A trip to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Fitzroy, known for its vintage shopping, hip bars, and vegan eats. Culture Trip has compiled a list of the best things to see and do in this inner-city suburb.
After Jessica Bailey opened the Cruelty Free Shop – an online treasure trove of hard-to-find vegan foods — in 2001, she soon noticed an awful lot of orders from one particular postcode: 3065. So, when she expanded her bricks-and-mortar operation from Sydney to Melbourne in 2014, the Fitzroy location was a no-brainer.
“Fitzroy, and Melbourne in general, is more socially and ethically aware than other cities in Australia – sorry, Sydney,” Bailey says. “I love Fitzroy so much. It’s so vibrant and interesting and creative, and it’s such a mixing pot. You’ve got people from all walks of life, all coming together, in this area that’s just got so much going for it.”
Fitzroy’s love of vegan food is a big part of what makes this neighbourhood the most progressive quarter of Australia’s arts capital. Cutting-edge small bars, inventive eateries from every corner of the culinary map, and independent retailers up and down Brunswick and Johnston Streets form a diverse mosaic.
“Something that’s really different about Fitzroy is that it still has lots of up-and-coming young designers and new things happening,” Bailey says. “A lot of other suburbs have succumbed to the chain stores, whereas Fitzroy has maintained that sort of creative identity that seems to have been sucked out of other suburbs. It’s really quite unique.”
From vegan fashion and meat-free treats to rooftop cocktails and the world’s best croissant, read on for the top things to see, do and consume in Fitzroy, Australia.
Bailey opened the digital doors of the Cruelty Free Shop within a year of becoming vegan, before setting up physical stores in Glebe, Sydney in 2012, then Fitzroy two years later. “Fitzroy is the vegan capital of Australia, so that was really the only place that it was logical to be,” she says. “Now we’re the biggest vegan grocery store in the Southern Hemisphere!” Today occupying a prime location near the intersection of Brunswick and Johnston Streets, the Cruelty Free Shop looks like any other high-end grocery store on the surface. But peruse the shelves to discover 3,500 products on a mission to prove just how delicious vegan food can be. “We’re not a health-food shop,” Bailey says. “We specialise in vegan versions of normally non-vegan products, so things like cheeses and creams and chocolate and lollies and mock meats and all of that sort of stuff. It’s funny, we’ve added in healthy food from time to time, and it just doesn’t sell! Our three top sellers are all different types of chocolate.”
The Cruelty Free Shop isn’t the only vegan food on Fitzroy’s menu. Bailey’s top pick is Transformer, a meat-free restaurant from the team behind Brunswick Street’s Veggie Bar that inhabits a grungy-chic converted electrical transformer warehouse. “It’s probably my favourite restaurant in the whole of Australia – I love Transformer,” says Bailey, who also has a soft spot for another vegan eatery just one block south. “There’s a really cool kitchen called Euro Kitchen, which does vegan versions of all those European dishes, which I love. That’s very cool.” Carnivores won’t go hungry, either. Andrew McConnell’s flagship Cutler and Co, the laid-back Bar Liberty wine bar and the legendary Belles Hot Chicken are some of Melbourne’s top diners.
It wouldn’t be Melbourne without a smorgasbord of speciality coffee shops pouring world-class caffe lattes – using almond milk, of course. Industry Beans, Slowpoke Espresso, Sir Charles and Addict Food and Coffee all head an extremely long list of places that serve the city’s best roasts. Bailey’s personal favourite is Grace on Rose Street. “They have amazing coffee, they have really nice vegan cakes, and they’ve got a really nice set-up,” she explains. “It’s an old single-storey terrace house, but with a little garden area, and then there’s a shipping container out the back that you can sit in as well, which is kind of quirky and cool.”
Vegan food, speciality coffee and street art: that’s the hipster’s holy trinity. The entire city of Melbourne is caked in graffiti, and its coolest suburb is no exception, with eye-catching murals slathered up and down Brunswick, Johnston and Smith Streets in particular. “It’s all over,” Bailey says. “You just need to go one block back from Johnston Street and just wander through the alleys there, there’s so much of it. The little cobbled laneways are really cool – you feel like you’re stepping back in time. “Walking down the back streets is just so interesting – there’s beautiful architecture, there’s beautiful graffiti, there’s so much going on, and I love it. Every time I see something new and interesting and exciting, whether it’s a cool little tucked-away cafe or a really cool bit of graffiti.”
Fitzroy’s creative streak stretches into the Rose Street Artists’ Market, just next door to Industry Beans and a block along from Grace. This outdoor and indoor market has showcased 120 stall-holders’ handmade products since 2003 – apparel, accessories, homewares, artwork, jewellery, ceramics, the list goes on – every Saturday and Sunday. “The market on Rose Street sells all sorts of stuff,” Bailey says. “It’s mostly crafty home-made stuff, and plants and things.”
Fitzroy’s fiercely independent spirit infuses its retail landscape, with quirky boutiques leaving little room for the franchise giants. Northside Records houses Melbourne’s widest collection of old and new vinyl, craft lovers flock to Cottage Industry, Hares and Hyenas is the city’s beloved LGBT book shop, and vintage threads populate second-hand stores like the Lost and Found Market and Hunter Gatherer. And then there’s the fashion label that’s as cruelty-free as Bailey’s grocery store. “Vegan Style has designer fashion shoes and everything – and you don’t get anything like that anywhere else,” she says. “It’s mostly footwear, but it’s designer footwear. It’s absolutely beautiful stuff, which is hard to find. These are going-out shoes.”
Like most hipster hubs, Fitzroy was originally a working-class neighbourhood, which explains the buffet of old-school boozers like Kent Street and the Napier. But these century-old pubs have been joined by much more modern bars in recent years, with the likes of the Black Pearl, the Shady Lady and the Constanza-themed George’s Bar hugging Johnston Street. “There’s some great little small bars, but I don’t remember the names of them – and that’s not because I drank too much!” Bailey laughs. “You can do a small bar crawl from one end of Johnston Street to the other. There’s like 12 of them and they’re all really quirky and cute and interesting.”
The 150-year-old landmark Marquis of Lorne and the swanky Upside Rooftop and Bar both offer al fresco terraces jockeying for views of Melbourne’s lofty skyline. But the title of Fitzroy’s favourite rooftop bar is comfortably worn by Naked in the Sky – the sun-kissed cocktail joint above the Naked for Satan eatery downstairs, mixing drinks with the cityscape as its backdrop.“There’s some fantastic rooftop bars,” Bailey says. “I love the rooftop bar at Naked for Satan. I love it. There’s just something really special about being up high, outdoors, drinking!”
Bailey has never been to Lune Croissanterie – the pastries’ butter, milk and eggs are obviously a no-no for a vegan – but no discussion of Fitzroy can exclude these fabled croissants. From its Rose Street exterior, Lune looks like any other charcoal-grey warehouse… except for the dozens, if not hundreds, of hungry punters queueing to get inside. They’re waiting to try what the New York Times anointed the best croissants on the planet – join the queue to find out whether they live up to the hype.