Melbourne is a city that remains at the top of our list of favourite destinations. The former Australian capital has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s ranking of the most livable cities in the world for the seventh year in a row, and with good reason — as it has everything to offer. Shopping? The city is home to some of Australia’s best independent labels. Art and culture? Look no further than Hosier Lane’s colourful graffitied walls. Nature? The Great Ocean Road, Grampians National Park, and Phillip Island are right on its doorstep.
Australia’s art capital boasts neighbourhoods and suburbs that are just as diverse. For a coastal, laid back vacation, look to St Kilda. For an upscale district where you can find luxury brands and five-star hotels à la Avenue Montaigne in Paris, Collins Street is your answer. One that we find ourselves going back to every time, though, is the inner-city suburb of Fitzroy — a creative enclave filled with art galleries, specialist bookshops, and a myriad of trendy bars and cafés.
Sure, Melbourne is synonymous with good coffee and a thriving café culture. Fitzroy, however, is a foodie enclave in its own right. Here, you can find a wide range of cuisines from South American dishes to classic Nashville fried chicken.
Black Cat is a Fitzroy institution that serves a hearty brunch during the day and transforms itself into a bar with DJs hitting its decks at night. The verdant alfresco area occupies the footpath on Greeves Street, where you can tuck into avocado toast or a salmon baguette with a cup of tea while enjoying the summer breeze.
If you’re craving for South American fare, check out Sonido. A must-try is the Arepas, a typical dish made of ground maize dough from Colombia and Venezuela. The menu offers a variation of the dish, from Ropa Vieja — beef stew with vegetables — to chargrilled Chorizo Arepa (skillet bread).
The drinks found here are also typical of South America. Sonido offers South and Central American single origin beans sourced from a different country in the region every two weeks, as well as Chocolate Corona, a traditional Colombian hot chocolate served in a jug. For a more sinful option, add cheese to your hot chocolate — just like the Colombians do.
Also located along Gertrude Street is Belle’s Hot Chicken, which is known for classic Nashville fried chicken. You can choose your cut of chicken, from dark meat to tenders, followed by your choice of spice (Mild to Really F**king Hot). Pair the chicken with Belle’s natural wines, which include excellent labels around the country, or a selection of Southern-style cocktails and beers.
Walking further along Gertrude Street will then lead you to De Clieu, a local favourite offering speciality coffee. The baristas here make use of the French Press technique to brew the perfect cup of joe. The food menu also has a strong focus on small, local producers and boasts fusion dishes such as kimchi pancakes with poached eggs.
Fitzroy offers some of the best nightlife in the city, where one can simply walk along Brunswick Street and soak in the many bars brimming with live jazz music and rooftop venues that make the perfect spot for sunset tipples.
A local favourite is Naked for Satan, a Basque-style tapas bar with a terrace that offers a stunning view of Melbourne. Despite the risqué moniker, the bar is one of Fitzroy’s swankiest locales, where you have to adhere to the dress code, or be denied entry by the doorman. Besides the extensive drinks menu, the bar also offers pinxtos (pronounced ‘pin-choss’), a tapas-style morsel that you can help yourself to at the bar while indulging in your drink. If the wide range of choices is just too overwhelming, choose from the Bartender’s Seasonal Selection, which features brews such as the gin-based Pillars of Winter.
For a more sophisticated setting, head on to the Black Pearl across the street. While it has been heralded as the best bar in Melbourne by the World’s 50 Best Bars, as well as the best international cocktail bar, Black Pearl still manages to retain its intimate setting. We don’t mean to state the obvious, but the bar’s inventive cocktails steal the spotlight here. We love the Hoodwink, a Bulleit Bourbon based tiki-inspired drink with Becherovka (spiced liquor), Michter’s Rye, lemon and pineapple syrup.
Lastly, The Kodiak Club is Melbourne’s only bourbon bar, bringing the atmosphere of American bars to the streets of Fitzroy. The bar offers one of the biggest ranges of bourbon, rye whiskey and scotch whiskey. Tequila lovers can also head to The Kodiak Club’s secret tequila bar, Little Blood — which offers a range of the agave- based elixir. The pocket bar is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 pm.
Art, culture and sights
Fitzroy’s streets are a masterpiece in their own right, with colourful murals adorning their walls. One can easily lose themselves in the maze-like alleyways, each with their own story to tell. After marvelling at the graffitied walls and taking your own pictures for Instagram, photography-lovers can check out The Centre for Contemporary Photography, which features five exhibition galleries with works from some of Melbourne’s most talented photographers.
Alternatively, the Melbourne Museum is just a three-minute drive (or a 13-minute walk) away. The cultural history museum is located in the Carlton Gardens, adjacent to the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. The museum has both permanent collections (such as one celebrating Victoria’s local Koorie culture in Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre) and temporary exhibitions from local and international artists. After that, take a stroll in the lush Carlton Gardens.
For more tranquil settings, visit the Victorian-era Fitzroy Gardens, set across 64 acres and encompassing an ornamental lake, conservatory, band pavilion and Cook’s Cottage. The latter was built in 1755 in Yorkshire, England, by the parents of Captain James Cook and brought to Melbourne by Sir Russell Grimwade in 1934 — making it the oldest building in Australia.
Style mavens will love Rose St. Artists’ Market, which comes to life every weekend. Here, you can find stalls showcasing handmade crafts from some 70 emerging and established artists. From handcrafted trinkets to stunning resin pieces by independent local craft-makers, one can easily spend a Sunday afternoon strolling through the labyrinthine artists’ market to shop for souvenirs.
In a city brimming with art, culture and good food at every turn, it’s hard to choose a single enclave that encapsulates all that Melbourne has to offer. Yet, Fitzroy somehow manages to one-up the other suburbs with its vast selection of cuisine, lively bars, photogenic alleyways, and museums — perfect for the urban creative.
(Main image credit: Sonido’s Facebook / @louisefoucha)