This week Melbourne, Australia is welcoming the likes of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer back on its tennis courts for the 2014 Australian Open. If you find yourself in town with a dance card not quite as heavy with pro-level training schedules (or you’re a player who lost early), spend some time getting to know the Central Business District (CBD) in Victoria’s capital city with a romp through its labyrinthine streets and alleyways, where myriad treasures await.
Sure, perhaps the beaches of St. Kilda or the hip, ahead-of-the-curve suburb of Fitzroy sound more desirable destinations than back alleys and streets-in-between, but according to Fiona Sweetman, director of Hidden Secrets Tours, which takes travelers on romps around town, it’s in these teeny lanes where you may come across your new favorite thing about Melbourne. “Visitors may normally think [that these side streets and lanes] are too dangerous or dirty, but in Melbourne that’s where we encourage people to venture,” Sweetman explains.
These streets have, in fact, always been a part of Melbourne’s original urban planning. They connect the city’s larger boulevards and allow for easier pedestrian access. And as rent rates rose in more visible pockets of the city, more and more entrepreneurs moved to the fringe streets to build their businesses. According to Sweetman, who navigates through these narrow throughways daily, there are 200 lanes in total but only 40 are active. All 40 are great for getting lost in and on-your-own discovery—maybe it’s a local jewelry designer or a new cocktail bar—but if you need some assistance, here are five addresses you need to commit to memory—or your Google Maps.
Comme des Garcons Pocket
This cozy glass-entrance storefront is Comme des Garcon’s very first Australian outpost. The sleek, mostly white interior is the perfect backdrop to the label’s whimsical and colorful Play collection, which consists of striped t-shirts, Chuck Taylors in collaboration with Converse and the super popular leather wallets, pouches and tablet cases. 2 Rankins Lane
Silo by Joost
Find some space on the communal table and prepare for a low-waste culinary experience at one of Melbourne’s busiest eateries. Green architect Joost Bakker designed a homey recycled space, while London transplant Chef Douglas McMaster (he’s also worked at Noma) mans the seasonal menu. Try the multi-grain salads or the brown-rice risottos if it’s a meal you’re after. The full-bodied coffees and the fruit-filled muffins are great if you’re on the run. Oh, and there’s not a trash bin in sight as all waste is dehydrated out back before being used as fertilizer. 123 Hardware St., byjoost.com
Captains of Industry
Guys can spend an entire day at this tucked-away multi-purpose venue on the second floor of a non-descript building on Somerset Place. The hospitality haven doesn’t just offer a happening cafe but surrounding it are services every gentleman of leisure will want to check out: Tailor Thom Grogan can get you fitted for a made-to-measure suit (using only the finest fabrics from Italy’s Vitale Barberis Canonico or England’s Holland and Sherry); shoemaker James Robertson can whip up a classic brogue; and barber Sam Fordyce can get you groomed date-ready in minutes. Why, it’s Melbourne’s most stylish one-stop shop. 2 Somerset Place, Level 1, captainsofindustry.com.au
Melbourne isn’t exactly hurting for ethnic cuisine, but if it’s modern Indian you’re craving, nothing’s more in-demand than Tonka, a sophisticated restaurant and bar, where one side overlooks Flinders Street and the other a nothing alley, which is also where the entrance is—naturally. Forgo the Indian-inspired cocktails altogether and dive right into the menu: The pakoras make for great appetizers, especially the perfectly fried soft-shell crab. For main courses, the savory Goan fish curry is served with a pomegranate sauce to temper the spice level down—perhaps unnecessary but a nice touch. 20 Duckboard Place, tonkarestaurant.com.au
Eau de Vie
This speakeasy—the second location of the Sydney original—is managed by Greg Sanderson, winner of Australia’s Bartender of the Year award in 2012. The dimly-lit boîte is not just about drinking: The kitchen also prepares a five-course degustation menu paired with cocktails. And for serious patrons, the Whisky Room is perfect for bottle service and storage rentals. The jazz-era atmosphere certainly helps in making Eau de Vie one of the city’s most popular evening destination, and fittingly works with the hard-to-find vibe of being located in a random back alley off Flinders Lane. Sanderson adds, “Some of [Melbourne’s] greatest culinary assets are hidden, and that is exciting. It is an adventure!” 1 Malthouse Lane, eaudevie.com.au/Melbourne