It’s confirmed. Melbourne is indeed my favorite city. Not a little rain, a bad meal or even a murder (gruesome but true, I couldn’t help but watch the aftermath of a tragic homicide from my 4th floor balcony with morbid curiosity) could change my mind. Sydney is beautiful but there is just something about Melbourne that speaks to me. It’s grittier — OK, maybe in this instance not the right word. But it definitely has this ‘of the street’ feel, with it’s hidden shops and alleyways that make it city-fascinating yet it is also very approachable and easy all at the same time. Here’s what I found in the city this time around:
Tyrian Serviced Apartments, 91 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
Please don’t be put off by the police activity I encountered. I chose this apartment hotel because of the neighborhood. I fell in love with Fitzroy last time and wanted to be in the heart of it because I always prefer to be in a real neighborhood rather than in touristsville. Indeed walking around my first few days, I felt right at home in this urban yet suburban part of town with creative businesses and people all up and down the streets, lots of little cafes, hidden gems, local treats, and yes a little bit still in transition.
The apartments at the Tyrian are spare and modern, quite large, with everything you need — a full kitchen with dishwasher, laundry, a well appointed bathroom, king size bed in the separate bedroom. The drawers in the fit out closet system might not have worked once the closet doors were installed (whoops) but that didn’t bother me as there was plenty of other storage. The best part was that wrap-around balcony which until that last day, was used to take in great views of the city. My only official complaint is that come the weekends, this part of the neighborhood turns into clubville and so gets quite noisy with the influx of partiers and cranked up music (indeed Friday and Saturday nights require your room key to access the hotel from the street). Weeknights, however, were quiet and calm. For that reason and that reason alone, I may choose to stay in another part of town next time. But for a weekday stay, I would come back here in a minute.
eat & drink:
Hammer & Tong, 412 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Only open for about a month at the time, this little Fitzroy gem has a real future I hope. It’s exactly what I love about the Melbourne food scene — hidden at the far end of Brunswick Street in a rear location with entry off a side street, you could walk right by. But seek it out and you will find the most charming space and an everyday yet inventive menu by two young chefs who once worked at one of the cities most celebrated restaurants.
I went with a friend for a weekday breakfast. I had the most gorgeous fruit and yogurt salad I have ever seen with rhubarb gelée and spiced whispy candies and my friend, a large stack of blueberry pancakes with popping candy as a garnish. I may have also sneaked back for a late Sunday brunch, sans camera, for an even more impressive meal of middle eastern spiced corn cakes with poached egg and avocado. I liked it so much, I didn’t want it to end. And like the pancakes it was a huge serve. I understand dinner service has commenced since my last visit. I surely hope this place makes it — if the late Sunday afternoon crowd was any indication, I think they’ll be fine.
Von Haus, 1 Crossly Street, CBD — the tiniest, sweetest little wine bar and restaurant down a charming little alleyway right off Bourke Street. One common table, a handful of smaller tables and one two-top outside in their “courtyard” which is really just a light well put to good use. This is what I love about this city — the most improbable of spaces are turned into the most wonderful little haunts. And you have got to be in the know to find them.
The Commoner, 122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy — English pub food with a decidedly Aussie spin located in a converted house/storefront, with additional bar seating upstairs and barbecue outside on weekends, in nice weather. (cannot recommend — see why here)
Meatball & Wine Bar, 135 Flinders Lane, CBD
Fashioned after the downtown NYC hipster meatball restaurant, this Melbourne version hits on all cylinders. With meats coming from Victor Churchill (see more here) you are getting the best of the best balls served up with your choice of sauce and side for just $18. It’s a fun and affordable meal and if you’re more hungry than that, try some starters, salads, or their one and only dessert — ice cream filled macarons in mix and match flavors.
Gelateria Primavera, 157 Spring Street, CBD — Yummy! My obsession with good ice cream was well satisfied by this gelato made with great ingredients in the most interesting flavor combinations. Just 10 daily flavors (they also have 6 sorbetto flavors) handwritten on a piece of paper taped to the wall nearly hidden behind the door, this place is the real deal. Spiced Fig and Salted Caramel & Chili together in a cup was a perfect combination on a hot day. $6.50 for an ample medium serve up to three flavors.
Merry Cupcakes, 261 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy — I am not a huge cupcake lover. But craving a little sweet something one afternoon, I wandered into this cupcake shop right in the neighborhood. To my surprise, they were all vegan and pretty good to boot — a nice ratio of not too sweet frosting to moist cake in a miniature size, at least by American standards.
Yarn & Co., 59 Smith Street, Fitzroy
I absolutely love this store! First of all, it’s well designed and very modern for a yarn shop. It is run by a mother and daughter team — and you can bet the huge black and white photo mural on the wall, is them knitting together in their younger years. Sweetest thing ever!
Their selection of yarns is beautiful. They offer knitting classes. They serve high tea twice a day, Wednesday through Saturday (I’m sure it’s lovely and had I known I would have gone but alas I was there on Sunday). They support charities with knitting bees the first Tuesday of every month. And they have a loyalty discount program, what every knitter needs with the price of yarn these days. 360 degrees of fabulousness. Bravo!
Mud Australia, 181 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy — hand made porcelain tableware in a range of soft colors and earthen tones. They have recently opened a store in NYC and I highly recommend the largest bowls as the most beautiful pieces in the collection.
Left, 161 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy — still my favorite store in the city with Japanese designers on offer. They always get me with the expensive shoes!
Rose Street Market, 60 Rose Street, Fitzroy — Your typical little artists market tucked away deep in the back streets of Fitzroy. I’m not a huge market fan but that said, there was a guy selling authentic Japanese prints that were very nice. There was a jewelry artist that wasn’t half bad if you like silver crosses, moonstones, and such. My favorite was the hairdresser tucked in the back corner doing mod cuts on locals. And two girls knitting up the cutest little ugly dolls ever. So there were a few things to be had if you were in the market for them. On a sunny day, it’s a nice little stroll.
Johnston Street between Smith & Gertrude Streets in Fitzroy has a great selection of furniture shops including Mark Tuckey (231), Tait Outdoor (176), Guy Matthews Industrial (154) and more . . .
Zambesi, 167 Flinders Lane, CBD — this New Zealand based clothing store is most impressive with avant-garde but wearable fashions for both men and women.
Country Road, 260 Collins Street, CBD — For years, I’ve been curious about the much touted homewares department here and finally, I got to take a look. Similar in style to a Crate & Barrel, I could easily have bought basic white dishes with the perfect amount of style or great looking picture frames. Nearly every young girl I saw in an airport was sporting a Country Road canvas duffle bag that seems to come in a million different patterns and had I not already bought a canvas tote this trip, I surely would have picked one up.
Haigh’s Chocolates, Block Arcade 282 Collins Street, CBD — the Rolls Royce of chocolate stores with lines out the door on a Saturday close to Easter. But beware, prices are nearly as high as a car and you can easily be at $100 before you know it for just a few goodies. Although they do donate a portion of sales on many of their items to charity and give you an ample sample with every purchase which takes the sting out a bit.
see and do:
Center for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, FitzroyI can’t say there was the best show on when we stopped into this gallery but the building itself was lovely — a beautiful space to view photography, and the gift shop is a small treasure. I loved this part of the neighborhood with a couple of corner cafes on otherwise quiet streets. Really glad we stopped in. Small donation requested.
Walk to Art — this 2.5 hour Friday afternoon tour was by far the highlight of my time in Melbourne this year and easily the best $78 I’ve ever spent. Not only did this art tour by Bernie Alibrando highlight the street art in and around the Central Business District but she took us to unusual and mainstream galleries, pointed out and visited amazing little shops, restaurants and bars and ignited my passion for this city in a whole new way. Melbourne is a city where you have to work hard to find all the hidden gems down alleyways, in old buildings, on rooftops — and Bernie is a living, breathing, shortcut to the best of the best.
With just two of us on the tour it was intimate and we covered a lot of ground in a short time. As the art scene changes, so do the offerings on tour. My favorites this time around: A series of old mailboxes that double as a gallery (Gallery 141, 141 Flinders Lane); another tiny gallery of sorts at Melbourne’s smallest bar (Trink Tank at Bar Amercano, 20 Presgrave Pl. ), and the entire Nicholas Building (37 Swanston Street) that had the most amazing light filled spaces not to mention cool galleries and shops.
Each Walk to Art tour starts and ends at a different restaurant for a coffee and some wine, respectively. Bernie mixes it up and chooses places that are new and happening and always off the beaten track. We began at the unsigned yet modern stand out, Bar Ampère (16 Russel Place), a charming restaurant down an alleyway I probably never would have happened down otherwise. It was next to the most beautifully curated artisan jewelry shop and across from our first piece of street art. Keep your eyes open in Melbourne because art is all around you — look up, look down, look around the corner or down an alley, but rarely is it in plain sight.
Aussie Rules Football, Etihad Stadium, Docklands — my first date with my Australian boyfriend back when I was an exchange student Down Under years ago, was to watch him play in an Aussie Rules Football game. I haven’t seen a game since . . . until now. It’s a very fast & complicated game that locals seem to love — indeed watching how into it everyone gets was secretly kind of fun. But I think I can wait another 30 years before going to another game if that’s OK.