With its handsome bluestone buildings, warehouse conversions and cobbled lanes, Collingwood is one of the earliest and most striking examples of the gentrification sweeping across inner Melbourne’s former working-class suburbs.
The neighbourhood is now synonymous with sleek cocktail bars and fine diners, some of the city’s best pubs and live music venues, a smattering of independent boutiques that showcase stylish Australian designs, heritage-listed terrace townhouses and, consequently, soaring real estate prices.
Yet, elements of its grittier, rock ’n’ roll past have endured, such as punk bars, storied tattoo parlours and guitar shops.
1. Shop at boutiques that champion made-in-Melbourne goods
This menswear label by two ex-graphic designers has been making denim stovepipes, hand-printed tees, leather accessories, jackets and streetwear for Aussie men for over two decades.
Owner and designer Cindy-Lee Davies, who has collaborated with various international luminaries such as Kate Spade and Anthropologie, showcases gorgeous, minimalist homeware.
Designer Joshua Space’s concept store, with its stark white floors, offers the perfect canvas for futuristic accessories and garments, which are displayed as if they’re works of art.
Fenton & Fenton
Keep an eye out for the brand’s own lustrous furniture range, including plush cornflower-blue velvet bedheads and pink terrazzo stools, as well as ceramics by local artisans.
2. Visit live music venues
Located on the corner of Johnston and Wellington Streets, this iconic 19th-century pub got its name in the punk-fuelled 1980s. From The White Stripes to Paul Kelly, it has hosted some of the most famous punk, metal and hardcore bands in its jam-packed, sweaty band room.
Featuring a diverse mix of genres, from indie to pop and Australian rock to electronica, this two-floor bluestone watering hole has a killer NEXO PA system and sound desk, as well as a vast atrium fitted out with a retractable roof and a mezzanine, which wraps round the 350-person capacity room, to offer a great view of the stage.
The Melba Spiegeltent
This bevelled tent complete with theatre-like seating was built in Belgium in 1910 and travelled across Europe, with Edith Piaf even performing inside it. In 2006 it made its way to Australia and now hosts a smorgasbord of burlesque, jazz, spoken word poetry, cabaret, hip hop, comedy and circus acts.
3. Enjoy top dining destinations
An alumnus of Ben Shewry’s feted Attica, Kiwi chef Peter Gunn first trialled his mod-Australian cuisine in 2015 at a pop-up eatery that spotlighted Indigenous ingredients. Just over a year later, he unveiled this permanent fine diner on Smith Street, which is now the darling of food critics. The menu is four or six courses; expect dishes such as burnt avocado with trout roe and tomato; salmon with cucumber, black garlic, capsicum and nigella seeds; and a sesame sourdough with peanut butter.
Other than the playful black-and-white mural façade and the old-school Sega video games on the walls, the star at this fun new Japanese joint is none other than the humble gyoza. Owners Tomoya Kawasaki and Dylan Jones have mastered the art of the Hamamatsu style of the dumpling – pan-fried, flipped and topped with gooey melted cheese (you can choose from fillings such as kimchi and miso pork; prawn, shiitake mushroom and ginger; and tofu and oatmeal). Japanese beers and local brews are also served from quirky vending machines, as is a fizzy peach sake, while behind the bar you’ll find cocktails such as a delicious matcha sour.
Red Sparrow Pizza
Melbourne boasts a vibrant vegan dining scene and a longstanding history of great home-style Italian eateries – so it isn’t surprising that hip Collingwood is home to this excellent plant-based pizzeria. Chef Michael Craig whips up wood-fired pizzas using mostly local produce and vegan “cheeses” and “meats” from the United States, Italy and Australia. For instance, a pepperoni pizza has “meat” made from organic gluten, tofu and loads of spices, while the flavour-packed “cheesy” bianca (white) pizza has a fragrant base of garlic, potato, leek, rosemary, “mozzarella” (made of coconut oil and tapioca) and vegan parmesan.
4. Hunt down the best bars
There are 20 taps behind the counter that pour sours, stouts, cider, kombucha, cold-brew coffee and even natural wines, while upstairs is a bijou cocktail bar with a degustation-like menu that changes daily.
Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets
Decked out in vintage décor including a large gramophone, this tiny late-night bar has a Prohibition-era feel with cocktails inspired by the Roaring Twenties.
With its 30-tap bar and seating for 250 people, this impressive beer hall and brewery is a highlight of the Melbourne craft beer scene. Housed inside a converted warehouse with lots of brass, black iron and wood and indoor plants, it serves a range of beers that’ll suit all palates.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
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