For the last year or so I’ve been living in Fitzroy, a mile or two north of the central city in Melbourne, Australia. Not to put too fine a point on it, I love it. Much more than anywhere I’ve lived in the past, Fitzroy and its surrounding area is a neighbourhood with personality. Melbourne’s first – and smallest – suburb, it’s crammed full of fantastic restaurants, bars, galleries and heritage buildings that thankfully haven’t been knocked down by over zealous developers, with a laid back mix of bohemian residents for whom anything goes.
From the crowded pavement cafes of Brunswick Street to the local pubs tucked away down quiet back streets, from the pumping live music scene to the wide open parkland of Carlton Gardens, I will – and happily do – spend hours just wandering round and enjoying everything the area has to offer. Here’s my highly subjective tour of Fitzroy that takes in a few of the places that I return to time and again – I’ve still got vast areas left to explore, however, so if you have a favourite spot in Melbourne’s inner north, I’d love to hear about it!
Depending on how big a night you’ve had the night before, there’s no shortage of breakfast options in and around Fitzroy. If the sun is shining and your hangover can handle the brightness, find an outdoor table at Shire cafe and enjoy a coffee and a chat with the owner, John. My perennial favourite is the breakfast ciabatta with bacon, cottage cheese, tobasco and lots of other goodness, but there’s plenty of options at this little cafe just off Brunswick St. If your head is pounding, however, and you’re looking for a meal that’s bigger than you to soak up last night’s excesses, head down to Gluttony – It’s a Sin on Smith St. The clue is in the name – the meals are massive (albeit a bit variable in quality) and the antics of the crazies on the street outside will be enough to distract you from the pain behind your eyes. I’ve also been reliably informed that the cake selection is to die for, so make sure you pick up a slice (or three) before heading out exploring. Honourable mentions also go to Joe’s Garage and Atomica Cafe, both on Brunswick St.
Keep your eyes open while you’re wandering the streets – not only to avoid being run down by cars, trams or passing emo’s, but also so that you can check out the awesome street art that seems to make an appearance on pretty much any flat surface in the suburb. I’ve got no idea whether any of it is officially sanctioned – or if so, who by – but regardless, it’s fantastic. The design to the left is on Rose Street, part of a series that stretches for quite a distance. I’ve also spotted some great pieces in various spots on Fitzroy St, and several other places as well. There’s some very talented people out there.
Also on Rose St (between Brunswick and Nicholson Sts) is the weekend Rose Street Artists’ Market where you can happily while away half an hour or so. It’s nice and small – ideal for people like me who start to get market rage after not very long – and because all of the stuff for sale is made by local artisans, it tends to be different every time you go there. A great place to find a random gift, one-off piece of clothing or unique reminder of your time in Melbourne.
Head back to Brunswick St and spend the rest of the morning checking out the array of bookshops, fashion stores, gift and art shops and whatever else you can think of. Personally I find the best section is between about Palmer St and Rose St, but I’m hardly a shopping guru so feel free to explore further afield and disagree! Gertrude St also has a wide range of cool little shops and galleries to explore, so allow a bit of time to wander down there as well. The thing I like about both of these streets is that most of the stores are one-off, local shops – there are very few chain stores in the area, thank god. This may mean that prices are a bit higher than in the malls, but the quality, uniqueness and experience of actually spending any time in them is so much better!
If you need a bit of chill out time after all that shopping, head over to Carlton Gardens and the Melbourne Museum. With several hectares of grassy areas and hundreds of inviting trees, there’s no better place to lie and read a book for a few hours. The museum is one of Melbourne’s premier attractions – and is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere – and you could easily spend a whole day just exploring there. Find out what the main exhibit is, at least, to see whether it’s worth coming back to check it out another day.
By this stage you’ll undoubtedly be in need of liquid refreshment. If coffee is your thing, my favourite by far (no mean feat in a coffee-mad city) is Jasper’s Caffeine Dealers. With great staff, spectacularly good coffee (the variety on offer changes all the time), beans, grinders and all of the accessories, as well as loads of chocolates and gift-type stuff, this is no typical coffee shop.
If you’re looking for something a little stronger and the sun is out, there’s nothing better than a cold drink or five during an afternoon session at The Standard Hotel on Fitzroy St. Don’t let the innocuous exterior fool you – one of the best, and almost certainly the biggest, beer gardens in the area lies inside. With plenty of tables and shady spots under the trees and umbrellas, excellent pub grub, live music and a wide selection of cold beers on tap, this friendly neighbourhood pub is an absolute winner. Get there early to get a seat outside at the weekends, though – it’s a popular spot with the locals.
Once (or if) you manage to drag yourself away from the Standard, stumble a couple of hundred metres back up Brunswick St for dinner at The Vegie Bar. A vegetarian-only Fitzroy institution, this place is huge and yet seems to packed to the rafters every time I go there. That’s not an issue, though – turnover is fast and there’s a cozy little outdoor bar area out the back where you can enjoy a drink while waiting for a table to free up. I’m not vegetarian and yet I choose to dine there regularly – and that’s probably the best review I can give it. Cheap, tasty and excellent food, with funky staff and an eclectic clientele, for me this place totally sums up what I love about this neighbourhood.
To finish off the night, there’s an enormous collection of pubs and bars to drink yourself stupid and dance the night away (or to regale the locals with your vast collection of interesting stories…). The Evelyn has live music from bands that you’ve probably never heard of but who will be headlining the Big Day Out in a few years (think: Muse), while the Provincial transforms itself from an almost wine bar-esque feel during the week to a heaving mass of humanity at the weekends and The Rainbow often has an awesome big band playing jazz and blues standards on a Sunday evening (a lot more fun than it possibly sounds, especially after the first few drinks). Whatever your style, you’ll find somewhere to spend the night (and probably much of the early morning) nearby.
So, that’s my neighbourhood, and I love it. Feel free to comment and add your own favourite places below – who knows, there’s a good chance that I’ll see you there!