Of course, it could easily be Collingwood depending on who you barrack for in the local football competition, as it is Fitzroy, but the map and my GPS tells me the street is, for all intents and purposes, in Fitzroy.
Not that there is a football team for Fitzroy any more, that moved north to Queensland a long, long time ago.
Going for a wander up and down the street shows two or three very different sides to inner suburban living, and the effect that comes from a diverse range of cultures, the city has acquired over the past few decades.
Once viewed as almost the slums of Melbourne, these inner suburban areas have moved upscale to become havens for the more wealthy middle classes and a home for many diverse outlets, not the least of which are eateries.
And. In just this small section of Smith Street, there are a lot of eating establishments, from the Old Kingdom Peking duck restaurant to a small place selling Falafel, and then everything in between. It says a lot about how Australian eating habits have changed in a single generation, where back in those infamous old days you would be lucky to have a fish and chips/ hamburger shop and one or two Chinese restaurants.
Now, intermingled with gourmet bakeries and cozy coffee shops, there are a plethora of other eating establishments that cater to any cuisine you can imagine. In fact, it’s possible to dine out on a different cuisine every night for a fortnight and only traverse about half a kilometre up and down the street. It could be ideal if you lived in one of the small fronted houses just off the main carriageway in a leafy narrow side street or laneway.
And, as you would expect in an inner-city suburb, the streets are narrow and made more hazardous for traffic because of the trams, a familiar sight in many of the streets in this area, and a much-used form of transport for workers making the short trip into the city. It’s almost possible to take the extra half hour, and walk.
The street is lined with old buildings, some dating back to about 1868, there’s around the turn of the century, but most are not inhabited except for the street level where there is an eclectic mixture of furniture, haberdashery, and clothing stores catering to a particular group of people, what some call yuppies or upwardly mobile men and women who are between 25-35, with high paying jobs, and preferably no children.
Then there a subgroup walking there streets, homosexual men, some wheeling adopted children in pushers, others walking hand in hand out for a Saturday afternoon stroll where they can feel safe among many others. It’s very different from other places I’ve been, but one can imagine there are places like this in every city all over the world.
But as a backdrop to the appearance of wealth, the shopfronts that cater to those upwardly mobile upper middle classes, there’s that exact opposite in full view, the homeless, and beggars, sitting on the ground outside the more run down shops soliciting alms, asking for a spare dollar, and even one asking for a cigarette.
Everyone walks past them, imagining no doubt there are not there, or that if they ignore them, they will go away. I think not. And, I suspect, more will come out of their daytime hiding places and take up residence in Smith Street itself.
The only surprise is that the local council has not asked the police to move them on. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of inhabitants in an area that no doubt can only attract the upper middle classes, as anything and everything is relatively expensive, particularly real estate, and permit driven parking spaces.
Would I live here? No.
Would I come here to wine and dine?
Maybe, if I could get parking, which there appear to be very few spots or any other form of parking such as under the local supermarket which can be very expensive. And if you are lucky enough to find a spot, who has the time or the memory if continually feeding a parking meter every two hours, particularly if you’re having a good time.
Equally, it’s a place I would not feel comfortable, even if it was once a safe haven, which up to a few years ago, I’d probably think it not. In fact, at times I was not sure what to make of some of the people on the street, but I guess if I lived here, it would no doubt be the norm.
Would I recommend people to come here?
Of course. One of the more interesting places in Melbourne to experience grassroots cuisine that is incredibly diverse in it range and price, and even from a place with tables and chairs that may have seen better days, but you haven’t come to see the furniture.
And to my mind, the dining is definitely better, here than perhaps Carlton, which in itself is Mecca to a plethora of university types, both teachers and students alike, and the coffee culture that pervade that area of Melbourne.
I have no doubt you will come and leave with a very good opinion of the place.
As for me, I came here for an engagement party held at the Hotelito de Jesus, a Mexican restaurant, serving a variety of Mexican dishes. As I’m no expert of that particular cuisine, everything was going to be new.
It was. It’s spicy but not too spicy, the pork belly excellent, the canapés delicious, and both the mushroom-based and shredded beef based mini tacos were equally scrumptious.
All of this was washed down with two particular Mexican beers, two of several available in bottles, cans, or by the glass.
Oh, and you can get sangria by the jug too if you like. I would have, but my passion for trying different beers won out.