So, we begin our journey on a typical Friday night at the South Preston fiveways. The echo of a busker's ukele bleeds down from Safeway and spills across the intersection, a bustling hub with cafés on two corners, the bare bones of half-built apartment blocks on another two corners, and the Junction Hotel smack in the middle of it all.
The 86 Tram rolls up, our tour guide on a strange and famous route through Melbourne's beloved inner north. The characters are out in force – a couple dressed in clown suits in the stairwell, a man with a dinner jacket and no shoes casually smoking. It's Friday night, slightly late, and everyone is in high spirits.
We meander down High Street past the many icons of Thornbury commerce: the stunning Thornbury Theatre, the Moor's Head, secondhand shops and grocers. The commerce peters off until we cross some invisible membrane and Northcote's legendary buzz becomes audible. The smoker gets off at Coles to restock and a couple more clowns climb aboard.
If we were hungry, we could jump off anywhere between here and Clifton Hill and find tacos, kebabs, a five-course degustation, a char-grilled steak or home-cooked Japanese cuisine, but we've eaten and it's late on a Friday night. We hop off at the IGA with the clowns, who cross the road to join a throng of face-painted youths outside the Northcote Social Club. Some things are better left unexplained, so we don't head to the NoCo tonight.
The Northcote Social Club northcotesocialclub.com
Instead, we pull in for a beer at the Wesley Anne's spacious beer garden. Before long the edges of the evening become slightly fuzzier. On to Bar Open, onwards for a cocktail here, another beer there. The choices are endless, but easy.
Back on the faithful 86, we soak in our sins and the finest view of Melbourne City from the top of Rucker's Hill before we descend to the Westgarth precinct, home to a host of dining options to complement the region's character homes. Then we reach our destination, Palace Westgarth Cinema, an art deco theatre from the vaudeville era which, once a month, throws open the Cult Vault, a treasure trove of schlocky, gory or otherwise unusual cinematic treats.