Looking at a map of Melbourne’s city center, you see a mostly rectilinear geometry of parallel and perpendicular streets. Vintage maroon and green trams travel the City Circle route, which marks the boundary of the free tram zone. It is on foot, though, that you’ll find the wonder of this city. Step inside those straight lines and you’ll discover a magical universe where around every corner is another surprise.
Melbourne is a very youthful, hipster city. The first things I noticed were women wearing fashionable yet sensible shoes instead of the towering black ankle booties you find on every young woman in Sydney and the absence of prams.
As I discovered two years ago when we first moved to Australia, there is a rivalry of sorts between Sydney and Melbourne for who makes the best coffee. Don’t tell Sydney I said this, but so far the best coffee I’ve discovered was in Melbourne at Brother Baba Budan , part of the Seven Seeds family. It’s a tiny little place with more chairs hanging from the ceiling than sitting on the floor. At any time you’ll find it jam packed full of coffee lovers, and the coffee is well worth it. Pick up a packet of beans to brew at home. The Adado Gedeo Ethiopia was a revelation.
Another unique, hot beverage experience awaits you at Hash Specialty Coffee & Roasters. It’s a thick, Italian style hot chocolate served in a beaker, which you then pour over the lofty mountain of fairy floss (cotton candy). Myself, I skipped the spun sugar and went straight for the pudding-like chocolate.
Melbournians are spoiled for choice when it comes to food and drink, and we sampled as much as we could in a week. One night we met up with some American friends for pre-dinner drinks at the Gin Palace, a moody, speak-easy kinda joint, with intimate seating arrangements of low, plush couches, and novel length list of martini choices.
After that, we moved on to Meatmaiden, where, as you can guess from the name, they serve a lot of meat. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the visit had to be watching the tables full of very large and hungry footy players. They devoured an awful lot of food and, as we got there late, there was a lot of the menu missing. The chef was very kind and sent us some on-the-house goodies.
Another popular spot was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy, a suburb just northeast of the city center. Leon Satanovich ran a vodka still in this building during the Depression. Because of the blasting heat, he worked in his undies. Folks who came to taste his vodka used the code phrase “let’s get naked for Satan.” We sat on the rooftop terrace, watched the sun go down and feasted on Basque inspired small plates.
On our last day, we had a farewell to Melbourne meal at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. We had the Margherita pizza with fior de latte. Mmmmm!
Between meals, Melbourne is a literal cabinet of curiosities, starting with Wunderkammer, which was exactly that. It was filled with skeletons, fossils and minerals, taxidermy, mounted insects and strange little contraptions.
My favorite find, the one I dream of, was l’uccello Vintage Haberdashery & Fancy Goods in the Cathedral Arcade. It was a textile artist’s heaven. Plus, I just like to say “haberdashery.”
It was overflowing with vintage ribbons and buttons, with silk embroidery floss, Liberty of London and French General fabric.
And the Holy Grail of textile arts, something I never expected to see in real life, Sophie Digard scarves and necklaces. I’m having to fan myself right now; I feel faint thinking of it.
As I left l’uccello, I wandered in another shop next door. Fascinated with the collection of objects and the fanciful curating, I was snapping photos and wondering why there was no proprietor. I was alone in the shop until a woman whispered past me and said, “I didn’t see that.” “Didn’t see what?” I asked. The photos. Apparently I wasn’t to be taking photos. It seems a few months back, some extremist Christians had been in, snapped photos and then publicly denounced the shop owner as a Satanist. I couldn’t see anything in the shop that would give someone that idea, but I put my camera down and followed the woman into her shop, the Muses of Mystery.
I had to scratch my head, wondering why the other guy’s shop was targeted. I had a lovely chat with Vikkhi and an enjoyable wander around her shop.
Another place I found in a local guide and was keen to visit was the Haunted Bookshop. I’m pretty sure the fellow behind the counter is the resident haint. When I asked to see tarot cards he might as well have chased me out of the store rattling chains and howling for all the help he gave. He made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome there. Maybe it was the camera.