired by the coffee culture in Cape Town and further afield she wanted to ignite that love for a good cup here in the capital, and it certainly is the main draw card for Birillo, but not the only one.
When you look past the setting, you’ll see a row of loyal customers chatting to the truly friendly (not ‘please-just-tip-me’ friendly) baristas at the bar. There’s that magical brewing smell, trendy décor and tables perfect for people watching or reading while sipping. Frankly, it’s more relaxed and genuine than the majority of hipster-tastic espresso meccas.
I still would like there to be a pretty courtyard or seating nook, but admire how Reone chose a specific concept and uncompromisingly went for it. “Decide what you want to do and be the best at it,” she says to me, and you can see this in how Birillo is exactly the espresso bar she wanted, not more or less. It’s a calculated choice that works, given its oddly intimate charm considering the setting.
Here coffee culture meets mall culture, which reflects where our capital city is at the moment in my mind. There’s a drive for bringing originality and personality into spaces that have been previously commercial and generic. The trick is pursuing a dream without constant comparison to how other cities do ‘cool’ or completely ignoring the current norm. Birillo finds a way to find a comfy spot in this tension.
So, swing by the little shop under the elevator for a hazelnut latte and a chat.