Hello Alice! Melbourne laneway art (Image by HWL)
Melbourne is a city that works on it. It doesn’t sit back and rest on its laurels, it doesn’t try to get by on its looks. Melbourne is a city that prides itself on great food (mostly at reasonably prices) and excellent independent coffee (it’s a town that showed zero interest in Starbucks) and a dynamic and entrepreneurial grass-roots art and design scene. It’s a city in a state of continual evolution and exploring it can take on the dimension of a treasure hunt. Confession: Melbourne is our (adopted) home town, and although we are penning this from the other side of the globe, we share the common Melbourne trait of taking pride in the city – and wanting to share it with others. If you strike up a conversation with somebody, don’t be surprised if they start scribbling their favourite restaurants or cafes on a napkin for you.
Shanghai love nest in Alkira Apartment, Melbourne (Image credit: Paul Healy photography)
While the majority of Melbournians still live in the suburbs the CBD is undoubtedly the city’s playground with an impressive density of restaurants, cafes, bars and art galleries etc. For this reason, the CBD remains our preferred address in Melbourne, though it must be said that noise and natural light (or lack thereof) can be issues. We’ve listed a few good ideas for the CBD as well as the city’s south side. For what’s on in Melbourne, regardless of where you stay, check out The Broadsheet and Melbourne 3000. (By the way, if you book any of the following on our advice, please tell them we sent you! And if you have experiences – good or bad – we’d like to hear them. )
The Alkira Apartment offers art deco digs fitted out in a vintage/loft style. We asked the owner, Michelle Francis, to tell us a bit about the design. She says, “The facade of the building is art deco – which we love – but it was converted into apartments in the 80’s and very few deco features remain, so we decided to go for quite a bold aesthetic rather than trying to replicate the original style. The deco exterior is quite stunning – the glass tiles that form the central panel of the building were the first use of glass tiles in Australia and the green, black and white terracotta tiles are geometric and quite mesmerising. The architect, James Wardrop also did the Shrine of Remembrance, a Melbourne landmark. Internally, we’ve incorporated a couple of blocks of really strong colour: a vermillion red in the study/reading room; a moss green in the kitchen; and a feature wall of gorgeous embossed Osborne and Little wallpaper, but the rest of the space is pretty neutral to play up the light and space.
The study has an Asian theme, the rest is more of an eclectic retro sleek look with a few collectibles as well as some plain quirky bits (such as the life sized torso of a yellow crash test dummy). The living area is glossy (coated) raw concrete which shows up all the wonderful imperfections such as paint drops from over the decades. There’s a lush wool aubergine carpet in the bedroom for bare feet in the mornings.”
Alkira: a homely retro aesthetic that says 'Melbourne' (Image credit: Paul Healy photography)
Perks: We love the mix-it-up aesthetic of the interiors – a bohemian twist on the right side of vintage – it feels very Melbourne. Michelle is no stranger to hospitality; she used to own a restaurant on the great Ocean Road; and we like the thoughtfulness of supplies such as coffee paraphernalia, books and magazines. While Queen St overall isn’t our favourite strip in the CBD (though we like the trees) the apartment is at the right end of the city which puts you in the heart of everything, and the location means that you could also collect tasty local produce from the nearby Queen Victoria Market and cook it up in your very own kitchen. Tips: Note that while the bedroom does have a window, it opens onto a light-well, which means it is not as luminous as the living areas. On the upside, you should be protected from city traffic noise. Also note, there’s no hotel-style concierge service. Michelle offers a few great ideas for local cafes. “We love Hardware Societe for their absolutely superb breakfast menu, three blocks away. But if you just want to ‘duck out’ for a quick bite, Sparrow’s Nest nearby is great. Seven Seeds cafe Brother Baba Buddah can’t be missed for an excellent coffee.
Billiard Room: the Lindrum wants you to feel at home (Image credit: Hamilton Lund)
Hotel Lindrum: Small, cosy and a stone’s throw from Federation Square, the Lindrum is on the parent-friendly school of interior design but we like the lounge room-style lobby complete with pool table and the coffee-bar check-in. The Lindrum has always managed to be fashionable without necessarily being hip, it’s civilised without being stuffy, and friendly without being overly familiar. It’s no longer shiny and brand new but you can count on all the mod-cons and comforts of a good hotel on a personal scale. Perks: It’s not a hipster hotel, but it’s the kind of place everyone can feel comfortable. Room to improve: A hotel of this calibre should offer free wi-fi in the rooms! Tips: If you want views and loads of natural light (and who doesn’t?) book a Deluxe room with the bay windows. Other room categories may look onto alleyways etc. If breakfast is not included in the rate, you’re a short stroll to Degraves St etc where there are oodles of cafe choices.
Our tip: the 'deluxe rooms' with bay windows are the most luminous. (Image credit: Hamilton Lund)
Having trawled through the listings on Air B&B we think this is the most interesting option in the CBD. Loft Apartment – Heritage Building: In the historic Bible House, a late 1800′s building and former printers, is a loft apartment that will appeal to creative types. Situated on Flinders Lane, the heart of Melbourne’s fashion district, it’s fitted out with loads of artistic and personal touches. The site doesn’t show the bedroom, but it mentions Third Drawer Down linen, a local brand founded by an ex-Craft Victoria curator who started out making limited edition tea-towels featuring work by local artists and has since expanded into all kinds of other exciting artistic merchandise. For artistic pedigree, you can’t fault it. Perks: Location! This is one of the most exciting parts of the city – step out, and you’re in it. Tips: It’s in the middle of the city within a dense network of alleys, so keep in mind that views will not be expansive. You may also hear some street noise. The owner lists all kinds of tips on attractions in the local area.
Fast track your way into Melbourne's creative scene
We're converts: stay at Bible House in Melbourne
The Adelphi – we were going to recommend this 90′s icon by local architects Denton Corker Marshall, the city’s first boutique hotel with its trademark rooftop swimming pool. But we were troubled by two things; firstly they failed to respond to two emails asking for publicity photos to publish on the blog (we’re still waiting…). This reminded us of previous occasions where they have been similarly unhelpful, which doesn’t bode well for customer service. Secondly, we had a look around on the internet, and reviews suggest the hotel is now looking a little tired. So now we’re hesitating about including it… Perks: the rooftop bar has an amazing views over the city and its overhanging swimming pool is an enduring novelty (not to mention a healthy, if vertiginous, way to start the day). Note that the pool/bar area is sometimes closed to guests during corporate events, namely in the summer. (Think December.) The location is smack bang in a good bit of the city, and if the concrete laneways get too much, you’re not far from Treasury gardens etc.
Adelphi Hotel Melbourne
Tip: There are construction works opposite the hotel during 2011 so do check before you make a booking as it could be noisy. In general ask for a room overlooking the street, not the side alleys. (A ‘New York style view’ is code for ‘view of an alley with little natural light’.) To avoid disappointment, note that views are not on the menu here, it is not the hotel’s fault – it’s just the reality of its location (surrounded by alleys), as is some street noise. If breakfast is not included, don’t worry, this area is home to some of Melbourne’s best cafes and breakfast haunts.
Brooklyn Arts Hotel: This joint has popped up in Melbourne since we were last in town. Located on George St, Fitzroy, it’s a retro little hotel aimed at the creatively inclined. Vintage-style furnishings and quirky touches like snowdome collections and kitsch art work are the order of the day.
Grandmotherly vintage chic at the Brookly Arts Hotel, Fitzroy
Perks: Great location, within reach of the restaurants and cafes of Brunswick St, the galleries of Gertrude St and a short walk to the CBD. Also on the menu, a yummy breakfast with good bread, and a friendly atmosphere with like-minded guests. Staying in a terrace will give you an idea of the local architecture. Tips: Speaking from personal experience, these big old Victorian mansions aren’t exactly sound-proof. Bring ear-plugs! (I used to live in one, also on George St, with an unlikely combination of people including a bemusingly pony-tailed cyclone-predictor from Darwin, a shivering samba dancer from Bahia and a sort of paper mache robot that lived on the balcony). Ask your friendly hostess Maggie to organise a cute bike rental from The Humble Vintage during your stay.
Brooklyn Arts Hotel: vintage Dreams in Fitzroy, Melbourne (Image embedded from the talented leaaaah on Flickr)
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: Melbournites are creatures of habit and they tend to stick to the north or the south of the city depending on where they live. To generalise: the inner north is more indie, more creative, and cheaper, the ethnic mix is arguably more diverse, and the restaurants cater to all budgets. The inner south is leafier, slicker and more expensive. It’s home to accounting execs and BMXs. More generalisations: bits like Toorak, are conservative and old money, bits like Prahran are young and gay friendly, and bits like Elwood/St Kilda East have a strong Jewish community, beachside access and an indie shopping strip. St Kilda itself is popular with backpackers and suburban tourists.
In South Yarra, our friend Andy Mac who runs Citylights Projects tells us he’s heard good things from artists who stayed at The Albany hotel. They’ve recently refurbished a boxy 50′s ‘motel’ and offer cool rooms at reasonable prices with a rock n’ roll kind of aesthetic. We like the honesty on the website – they clearly state which room categories have had a minor make-over and which have had the full botox and stomach stapling.
Retro dining area at the Albany Hotel
Perks: It’s got a pool, a retro cafe and a relaxed vibe. Plus the location near Chapel St etc is great. Room to improve: We get the impression that housekeeping is below par in the older rooms, the rooms with minor renovations are superficial at best, and that noise from other guests is an issue, especially if you are on the ground floor. If you are fastidious or a light sleeper, perhaps it’s best to avoid. Tips: To avoid disappointment, our suggestion is to book a fully and newly renovated room, such as the Pool Club Deluxe, that way you can be assured that everything is clean and new.
Our tip: it's best to book a renovated Pool Club Deluxe room at the Albany, Melbourne
In St Kilda, The Prince is still the flashiest boutique hotel this side of town although, admittedly, the design, which was noted for its ice-cool minimalism is no longer as up to date as it was. (In the meantime, the Millennium ‘bug’ has also gone out of fashion.) Architectural credits go to Hecker Guthrie (who also had a hand in luxe Fjäll ski lodge, Falls Creek); while Wood/Marsh took care of the deck and day spa zones (on another scale and genre, visitors should visit another of their projects: ACCA, contemporary art space.) The in-house restaurant has been given a bit of a hipster-friendly re-furb and is now warmer and welcomes guests for drinks and nibbles, but still offers excellent in-house dining. Not that you’d need to eat there – there are so many fantastic options near by. Perks: the Prince still offers a sense of glamour and wow-factor. Aesop products in the rooms. Room to improve: Some people complain about the size of the basic rooms and the dark corridors – we kind of like the corridors though admittedly, it may help to have a miner’s helmet light on hand. But the real issue since day one is noise from the bar etc. Tips: The hotel is part of a complex which has live music – if you score a room too close to the band room you may find yourself bugged by music/reverberation. Not so cool if you’re paying cold hard cash for a good night’s sleep! Pack ear plugs or get some from reception. If you want a view, go for a superior room or at least confirm a ‘street vista’ in the Deluxe room category (some are internal looking).
The Prince hotel dining room gets a bit of a hipster make-over
Deluxe room @ the Prince Hotel, Melbourne. Our tip: request a street vista.
Confession: we’ve never been to The Hatton but this 20 room hotel in a grand old mansion gets great reviews, and as far as a small, personable hotel on this side of town goes, we challenge you to find better. Perks: Location, the South Yarra location is not hipster central, but it is restful, just near the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens and a nice shopping/cafe strip which will meet most of your eating needs. On a sunny day you’ll enjoy a glass of local wine on the roof top. Tips: The smallest room category is, well, smallish!
Front entry and bar at the Hatton
Standard room @ the Hatton Hotel, Melbourne
Musician’s Elwood Apartment: We have an enduring soft-spot for the beachside suburb of Elwood, in particular its art-deco flats which are beautifully proportioned, warm and welcoming. This flat with lots of original historic features is owned by a couple of local musos and comes with its own grand piano! It’s located on one of the area’s streets named after writers and poets and is close to our favourite little park in Melbourne, the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, and the iconic local cafe, Jerry’s Milk Bar.
Warm and welcoming, kitchen and dining area with restored fireplace...
Perks: The owner has kitted it out with all the mod cons and interesting touches, such as books devoted to music and other interests. If you stay here you’re close to the canals and beach reserve, so there’s plenty of opportunities for strolling and soaking up the atmos. Tips: The bedroom is small! – it’s definitely a ‘climb in situation’, so the living areas are the real drawcard here. If you’re into music you should check out who’s playing at the Espy in St Kilda, despite the lack of sticky carpet, the increasingly gentrified Esplande Hotel is still a fixture on the local indie music circuit. Note: One of our favourite things to do in Melbourne on a Sunday is going to the Wall 280 cafe on Carlisle St, in East St Kilda nearby, getting coffee and a sweet treat, then collecting fresh bagels and toppings from Glicks up the road (be prepared to queue, the ‘staff’ seem to be kids fresh from the kibbutz). Then take the whole lot back for a picnic/newspaper reading session at the aforementioned St Kilda Botanic Gardens. Admittedly you’ll need wheeled transport if the coffee is to remain hot!)
Make yourself at home in Elwood...
St Kilda: for the flashies among you, this slick flat in St Kilda offers the comforts of a hotel with the mod-cons of a new apartment and a sunny balcony. It also epitomises the ambitions of many aspirational South-siders to live in a cool, inner-city designer pad near the beach. (And why wouldn’t you?) Original art works help lend some character to the place and a typically Melbourne fastidiousness about chichi design and providing excellent in-house coffee is in evidence.
Sheridan crisp, white 1000-thread-count bed linen: count us in!
Perks: Complimentary and quality breakfast goodies, like organic muslie, are on offer. Free parking is available if you have a car (a definite plus on this side of town). Location! Lots of pubs, bookshops and restaurants abound and it’s just a short stroll to the Esplanade. Plus it’s close to Pelican (16 Fitzroy St, St Kilda, Melbourne), a cafe we are somewhat fond of for the great coffee and the warm architectural fit-out, by local firm Six Degrees. (Note that service can be on the slack side if you order something more ambitious than a cuppa.) Tips: If you like to start your day with exercise, try a run along the beach or take a dip at the St Kilda Baths.
Blanco appliances and designer dishware: lifestyle a la St Kilda
I’m an artist: If you are artistically inclined, you could try applying for a long-haul artist residency, why not start with the friendly, ‘no deadlines’ approach offered by Wardlow in Fitzroy? Otherwise, there are more formal residencies on offer at Gertrude Contemporary (more popularly known as ‘Gertrude 200′), one of the city’s leading exhibition spaces, also in Fitzroy. Or try the more indie Seventh down the road.
Live differently: apply for an artist residency in Melbourne (Image © Gertrude Contemporary)