Down the rabbit hole: Fiona Sweetman takes us on a tour through Melbourne’s mysterious laneways

February 28, 2012

Food & Drink, Melbourne

Wander through Melbourne’s grand central streets and you may suddenly turn a corner to find yourself in labyrinth of narrow alleyways, clattering with cool shops, arty cafes and hip locals. Welcome to the Melbourne laneways. This week we catch up with Fiona Sweetman from Hidden Secrets to take us on a tour through this secret part of the city.

Q. Melbourne’s laneways. Why so mysterious?

The idea is that all the fun is down a dark laneway even if it might seem to be the LAST place to go! It’s about what might be discovered. The laneways are pedestrian human places, so if they offer some intriguing sign or light, then people will venture – and discover.

Q. It’s Saturday morning. Brunch time. Where are you and why?

Well, that’s pretty easy, I would head to Gill’s Diner for a gorgeous, fresh croissant and coffee whilst reading the paper, or meet some friends at Manchester Press in Rankins Lane for a smoked salmon bagel. It’s not too easy to find good bagels these days but these are fabulous! The cafe culture in Melbourne is amazing and it’s the perfect spot to  watch all the people that wander in from the unmarked door – invisible from the street – and the coffee I like, especially when Jake or one of the team add a little coffee art!

Q. Paris End, Romeo Street, ACDC Lane. Melbourne’s laneways have lots of surprising names, don’t they?

The laneways have certainly immortalised a few of our heros and habits! Many years ago the small lanes were not named at all. Today we have ACDC lane, named to celebrate their first video clip shot on Swanston Street and Brabam Lane after Australia’s Formula One racing driver Jack Brabam. But I love Niagara Lane with its cobbled stones, overhanging eaves and old pully systems to hoist produce up to the higher floors. Apart from celebrities, people were often remembering home or exotic locations, when naming the lanes and streets.

Q. What do visitors on your tours typically want to see in the laneways – and what always surprises them?

The diversity of architecture certainly seems to surprise people and we often have queries if people actually work in Melbourne –  the cafes always see to be so busy! Many visitors are unsure what they are going to see in the laneways, but those who do are looking for things that are off the beaten track, like young designers, or fun little bars of cafes… some know of the laneways street art, but not all.

Q. What shouldn’t a visitor miss?

I am a big fan of Crossley Street – the gorgeous tailors,  the contemporary jewellery, a local fashion designer on the right, great architecture on the left, and a crazy nearly falling down original building that is home to hole in the wall oasis eatery Von Haus. It’s really a step back in time…

Q. It’s evening. Any special tips for first time visitors?

Many of our favourite restaurants don’t take bookings, so you need to be there early to get a table. Look for doorways that may not say much, and see if they open. EAU de vie is a new spot, where there is no sign but the doors are glam.. The Door on the street to Siglo is actually the door to the Supper Club… It can be confusing, so just OPEN and see what you find…

Discover Melbourne’s laneways:

To book a walking tour through mysterious Melbourne visit Hidden Secrets Tours

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