The escalator floats down to the lower floors like a prima ballerina. “I want to encourage you to feel like you are entering a nether world,” Arts Centre Melbourne Concierge and Tour Guide Geoff Wallis says in the kind of hushed tones reserved for a live dance performance…or an underbelly murder. Which is kind of fitting, as I am exploring the creative underbelly of this city and its secret, sacred spaces within wandering distance of one of its hottest hotels: Fraser Place Melbourne
1. Exploration Lane, Melbourne
One of the best places from which to begin exploring Melbourne is from Exploration Lane itself, home to Fraser Place Melbourne. Rare for a property in Melbourne, built more for cold winters than warm summers, are the balconies and windows which actually open, as well as the sunny roof terrace. A virtual art gallery in itself, this hotel pays homage to the Aboriginal heritage of the area with colourful splashes of Indigenous art on display along the walls, and more subtly in the room designs, all incorporated with the permission of local elders. This hotel is all about location, location, with some of the best parts of the city within easy walking distance.
2. Trunk, Exhibition Street
For a bit of funk head to Trunk, just around the corner from Fraser Place Melbourne, in Exhibition Street. This is the home of Trunk’s Bar, American Diner, Honey Garden, a private dining restaurant, and function room since 2007. On a sunny afternoon you’ll find beer drinkers enjoying a couple of coldies in the Honey Garden, while a crisp morning has everyone huddled inside drinking the decent coffee for which Melbourne is renowned. Make sure you check out the daily quotes on the diner’s board as well, which sports witticisms such as: “Don’t go bacon my heart, I couldn’t if I fried.” Paying a visit to is definitely on my list of 7 cool things to do in Melbourne.
3. Bennetts Lane Jazz Club
In the other direction and around the corner from Fraser Place, sits the Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Bennetts Lane. Every night, local and international musos play at this live jazz venue. There’s two rooms here, the smaller and original Jazz Club, as well as the larger Jazz Lab, more likely to be used on weekends and for bigger gigs. The artist profiles listed on its website reads like a Who’s Who of the jazz world and Lonely Planet reckons it’s the world’s best jazz club. You be the judge.
4. Lonsdale Street and Seamstress Bar
Fraser Place Melbourne offers a hearty breakfast, but prefers to defer to its cultural capital cousins for lunch, dinner and drinks. For these, head to nearby Lonsdale Street and Seamstress Bar. Spread over several levels, Seamstress celebrates its past as a Chinese textile factory with colourful cheongsams swinging off coat hangers from the ceiling. This establishment is also rumoured to be a former brothel, and a Buddhist Monastery, according to Melbourne locals. These days you’ll find modern Asian food, great coffee and an impressive cocktail list.
5. Flinders Lane
This is more of a brisk walk over to Flinders Lane from Fraser Place than a stroll, but well worth it once you arrive at Supernormal. For a decent handle on the kinds of Asian flavours chef Andrew McConnell has injected into his cooking, try the degustation menu boasting everything from pickled veges, to soya sauce soaked pumpkin seeds, and lobster rolls that are so good, there’s a sign on the front window announcing they are also available for takeaway. With diners jostling to secure a booking here, it’s easy to see why Supernormal was awarded The Best New Restaurant in The Age Food Guide 2015.
6. Arts Centre Melbourne
While much has been written about Melbourne’s gloriously graffitied walls and smarty arty laneways, little is known about what happens underneath this city. To rectify this, take an Arts Centre Melbourne Theatres and Exhibition Tour. Home of the Australian Ballet, few people realise this mammoth building descends for five storeys underground. The building was designed to last 300 years and so far, so good, as it’s been there for 30 years. You’re in Melbourne, darling, so just don’t call the plush carpet or walls red (for the record they’re “raspberry”); there’s black mirrored ceilings to eradicate feelings of claustrophobia; the Playhouse is “aubergine” and modelled around the shades of Uluru at sunset; and as for the muted lightings, they are the first to be used in any Australian building.
7. Chuckle Deli
One of the newest entrants on the Melbourne food scene is the delightful Chuckle Deli. Opened just few years ago, this New York-style deli is tucked away in Hub Arcade off Little Collins Street and serves a mean corned beef sandwich reminiscent of Katz’s Delicatessen made famous in When Harry Met Sally. Yes, the Reuben here is every bit as good as its New York cousin, it will have you screaming for more as you wander back towards Fraser Place.