Lucy Liu. Photo: Peter Schofield
It's only a spraypaint can's throw from Hosier Lane, where tourists throng to see Melbourne's famous street art, but Oliver Lane is a secret known mostly to locals. The creations along this sloping laneway parallel to Russell Street are of the foodie kind, however. Halfway down is Lucy Liu (lucylius.com.au), with an innovative selection of contemporary Asian dishes. Highlights include steamed spinach and water chestnut dumplings; spiced green apple coleslaw and crispy fried Sichuan duck. At the bottom end of the lane is lunchtime favourite Bowery to Williamsburg (facebook.com/bowerytowilliamsburg), channelling a classic New York deli. At the top, near Flinders Lane, Coda (codarestaurant.com.au), serves Modern Asian dishes with a strong Vietnamese flavour.
Souk. Photo: Pat Scala
To the west, Bligh Place wasn't named for the Bounty captain but for the 19th century merchants Bligh & Harbottle. In the 21st century it's a busy dining hub, anchored at its far end by Souk (soukmelbourne.com.au) and its menu of contemporary Middle Eastern dishes with some surprisingly effective Mexican crossover. Most popular is KFC (Kuwaiti Fried Chicken), and tacos which come with fillings of lamb, chicken, prawn or haloumi. On the Flinders Lane corner is Hako (hako.com.au), a contemporary Japanese restaurant with plenty of seafood options. The Japanese theme continues at the other end of the laneway at Robot (robotsushi.com), a Tokyo-style bar with a killer range of sake.
The Mitre Tavern in Bank Place. Photo: Angela Wylie
Crossing Queen Street to the west, you enter the Melbourne CBD's corporate zone. The most impressive laneway here is Bank Place, lined with Victorian facades containing accomplished restaurants such as Syracuse (syracuserestaurant.com.au), with the Marrakech Cocktail & Shisha Bar (marrakechcocktailbar.com.au) beneath. Past this and the graceful facade of the Melbourne Savage Club (melbournesavageclub.com) is an unexpected delight. The Mitre Tavern (mitretavern.com.au) has stood on this spot since Melbourne's earliest days, a piece of London, with its timber bar and cosy interior.
Cat Cafe Melbourne. Photo: Getty Images
To the north, tricky-to-find Guildford Lane once housed small factories and warehouses. It's anchored at one end by a historic bluestone warehouse, built with a squared-off corner so horses and carts wouldn't clip it going past. Midway along is Krimper (krimper.com.au), an atmospheric cafe with an industrial vibe, featuring solid timber tables and retro lampshades hanging from the rafters. Try to score the table inside the old goods lift. Nearby Rustica Canteen (rusticacanteen.com) is a more compact eatery where they also bake their own bread: "We Got What You Knead" reads the sign. Opposite is Cat Cafe Melbourne (catcafemelbourne.com).
Captains of Industry. Photo: Angela Wylie
It's only a few metres back from busy Elizabeth Street near the grand GPO building, but Somerset Place is a quiet laneway with a chilled vibe. Close to Little Bourke Street is Captains of Industry (no website), a hipster hangout and mainstay of the vintage fashion revival where you can also buy handcrafted shoes and get a haircut. Over the way is Backpacking Light (backpackinglight.com.au), an offshoot of the travel gear shops along the adjacent stretch of Little Bourke Street. At the end of the lane is Little Mule (facebook.com/thelittlemule), a cafe with good food, free Wi-Fi, and the friendly feel of a "local".
Photo: Eddie Jim
If Hosier Lane is the acknowledged queen of Melbourne street art laneways, Union Lane is its disreputable young sister. Running between the Bourke Street Mall and Little Collins Street, Union (named after a long-vanished pub) is an empty stretch of brick walls and disused loading bays – all covered, literally layered, with art. There are some expertly painted figures, but mostly it's a collection of artists' tags of all sizes and shades, plastered over each other without a gap. Think of the laneway as a single, ever-changing piece of art, and you'll get the gist.
See also: Six of the best Melbourne laneways
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