Street Wise: A Stop-by-Stop Guide to Smith Street, Melbourne

Cafes form a major facet of the Smith Street social scene
Cafes form a major facet of the Smith Street social scene | © Thomas Cockrem / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leon Beckenham
29 November 2021

Brunch spots for baked shakshuka, must-try microbreweries and hotels that aren’t hotels (but hip live-music venues) line up along this coveted stretch.

While other Australian cities have been snapping at its heels when it comes to hipster credentials, most still agree Melbourne remains ahead of the pack. This is thanks to some seriously cool enclaves, each with its own unique character and streetlife. A neighbouring pair of happening ‘hoods are Fitzroy and Collingwood, and cleaving right down between them is Smith Street. It channels the best of the two in one manageable stretch of vintage shops, craft breweries and on-trend restaurants, with some great places to stay in reach.

Zagame’s House

Trendy room with bespoke furniture and flatscreen tv at Zagame's House
Courtesy of Zagame’s House /
Zagame’s House is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. This totally revamped former motel is awash with sumptuous design touches, luxury-level details and jazzy artwork. The high-end party vibe mellows in the feng-shuied guest rooms, where the sense of calm combines with snugtastic bedding and an all-night toastie menu. And it’s all located a pleasant 20-minute stroll from Smith Street that takes you through the scenic Carlton Gardens.

The Gasometer Hotel

Pubs with Rooms
Gaso Bandroom
© The Gasometer Hotel
This iconic Melbourne mainstay was around long before Smith Street went hip, and there’s still plenty of old-school grit about The Gaso – as locals know it. Not a hotel, but in fact a pub and music venue, covering the best of up-and-coming and alternative artists around. The stage is on the small side, but a retractable roof and wrap-around mezzanine make for a great summer stage. On chillier nights, hunker down in the bar for drinks next to the crackling fire.

Fixation Brewing Company - The Incubator

Customers drink on pavement outside Fixation on Smith Street, Melbourne
Courtesy of Fixation Brewing Company
No cool street is complete without a microbrewery, but this one takes it a little further by being Australia’s first and only brewing company dedicated to India Pale Ales. The taproom and fermentation tanks occupy the same space, meaning your IPA has travelled barely steps from where it was produced. It’s a BYO food venue, though they’ll happily rustle up a hot toastie or order you a pizza from a neighbouring joint, too.

Vintage Garage

A display of mannequins showcasing retro clothing at Vintage Garage
Courtesy of Vintage Garage
A veritable emporium of vintage, browsing is a riot at this retro wonderland. You’ll find a mountain of over-the-top party outfits, alongside accessories ranging from novelty shades to glittery disco socks. There’s a great collection of vintage memorabilia, and rare and second-hand vinyl, all contained within Seventies disco-style interiors – even the counter is a giant glitter ball.

Smith Street Alimentari

Cafe, Coffee
Barista fixes a coffee at Smith Street Alimentari
Courtesy of Smith Street Alimentari
One of two Alimentari cafes (the other is just a few blocks away on Brunswick Street) don’t be surprised if you have to wait to be seated at this popular-for-good-reason spot. The coffee is up there with the best in town, just for starters, while their breakfast menu is peppered with such deliciousness as spiced granola and baked shakshuka. Lunch onwards is a mix of mostly Mediterranean flavours, all served in airy and hip surrounds. If you can, grab yourself a table in the courtyard by the open fire.

Smith Street Bazaar

Lovers of vintage and retro furniture should be sure not to miss this Smith Street institution. It’s a collective of a dozen specialist traders of design ware all under one roof, offering a spectacularly well-curated selection of mostly 20th-century pieces. You can find items by celebrated Australian designers, as well as loads of international names, and everything from quirky collectables to modern design classics.

Hotel Jesus

Restaurant, Mexican, $$$
Hotel Jesus interior with tiled floors and Mexican artwork
Courtesy of Hotel Jesus
Another spot with a misleading name, Hotel Jesus is a Mexican cantina that looks so authentic it could have been parachuted in from Guadalajara. Its simultaneously kitsch-yet-no-frills interiors provide a great setting for chowing down on food inspired by the street taquerias and market tostaderias of Mexico. Get there for Tacos Tuesdays for some bargain bites, or hit them up for a bottomless brunch with unlimited totopos, tacos, and cocktails.

Happy Valley Shop

A customer purchases books at Happy Valley
Courtesy of Happy Valley
A perusing paradise, Happy Valley Shop stocks a dizzyingly wide range of books, prints, magazines and locally-made homewares – even some things you won’t find anywhere else in Australia. The stock has been personally curated by owner Chris Crouch, who has run two record labels, so you can expect a brilliant collection of vinyl to flip through, as well. This award-winning store is open seven days a week, too, so you’re never stuck for that last-minute gift.

Rainbow House Club

Gay Bar, Australian
Considered by connoisseurs as one of the best in the city, Rainbow House Club is a fun-and-friendly LGBTQ bar that’s open to all. The open double-story layout means lots of space to party, as well as cosy corners to be more intimate. They host a regular ‘queer piano bar’ night, a candlelit cabaret show where you can make requests or even get up for a tinkle yourself. Drag nights and live music also draw a friendly, up-for-it crowd ‘til late.

Ovolo Laneways

A light-filled, hip living space at Ovolo Laneways with modern furniture
Courtesy of Ovolo Laneways /
Who doesn’t like free stuff? Stay at Ovolo Laneways and you get showered with it, from the free grab ‘n’ go breakfast to free in-room minibars, free self-laundry and a free “loot bag” stuffed with goodies. The accommodation is pretty snazzy, too, ranging from smart and straightforward studios to jazzy suites more like cool apartments – the penthouse features super-charged perks like city-view hot tub and pinball machines. Oh, and don’t miss happy-hour cocktails, as the first round’s on them.

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