An apartment stay offers Jane Reddy the inside lane on the best of Melbourne.
Yes, yes. Melbourne likes to crow about its laneways.
But it's hard to argue against such joyous discoveries - bespoke tailors, street art, macaroons and nonna's pasta - to be found in the sometimes cobbled, often quirky shopfronts and hole-in-the wall establishments that are a dandy's dream.
It should come as no surprise then that on the edge of Chinatown I spy a breakfast scene in a shopfront-cum home at ground level that could be mistaken for performance art.
Inside, in full view of passers-by, a father and daughter are eating breakfast at their kitchen table.
In this blinds-down world, it's instructive to watch a family open to theirs. A few steps further along, tucked away in the narrow (bitumen) Exploration Lane, Fraser Place has opened its doors with compact and smart accommodation.
The building is not new but the 112 four-star serviced apartments are in the Fraser properties in Australia that include the five-star Fraser Suites in Sydney's Kent Street and East Perth, overlooking the Swan River.
The reception area is uncluttered with Herman Miller and Hans J. Wegner's wishbone chairs and colourful artwork Bush Yam Seeds by indigenous artist Anna Pitjara.
In my studio executive, the middle category of room, practical meets pretty. I'm here for a night but with a kitchen with stone benchtop, gas hob and rangehood, fridge and microwave, double wardrobe, washer/dryer and desk, I could hole up for a month, testing every dumpling in Chinatown.
I like the painted Aboriginal motif that staff tell me is an authentic design.
Sliding doors open to a small balcony but for a more social sunset the Sky Lounge, on top of the building's 14th floor, looks to the State Library's iconic, and next year centenarian, Dome, housing the airy reading room described in 1913 by Governor-General Lord Denman as a "clearing house of thought".
In this part of town, between Lonsdale and Latrobe streets, the best of the city is within striking distance: Melbourne Museum and Carlton Gardens, the high-end shopping of Collins Street and the theatres Princess and Her Majesty's.
The property is without a pool but the Melbourne City Baths on Swanston Street are a short walk for laps ($5.60 entry). Inside the Fraser new treadmills and free weights are squeezed into a small room but it's airconditioned and clean.
Breakfast is a simple affair laid out on a marble bench (that handily converts to a bar by night) with scrambled eggs, bacon, baked beans, fruit, juice, cereal and two coffee machines.
I contemplate the calming, earthy tones of Bush Leaves Dreaming by Annie Napangardi Nelson that spans an entire wall. Soft jazz plays, magazines and newspapers are abundant. If there were to be a home away from home, this would come close.
The writer was a guest of Fraser Place.
Five more laneways and arcades
With a design modelled on Milan's grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the arcade with glass canopy and mosaic-tile flooring is enough to make you want to pop your parasol. The wait for a table at the popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms is made all the more pleasant with a cabinet full of cakes to peruse. Big spenders note, the arcade came onto the market this month for $100 million. Guided tours are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Collins Street through to Elizabeth Street. See theblockarcade.com.au.
Get your dumpling fix in Chinatown, which runs along Little Bourke Street between Spring and Swanston streets and its alleyways. Try Shanghai Street (342 Little Bourke Street) or the Camy Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant (23 Tattersalls Lane), ShanDong MaMa Dumplings (194-200 Bourke Street) or Hutong Dumplings Bar (14-16 Market Lane). Or blow the budget at the fine-dining Cantonese restaurant Flower Drum (17 Market Lane).
From Flinders Street Station walk the underpass to Degraves Street and the city's cafe society including the Espresso Bar with cinema seating. Across Flinders Lane into Centre Place take in the easy-on-the-eye Majorca Building with its Spanish influences including a terracotta facade next to the work of street artists in the lane. A flight of stairs take you to intimate bar and local institution Hell's Kitchen.
Off Bourke Street Mall and part of the Victorian Heritage register, get there on the hour to see Gaunt's Clock and its two mythical creatures Gog and Magog strike chimes. Watch lollyologists hand-make rock candy at Suga or pick up some authentic Russian nesting dolls at Babushkas. See royalarcade.com.au.
Take a selfie with AC/DC Lane in the background, so named to honour the rockers and their links to the city. The band filmed It's a Long Way to the Top on the back of a flatbed truck travelling down Swanston Street in 1975. It's also home to the Cherry Bar, founded by a Cosmic Psychos band member. Between Exhibition Street and Russell Street.
Fraser Place, 19 Exploration Lane, Melbourne. Phone: 03 9669 6888, see melbourne.frasershospitality.com.
Studio deluxe from $149 a night; studio executive from $169; studio premier from $209. Parking from $20 a day.