Melbourne, unlike cities, such as Sydney, doesn’t feature harbour views. However, it is a stately European-style city that emanates charm and elegance. And rather than ‘screaming for attention’, has a quiet gentility with its many laneways filled with surprises. Melbourne, as many will say, needs to be discovered rather than simply ‘presented on a platter’. There are boutiques and cafes. Stephen Crafti’s book Melbourne Secrets (produced by The Images Publishing Group), uncovers some of the cities architecture and design gems that can’t always be seen from its unique grid of tramway lines.
Melbourne, in particular the central business district (CBD), is renowned for its many laneways, inspired by the many grand arcades in Europe. The top of Collins Street (Spring Street end) is sometimes referred to the ‘Paris End’ of the city, harking back to a time, when fashion models posed in front of Bruno Benini’s camera lens.
It’s advisable when discovering the CBD to look above street awnings. A glass mosaic mural at what was originally ‘Newspaper House’ (247 Collins Street) is by Napier Waller. Waller lost his arm serving in the First World War, but he was still able to produce this magnificent mural. In the stylised art-deco mural, there are references to newspapers as well as the latest technology of the time, including advances in ships and trains. Another art-deco building across the way, Kodak House at 252 Collins Street, speaks of the building’s history through its architecture. The parapet of this building features the letter ‘K’, as well as a couple of silver disks representing the silver buttons on a Kodak camera.
Another of the city’s hidden gems is the Melbourne Athenaeum Library (adjacent to the Melbourne Town Hall). One of the oldest theatres in Melbourne, the building was completed in 1842 as the Mechanic’s Institute. While the theatre still operates, it’s the library on the first floor that’s hidden. In the 1920s, when there were 8,000 members, there must have been considerable queuing to take out books. The reception counter still features timber blocks denoting various letters in the alphabet, behind which borrowers had to line up according to their surnames. Nearby is the State Library. While the building’s dome isn’t a secret, the art galleries located on the first floor, are certainly discretely located. Known as the Cowan Gallery, there’s a fascinating selection of paintings, both old and new. There’s a painting by William Strutt, titled ‘Black Thursday’, of a bushfire that occurred in 1851. On another wall is a painting by well-known Chilean-born Melbourne-based artist Juan Davila, completed in 2009. The subject is also a bush-fire, but in Churchill National Park.
One of Melbourne’s laneways, although called a street, is Crossley Street, located at the top of Bourke Street. Gallery Funaki, one of the city’s draw cards, was established by the award-winning jeweller Mari Funaki in the 1995. The pocket-sized space, recently redesigned by architect Karen Abernethy, represents some of the world’s finest contemporary jewellers from Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Not surprisingly, Gallery Funaki is seen by those in the know as being in the top five contemporary galleries in the world. Those who visit Gallery Funaki are often clients of Eastern Market at 5/61 Little Collins Street and fronting McGrath’s Lane. Like a bespoke clothing factory you might discover in a north Italian village, Eastern Market Fabrica (‘factory’ in Italian) is located in a laneway. Conceived by Lucinia Pinto and Stephen McGlashan, this store is as much a gallery as a fashion boutique. Here, you can find some of the world’s most innovative designers, including Paul Harnden, Carol Christian Poell and Elana Dawson. There are also great accessories, such as bags and jewellery by MA +. The racks of designer clothes for both men and women are interwoven with art, sculptures, objects and artifacts.
Assin, located in the basement at 138 Little Collins Street, is also slightly ‘off the beaten track’. Designed by Fender Katsalidis, responsible for many of the city’s high-rise residential towers, this fashion boutique is a draw card for those who have an appreciation of the more intellectual side of fashion. As well as carrying well-respected European labels, Assin often collaborates with some of Australia’s most talented designers. Sneakerboy at 265 Little Bourke Street, is literally ‘a hole in the wall. This pint-size store was designed by one of Melbourne’s leading architectural practices, March Studio. Visitors enter a tunnel-like space, with glass shelves by some of world’s leading fashion designers: Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, Lanvin and Guiseppe Zanotti.
Christine at 181 Flinders Lane is also a treasure-trove of fashion designers. The only sign of Christine’s presence is a narrow display case facing the lane and displaying a range of accessories, mainly from Europe, but some also made locally. Walk down the plaid-patterned carpet and experience the whimsical and highly creative interior. Handbags, scarves, jewellery, hats and shoes are surrounded with antique glass display cases, chandeliers, objects d’art and sculptures. Those with a discerning eye, will appreciate owner Christine Barro’s impeccable ‘editing’ from some of the world’s greatest fashion houses including hats from Philip Treacy and sunglasses from Cutler and Gross.
What better way to end a discovery tour of Melbourne than heading to Siglo.
Siglo is located above the European Restaurant and Wine Shop in Spring Street, overlooking Parliament House and Princess Theatre. Designed by b.e. Architecture, Siglo, Portuguese for ‘cigar’, was partially driven by the city’s ban on indoor smoking. With comfortable 1930s armchairs and dark timber-panelled walls, this lounge has a distinctly European feel. Nearby is the Spring Street Grocer at 157 Spring Street. Previously a lobby leading to offices above, it’s now a grocer complete with café. Designed by architect Kristen Green, director of KGA Architecture, it’s a great place to stop for a coffee or simply admire the products displayed on the shelves, many of which are organically grown. And if you prefer pasta, there’s Pellegrini’s (on the corner of Crossley Street), a Melbourne institution and unchanged since it was established in the 1950s. The iconic expresso bar serves authentic Italian food and, of course fantastic coffee.
Some of our other favourite resturants in Melbourne CBD include: