Things got a little run-down here during the bust years of the 1980s. But today, Sydney Road is so cool it even has its own website. The 857km stretch of bitumen is so named because if you keep driving, you'll eventually hit the harbour city. But with so much to see and do right here, why would you?
Immigrants from the world over have made this street, introducing the area to new foods and social venues over the decades. Where else would you find a Mediterranean supermarket, Turkish tiles, Japanese yakatori cuisine, Middle Eastern breads and cakes, and bridal Mecca? (And yes, Franco Cozzo’s outrageous rococo furniture store is still there.)
Sydney Road is best known for its food. With good reason. Forget Woolies — Mediterranean Wholesalers is where the grocery action is. You'll come for tinned tomatoes and leave with salted anchovies, dried figs and 3kg of taleggio. Vast and very plush is family-run Balha's, home of delicious Middle Eastern sweets. It's not unusual to see an entire tray of baclava snapped up before you can say 'two of those, please'. Pick from almond syrup cakes, ma'mul maad and pistachio custard cakes, laced with rose water, syrup and nuts, or delectable namoura (semolina, coconut and syrup). Istanbul Halal Meats is one of many quality local butchers without the silly prices.
A1 Bakery does a roaring trade with foodies, students and locals. Try spinach triangles and herb pizza covered with zaatar (thyme, sesame seed, herb, sumac mix), a bargain at $1. Amir Bakery remains Melbourne's only Iraqi bakery, and for a few dollars you can fill up on thin pizzas rubbed with sumac and oregano, or parcels of ricotta and spinach. You can even order a stuffed 15kg lamb for a feast at home. Try famous Turkish simit sesame seed biscuits at Pamukkale Bakery, or grab home-made dips and pomegranate molasses at Phoenicians Bakery Café.
A thriving arts and music scene is bolstered by plenty of galleries and live music venues, as well as theatre productions at the Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre. A couch by the fire at the Brunswick Green is perfect for a beer on a winter’s day, and live music and generous meals feature at the sprawling Retreat and Cornish Arms hotels.
Wander past the shisha bar Arabica Lounge, buy fabric by the metre at one of the fabric emporiums, and scour the vast collection of second-hand goods at Savers. There are plenty of other vintage and bric-a-brac outlets to explore. Fashion stores Episode, Kinki Gerlinki and Ruby Patootie are brimming with off-beat clothes. Take a peek at the hand-crafted christening gowns for babies (the price tags will bowl you over), and don’t forget the bridal stores, including Marianna Hardwick. Brides-to-be flock here of a weekend in search of gowns, shoes and jewellery.
Food, art, music, fashion, Franco Cozzo, and orange blossom sweets. A happier mix you will not find.
Follow the Upfield train line, or number 19 tram from Elizabeth Street in the city.