Get us in your inbox

Search
Builders Arms Hotel, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Photograph: Josie Withers

A local's guide to Fitzroy

Want to explore Melbourne's artsy heart? Here's our guide to great Fitzroy bars, restaurants and shops

Written by
Marnie Vinall
Advertising

Update [26/7/21]: During Victoria's fifth lockdown, hospitality venues can only open for takeaway and delivery. You can still support many of these local venues by purchasing food, drinks or products online or over the phone – click each individual venue for more details on what they're currently offering or contact them directly to find out their opening hours. Entertainment venues and non essential retail cannot open during this time, but some venues may offer click and collect services or delivery. Victorian residents cannot travel further than 5km to access essential supplies or exercise during lockdown.

Fitzroy is an eclectic suburb with a rich history etched into its old pubs and gay bars, narrow streets and terrace houses, long-lasting retailers and modern wine bars that have kept the old decor. The suburb was once long associated with the working class and was known to have a bohemian vibe but became a casualty to gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. Yet despite undergoing urban revitalisation, many heritage buildings and Victorian-era architecture have lasted through the decades and play a key role in the area’s ambience – right next to the street art. 

You’ll find various characters within Fitzroy’s nooks, including many students, young professionals and those of the older generation that have called the community home for decades. It’s economically diverse too, having one of Melbourne’s largest public housing complexes while also putting up some of the most exxy rent in all of the city. It’s hard to pigeon hole the area but, after all, why would you want to?  

The traditional custodians of the land are the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung of the Kulin Nation and the Kulin name for the area is Ngár-go, meaning high ground.

Jump to a section:

What’s Fitzroy known for?

Fitzroy is known to be a cultural hub with a vibrant heart and celebrated for its unconventional, arty and eccentric nature. Head along Gertrude Street and you’ll be met with designer shops and independent retailers nestled in beside bars known for their drag bingo and queer nights. Head down Brunswick Street and you’ll be treated with espresso martinis, bottomless tacos and vintage shops with plenty of corduroy. And everywhere, live music can be heard – from gigs at pubs and bars to blasting through open windows above shop fronts. Fitzroy also the main home to Melbourne Fringe Festival, because where else would an event empowering cultural expression through inclusion and diversity reside?

Why do the locals love it?

Christian Ferrante, Market Director of Rose Street Markets, knows a thing or two about the local area and the community within it. 

"Traditionally, I’ve loved the eclectic nature of Fitzroy. It’s an open sort of place where anything goes," he says. "That sense of excitement that you really don’t know what you might see on any given day, just walking down the street there’s always something interesting or something massive happening."

How do I get to Fitzroy?

Fitzroy hasn’t seen a train station since 1888, taking a preference instead to the tram life. The number 11 tram runs through the heart of Fitzroy, taking you from St Georges Road, along Brunswick Street and right through to Victoria Parade. Otherwise, the 96 tram runs from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach, passing through Fitzroy, making it your best bet to end up along Johnston, Moor or Gertrude Street. The area is also very bike-friendly if you’re a fan of getting on the pedals.

What’s nearby?

Fitzroy is sandwiched between Collingwood on its right and Carlton on its left, separating the two AFL rivals. Just above the suburb, you’ll find Fitzroy North and below is East Melbourne. The suburb is bordered by gardens, including Carlton Gardens to the west, Edinburgh Gardens to the north and, funnily enough, Fitzroy Gardens (which aren’t actually in Fitzroy) a block to the south.

Map of Fitzroy

If you only do one thing…

Head to the rooftop of Naked for Satan and take in the sights of the suburb while drinking a cocktail based on the quintessential Australian pavlova. You can take in the views of the cityscape while getting in a good amount of people watching and soaking in the vibe of the area.

Eat
Photograph: Supplied

Eat

There’s nothing like a hearty bowl of ramen and nowhere does it better than Shop Ramen (329 Smith St). You may have to put your name on the waiting list to dine in but once you get that bowl of homemade ramen noodles with free-range chicken broth (vegan options are available) it’ll all be worth it.

Step into '80s New York for some comfort food at Evie’s Disco Diner (230/232 Gertrude St). Slink into a booth to enjoy the likes of mac and cheese loaded fries, buffalo wings and jalapeno poppers. Vegans are well catered to too with a range of plant-based alternatives to the classic favs.

Tucked into a backstreet behind Brunswick Street stands one of Melbourne’s oldest pubs, the Rainbow Hotel (27 David St). The venue has been serving the locals craft beers and parmas for over 150 years and does them bloody well. Head into the beer garden for a mid-week steak to carry you through till the weekend.

For a dinner to mark an occasion, Transformer (99 Rose St) does a relaxed yet refined fine-dining experience with innovative plant-based plates that showcase seasonal produce. The ‘feed me’ will take you through stunning dishes without you having to choose a thing and deliver you the crispy chickpea panisse with truffle salt, nutritional yeast and macadamia (a favourite that’s particularly hard to forget).

In the mood for Indian? Mukka Restaurant (365 Brunswick Street) has you covered with a range of curry pots, street eats and grills, bread and rice. Grab a dosa for lunch or a slow-cooked goat curry for dinner. Vegetarian? Try the tandoori mushroom skewers for a lighter bite or the palak panner for something more filling.

If you’re looking for somewhere to take a date, Rice Queen (389-391 Brunswick St) provides the ambience with low-hanging lanterns that light up when the sun goes down. The bar sells bespoke cocktails and the kitchen serves up bites to impress with the yellow crab curry and crispy tofu as notable winners.

Renowned award-winning chef Shannon Martinez puts vegan food on show at Smith & Deli (111 Moor St). You’ll want to get there early on a weekend as a lot of the sandwiches sell out and you don’t want to miss the Wiggum which is a salt and pepper tofu sandwich with tangy barbecue sauce, chipotle aioli, pickles and slaw.  

For a casual bite before a comedy show at the Catfish, Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteak (30 Gertrude St) in the back end of the venue serves up traditional Philly cheesesteaks where grilled beef saddles up with cheese and onions in a hoagie roll (tofu options for the vegies and vegans).

↑ Back to top

Drink
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Drink

Domestic and international craft beers are championed at Near and Far (373 Brunswick St) with 18 taps pouring the likes of pale ales, sours, lagers, IPAs, stouts and ciders, all from independent producers.

The Shady Lady (36 Johnston St) serves up boozy snow cones, frozen margaritas, mega mimosas and beer and shot combos that make picklebacks look appealing. It's all featured within a funky dive bar setting with a homely courtyard out back.

The Rooks Return (201 Brunswick St) is filled with nooks and crannies to sneak into and enjoy a Bloody Mary or a glass of red while you play your mates at one of the venue’s free-to-use board games. Connect Four is a popular choice so keep your eyes peeled to snag it while it's spare. 

The Workers Club (51 Brunswick St) is the perfect place for a pint before or during a performance. Grab an ice-cold beer from one of their taps and enjoy a live show in the grungy setting that’s seen its fair share of head banging and jumping. 

If you’re in the mood for an Aperol Spritz, chilled white or cold frothy while basking in the sun, the Standard (293 Fitzroy St) and its large beer garden is where you want to head. Grab a mean parma while you’re there, too (there’s indoor space for chilly winter days as well).

Black Pearl (304 Brunswick St) is no stranger to a very, very good cocktail. If you’re looking to end or start your night with a bespoke or personally-crafted sip, this is where you want to head – and you’ll find an elegant yet homely atmosphere to drink it in with comfy couches and low lights.

↑ Back to top

Advertising
Coffee
Photograph: Faraday's Cage/Supplied

Coffee

Christian doesn’t mind a cup of two from Industry Beans (3/62 Rose St), the speciality coffee roasters popular among millennials. “We’re next door to Industry Beans and obviously that’s a bit of an institution in the area,” he says, then adding, “I try and support everyone as much as I can. There’s no shortage.”

Burnside (87A Smith St) sits on the corner of Smith and Gertrude and opens at 6.30am to serve the early worms of Melbourne with their much-needed cup of caffeine. The small café caters to grab-and-go style bites too, with a selection of pastries and sandwiches on offer.

Drink the day away at Archie’s All Day (189 Gertrude St). The renowned brunch spot is nestled within the hub of Gertrude Street, making it the perfect coffee pit stop on a Saturday or Sunday morning or escape during the working week to fuel back up. You can even follow it up with a post-coffee peach Margarita to really get the day going.

Smell that freshly baked bread and pastry as you step into Faraday’s Cage (325-329 Gore St). The café was designed by owner John, nicknamed Mr Faraday, to provide an escape from the daily hustle and bustle. The coffees are made with Melbourne’s Proud Mary coffee, so you know it’s good.

Founded in Fitzroy in 2016, Mile End (34 Johnston St) is Australia’s first wood-fired bagel bakery and although it’s known for doing ringed bread bloody well, the baristas behind the counter also pour a mean cup of hot coffee, cold brew or iced latte.

↑ Back to top

Shopping
Photograph: Elize Strydom/Supplied

Shopping

There are plenty of markets to peruse in Fitzroy, including Fitzroy Mills Market (75 Rose St) on Saturdays and Rose Street Artists’ Markets (60 Rose St) on the weekend days.

“Rose Street’s become known for the fact that you can get things that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else,” Christian says. “You can get the weirdest and most wonderful things that someone’s just dreamt up and had a passion for making but you won’t necessarily find in any other shop or retail outlet because it’s not made necessarily to sell, it’s made for love.”

Hares & Hyenas (63 Johnston St) is the answer to all your queer content needs. Find a variety of fiction and non-fiction titles at the sexuality and gender diverse bookshop, along with DVDs, cards and magazines. It also stocks tickets to local queer events.

On Tuesdays between 9am-1pm, the Community Grocer (140 Brunswick St) offers fresh seasonal produce to keep the locals’ nutrient levels high and the suburb’s community vibe going strong.

Impress your mates with a new vintage coat or pair of Doc Martens by popping into second-hand charity boutique Hunter Gatherer (274 Brunswick St). You can walk away sporting new-to-you threads and feel good knowing you’re in recycled fashion – a win-win!

Find your new scent at Le Labo (183 Gertrude St), the fine fragrance perfumery hailing from the streets of New York that’s grown an ardent following here. The Fitzroy location is the first Australian store and blends the perfumes in house, so you know they’re fresh (if a tad on the exxy side).

The Cruelty Free Shop (124 Johnston St) is a vegan paradise with the large, open shop filled with an array of vegan goods. Stock up on cashew camembert, meat-free pepperoni slices, coconut bacon, ready-made vegan meals and cruelty-free lippie.

↑ Back to top

Advertising
Things to do
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Things to do

The Fitzroy Swimming Pool (160 Alexandra Parade) is a favourite spot for leisure among locals. Just ask Christian who is well acquainted with the complex: “I think it’s always fun to go to the pool. I’ve spent many summer days at the pools.”

“I think the pools are pretty cool; you get a really good mix of locals and posers [laughs], which is kind of funny. It’s got this interesting feel, you really do feel in the city, like that urban feel, but then it’s kind of like this little oasis, which is pretty cool and very unique to Fitzroy.”

Wonder through the eight gallery spaces of Brunswick Street Gallery (Level 1 and 2/322 Brunswick St) and feast your eyes on diverse works from local and national emerging and mid-career artists. Then head nearby to Sutton Gallery (254 Brunswick St) to peruse contemporary works from Australia and New Zealand.  

Check out and take a photo with the greyscale Everfresh Fitzroy mural, on the sidewall of live-music venue The Night Cat (137-141 Johnston St), which reads “Welcome to sunny Fitzroy”. The wall was painted back in 2009 by Everfresh Studio and so far is standing the test of time.

If you feel like giving your brain a workout and going on a detective hunt, try your hand at the Mystery Rooms (303 Napier St) where you can follow in the footsteps of Ancient Egyptians or be a witness to the Kelly gang’s Last Stand in 1880, all while solving a puzzle.

Enjoy a picnic and spot of fresh air at Smith Reserve (Alexandra Parade). If you’re lucky, you may even spot an AFL player playing frisbee on their day off.

Mark your calendar

Who doesn’t like a good laugh? The Rochester Hotel (202 Johnston St), or Rochey as locals lovingly call it, has put its weekly late-night comedy back on the calendar. Each Thursday from 9pm until late, the venue’s courtyard stage in summer and dimly lit room upstairs in winter welcomes a range of talent from across Melbourne to deliver the laughs. Tickets are $15 and can be bought here. Also, aim to get there early for pre-show dinner – the eggplant parma and porterhouse steak are especially tasty – and a glass or two.  

Explore more of Melbourne's best suburbs

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising