Alleyways and Cafe Culture in Melbourne

This makes the last entry of our recent trip to Melbourne and I saved our favorite part of Melbourne for the last. Alleyway cafes are very much quintessential parts of local culture, or to put simply, they are "very Melbourne". Wondering along the narrow strips situated between buildings in the Central Business District, one can easily get lost in the world of excellent cafes and forget about the hustle and bustle of city traffic.

Degraves Street

We start on Degraves Street, just off Flinder Street and right across the street from the monumental Flinders Street Station. Veer onto Degraves Street and one can see a strip of cafes lined with outdoor tables that are busy and vibrant. Any time of the day is a good excuse for glorious coffee in Melbourne. It is tempting to want to join in the cafe culture when walking along Degraves Street but we do not stop just yet. Instead, we continue on for more alleyway cafes. At the end of Degraves Street, we turn right onto Flinders Lane, another narrow street where swanky art galleries and chic boutiques set up shop.

Cathedral Arcade

Along Flinders Lane is also the Cathedral Arcade, one of the several historical arcades still remaining in Melbourne that dates back to the 19th century. Arcades were historically built as shopping malls in the early days and feature intricate cast iron and ceiling designs. Fortunately for us living in the present, the preservation of the arcades allows us a glimpse into the past. Any contemporary hints are the several modern day boutiques that have established themselves inside the historical arcade. Walk into the Cathedral Arcade and the stained glass ceiling is above. A popular local boutique here is Alice Euphemia. We exit Cathedral Arcade back onto Flinders Lane, trace our steps towards Degraves Street, and then turn right onto Centre Place.

Centre Place

And yet another alleyway, Centre Place is very much a narrower strip than the ones earlier which just adds tremendous character to the entire cafe culture that Melbournians so proudly embrace about their city. There is something about Centre Place that accurately says this is Melbourne. The vibrant and bright colors from the cafe signs and walls, pedestrian traffic, and Bohemian vibe make this an excellent spot for street photography. I could immerse myself in Centre Place and have a ball of a time fussing around with the camera and trying to capture the authentic local essence. At the end of Centre Palace, one will find graffiti that have been around for years and artistic murals that stand out. We leave Centre Place by walking through an indoor shopping mall that leads us onto Collins Street. We cross Collins Street, veer left, and walk into Block Arcade.

Block Arcade

Restored and preserved at a more detailed level than Cathedral Arcade which we just saw earlier, Block Arcade boasts intricately beautiful and arranged mosaic floor tiles. Above the walkway are cast iron structures that bring this place back to the Victorian period, a common era reflected in much of the Melbourne architecture. Blending in with the original period of Block Arcade is the Hopetoun Tea Rooms which features a Victorian-style dining room. Several chocolatiers are found here including the always-busy Haigh's Chocolates.

Block Place

Exit Block Arcade into Block Place, the final lane filled with yet more alleyway cafes. This time we decide to break for coffee at an Italian cafe located just across the lane from Haigh's Chocolates. It's true when people say that Melbourne has such a strong cafe and coffee culture that you really can't go wrong with any cafe you choose to step into. Australians take their coffee seriously and the standards are considered among the very best in the world. I had to concede when family and relatives from Australia came to the U.S. and repeatedly complained that coffee in America is just, well, crap. Cafes in Australia serve espresso-based drinks and it is difficult to find regular drip coffee unless if you go to, well, McDonalds. If you must have regular drip coffee (and I'm not suggesting you go to McDonalds!), your best bet is to get an Americano, or known as long black in Australia. Yes, it is an espresso culture over there which we love so very much and can relate to as espresso-based drinks our always our choice for coffee no matter where we are.

Visiting the alleyway cafes has almost been a pilgrimage to us when visiting Melbourne. It doesn't matter that it is our third time back in Melbourne within the last four years-- we have to return to the cafes each time and experience them all over again.

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