With its hidden street art, clandestine restaurant entrances and concealed rooftop bars, there’s more to Australia’s second city than meets the eye
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Mark Roper
DAY ONE | The problem with waking up in the Flinders King Suite at the Adelphi Hotel—a “dessert-themed” property with dangling couches and zigzag floor patterns—is that every day the staff refills a glass bucket with free candy. It sits there as you shower. It sits there while you peer out at Flinders Lane through the warehouse-style windows. Here’s the thing about this candy: You can tuck it behind the loveseat or under the desk, but you will eat it eventually. “Fine,” you say, popping a handful of confectionary into your mouth, “what’s a half dozen Honeycomb Clonkers before breakfast?”
Before the candy can make a second stand, you ride the elevator down to the lobby. You have plans to spend the morning exploring Melbourne’s prime dining and entertainment area, the Central Business District (or CBD), which is right outside your door. To find a proper breakfast, you’ll need to look for the scrum of trendy locals jockeying for a table in front of The Hardware Société. You secure an alfresco perch and merrily dip hunks of bread drizzled with olive oil into a pot of baked eggs with chorizo and manchego cheese. Your iced coffee comes with ice cream, a spoon and a straw covered in polka dots. By the end, you feel like a kid at a malt shop, only much more caffeinated.
Buzzing, you head off to explore the city’s squiggle of alleys with the help of Michael Fikaris, an artist, illustrator and guide for Melbourne Street Art Tours, who knows the local street art scene so well he may have been born with a can of spray paint in his hand. He leads you through the labyrinth, leaning over balconies and darting across streets to point out his favorite bits—little characters made of repurposed garbage and affixed to telephone poles; cell phones painted gray and pasted to the curb. “There’s a French artist, Invader,” Fikaris says, indicating a small alien made out of colored tiles. “He came to Melbourne and put these all over the city. Now that you know about them, you’ll see them everywhere.”
After three hours of this, your legs are screaming, so you hop a tram to Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, one of two excruciatingly hip enclaves northeast of the CBD, and take an elevator a few floors up to Naked in the Sky, the rooftop bar at the Basque tapas joint Naked for Satan. From here, you can look out across Fitzroy and Collingwood—both blocky and pastel and broken only by the periodic spikes of church spires. You contemplate the view over indulgent appetizers—cheese and walnut croquettes with quince aioli, a fried soft-shell crab in red pepper sauce, roasted figs with goat’s milk curd—and a sprightly Cascade Bright Ale, brewed in Tasmania.
The afternoon stretches away from you in the way that lazy rooftop afternoons tend to, and you only reluctantly abandon your post to poke around the area’s many bookshops, clothing stores and galleries, one of which prominently displays an AC/DC-themed kimono surrounded by crosses. Inspired by your street art tour earlier, you pick up a hoodie with a picture of a crying lemon, courtesy of Das T-Shirt Automat, a storefront that will print the shirt of your choice in four minutes.
From here, it’s a short jaunt to Saint Crispin, a pleasantly unadorned boîte in Collingwood whose lighthearted vibe belies an impressive menu. Your dinner starts with a “snack”—a bite of cantaloupe sprinkled with powdered breadcrumbs cooked in jam, a seaweed rice cracker topped with whipped taramasalata (Greek-style carp roe). The meal continues through a dish of marron with vegetables, pickled mushrooms and herb puree that’s so artfully composed it could be a watercolor. Having never heard of a marron before, you inquire about the main ingredient.
“It’s like a cross between a yabby and a …” the bartender pauses at the quizzical look on your face. “Do you know what a yabby is?”
By way of an extended conversation involving at least four kinds of shellfish, you learn that marron is a sort of freshwater crayfish indigenous to Western Australia, and that it’s mighty tasty. The next course requires less explanation: pork so crispy you have to fight your neighbors for the cracklings, served with blood plums, baby fennel and mustard.
After dinner, you’re too stuffed to walk, so you float back to the Adelphi via cab. “Hey,” you note, as the car starts to cover some of the same ground as your art tour, “there’s one of those Space Invader things!”