State of Victoria's Secret
prim capital, dresses itself as never before
Copyright © The Star Ledger 2004
Sunday, January 18, 2004
BY LERON KORNREICH
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Standing across from
Federation Square in the heart of the city, I understand what
all the controversy is about. The sharp angles of the new
buildings in their light grays and peachy pinks stand in complete
contrast to the landmark Flinders Street train station across
the street. Many Melbourne natives are not too keen on the
modern design that has dominated the center of the city since
the square began opening in phases a little over a year ago.
But while I understand where they are coming
from, I take an immediate liking to the jagged construction,
with its mix of angles and atriums. The buildings house the
Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the Ian Potter Centre
gallery of Australian art, the Melbourne Visitor Centre, and
a variety of shops and restaurants.
Federation Square makes the city stand out,
giving it something special, a central point that differentiates
it from cities elsewhere in Australia and around the world.
The new heart of Melbourne fits nicely into a city that is
reinventing itself from what used to be described as "a
cemetery with restaurants" to a vibrant metropolis that
can give Sydney a run for its money.
Just across the Yarra River on St. Kilda Road,
another focus of local pride reopened after four years of
renovation and reconstitution. The National Gallery of Victoria
houses international art. The gallery was redesigned to add
more light and space and to grant works by masters such as
Rembrandt their own rooms.
Throughout the city, new buildings are rising,
creating a contrast between Victorian and ultra-modern architecture.
When I spotted the Melbourne Museum, which opened in the fall
of 2000, I was amazed city leaders had had the audacity to
place such a futuristic design just a few feet away from the
Royal Exhibition Building, constructed in the late 1800s for
Melbourne's first International Exhibition. I particularly
enjoyed the section of the museum dedicated to aboriginal
culture, and the outdoor microcosm of a forest.
Melbourne is a city that flourishes on juxtapositions.
For instance, I do not generally think shopping and sports
go hand in hand. But in Melbourne they do. The city prides
itself on being the Australian fashion capital. Trendsetters
such as Alannah Hill and Collette Dinnigan showcase their
latest creations in boutiques along Chapel Street in South
Yarra. The eastern end of Collins Street, dotted with designer
stores from Chanel and Ralph Lauren to the homegrown Husk,
resembles New York City's Fifth Avenue on a much smaller scale.
The hipster scene rages along Greville Street
in Prahran and Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. Vendors sell arts
and crafts Sundays along the esplanade in St. Kilda. And for
all the souvenirs a heart desires -- at bargain prices --
Queen Victoria Market remains the spot.
But while Melbourne is a haven for trendy stores
and shopaholics, it's also a magnet for sports lovers. The
city marks this mix best at the Melbourne Cup Carnival. During
the week when horse racing fever reaches a peak, sports and
fashion events fill the calendar, often side by side.
The Melbourne Cup is known as "the race
that stops a nation." It's a public holiday that tens
of thousands of people mark at the racetrack. But it's not
just the horses they're watching. It's the parade of men and
women dressed in their sassiest, most eye-popping ensembles.
Generally you couldn't pay me to attend most
sporting events. But I found myself engrossed by the sports
Down Under. On any Saturday afternoon, I could walk to nearly
any park to watch men dressed from head to toe in white playing
cricket. I couldn't help but hit the classic Irish pub on
Chapel Street, Bridie O'Reilly's, to watch rugby -- alongside
Australians in their Wallaby shirts, Irish with clovers painted
on their faces, and a few puzzled Americans straining to understand
the rules. During the Rugby World Cup, throngs watched the
final game on the jumbo screen in Federation Square. (It's
the same spot from which I could catch a glimpse of runway
action during Fashion Week.)
Cafes and restaurants are emerging alongside
the city's new hot spots. Sit on square blocks cushioned by
Asian pillows and munch on assorted noodle dishes at Chocolate
Buddha in Federation Square. Just across the square, grab
a table at Arintji for a meal with a view of the spire dominating
the Victorian Arts Centre on the other side of the Yarra River.
A few feet away from the Ian Potter Centre, reserve a spot
at Reserve and find out why it was voted "Best New Restaurant"
by the staff of the 2004 Good Food Guide. The casual outdoor
comfort of Wine Bar on the Swanston Street side of Federation
Square is a nice spot to relax with a drink. Vegetarian options
abound at Soul Mama in St. Kilda, a great spot from which
to watch the sun set over Port Phillip Bay. And then there
is always the restaurant that was most often recommended to
me by Melbourne natives of every stripe, Pearl in the suburb
I was impressed by the range of bars at which
I could choose to end my evenings. A great day of shopping
along Chapel Street deserved a toast at the trendy yet inviting
Souk. I returned many a day to the bars, restaurants, and
pastry shops along Acland Street in St. Kilda, which has transformed
itself from an immigrant hub to a swinging gathering place.
But it was at the elegant Stokehouse, with its magnificent
bay views, where I most enjoyed sipping wine. Casual dining
is available downstairs but I chose to dine upstairs and relish
my order of elegantly served fish while taking in the waves
The city may be in full revival mode but while
its facade is changing by the day, its personality is still
wonderfully Australian. People are friendly and I found I
was seldom, if ever, rushed. After sightseeing, I was happy
to relax at outdoor cafes without worrying about being hassled
by wait staff to leave. The cutting-edge architecture may
give Melbourne a big-city feel but it has not lost its small-town
charm. Nobody seems to be in a hurry here. I practically had
to wave a flag to get a waiter's attention when I was ready
for the bill.
And while the city has taken on a modern flair,
it maintains its Old World appeal. The tram is still a primary
mode of transportation for many commuters. The City Circle
Tram in the Central Business District offers tourists a free
ride to several museums and attractions. The Colonial Tramcar
Restaurant allows diners to enjoy a meal with an ever-changing
Melbourne's transformation has been gradual
but dramatic. The development of Southbank's riverfront walkway,
restaurants, and shops in the early 1990s was one key element.
The Crown Casino, with its assortment of restaurants from
casual to fine dining, added another ingredient to the mix.
Piece by piece, the city has come alive, with Federation Square
pumping a new sense of vibrancy that's causing Melbourne to
Leron Kornreich is a reporter for New Jersey
News 12, currently traveling in Australia.