ALICE WILD WILLIAMS and NICHOLAS DAVIES immerse themselves so deep in Melbourne’s laneway culture, we’re pretty sure they’re still in there somewhere.
There’s a particular anxiety any time a Melburnian has a visitor coming to stay. “But what am I going to do with them?” we fret. We’ve no beaches to speak of, no Opera house, our bridges are not famous and if I’m honest, I’m not sure Melbourne really exists before brunch. We are an evening people. When you come to visit we’ll see art, we’ll drink coffee, we’ll eat delicious food, we’ll drink over complicated cocktails – and we’ll do most of this between one bluestone alley and another. Our laneway culture is famous the world over, so in an online first we’ve decided to review each and every one so you don’t have to. Yep, all 40 of them.
#1 AC/DC Lane
Unimaginatively named Corporation Lane until 2004 when it grew out its hair, embraced its rock‘n’roll heart and changed its name to AC/DC Lane. The sticky carpet heaven of Cherry Bar lives here, with a strict “No Suits” policy and its loose dance floor. For the fainter of heart, a really good Peruvian grill called Pastuso has opened up on AC/DC Lane too, which we think was pretty brave.
#2 Amphlett Lane
More than 7000 people petitioned to have a laneway named after late rock icon Chrissy Amphlett, and eventually the city conceded. While the stretch of bluestone bequeathed to her ain’t that pretty, the lane does adjoin both the Palace Theatre, where the Divinyls played, and the Princess Theatre where the Geelong-born singer performed as Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz.
#3 Beaney Lane
Kind of a commercial wasteland, however there is a bar called Spice Market that hosts “Fresh Friday” and “Stylish Saturday” promoted respectively with posters of ’90s Usher and Sex and The City-themed cocktails. Hmmmm.
#4 Bennetts Lane
In 2002, late on a Monday night, my friend Ange sent me a text: “Prince is just about to play a secret gig at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club”. I saw it when I woke up the next morning. I’ve never left my phone on silent since.
#5 Bligh Place
Nice wine bar called The Deanery and a sake and sushi restaurant called Robot Bar where middle management IT guys take international students on dates. Most importantly, the best cheapo dumpling house in Melbourne, North East China Family dumplings, is on the corner.
#6 Celestial Lane
Deep in the heart of Chinatown, there’s a Chinese restaurant open ’till 2.30am called The Supper Inn, we can’t tell you if it’s any good because no one has ever been there sober. The Lane got its name from a time when Caucasian people called Chinese people “Celestials”. True story.
#7 Club Lane
No clubs, just lane.
#8 Cloverlid Place
Famous for one thing and one thing only, Charlton’s Karaoke bar. A massive poolhall with near 24/7 karaoke and cheap drinks. Competition for the mic is stiff, we recommend buying the DJ a drink.
#9 Cohen Place
The Melbourne Chinese Museum is here and it’s pretty interesting, but otherwise it’s mostly conference centres and TABs.
#10 Commerce Way
“No one stands in the way of commerce on Commerce Way!” Which is kind of true because there is no commerce on Commerce Way. There’s nothing here.
#11 Crombie Lane
Garbage and parking.
#12 Dame Edna Place
Sadly doesn’t live up to its flamboyant and iconic name.
#13 Davisons Place
Garbage, serviced apartments.
#14 Drewery Lane
Baroq House dominates Drewery Lane and is the kind of place where Paris Hilton would have drunk Cristal in 2007 – in fact, she did. We suggest wandering around the corner, past the large dumpsters, to Sista Bella on Drewrey Place. Cheap pizzas, great coffee, plenty of good-looking and artfully tattooed “mixologists”. My mum would call it “funky”.
#15 Degraves Street
Yeah, it’s a street, but when people from other towns talk about Melbourne’s laneway culture, they’re almost certainly talking about Degraves Street and its dogleg follow-on, Centre Place. Packed in tight with cafes that would be comfortably described as quirky, with kitchens so tiny you barely have room to smash an avocado. Aix has amazing crepes (how sweet the sound) and next-door Jungle Juice serves bagels that’ll knock your shorts off. We’d tell you about Hell’s Kitchen, but then we’d have to kill you.
#16 Duckboard Place
#17 Evans Lane
#18 Exploration Lane
So dull it doesn’t even have garbage. Should change its name to “Stay Home Lane”.
#19 Flinders Court
Garbage. But it’s also theatre black and super dark and extra narrow and I’ve never not seen a rat there.
#20 GPO Lane
Often dismissed by effete locals, it’s actually packed with delicious food joints like Ca De Vin and Mama’s Buoi and has this amazing oasis effect, even though you’re basically still on the busiest street in Melbourne this little tucked away lane is a pocket of calm.
#21 Gun Alley
Place of the gruesome Gun Alley Murder where a man was sentenced to death for the murder of 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke in 1921. He was eventually exonerated – 87 years too late – becoming the first and only executed person in Australia to receive a judicial pardon. Now it sometimes has a pop-up sandwich bar!
#22 Hardware Lane
Running north-south between Bourke Street and Little Lonsdale Street, HL is packed with bars and restaurants you’d take your parents to. Your mum will think the décor is fresh but your dad can still get a relatively safe meal. Charlie’s Bar, The Golden Monkey and Campari House for drinks, and The Mill or Il Nostro Posto for dinner, they’re paying.
#23 Hayward Lane
Student housing and, you guessed it, garbage.
#24 Heffernan Lane
New Kum Den – and I don’t know about you guys but I do like my Kum Dens contemporary – is the standout place to eat on Heffernan. Great Yum Cha.
#25 Highlander Lane
There can be only one … Highlander Lane! A pretty little Lane with its own namesake bar, The Highlander, which is cute and has decent happy hour specials and food. Go there.
#26 Hosier Lane
Anytime the tourism board wants to show how cool Melbourne with flash slides of “urban art” they head to Hosier Lane. The hilarious dichotomy being if any urban artists are caught in the act of unauthorised creation they’re fined and possibly sent to jail. Masterchef Frank Camorra has his restaurant MoVida here.
#27 Howey Place
Nothing wildly exciting down here, but you can get a decent pressed juice.
#28 Jones Lane
The most interesting thing we could find out about Jones Lane was that 123 years ago two musicians lived there. The end.
#29 Literature Lane
A nice mural, first year creative writing students taking selfies under the street sign, and garbage.
#30 Manchester Lane
Home to hipster darling and first not-for-profit bar in Australia, Shebeen; chic Melbourne fashion house Claude Maus; and emerging designers collective Design A Space. It’s the Welcome To Melbourne Starter Lane.
#31 Market Lane
Make someone take you to Flower Drum. It’s the best Cantonese food you will ever eat in your whole life. Also home to The Hofbräuhaus, where you can wash down Melbourne’s biggest schnitzel with an equally huge stein of beer; and infamous rock den Ding Dong Lounge, serving po-boys and gumbo in its in-house restaurant Girl With the Gris Gris.
#32 McKillop Street
#33 Melbourne Place
#34 Niagara Lane
A cute little residential lane lined with unusually decorative and narrow brick warehouses built in 1887.
#35 Rankins Lane
When people wax lyrical about Melbourne coffee, it’s places like Manchester Press on Rankins Lane of which they speak. Places that look like graphic design studios save for the tiny milk bottles full of raw sugar on the tables, places that take great pains to make everything look unpretentious and stripped back but who take coffee very, very seriously. The Bassike store is also here if you’re into cool and attractive clothes.
#36 Scott Alley
#37 The Causeway Lane
Caaaaaake. Go directly to Laurent, do not pass go, immediately collect 200 calories.
#38 Waratah Place
Kum Den – the original! – plus the most depressing looking adult shop you’ll ever see and the Spartacus Lounge, which is what Grinder would be if it was IRL. You’re in the big city now, kid!
#39 Warburton Alley
Heritage listed, so you know it’s fancy, it is unfortunately another of those alleys you walk down only to get to other alleys. I didn’t want to just leave you there so lets finish the tour at…
#40 Meyers Place
Kick off with a Turkish delight cocktail at Lily Blacks and an incredible steak at San Telmo. Still hungry? Nip upstairs to The Waiters Club for their famously abrupt service and amazing pasta, and then cap it all off with trashy late-night drinks and kabana platters at Meyers Place bar. Sound OK?
(Lead image: Movida Melbourne/Facebook)