Duration: More than 3 hours
Price Guide: $0
Melbourne is all about the hidden and the tucked away. It’s a city defined by its laneways and the secrets they contain. In the Melbourne Upstairs and Downstairs series of tours I’ll give you a little insider’s peek into some of this city’s less obvious places to go.
After a ceiling collapse related to roadworks in March 2008, the Degraves Subway was closed for a short period. If the subway is still closed when you try to visit, then simply move on to Stopover 2.
Start at Flinders Street Station.
If you’ve caught a train to the station and/or have a valid ticket for the day then start inside the station itself and go to any platform from 1 through to 10 and then go down one of the two staircases in the middle. There will be a sign hanging above directing you to the Degraves subway. Go down the stairs and turn towards the station exit barriers at the northern end of the subway.
if you’ve not got a valid ticket there’s no need to buy one, from the main entrance, cross the road toward Young Jackson’s pub and turn left, heading west along Flinders St until you reach a staircase in the footpath, just past the entrance to the Port Philip Arcade. There’s a sign above it directing you to the Degraves Subway. Go down the stairs.
Degraves Subway is properly known as the Campbell Arcade, but everyone calls it Degraves Subway. Down there, underneath Flinders Street itself is a jumble of independent Melbourne retailers. There’s an internet shop, a hairdresser and a newsagent, but there are also some of Melbourne’s most creative retailers. Among them are Sticky – a specialist comic and zine store; Corky St Clair – stocking artisan-made clothing, jewellery and assorted tchotchkes; Cat’s Miaow – independently designed and made clothing; Wax Museum – rare hip hop and beats; and Muff – specialising in vintage clothing.
Once you’re done with all that Degraves Subway has to offer, head north out towards the staircase up to Degraves Street. Grab a snack at the awesome waffle place at the top of the stairs if you’re feeling peckish, but otherwise push on until you reach Flinders Lane, the first intersection with Degraves St. Once there, turn right and head east towards Swanston Street. Just before you reach Swanston Street there will be a short flight of stairs on your right at the entrance to the Nicholas Building. Head in there, past Kinki Gerlinki and Route 66 and then go up the stairs that are on your right just past the elevators. At the end of the first flight of stairs is Retrostar.
Retrostar is packed to the gills with an enormous amount of vintage and vintage-esque clothing, accessories, hats, shoes and other paraphenalia. There is also a shop within the shop devoted to band t-shirts, originals and remakes.
Once you’re done with the bargain basement retro stylings of Retrostar, it’s time to go somewhere very different. Exit the Nicholas Building onto Flinders Lane and continue heading east along Flinders Lane (up the hill) until you get to number 181, and go down the stairs to Christine.
This boutique has a lot of very very very expensive things in it, which are nice to look at, but not at all in the budget so Christine is really an eye candy stopover. However, it does have some inexpensive jewellery pieces if you look carefully and, if you happen to arrive during one of their sale periods, there are some serious bargains on designer gear to be had.
Once the sheer luxury starts making your head spin, head back up the stairs and out on to Flinders Lane. Go back down the hill to the corner of Swanston Street and turn right and head almost up to Lonsdale St to 252 Swanston St, which is Curtin House.
If you like (and you have a valid ticket), you can catch the tram up Swanston St instead. Any of the trams that run along Swanston will take you the two blocks to Lonsdale.
Curtin House has been described as a vertical laneway and is packed with shopping and drinking and dining options (as well as a martial arts studio and the building owner’s apartment).
Metropolis is one of the first stops as you head up the stairs. One of Melbourne’s most art and design-oriented bookshops it also has a great selection of unusual and eclectic music and stocks most of the city’s free street press. A lovely spot to while away some time poking through the shelves and perhaps reclining on the couch to have a little try before you maybe buy.
Walk out of Metropolis and over the the left-hand side of level three, you’re now in Someday Gallery.
Someday Gallery and Shop is home to some gallery pieces, but is also home to a great range of interesting independent fashion labels from around Australia and the world.
Keep going up the stairs, it’s time to go to Order and Progress.
Order and Progress is run by a Brazilian expatriate who wanted to give her favourite Brazilian fashion labels a home in her new home – Melbourne. Order and Progress is where that happens.
You’re done with Curtin House now (unless you’re also doing the Eating and/or Drinking parts of this series, then you have more to explore) so head back down the stairs and out onto Swanston St.
Turn left and go back down Swanston St until you reach Little Collins St, turn right and head west along Little Collins until you reach the Block Arcade entrance (on your left, a little before you reach Elizabeth St). Head into the Block Arcade, squeeze past the crowds of cafe tables and keep an eye out for the staircase heading down on your left. This is Basement Discs.
Basement Discs describes itself as stocking Melbourne’s most interesting range of Rock Pop (both current retro), Jazz, Blues, R’n’B, Country, Folk, World Roots Music. It’s got an incredible range of music for every taste and a whole lot that you’re yet to discover. The shop also has regular live, free, in-store performances from touring and local acts. They’re always at lunchtime on Fridays so that’s a good time to aim to go there and maybe catch a free show.