The Beginner’s Guide to Melbourne


Photos by Jye Barclay

What a sick joint Melbourne is.

It’s got so much good stuff. Stuff like my primary school, my mum and my dad. But that’s not much use to you here, is it? You’re not going to visit Melbourne to see my parents, although you probably should because they’re lovely. Apart from my parents, who, like I said, are lovely, Melbourne has a reputation for being the most pretentious, coffee sipping place in Australia. The thing about that, however, is that if you grew up there, you probably grew up around people obsessed with sport and relatively generic rock and roll music. And it still feels very much that way today. It’s just that alongside that, there’s a lot of other cool stuff going on that makes Melbourne a really wonderful place to live and a ripper of a place to visit.

But, like born-again Christians, the most fervoured and annoying of anything are those that come to it a little later on and embrace it a little too heavily. Pouring lattes into avocados, and shitting on anything not from a postcode beginning with 3 and that sort of thing. If you meet someone who is just sooooo fucking Melbourne they can hardly talk to you, ask them where they grew up and I bet you $20 they’ll tell you Horsham or Ballarat or Wonthaggi or something. The country. And gee those pricks can give the place a bad name. Anyway, despite growing up here, and developing a borderline problematic love for drinking, I haven’t been able to keep up with what’s great right now, where the “scene” is, so to speak, and there’s places popping up and disappearing faster. Also, I won’t bother mentioning places to get good coffee. It’s not 1998—every city, suburb and country town in Australia has good coffee now. So I’ll just stick to some Melbourne classics that’ll guarantee you a good time in a great fucking city.

Cherry Bar

AC/DC Lane, CBD

God damn it Cherry Bar, you’re so good. If you were to try and make a list of the best rock ’n’ roll bars in Australia, I don’t know what would win, but I am certain that this would land somewhere very close to the top spot, if not top dog altogether. Right there in Melbourne’s gridded CBD, on the best-named street in all of Australia—AC/DC Lane—is Cherry, the rock ’n’ roll bar to end all rock ’n’ roll bars. Cherry is dark and dingy and comfortable. The music is very good, the beer isn’t expensive, and, no matter who you are or where you come from, the place feels like home. On weekends it’s open till 5am, on weeknights it’s open till very late, and all those hours it’s open, it serves as a reliable spot where you know you’ll get in, get a drink, and like the music they’re playing, and perhaps even hit the dance floor for a boogie. It also tends to be the place where big touring bands go for a drink after their shows. For example, an ex-girlfriend of mine made out with Julian Casablancas there after a Strokes show at Festival Hall in 2006. Twice. Actually, you know what? Now that I think of it, I don’t like Cherry all that much. Nor Julian Casablancas. Overrated.

The Great Ocean Road

Torquay to Warrnambool, southwest of Melbourne

It’s true. Melbourne’s beaches are gross. Especially the ones closest to the city—they’re actually not all that bad, but for the sake of this paragraph—St. Kilda Beach? Ew, yucky yucky yucky. What’s not often mentioned about Melbourne, however, is that if you can wrangle yourself a car, one of the most spectacular stretches of ocean landscape in the world is less than a 90-minute drive away. Once you get past Torquay and Bells Beach begins some truly breathtaking postcard shit. 250 kilometres of winding bitumen, tucked into limestone cliffs above the ocean, that reveals beach after beach after unspoiled beach. The trick is to not stop at the famous surf town of Torquay, and to just keep on going. I know this isn’t technically Melbourne, but a hot day in Sydney takes 90 minutes of bumper to bumper traffic to get to Bondi or Manly anyway, so why not? Also, the lighthouse from Round The Twist is here, which is a must-see for any Australian kid who grew up in the 90s.

Shanghai Dumpling House

23-25 Tattersalls Lane, CBD

After existing since probably the Victorian Gold Rush, this place, hidden in a pissy smelling lane off Chinatown, one street behind the main drag of the CBD, had the steepest of rises in infamy between 2006 and jumped the shark in about 2010. The lines got huge. The clientele hip and annoying. But the thing is, as time has washed all that away, the place is still standing there in the same laneway and it’s still goddamned delicious. You can still roll up with a case of beers, order unbelievable fried pork dumplings, Chinese broccoli, spring onion pancakes and more fried pork dumplings till you never want to eat again. Chomping away while listening to the same bizarre Chinese covers of classic songs that somehow makes every single song sound kinda sorta like Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. And at the end of it, the bill comes to about $15, maybe less. Pop next door for a drink at the bar made out of a truck container dropped into a carpark (called Section 8) after. Easiest, quickest, cheapest, best eat in the city. Probably.

Rooftop Bar

Level 7, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, CBD

The no.1 spot for beers in the sun in Melbourne’s CBD is seven floors up and on top of the historic Curtin Building, right on Swanston Street. Artificial grass underfoot, lounge chairs, a levelled deck to roll cigarettes while sipping excellently made drinks or unpretentious beers, the skyline lights up around you as the sun goes down and your body starts feeling more buzzed. Place is killer. It also hosts a cinema right there on the roof, screening cult classics all summer. Tickets for that sell out most nights, but it’s worth doing at least once every year. And when you’re done, you can stumble downstairs to Cookie for some Thai food on one floor or a gig one floor above that at the Toff in Town.

Stalactites

177-183 Lonsdale Street, CBD

Did you know that Melbourne has the second highest Greek population in the world after Athens? I have no idea if that’s true, but it is a thing that people say, and if people say it, there must be some kind of truth to it. In any case, souvlaki is a biggish deal here. George Calombaris (one of the dudes from one of those food shows, you know the ones) has opened a bunch of hip restaurants that make the humble souvlaki a food du jour, and they’re pretty good, but Stalactites right there in the middle of the city is the no.1 spot for a souva. What’s great about Stalactites, apart from the gimmicky cave-like interior with the stalactites hanging from the ceiling, is that it’s both a semi-fancy restaurant and a spot for degenerate munters who really need some food to set them straight at 4am. And it’s open forever. Literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year. The souvas here are good, the other stuff on the menu is probably good too, but I wouldn’t know. I’m not sure anyone knows.

Yellowbird

122 Chapel Street, Windsor

Some places just have an energy that whispers at you as you walk past, “Pssst, hey you, I’ll get you day drunk, you can stay here all day, it’s so totally fine, c’mon man, let’s hit it.” Yellowbird is one of them. At the not-shit end of Chapel Street in Windsor is what I always thought was a bar with very good bar food, but turns out is also a ripper of a cafe that’s got a great breakfast menu, and has had it the whole time since it opened in 2007. I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a place that’s as adept at curing hangovers as it is at creating them. And if you’ve ever wanted to order a beer with breakfast and feel okay with that terrible decision, this is probably your spot. If you recognise the guy behind the bar and running your food to your table, but can’t work out where from, well, that’s Clint Hyndman—the drummer for iconic Australian band Something For Kate for over 20 years now. It’s his place.

MCG

Brunton Ave, Richmond

If sport is a religion in Australia, and it is, our church is the MCG. You can travel all over the world, go to the biggest sporting spectacles in Europe, North America, wherever, but if you’ve grown up going to the MCG you tend to have a reaction like Homer Simpson in the Australian episode after ordering one of those famous big beers, sighing… “It’s pretty big, I guess…” Home of the 1956 Olympics, the AFL Grand Final, and the Boxing Day Test, the MCG sits over 100,000 people these days. It doesn’t really matter if you like sport or detest it, if you go to the MCG on a day where there are 80,000-plus other people in the same building, united for the same spectacle, it’s a goosebump-inducing type of awe-striking. And unlike going to major sporting events in Europe or North America, it won’t set you back $150 for a ticket, and nor will the beers cost $12 per mid-strength cup. The best thing about the MCG though is how beautifully located it is. The whole area is a sporting precinct with a bunch of stadiums that hosts the Australian Open (tennis), basketball, and soccer, around the corner from one of the best rock and roll bars in the country (The Corner) and a 10- minute walk along a purposefully designed footbridge straight into the city. So fucking easy.

NGV

180 St Kilda Road, CBD

The National Gallery of Victoria is Australia’s oldest public museum, and the one that lands the country’s biggest billed exhibitions every year. In the past year and a bit the NGV has played host to the Triennial, Van Gogh, David Hockney, Hokusai, The House of Dior, Ai Wei x Andy Warhol to name a couple, and this winter they’ll be getting a large portion of the collection from MOMA (Matisse and Picasso and whatnot) when the famed New York gallery goes under renovation in June. We’re very lucky to have a place like it. Make a day of it and wander across the road through Fed Square and into ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) when you’re done at the NGV, if you’re bored and hungover in the city, stumble over there and you’ll likely find a one-off screening of a critically regarded documentary or something of that ilk. Shit is the best.

The Tote

67-71 Johnston Street, Collingwood

Pay your respects and go to The Tote Hotel. This establishment was the centre of the Save Live Australian Music rally in 2010, after it had to close in January of that year due to stupid changes that classed Victorian music venues in the same category as violent nightclubs on King Street as high risk, requiring them to hire two bouncers for the two hours before and after live music finishes, skyrocketing their costs of running and swiftly putting the joint out of business, despite it never being a problem before. Nearly 20,000 people attended that rally, and Paul Kelly and Tim Rogers and Molly Meldrum spoke and people held up banners like, “I’m a musician, not a drunk thug.” And, “Are We In Sydney?” But the Tote re-opened, survived and continues to be the stalwart of independent Australian music it has been since 1980. It’s also haunted, which is fun. If you want to go to The Tote, but actually want go somewhere better, with better bands playing, go to The Gasometer just around the corner. But go to The Tote, too.

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