Melbourne, Australia is right up there with StarTrek , Elvis and Justin Bieber in the dedication it inspires. “You will LOVE Melbourne!” “Coolest city, hands down, ever.” As your typical Brooklyn-dwelling, locavore-eating, Etsy-generation traveler, I was more than ready to drink the artisanal KoolAid of Oz’s southern city. An arty waterside town known for its homegrown design scene? Yes, please.
But after 30 hours of travel and two days of bone-chilling downpours, it became clear that Melbourne isn’t always an easy mistress. She makes you work for it. That bespoke menswear-shop-cum-tattoo-
I found them with the help of Hidden Secrets Tours . Owner Fiona Sweetman, unofficial mayor of the city’s labyrinthine laneways, led me down three dark alleys to a couple of winners. Bar Americano is a magical little hideaway of cut crystal decanters and crackling Fitzgerald tunes that serves just ten people at a time. Boho-beer hall Shebeen serves up a global assortment of brews and donates a percentage of your tab to international charities.
Melbourne isn’t always an easy mistress. She makes you work for it.
Another friendly ambassador — a Brit transplant with a liver of steel — bar-crawled me through the seaside suburb of St. Kilda, introduced me to the wonders of late-night meat pies and tipped me off to a floating bar hidden beneath a bridge on the Yarra River. But where was it?
With each passing day of prison-grey skies, the specter of that rumored river bar haunted me. And then the clouds cleared, the sun burned bright and suddenly out of every streetcar and storefront poured sun-starved locals hungry for a pint or four. I hopped the streetcar to the river, wandering past indigenous art installations and a parade of aluminum sculptures by Nadim Karam till I reached a futuristic pedestrian bridge arching over the Yarra. There, down a staircase, hovering just above the water sits Ponyfish Island.
A collaboration between three of the city’s biggest nightlife personalities and edgy firm Moth Design, Ponyfish is a microcosm of Melbourne life. Reclaimed wood and shipping palettes converted into stools nod towards its DIY design aesthetic. Living walls of plants and its waterborne location appeal to the outdoorsy masses. And the crowd is a cross section of city-dwellers — tatted-out beardos sip IPAs next to sundress-clad college girls chugging vodka-lemonades.
I stepped up to the barbie for a chicken and haloumi burger and a pint of Carlton, looking for a waterfront seat to call my own. I overheard a conversation in Korean and another in Chinese. A sleepy eyed surfer type stripped off his shirt to bask in the sun. “Mind if I sit here?” “No worries, mate.”
And as the watery reflections of Melbourne’s skyscrapers wavered before me, I exhaled. No worries indeed.
Why you should care
Because it’s better to have your directions before you start drinking than trying to cobble them together off of a cocktail napkin afterward.