23 Nov 2018
For years they’ve been touted as one of the main reasons people visit Melbourne. But for regular visitors the laneways can feel a little bit ‘been there, done that’. Melbourne Now spoke to Fiona Sweetman, owner of Hidden Secrets Tours and all-round Melbourne guru, about what’s happening on the small street scene.
“One of the older laneways that never really gets mentioned is Cohen Place,” says Fiona of the lane that combines the city’s Chinese and Jewish histories. “It’s in Chinatown and has the Chinese Museum right in the middle of it. You’ll also see the beautiful gateway there and Seamstress restaurant [housed in a one-time textile factory] at the other end.”
Melbourne’s original laneway bar opened on Meyers Place in the mid-nineties, and it – conveniently called Meyers Place Bar – is still going strong. Around it, you can find other well-established spots, including The Waiters Restaurant, a no-frills pasta joint upstairs from the bar, Loop, a bar and project space with a sunny rooftop, and Argentinian steak eatery San Telmo. “The city has designated four laneways to have more greenery and public space,” says Fiona, and Meyers Place is one that will benefit from a $1.3 million injection of funds. It was temporarily closed and had green walls, planter boxes and extra seating added along its length. Another small street set to benefit from the Greening Your Laneways initiative is Guildford Lane, home of one of the city’s hidden hotspots, Krimper Cafe.
It’s completely overshadowed by some of its more high-profile neighbours, like Hosier Lane and ACDC Lane, but Oliver Lane is worth a stroll for the eating options. During the day, Bowery to Williamsburg serves great coffee and bagels, while in the evening there is the choice of two fine-diners. Across the alley Coda serves modern Asian sharing plates and excellent cocktails.
She helped put Australian rock music on the global scene back in 1970s, and in 2015 Melbourne put Chrissy Amphlett on its map. Amphlett Lane runs behind the Princess Theatre on Spring Street (where Chrissy played Judy Garland in The Boy from Oz), and features a commemorative plaque and two artworks: one of the Divinyls singer in her famous school uniform with her two dogs, by Peter Gouldthorpe, and a stencil piece by Damien Arena. More than 7000 people signed a petition to have the former CL1639’s name changed and it’s now a destination for rock lovers from around the country. “Culture Victoria has just given some money to develop a Chrissy Amphlett walking tour of sorts,” says Fiona, of the MP3 audio tour that will take in parts of Melbourne and Geelong, the singer’s hometown.
There are all types of tiny alleys connecting the city’s major thoroughfares and Exploration Lane joins Little Lonsdale and Latrobe. It’s become a popular spot recently with the opening of the luxurious Fraser Place, with its serviced apartments, and League of Honest Coffee. Aficionados love its list of single-origin beans and Slayer espresso machines. Exploration has the even smaller, L-shaped Evans Lane running into it.
There are also manmade lanes popping up as construction continues around the city. “Watertank Way, off Spencer Street, has been created as an open public space with an old water tank [used to power goods and passenger lifts until 1967] above it,” says Fiona, “so heritage has been kept in this new development.” Wander down to check out the art installations.
In the same part of the city, Katherine Place harbours a new swathe of eateries. “This is one of my favourite places to have coffee,” says Fiona of Stand-up Cafe, where the brew of choice is Seven Seeds, but you’ll also find a full array of places to have a quick bite, including Delhi Streets, Hunters’ Roots, 5 & Dime Bagel, Mr Huang Jin and T by Luxbite.
One of the city’s best-known addresses is 500 Bourke Street, but surrounding it are a number of tiny lanes that show a different side to the business end of town. In Little William Street you’ll find compact Patricia Coffee Brewers, awarded best coffee in Australia last year in a Yelp survey, as well as a tiny pocket of green called Little Bourke Street Reserve. “There were no trees in that lane until Patricia opened and the city stopped it from being a two-way lane,” explains Fiona. “Now it’s nice place to have a wander.”