From rooftop bars to basement boutiques, Melbourne's laneways are filled with one-of-a-kind outlets. We've tracked down some quirky treasures you might otherwise miss.
By Ute Junker
There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to Melbourne's lively laneways: you never know what lies around the next corner. You might come across a cobbler creating made-to-measure shoes, or a talented chef reinventing Indian favourites. To make the most of your laneways experience, add these under-the-radar finds to your to-do list.
Melbourne's laneway highlights
Wake up and smell the coffee: Manchester Press
Step into this converted warehouse in Rankins Lane and you will immediately understand why Manchester Press café is always full. The high ceilings and oversized wooden tables create a welcoming feel, but what really keeps its devoted followers coming back is the fabulous coffee – supplied by a rotating range of independent roasters – and the tasty selection of bagels.
Art attack: Union Lane
Some of Melbourne's laneways are so busy they feel more like main streets. Not Union Lane. Walk down this quiet thoroughfare and you find yourself in a different world, one dominated by the ever-changing street art that covers every wall. You might even bump into an artist creating a new work as you watch. While the colourful creations are more vibrant during the day, a night-time stroll is an interesting experience, with the occasional lit window acting as a spotlight to highlight particular artworks.
Treasure trove: Christine Boutique
Pity the people who walk right past the bright red, unmarked door on Flinders Lane. They have just missed their chance to discover one of Melbourne's most stylish shopping experiences. This subterranean boutique, Christine, run by style maven Christine Barro, is a must for fashion fans. The carefully selected range of accessories includes covetable items such as Philip Treacy hats and Anya Hindmarch handbags. It's the next best thing to having your own personal stylist.
Garden in the sky: Loop Roof
This offshoot of the much-loved Loop art space has become almost more popular than its big sister. Climb the long staircase in Meyers Place and you will emerge into Loop Roof, a verdant oasis framed against a striking view of the city skyline. The cocktail list continues the garden theme. The specialty of the house is juleps, which come in unusual variations such as herbaceous (dill, cucumber and capsicum), and earthy (beetroot and walnut). Try some of the tasty bar snacks, too: the bacon and blue cheese croquettes are recommended.
Passage to India: Tonka Restaurant
You might expect a laneway restaurant to be a cosy, intimate affair, but that's not the way Tonka restaurant operates. Tucked away in the little-visited Duckboard Place, Tonka is an airy room with a sleek fit-out and a sophisticated menu that draws on chef Adam D'Sylva’s Indian heritage, mixed with influences from around the world. Try the feather-light soft-shell crab pakoras and the smoky cardamom-scented lamb neck curry.
Secret men's business: Captains of Industry
Captains of Industry, located in a loft perched high above Somerset Place, is a one-stop shop for modern men of style. Come here for a classic barber shop shave or a haircut and you might end up ordering a bespoke pair of shoes, or picking up some hip men's jewellery or Japanese denim. The stripped-back space also hosts a small café.
Smarten up: Laneway Learning
It's no surprise that the Little Mule café on Somerset Place is buzzing for much of the day, thanks to its free wi-fi and fresh-from-the-oven muffins. However, it is also popular in the evenings, when it hosts Laneways Learnings. These reasonably priced sessions are a fun way to pick up a new skill, anything from macramé to card tricks, making origami flowers or even soy candles, while getting to know some of Melbourne's friendly locals.
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