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 TWO | Despite being a buzzing, avant-garde city in its own right, Melbourne is not immune to the Brooklynophilia sweeping the globe. You stop for a New York–inspired breakfast of a lox and dill cream cheese bagel at Bowery to Williamsburg to see how the Aussies do your native nosh. (Pretty accurately, it turns out.)
Bagel in hand, you head off to the Shrine of Remembrance, a World War I memorial that looks like a cross between an Aztec pyramid and a Greek temple, flanked by Italian cypress trees. Inside, light from a chink in the ceiling illuminates the word “love” in the phrase “Greater love hath no man,” which is inscribed on a memorial stone set in the floor. The chink is situated so that this effect only occurs (naturally, at least) once a year: at 11 a.m. on November 11, the time and date of the armistice. Today, through the use of artificial light, visitors can see it every half hour.
It’s a five-minute stroll to your next stop, the exquisite Royal Botanic Gardens, where you’ve signed up for an Aboriginal Heritage Walk. It begins when your guide, Charles Solomon, builds a fire so you can waft sweet-smelling smoke onto yourself—a traditional aboriginal welcoming gesture. Next, Solomon leads you through the greenery, explaining the traditional uses of plants like kangaroo apple (food, when treated to remove poisons), foambark (fishing aid) and tea tree leaves (antiseptic).
The walk ends with a cup of lemon myrtle tea, which provides a refreshing segue to lunch. It’s a perfect beach day, so you tram it toward the bayside suburb of St. Kilda, hopping off near Fitzrovia, a homey farm-to-table deli. The plate that appears before you contains charred corn, avocado, quinoa, black-eyed pea and pomelo salad with cilantro and minted yogurt dressing and chorizo. You dispatch it handily and, feeling healthier than you probably are, take a stroll down to St. Kilda Pier, where you while away the afternoon watching a parade of fit-looking locals stroll down the beach.
After a quick shower at your hotel, it’s back to the laneways, which seem more promising and more foreboding in the dark. In a dim room with metal mesh chandeliers that remind you of Warhol’s “Silver Clouds,” you find Tonka, the newest outpost from the much-lauded Adam D’Sylva. Tonka specializes in high-concept Indian food, a neglected culinary pigeonhole if ever there was one. You order a lamb curry with roasted coconut and cardamom, which arrives with naan in a bag, and a small pile of smoked trout with coconut, chili, pomelo and kaffir lime, which you wrap in a betel leaf and eat like a taco. This last bit, delightfully sour in the way of Filipino food, is inspired.
It’s deep evening now, and everyone’s a little loopy. You make friends with a local winemaker and his girlfriend in the line for the elevator at Curtin House, a nightlife version of an office tower. Every time the elevator stops, there’s something new to see: A restaurant, a dance hall, a restaurant, a bar, a bar, a bar. As you bounce between floors like video-game characters, your new buddies suggest that you visit the Yarra Valley tomorrow and check out the winery. You suggest that they hang out with you tonight and show you around Melbourne’s best bars. A deal is struck.
After several hours, you find yourselves dancing next to a palm tree at Workshop, an art space that serves coffee in the morning and hosts local bands and DJs at night. Unbelievably, you are hungry, so as dawn approaches, you and your assembled coterie stop off for meat pies at Pie Face, a chain that seems to be on every street corner. Later still, miniature pie in hand, you have a standoff with your room’s candy jar and, having been soundly defeated, go to bed.