Coasting Around Melbourne
Rambling through five distinctive neighborhoods
Away from the buzz of the central business district and the riverside precinct of Southbank, the soul of the Australian city of Melbourne lies in its suburbs, and the different cultures and villages at their heart.
Underpinned by new migrants and skilled traders, the suburbs shot up from the early 1800s, marking out Melbourne’s villagey character. Like the boroughs of London or NewYork, they all offer something different and can be discovered in just a couple of hours thanks to excellent public transport. Stretching north, south and east on the city’s iconic urban grid, they range from inner Melbourne’s coastal and working-class districts to more genteel, green neighborhoods farther afield.
Today they are enjoying a cultural, creative and culinary renaissance, nourished by new ethnic influences,
flourishing artistic life and all sorts of idiosyncratic enterprises. Jump on the near round-the-clock trams and trains that serve the city and you can discover them all for yourself.
Bohemian, cosmopolitan, artsy and alternative, Fitzroy’s inevitable
In some of Fitzroy’s vintage-strewn, mellow-lit bars, you might feel you have time traveled to the Marais in Paris
gentrification has put an ultra-cool gloss on working-class eccentricities. A tenminute tram ride north of the city (take the 112 from Collins Street), this is a rare neighborhood where both night and day are on a par – from specialist bookstores, vintage clothing, cafés and galleries to cocktails, cabaret and fine dining.
The action centers on a triad of sip, shop and eat streets – Brunswick, Johnston and Gertrude. Brunswick Street, the main tram-lined drag, is chock-a-block with established eateries where you can gradually eat your way through the A-Z of cultures, from Afghan to Vietnamese.
Gertrude Street is home to the most modernist upheavals. Try the old metal works factory Cutler and Co, at 55-57, for designer interiors and dishes such as scallop, chilled pea and sorrel soup (dinner daily from 6:00 PM, lunch Fri and Sun from 12:00 PM; tel +61 3 9419 4888; cutlerandco.com.au). At 211, the Builders Arms Hotel serves up classic pub fare in a landmark building modernized with banquettes and Thonet café chairs (Mon-Fri 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM, Sat-Sun 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM; tel +61 3 9417 7700; buildersarmshotel.com.au).
In some of Fitzroy’s vintage-strewn, mellow-lit bars, you might feel you have time traveled to the Marais in Paris. The Elk Room is a velvety den of Chesterfields and antiques (150-156 Gertrude Street, daily 5:30 PM – 1:00 AM), while the Black Pearl is retro heaven (304 Brunswick Street, daily 5:00 PM – 3:00 AM). For coffee, try an oldie – Jasper (267 Brunswick, daily 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM) – and a newbie – Slowpoke Espresso (157 Brunswick, Tue-Sat 7:00 AM – 3:30 PM).
If you have free time during the day, tour Fitzroy’s street art, jewelry studios, galleries and venues such as the Centre for Contemporary Photography (404 George Street). Free weekend? Go shopping at the
Wander through Carlton Gardens and you’ll come across the World-Heritage
listed Royal Exhibition Building
wonderful Rose Street Artist’s Market (SatSun 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM; rosestmarket.com.au).
Many cities have a little Italy – in Carlton, Melbourne has a big one. West of Fitzroy, a zippy five-minute tram ride from city center (also on route 112), Lygon Street is Carlton’s buzzing Via Veneto.
An Italophile’s dream, it’s home to everything from cafés, gelaterie and pasticcerie to supermarkets, delis, clothing and shoe stores, as well as the usual tourist-oriented pizza and pasta joints.
For ice cream, stop by Il Dolce Freddo at number 116 (Tues-Sun 12:30 PM – 11:00 PM), or for pastries and coffee try Brunetti at number 380 (6:00 AM – 11:00 PM, until 12:00 AM Fri-Sat; brunetti.com.au).
These days, there’s much more to Carlton than pasta though. The floods of Italians arriving since the 1920s have now been joined by Asians and Africans, and the district’s bright terraced houses accommodate diverse eateries. For a casual Thai kitchen laksa (spicy noodle soup), drop in toYing Thai 2 at 110 Lygon (Tues-Sun 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM), or visit Shakahari at 201-203 Faraday Street for sophisticated East-West vegetarian fusion dishes (lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily; tel +61 3 9347 3848; shakahari.com.au).
Bordering the University of Melbourne campus, Carlton is also seriously literary, with students and professors hanging out at bookstores and arthouse cinemas such as Readings (309 Lygon; readings. com.au) and Cinema Nova (380 Lygon; cinemamova.com.au). The best place for an espresso fix is boutique roaster Seven Seeds (114 Berkeley Street).
There’s history and culture this way, too – wander through Carlton Gardens and you’ll come across the WorldHeritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. Completed in 1880 in the flamboyant Rundbogenstil style, it is crowned by an Italianate dome. Flanking it is the futuristic design of the Melbourne Museum, which host exhibitions on Australian history, indigenous cultures and natural sciences. (Both Nicholson Street; museumvictoria. com.au.)
Located just over 4 miles southeast of the city, Armadale is to Melbourne what Double Bay, or“Double Pay,”is to Sydney – the poshest of suburbs and pure private school territory, but with a vibrant village life and gorgeous stores.
The Number 6 Glen Iris tram will transport you to the picturesque half-mile shopping stretch of High Street Armadale, where a relaxed old-world charm dwells among its row of richly colored brick Federation houses, built around the turn of the 20th century. Many are occupied by the crème de la crème of couturiers, art and antique dealers, kitchen stores, Parisian café-bakeries and food emporiums. For fresh-baked and global goodies, go to Thomas Dux at 1068 High Street (thomasdux.com.au).
Armadale’s appeal lies in its fashionable mélange of retail chic and history. Some of its corniced, decorative buildings sport their old signs – of bootmakers and tackle stores – and the village maintains many independent and family-run businesses. Though you may not see saddlers and ironmongers, there are plenty of furniture specialists and outfitters such as Hemden bespoke tailors and shirtmakers (10241026; hemden.com.au).
Armadale also holds a double attraction. Thanks to the tram route, there is always the option of hopping off near the Chapel Street and Toorak Road shops, or at the Royal Botanical Gardens in SouthYarra, and walking through them to the city. On the other hand, if you have an evening free you might want to dine in Armadale’s
refined surrounds. Barca Food and Wine at 1007 High Street is a modern European bistro with banquettes, wood furnishings and 1930s poster art (open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner; tel +61 3 9822 8515; barca.com.au).
A bit NewYork Coney Island, a bit vaudeville and a bit rock‘n’roll, the innersouth seaside neighborhood of St Kilda is less than four miles from the city. Here you will find Jewish eateries, die-hard Aussie steaks and beer, and experimental cuisine.
Brash and sea-breezy with its beaches and amusement parks, St Kilda seems to keep reinventing itself. From a fashionably grand, 19th-century waterside area, to 1970s red-light and junkie haunt – today, immigrants and a large transient population of world travelers contribute to its intriguing social mix.
Acland Street is the nucleus of frivolous and eclectic St Kilda, with its array of vintage vinyl stores, gifts and continental cake shops. Among the line-up of old bakery favorites are Monarch Cakes (number 103), the Cakehole Café (95), the Europa Cake Shop (81) and the Italianflavored Il Fornaio (2C). Bagel fans might like to wander further east to Glick’s at 330 Carlisle Street.
Acland Street’s cozy café terraces are a great, peaceful place for people-watching and partaking in the ritualistic St Kilda al fresco brunch. Fitzroy Street has a Miami feel, an urbane bar and dining strip peopled by glamorous movie hopefuls and cutting-edge chefs. For casual but chic grazing or picnic provisions, the glasswalled Fitzrovia at number 2/155 (open for breakfast and lunch Tues-Sun, dinner Wed-Sun; fitzrovia.com.au) specializes in provincial Italian-British comfort food.
In cultural pursuits, too, St Kilda presents a diverse spectrum – from rides at Luna Park and gigs at beachside hotels to concerts at the art deco Palais Theatre (palaistheatre.net.au) and exhibitions at the Jewish Museum of Australia (jewishmuseum.com.au). Another option is to take a stroll to St Kilda Pier or one of the bustling markets. As well as the long-running crafts-heavy Esplanade Market on Sundays (10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, stkildamarket.com), a twilight market is held in the O’Donnell Gardens, under the palm trees near Luna Park, on Thursday evenings in summer (stkildatwilightmarket.com).
St Kilda’s bars and venues rock all night. Fortunately, the transport is almost around the clock too. The Number 96 light-rail tram runs between here and the CBD from 5:30 AM – 1:00 AM every ten to 20 minutes.
Conservative and family oriented, Brighton might otherwise be considered dull if it weren’t for its beautiful bathing spots and leafy elegance.
Located eight miles south of the city, with stunning skyline views over Port Phillip Bay, the Melbourne Bayside area boasts miles of swimming (but not surfing) beaches, coastal promenades, cycle paths and gardens. If you have time off during the day it’s a great place to head for a dip, stroll or sail.
The best way to reach it is by rail – take the Sandringham line from Melbourne Central to Brighton Beach station. Safe and voluptuously sandy, its beaches roll out like a red carpet down the coast – first Dendy Street, then Middle Brighton and Brighton beaches. The Esplanade overlooking Dendy Street Beach is home to a local icon – the Brighton bathing boxes. Painted in bright colors and designs, these private beach huts were built by wealthy locals and date back to the 1860s.
Brighton is all about leisure and recreation. All along the shoreline are public bathing and barbecue facilities, yacht clubs, outdoor cafés, parkland, playgrounds, two-way cycle paths and protected dune areas. It also takes in part of the Bayside Coastal Art Trail, which celebrates notable artists such as Frederick McCubbin, who painted Summer Sea here in 1895. Established in 1881, the landmark Middle Brighton Baths (middlebrightonbaths.com.au) has an Olympic-sized open-air pool, as well as a café, bar, restaurant and gym.
The esplanade is a dream place for a passegiata either before or after a meal. Brighton has two distinct areas, on Church Street and Bay Street. Drop by the Pantry at 1-5 Church for a quick lunch (daily, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM; tel +61 3 9591 0393; thepantry.com.au), or Vivace, at 317 Bay, for a fine-wine dinner. (Mon-Sat from 5:00 PM; tel +61 3 9596 9511; vivace.com.au).
A Above: Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street
Left and below: Rose Street Artists’ Market
Clockwise from far left: Royal Exhibition Building; Luna Park, St Kilda; the iconic Brighton bathing boxes; St Kilda Pier and Pavilion at dusk