You can find them down dubious alleyways, concealed by the facades of buildings that do not draw a second glance.

They are on suburban streets, cheek by jowl with homes, carparks and office buildings whose occupants may be unaware of their existence.

Sometimes they require a leap of faith, like walking into a phone box straight out of a Superman comic or pushing off from the river bank on the strength of a promise something special is around the bend.

Perth has many “hidden” gems, the kind of places someone has to know about in order to find. For some, the air of secrecy is a mild in- convenience. For others, it adds piquancy to the experience.

In West Perth, coffee drinkers hunting Pony Espresso have to know which side street to turn down and navigate past a carpark to spot the modest sign outside the no-frills cafe.

Visitors to The Jazz Cellar in Mt Hawthorn, where entry is via a red phone booth, must turn up early to snare a first come, first served ticket to the Friday night live music institution where food and alcohol are strictly BYO.

CBD gourmet toasted sandwich shop Toastface Grillah is in spitting distance of Barrack Street but hidden from the busy thoroughfare down an easily overlooked laneway.

Mike O’Hanlon, who owns the shop with friend Alistair Miles, said there was something nice about being “off the beaten track”.

“Because it’s such a small business and the product is cheap, we don’t need to sell a million sandwiches a day to keep the lights on, ” he said.

“Being tucked away helps you keep intimacy.”

Such venues are not a uniquely inner-city phenomenon, as the success of Midland’s Cafe Mueller attests.

For about two decades Karl Mueller and his partner have run the German restaurant from what appears to be an ordinary suburban home.

It has no menu or matching furniture but boasts a 93 per cent rating on food review website Urbanspoon.

In Hazelmere, Bolt Coffee hides not behind or inside buildings but among the trees. The cafe, which hosts musicians most Saturdays, is a collaboration with not-for-profit Men of the Trees at its St Barbe Grove nursery.

Owner Steve Lomax, who operates from a shed, said he had never advertised the cafe’s location but relied on word of mouth.

“I always knew that if you can make a really good cup of coffee, they’ll find you, they’ll seek you out, ” he said.

“I wanted to be hidden. When I was over in Melbourne, a lot of the stuff over there are hidden gems . . . I’ve always liked that. The high street clutter, the hustle and bustle — I think people are a little bit over that and tired of it and they do need some time to disconnect.”

Not all of Perth’s hidden gems come with a price tag. Some are the work of Mother Nature — or an artist with a spray can.

Perth’s inner-city laneways and back street walls are teeming with street art waiting to be discovered. For Claire Trolio, one half of the duo behind the We Love Perth website, part of the pleasure lies in stumbling across something unexpected.

“It adds an element of excitement when you stumble across things that you’re not necessarily seeking out and it seems to be there just for the pleasure of the few people who might walk past, ” she said.

“I suppose it’s more of a personal creative outlet for the artist and it’s quite a personal experience for the person who’s walking past.”

She gets a similar kick out of sniffing out secluded beaches. “For me, it’s appealing when something’s uncrowded, ” she said.

Uncrowded is one way to describe a particular stretch of the Canning River upstream from Riverton Bridge. “Beautiful” is Christian Thompson’s choice.

“Anyone who paddles regularly knows that stretch of river, ” he said. “It winds and meanders and it’s actually possible to get lost.”

Parts of the river are only accessible by water and there are places where the overhanging trees are so low and thick they effectively create a tunnel.

“It’s so beautiful, you can be out there in the middle of the river and you just can’t believe you’re in the middle of suburbia, ” Mr Thompson said.

“If you dropped somebody there blindfolded and asked them where they were, they would say somewhere in the Kimberley — you wouldn’t think there were houses five minutes away.

“It’s so quiet you can hear the birds and you can feel the water going past your boat.”


© The West Australian

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