On Saturday afternoon G & I traversed the streets, alleys and stairwells of Melbourne for the launch of the Hide & Seek Melbourne books Feeling Peckish, Night Owl, Treasure Trove and Hit the Streets. The series (after the popular, original Hide and Seek: Melbourne book) take a look at some of the city’s hidden, cool and quirky gems. It was a really fun afternoon. A huge thanks to series editor Melissa Krafchek and Explore Australia for having us along.
We started out in Federation Square where we were introduced to Melissa and three of the Hide & Seek writers: Mellie and Dan Teo (of Tummyrumbles) and Ryan Smith. I was the first to get my shoes shined by Neill Martin, who rightfully suggested I take better care of my soft Italian leather. The man himself, who you can find at 101 Collins St from 10-5 Monday to Friday, was soulful and grisled. How did he come to be shining shoes? As a punishment, originally. But when he found himself homeless, with a cavalcade of dirty shoes going by, he decided to make the most of what he’d learnt. ‘The amount of people I see and meet is amazing’, he said. He asked what I do, and when I told him I was a writer he told me he’d began writing a book of his life, but it was too painful. He once shined Jerry Lewis’ shoes. ‘I don’t care who you are or what you are, if you’ve got dirty shoes…’ His own shoes were a beautiful cherry red, with lambskin across the top. He really knows his leathers. On the first Tuesday of every month he shines all shoes for $5. Get along and have a chat with him.
While getting my shoes shined, too, I was handed a great big ricotta cannoli, which I munched while talking, and later regretted eating so fast because it was so spectacular. It was from T Cavallaro & Sons in 98 Hopkins St, Footscray. They can be found in the Feeling Peckish guide.
Our second and third stops were in the Nicholas Building (37 Swanston St, one of my favourites in Melbourne as it houses the Collected Works bookstore and Retrostar Vintage Clothing). First we visited Leanne at the Kimono House (room 7, level 2). Leanne’s passion is the Japanese kimono. Not only does she sell vintage kimonos sourced from Japan (mainly in Osaka), but an array of beautiful, original fabrics and other items made from them. You can also buy DIY kimono kits. Workshops in fashion and textiles, Japanese crafts, and how to wear a kimono are held in the store. There was a lovely, heavy fabric smell in the small store, and Leanne spoke passionately about the kimono, Japanese textiles, and her business. Kimono House is featured in the Treasure Trove guide.
Buttonmania (room 7, level 2) was a real treat. Kate, the owner, has a purple fringe and a deep knowledge of buttons, buckles and eyelets. She uses 100-year-old machines to manufacture buttons you can’t get anywhere else in the world (she’s checked). She let me use one to make a gorgeous little button of my own. I’m thinking of sewing it on a hat. Kate has, over the past 16 years, bought nine button businesses and combined them into her own. She had an impressive button cabinet, the size of a wall, which she gained along with one of these businesses. She’s made buttons for all sorts of people, including designer Collette Dinnigan, but my favourite story she told was one about making buttons with letters and money inside them as sweet, secretive little gifts. (Also in the Treasure Trove guide.)
We ducked by Zoologie, a clothing store and label run by husband and wife team George and Bonita. Their aim is to produce laid-back clothes not dictated by fashion or trends. And from the quick browse-through I could also see that the clothes were affordable (certainly for locally-made, anyway). I didn’t see any item over $100. The shop is located in Manchester Lane, as are other shops in the Treasure Trove guide.
We picked up our coffee order at STREAT: Food Cart With a Heart. Streat is an eco-friendly business (of food and coffee carts) and all their profits go to helping the homeless. ‘STREAT is a social enterprise providing homeless youth with a supported pathway to long-term careers in the hospitality industry. We run street cafes in Melbourne where youth get their hospitality training. Our food is inspired by street hawker food from around the world.’ My soy cap was really delicious and I thought the concept was so wonderful. The coffee cart is in Melbourne Central, and the food cart is in Federation Square. Read more about them on the website (right-click to open in new window). They’re in the Feeling Peckish guide.
Next, we went up a few flights of stairs to level 2, 387 Lt Bourke St, to Spellbox: the Witch’s House. We were greeted by a tall, smiling blonde woman in stockings and lace who told us about the ‘witchcraft company’ (also located at shop 17, Royal Arcade). They are a retailer of supplies such as herbs, resins, oils and so forth, but the space is also used for workshops – and sometimes people just come to sit and soak up the energy, we were told. There were certainly some ‘vibes’ going on in there; we were all smiling stupidly, inhaling sweet, heady smoke and whiffing the potion we’d just placed on our ‘third eye’. (Apparently we were also getting good vibes because they clean the air by ‘smudging’ it with crystals…) I’m generally a skeptic, but am easily won over by people who find unconventional ways to spread happiness, love, positivity – whatever. So it was nice being in there. I spun the ‘wheel of fortune’ and was told things are going to change…
We met two of the other women who worked there, one who took us to the rooftop to show us where they had full-moon gatherings, with dancing and howling. In winter they had a true fiery cauldron up there. Weird to imagine there is magic going on in the heart of your own city. The other lady, warm as the rest, was a psychometrist. A psychometrist reads your personal objects to ‘connect to your own intuitive voice’, bringing ancestors and your higher self into the reading. They don’t really focus on the future, or ‘predictions’ but emotions and the ‘here and now’. The woman told us that many psychometrists and psychic practitioners come from a social work or counsellor background. The Spellbox is hugely popular – booked-out by corporate functions, individuals, hen’s parties and so on. You can find them in the Hit the Streets guide.
We then went in an elevator up to level 3, 428 Lt Bourke St, to Dansk Restaurant, and were served an amazing snapa (schnapps meets tapa) and then two ‘smushis’ each (open sandwiches). I had the prawn salad, dill and caviar on one (OMG yum) and roast beef, horseradish and fried onion rings on another. Amaze. Chef Bente Grisbæk combines new wave Nordic cuisine with Australian produce, not always an easy task (it took her one year to perfect her rye bread) but it’s well-worth visiting (or even joining the Denmark House, which the restaurant is a part of) and sampling her delicious menu. Being part-Norwegian, I was particularly tickled by this visit and jumped in when everyone asked what the Scandinavian word for ‘cheers’ was. ‘Skál!’ I shouted. You can find the Dansk in the Feeling Peckish guide.
The final stop was the Design Dispensary at 322 Lt Lonsdale St. Here we found original, quirky, and interesting designs, sourced mainly from Germany, but also Japan, Italy, the UK and others. There were chopping boards, bottle candle-holders, sexy storage boxes, decorations – well, all sort of things. It’d be the perfect place to find a unique gift. It can be found in the Treasure Trove guide.
It’s great to have adventures in one’s own city (makes it seem ever-fresh) and I’m excited to flip through the rest of the books and discover even more places of interest. I think they’ll be a great thing to pull out when friends from out of town come to stay. There is going to be a public launch, if you’re interested, on the 1st of March at 24 Moons. It will be ticketed, but there will be heaps of stuff included in that. See the Hide & Seek website for details.
G and I both got a set of the books, so we’re happy to give one set away to you! To enter the draw, leave a comment on this post telling me about your absolute favourite place in your city or a city you’ve been to, before 8pm (AEDST) Monday 21 Feb 2011. Give me as much detail as you’d like. The winner will be drawn randomly.