Alleys in wonderland: Melbourne’s tiny lanes thrive on creativity through food and art
MELBOURNE is a city that prides itself on attractions often unapparent to the tourist eye: tiny, bustling lanes lined with charming bistros, independent coffee bars brewing world-class coffee, effortlessly cool vintage boutiques, and neon-hued street art splashed across brick walls.
Away from the bustle of the tourist-riddled Swanston St, Flinders St and Victoria St are smaller, quieter lanes where cafés, shops and art thrive at a slower pace, and are often more interesting, more unaccustomed, and inevitably, more eccentric.
Chance upon a mysterious treasure along one of these lanes.
Flinders Lane is a charming European-style strip, a buffet of some of the city’s best restaurants. Begin with the immensely popular Chin Chin for a playful take on modern Asian fare. There’s almost always a queue for a table, but a drink at the dark, moody bar downstairs might set you right while you wait around for a seat.
Cumulus Inc is a semi-casual restaurant serving up some very refined plates of food that showcase Aussie produce. You’ll find enlightenment in dishes like roast spatchcock with pearl barley and Jerusalem artichokes, braised beef short ribs with eggplant and mustard fruits, and a range of charcuterie platters. Cumulus Up, the restaurant’s sister bar, is just as good a bet for light bites and craft beer.
The city’s Saké Bar & Restaurant has also opened an outlet on Flinders Lane, a sophisticated Japanese restaurant where the chef painstakingly makes the togarashi, furikake spice mix, and miso paste from scratch. There’s also an extensive range of umeshu, Japanese whisky, and of course, saké.
By now, you might know that Melbourne is synonymous with its street art. For a striking display of some of the most vibrant graffiti in town, walk down Hosier Lane, a cobblestone laneway whose walls are entirely splashed with color.
Hosier Lane doesn’t always go unnoticed; on weekends, you may find a slew of camera-clinging tourists thronging the narrow lane. If you’re feeling peckish, walk up to MoVida Next Door, a stylish tapas bar where the cured hams and sangrias are unending.
Crossley Street is home to the Melbourne institution that is Pellegrini’s Expresso Bar, a rustic café where the ways are unchanged and the pasta bowls hearty. It may not have adopted some of the more sophisticated methods and techniques of Melbourne’s swankier coffee bars, but nostalgia abound at this classic nook.
Romeo Lane also inhabits Crossley Street; what used to be a stomping ground for prostitutes is now a snug bar with plenty of old-world charm. You can also try Gingerboy, a funky outlet where Asian street food are submitted to the “hip” treatment.
For a spot of vintage shopping, pop by Madam Virtue & Co, a French-inspired store that stocks vintage and archival pieces from designer labels such as Chanel, Hermes, Karl Lagerfeld, Dior and YSL. A little more left-field is Lucy Folk, where the “delicious” jewelry looks so good, you may just want to take a bite.
This bohemian graffiti-splashed laneway sandwiched between Flinders Lane and Collins Street is a treasure trove of hole-in-the-wall cafés beneath shop house residences sporting ornate balconies. Even if you’ll find better food and coffee in Melbourne, the spirit and charm of this lane alone is worth the trip.
The unassuming but celebrated Jungle Juice is one of the longest standing lots along the lane, great for its freshly squeezed juices and bagel sandwiches. Shandong Mama Mini is a brilliant spot for pan-fried dumplings and craft beer, both of which are indubitably made for each other.
This narrow alley is home to Sister Bella, a bar hidden behind a couple of trash bins. But of course, in Melbournian fashion, this simply plays up the mystery of the bar. Don’t be fooled by how small it may look as you enter; the space opens up to hold a few more seats when you climb up the stairs.
The lane is now popularly known to host a life-sized replica of the infamous “topless” Kim Kardashian selfie that spurred much debate. The 30-foot wall mural also features model Emily Ratajkowski, who posed with Kim in a second “topless” Instagram selfie.
Meyers Place off Bourke Street is the embodiment of Melbourne’s cool bar scene. Grab a pint at the city’s oldest laneway bay, Meyers Place Bar, a place that attracts its fair share of regulars. The quirkier Lily’s Black is where you want to go for classic cocktails in an intimate setting.
In tune with Melbourne’s unending capacity to surprise, a traditional Japanese ryokan (bathhouse) is also located along Meyers Place. Onsen Ma has a heated pool and sauna to ease those tired limbs at the end of a long day, or to prep you for a long night of booze.