Melbourneâ€™s iconic maze of lanewaysÂ are grimy, industrial shortcuts no longerâ€”for Melburnians, they are the destination.
By Claire Knox
Melbourneâ€™s central business districtâ€”its rectangular network of streets, laneways, alleys, and labyrinthine passages seemingly woven and stitched togetherâ€”is one of the worldâ€™s largest city grids. City surveyor Robert Hoddle mapped out the cityâ€™s wide, main streets in 1837 with a grand vision of tree-lined, European boulevards and simple geometry. But it was the cityâ€™s rich trade history during the Gold Rush that literally paved Melbourneâ€™s iconic maze of lanewaysâ€”originally set up for the cabinet-makers, jewelers, farriers, and fabric merchants to cart their wagons of goods through. These lanes are grimy, industrial shortcuts no longerâ€”for Melburnians, they are the destination.
The limelight has traditionally shone brightest on Sydneyâ€™s glittering bays, the architectural feat of the Harbour Bridge and the wonderfully abstract sails of the Opera House, but scratch the surface of Australiaâ€™s southern belle and youâ€™ll unravel a slick, cutting-edge city teeming with hidden delights. Melbourneâ€™s city center is a heady, visual feast, and yet some of her most alluring features are tucked neatly just out of view.
Among cobblestone lanes, discover candlelit speakeasies, jazz bars, and quirky rooftop bars peering down at the city. In Melbourneâ€™s center youâ€™ll find the lionâ€™s share of critically acclaimed restaurants and hip bars hiding behind discreet doorways, and perhaps even catch a gourmet food truck setting up shop in an adjacent enclave. The CBDâ€™s creative pulse is laced through its lanesâ€”especially palpable around Flinders Lane. Contemporary art galleries and fashion houses hide behind peeling terraces, beside luxurious Japanese basement bath houses, opulent boutiques, writersâ€™ studios, cutting-edge design workshops, and laneway walls adorned with vivid street art and esoteric murals. Hosier Lane, which runs past famed Spanish eatery Movida, features some of the most sophisticated graffiti art with several Banksy-adorned walls. Inner Melbourneâ€™s architecture is a delightful, eclectic jumble of tall, Gold Rush-era gothic Victorian mansions with Juliette balconies, domed roofs, curved Art Deco residences and shiny, gleaming modern structures. Here are five city hotspots set among it all that you shouldnâ€™t miss.
Brother Baba Budan
Melburnians take their coffee seriously. Religiously, even. And Mark Dundon and Bridget Amor may well be the cityâ€™s own coffee gods. Theyâ€™re the brains behind arguably the best specialty coffee in the country, the roastery, cafĂ©, and â€śengine roomâ€ť Seven Seeds, which has its base on the fringes of Melbourneâ€™s CBD, Carlton. To satiate CBD cafenatics they opened petite espresso bar, Brother Baba Budan. The cafĂ© was named after 17th century Islamic scholar Baba Budanâ€”the story goes he smuggled seven seeds of fertile coffee, strapped to his waist, from Yemen back to Mecca where the seeds bloomed. Dundon, oft-described as eccentricâ€”perhaps even obsessiveâ€”has a story now deeply entwined with Melbourneâ€™s coffee history. He opened one of the cityâ€™s first coffee connoisseur hot spots, Ray, about 13 years ago and since then established St Ali, Seven Seeds, and a roastery and coffee farm in Honduras. The Seven Seeds team pride themselves on their commitment to high quality, single-origin beans, local roasting, and of course all of the tricks, gadgets, and elaborate methods of brewing and crafting the perfect cup.
Brother Baba Budan, squashed between utility camping stores and with its peculiar aestheticâ€”clusters of chairs are nailed, upside down, to the ceilingâ€”is a melting pot of hipsters, suits, Lycra-clad cyclists, students, and all coffee devotees in-between, queuing out the door for its house blends or single origin. And the coffee (in this instance, a Seven Seeds espresso blend, with hints of caramel, vanilla, and dried apricots) is perfect. While there are stools to perch oneself on and watch laneway life go by, this is for the most part a takeaway espresso bar. According to Amor, the idea was â€śto do something small, a bit different, without food [they serve delicious cakes and buttery pastries only]â€¦which took a while for people to get their heads around,â€ť yet sheâ€™s quick to reject the idea of the celebrity baristaâ€”staff are extremely down-to-earth and friendly. â€śPeople just want a good coffee with minimal fussâ€”customers like to be remembered, along with what coffee they order.â€ť
359 Little Bourke Street; 61-3/9606-0449; Brother Baba Budan; coffee of the day from US$3.50