A POPULAR cafe bar has been forced to close after owners of the Little Lonsdale Street site that has housed shops for at least a century decided to demolish it.
Loyal patrons on-site and on Twitter mourned the closure, on Saturday week, of Rue Bebelons, which for 17 years has been a Brunswick Street-style hangout in the CBD that hosted events for the Melbourne Fringe, Comedy and Emerging Writers festivals.
A Heritage Victoria spokeswoman said the property, believed to have been built more than 100 years ago, is not on the state heritage register but will require archaeological investigation after its demolition.
On Twitter, ''MelbourneVinyl'' tweeted: ''One of my favorite CBD spots and a site for many of my first dates. Sad.''
Michele Sammut tweeted: ''Very sad to hear of closing doors for what is in my humble opinion the best cafe in Melbourne.''
Jonathan Toogood, a bank sales manager having a coffee with friend Lauren Haynes, said such little coffee hubs were ''a joy of the city'' and it would be missed.
''You come here and you can chill, catch up with friends, it's a nice meeting place.''
Tim Bramley, a Melbourne University psychology student, lamented the loss of his haven from studying at the nearby State Library. ''It's a pity. There's a bit of a community here. I see people that are familiar.''
Sam Twyford-Moore, director of the annual Emerging Writers Festival, said his event was now looking for a new hub for readings, forums and social nights.
''I'm very sad to hear they're closing because they've been so great for us over the years, letting us come in and take over the place for 11 days.
''It's had a huge following in the arts community, and particularly in the writers' community.''
He said it was a ''shaky building'' but the warm interior and the cafe's signature espresso martini ''will be much missed''.
Property industry sources said a family bought the block including Rue Bebelons on the corner of Swanston and Little Lonsdale streets several years ago for $13 million and were redeveloping it for at least $3 million.
Barry Novy, a director of property agent Kliger Wood, said the building was in an unviable condition, with outdated wiring and plumbing and uneven floor levels.
Five shops, including three Asian restaurants in Swanston Street, will be demolished.
The shop facades will remain, but a new architect-designed, two-storey building will be erected, including five new shops, probably food-based.
Co-owner Aaron Lind said he was ''devastated'' at having to leave, but has resolved to reopen Rue Bebelons elsewhere in the city.