As a loyal Sydneysider, it hurts me to admit this… but Melbourne really does have one up over Sydney when it comes to hipsters, hidden bars and high culture. We were in Melbourne for just a weekend, and I really wanted to explore the city’s famed laneways. Australia’s second most populous city has a compact heart crisscrossed with pedestrianised, Victorian-era laneways, which were once used by service horse-and-carts.
Now, the filigree of paths host bars, pop-up restaurants, art installations, graffiti (last year City of Melbourne council workers removed a Banksy rat, parachuting into Hosier Lane), vintage clothes shops and record stores. Most big cities feel alien, and alienating, but Melbourne’s alleyways are intimate, the perfect maze to get lost in.
Choose a cafe, al fresco, with close, cosy tables, and observe the ebb and flow of people that come and go through the labyrinth. Like the tides, the crowds swell, then peter out as the light shifts with the passing of the day. Join the river of pedestrians, be carried away.
Some of the laneways end abruptly; others deliver you to Victorian shopping arcades, like the Block Arcade, Cathedral Arcade, or Royal Arcade, where Gog and Magog stand watch over the browsing shoppers. Original features like stained glass, leadlights and intricate floor mosaics are the highlights here, as well as some high-end (and not so high-end) quality stores.
I make my way to Hosier Lane, a riot of colours. Graffiti covers every conceivable square inch. It’s a public art gallery, where the displays come and go, often with political overtones. Mostly though, the street art is exuberant, beautiful, sometimes humourous. At the end of Hosier Lane is MoVida. Stop here. Eat some tapas, drink some sherry by the bar. There won’t be space in the restaurant, but you can still enjoy the atmosphere.
Go to Pelligrini’s on Crossley Street, once known as Romeo Lane, an institution of black-and-white linoleum checked floors and red vinyl chairs. Sit at the bar and order a coffee, your second for the day. Enjoy the urban textures – brick and mortar, lead pipe, rivulets of water, garbage skips; and the whimsical, curious names – Lush Lane, Exploration Lane, Pink Alley).
As the light leaves, return to Crossley Street and make your way to Von Haus for dinner before legging it to Bennett Lane’s Jazz, housed in an old soup kitchen with blue walls. Emerge blinking from the rabbit warren, into the wideness of La Trobe Street.