Kerry has been writing radio copy for donkey's years, & also dabbles in short stories & travel writing. She works, plays and explores largely in the CDB and inner suburbs, gets everywhere by public transport and is the self-professed Zone One Queen.
Published September 19th 2012
A continuous meander through the CBDs best lanes and arcad
Whenever I have a visitor to Melbourne to show around, I like to take them on my favourite Arcade Stroll. This pleasant walk showcases Melbourne's laneways, glorious past, café culture and delightful hidden shopping gems, with the added bonus of being nearly entirely undercover if the weather is decidedly hot or cold. So, starting from Flinders Street, follow me.
Descend here for interesting underground shopping.
Across the street from Flinders Street station, just near the entrance to Degraves Street, is one of several entrances to the subterranean art deco Campbell Arcade, which is open Monday to Saturday. Functioning as a subway, many commuters from the train station pass here through daily. For those who don't, you may be surprised to find a hidden haven of groovy shops down here.
My favourite clothing shop happens to be here. Some Like It Hot is a recycle boutique of pre-loved clothing with a difference. With the crop of vintage clothing shops mushrooming across the inner suburbs, here is an outlet where the gear is more up to date. Designer labels such as Alannah Hill, Scanlan & Theodore, Ksubi, Jack London and G-Star are known to pass through, and I've picked up several pieces to wear to work. A few high quality vintage pieces find their way in, but there are plenty of groovy modern threads to be found—in excellent condition and half the price of retail.
Just nearby is Cup of Truth, a coffee counter does nothing but dispense coffee at top speed to busy commuters. They don't even handle money; customers place their notes and coins on an honesty plate, and help themselves to change.
As you head towards the far end of the arcade, take note of the current exhibition by Platform Art Gallery; 18 glass cases displaying installations and art works by The Platform Artists Group. Then take the stairs at the end, to emerge next to the Belgian Waffle outlet.
You're now in Degraves Street, home to a length of cafes sharing a long canopy of umbrellas for their famed outdoor seating. If you backtrack towards the Flinders St entrance, you'll see my two favourite shops here: Sole Devotion, purveyor of unique designer shoes, and The Little Bookroom, a small children's bookshop selling quality hardcover picture books, and the classics such as Black Beauty and Treasure Island.
But moving on, walk past the cafes and directly across Flinders Lane into Centre Place.
Early morning Centre Place, awaiting flocks of coffee drinkers.
This narrow and highly photographed laneway is one of my favourite city spots, with its tiny hole-in-the-wall cafes; punters gathered on stools outside and squeezed into little nooks inside. A favourite is the un-signposted Sunset Boulevard; their $5 egg & bacon muffin coffee laneway buzz is beaut breakfast value.
From the end of Centre Place, with its thoroughly grafitti'd side lane, you enter the Centre Place Arcade. Stop for a moment to admire the ultra-bling accessories in the window of Shag, on your left, one of the brightest points of this plain and functional little arcade.
Exiting onto Collins Street with a cross signal right ahead of you, cross here then turn left, starting toward Elizabeth Street. Before you reach the corner however, you should turn inwards the grandiose splendour of the Block Arcade.
The Block Arcade boasts high end goods; jewellery, glass, fine arts and designer crafts, and the lavishly wallpapered Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Taking high tea with tiered plates of scones seems utterly suitable to this elegant arcade, and judging by the queue often at the door, this is a very popular activity.
Ever queued to enter a tea room? With window displays like this, it's no wonder.
Pass under the central dome and follow the L-shaped arcade around to the left—but now turn into Block Place which branches off from the right. The change is quite sudden, from the spacious brightness of the Block Arcade, into another narrow cafe-filled laneway, chocka-block with outdoor seating, canopies overhead and a people-watching ambience. For the visitor, the charm of this very Melbourne feature is surely starting to become apparent.
You will exit Block Place into Little Collins Street. Moving slightly away from it and looking back, it is easy to miss if you don't know it's there. This 'hidden gem' aspect is one of the things that most delights me about Melbourne's CBD.
The next arcade is almost directly across the road, but before you leave Little Collins, move a few steps to the right to point out Dame Edna Place to your visitor, with its bulb-lit street sign, and stars on the pavement.
Now turn around and walk back a few doors to the entrance of the Royal Arcade. You'll notice a dark, wooden-decored cafe/bar at its entrance, the always popular Caffe eTorta.
The Royal Arcade's distinctive black and white diamond tiling leads up into a large light space full of older-style shop frontages. No surprise really, as this is the oldest retail arcade in Melbourne. As soon as you enter this space, turn and look back overhead, so as not to miss a wonderful sight: the giants Gog and Magog, who ring their bells upon the hour.
Those with a sweet tooth might want to put their head in at Suga, a candy shop full of colourful sweets in jars, where you can watch the handmade sweets being rolled, pulled and shaped right in front of you. Or, like me, you might be fascinated by the Baboushka shop with windows displaying many versions of the classic Russian dolls.
At the front entrance of the Royal Arcade, you and your visitor have reached Bourke St Mall. The arcade stroll doesn't end here. Walk across the Mall, veering toward the giant purse on the ground in front of the GPO.. This magnificent building was once the General Post Office, and now hosts an array of upmarket shops. Walking through, you can see the integrity of the architectural interior has been maintained, with the shops added in as removable glass boxes.
On the other side of the GPO is Little Bourke St, albeit one of its plainer stretches. Duck across and into the small Driver Lane directly opposite. Here on the right, you'll pass an interesting shop called The Melbourne Shop by Lumbiwhich sells all Melbourne-themed items such as bags, T-shirts and tea towels—far more stylish than the standard touristy fare on Swanston Street. Past that is the doorway down to M.O.O (Melbourne Money Office) a wine cellar restaurant bar worth noting of for a future occasion. They often have an old-era scooter parked outside. At the end on this laneway, past the bar Penny Blue, walk through the small, rather ordinary Strand Arcade and onto Lonsdale Street.
Lower ground relaxation, while background passersby are attracted to Pets Paradise cuteness.
Cross at the lights and turn up to your right, to the entrance to Melbourne Central Shopping Centreand take the escalator down. When I walk through this centre, I always like to descend to this lowest level. Although it still has the shopping centre vibe, its lower ceilings create a more tunnel-like effect and a slightly cosier feeling. It also offers large brocade throne-like chairs, and groovy patterned wallpapers, really one of the only public spaces for reclining and relaxing in the whole of this stroll.
I like to get a walk-in shoulder massage here at Sens Chinese Massage, and like many passers-by, I can't resist watching the playful puppies in the window of Pets Paradise.
Take your visitor to the escalators by the train station entrance, then up two flights of these to the central atrium of Shot Tower Square. This architectural space wows first time viewers; the Shot Tower looms above, ascending into a tall airy cone that houses the central galleries of shops and dining outlets. If you've arrived on the hour, you can catch the Waltzing Matilda performance of the large fob-watch clock. Though it seems a bit of a relic from the 1980s, its kitsch mechanical cockatoos still draw a watching, camera-wielding crowd.
Take the exit beneath the vertical garden, move up the food-outlet-lined laneway, and onto the educational end of Swanston St, near the RMIT and the State Library of Victoria. Your arcade stroll has ended—but you can impress your visitor (or yourself) further by entering the Library to view the grand La Trobe Reading Room.
If you haven't been tempted to stop for a coffee and cake along the way, try finding your way to enjoy the outdoor dining ambience of Hardware Lane for lunch or dinner. Unlinked to this particular Arcade Stroll, it is nevertheless not too far away, and is another superb example of the city's laneway culture.
So welcome to Melbourne's city centre; explore and enjoy.
Yes, its a great way to get to Melbourne Central without walking on a 'big' street like Swanston St. I too like some like it Hot - guys csn pick up some good stuff there too. But what is missing is info about Melbourne's past. We know its there but what is it? Why is Campbell Arcade there and why wasnt it created in the 1920s but in the 1950s? Did we see the Majorca Building? What has happened to that in the last 30 years that is a key reason why the cafe cutlure is so strong there? When was the Block Arcade built and why? Who was Lady Hopetoun and where was the mirror originally? What was the alley called before Dame Edna? How long have Gog and Magog been around and what are their real names? Who financed the Royal Arcade and are they still around somewhere in body or spirit? So much historical information that provides so much more of a rounded experience of these lanes but many people dont take the time to find out. The more you dig in Melbourne, the more you find. Seeing the lanes and arcades is one layer like the article says and its fabulous but peel back more layers and Melbourne really rewards the inquisitive.