Located just north of the CBD, Brunswick is a feast for the senses and the tastebuds. What was once a predominantly working-class suburb has now become inundated with bars, live music venues, charity shops, restaurants and eco-friendly cafés that appeal to the environmentally conscious.
Brunswick locals are made up of hipsters and bohemians who fancy the alternative arts scene, but it’s the Greeks, Lebanese, Turks and Italians who inhabited the area in the 1960s that we have to thank for a lot of the neighbourhood’s food and culture.
Bustling Sydney Road lies in the heart of the suburb, while Brunswick East is bordered by Lygon Street, which has a slightly more upscale feel.
Brunswick is an accessible suburb, particularly for cyclists with its flat bike paths. Merri Creek Trail runs through Brunswick bounded by the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. It’s also handy for those catching public transport, with three stations – Jewell, Brunswick and Anstey – in the area. The Route 19 tram runs along Sydney Road, Royal Parade and Elizabeth Street through to Flinders Street in the CBD.
Culture Trip spoke to one Brunswick business owner, Chef Joseph Abboud, about his favourite places to eat and drink in the area. Abboud’s restaurant Rumi has been in East Brunswick for more than 13 years and has earned a reputation as one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the city.
“Brunswick has changed beyond words,” Abboud says. “There was literally nothing up here and now it’s become a bit of a dining destination and a place for cool bars. Visually the biggest change is the amount of apartment buildings that have come up.”
“This is a great little café. It makes one thing, which is a roll, and it’s the most delicious pastrami roll in the world. It’s a bit of an iconic sandwich,” Abboud says. The sandwiches are made to order with pastrami, cheese, lettuce, tomato and homemade mayonnaise with basil. “[The roll] is very simple and so delicious that every time you finish one you feel like you could get another straight away.”
The Alderman, an Art Deco-inspired bar in East Brunswick, is, as Abboud calls it, “part of the old guard”. The bar has a 1930s-style decor, with dark-wood panelling in the main room and a fireplace in the back room, while a leafy courtyard offers plenty of outdoor seating and large tables. There’s also an upstairs gallery with regular art exhibitions, poetry readings and book launches. “This is exactly what you want your local bar to be,” Abboud says. “It’s very comfortable, warm and friendly.” Visitors can snack on tapas from the Sicilian-inspired Bar Idda next door, which he also recommends.
With a focus on seasonal produce, this Sicilian-inspired institution offers tapas and mains, with an emphasis on home-cooked comfort food. The highly recommended mulinciani (eggplants in Sicilian dialect) is like a vegetarian lasagna baked with layered eggplant slices, passata, buffalo mozzarella, basil and pecorino.
Located on 4.5 hectares (11 acres), CERES is a not-for-profit sustainability centre that runs environmental education courses and demonstrations. The centre also houses a popular café, a nursery, bike shed, organic farm and a market garden. Open every day for breakfast and lunch, Merri Cafe is CERES’s own organic café catering to all dietary requirements, and one that works in partnership with local farmers and producers. “CERES is a great place to check out while you’re in Brunswick,” Abboud says. “Take a bike ride along Merri Creek to CERES or simply wander around the living, breathing gardens and see people in their veggie patches with the plots they have. There’s something very magical about it.”
Musician, band booker and festival programmer Emily Ulman is a highly respected contributor to Melbourne’s local music community, has curated bands at The Post Office Hotel in Brunswick and is currently the programmer for the Brunswick Music Festival. For her, Brunswick embodies the meaning of ‘community’.
“Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, background, physicality, occupation etc, Brunswick is a breeding ground for creativity, expression, family (in all its forms), compassion and home,” Ulman says. She recommends the following venues for music and culture in the neighbourhood:
With workshops, events and up to six programmed exhibitions a year, Blak Dot Gallery is a hub for Indigenous artwork. The not-for-profit organisation was established in 2011 as a contemporary, Indigenous-run space and is a definite must-visit, according to Ulman. “Beautifully curated and ever-impressive, Blak Dot is Indigenous-run and showcases mesmerising global Indigenous works,” she says.
Located in the heart of Brunswick, Record Paradise is a big supporter of independent music with a huge selection of new release and reissue vinyl that includes labels Mistletone, Poison City Records and MILK among others. With the latest releases, in-store performances and music merchandise available, music lovers can’t get enough of this place. “Brunswick music, to me, is synonymous with Record Paradise,” says Ulman. “Whether you’re picking up the latest releases or classics, checking out in-store for amazing acts or just popping in for a yarn with owners Paul and Renee.”
A winery by day, and a wine bar and cellar door by night, Noisy Ritual has taken the thing you love about escaping to the Yarra Valley and placed it in an urban setting. The wine is locally made and available to taste in house or to take away, and you can grab some food, listen to live bands and take part in winemaking workshops. The venue also hosts one-off gigs as well as weekly DJ sets. There’s also a space you can hire for special events. For Ulman, it’s the perfect place to enjoy some of her favourite things. “Have you been to Noisy Ritual yet?,” Ulman asks. “If not, why not? I highly recommend its locally made wines, incredible food and wonderfully curated bands.”
From second-hand furniture to vintage threads to books, Brunswick’s retail outlets have something to suit all budgets. Look no further for warehouses full of cheap, second-hand clothes, jeans tailored on the spot, or a gift from one of the boutiques on Sydney Road.
Sandy Carr is the owner of Hope Street Space, a 350-square-metre (3,700-square-foot) warehouse full of collectibles, homewares, plants and second hand clothes. It’s been operating on Sydney Road for the past two-and-a-half years and is filled with treasures sourced by Carr, who scours local charity shops once a week for the best finds. These are his picks for where to shop in Brunswick:
Mr Kitly is a gallery, project space and shop that stocks a mixture of homewares. “This is a hidden gem on Sydney Road,” Carr says of the space. “There are lots of treasures from Japan and great design items.” The shop also stocks an array of plants, in addition to ceramic items, magazines and books on crafts, design and architecture.
Finki is another favourite pick of Carr’s for “great, independent designers”. The store boasts a range of cute stationery, jewellery, and men’s and women’s clothes with unique prints, all while promoting the talents of over 40 artists, designers and makers.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Brunswick Bound is the counter, which is made entirely of books. “This is a perfect place for small and quirky gifts and they have a great range of local writers,” Carr says. They also stock vinyl records, stationery and jewellery and regularly host talks by authors.