The Esquire Guide To Melbourne

Speakeasies, world-class sport, posh brekkies – it's an urban Aussie heaven

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Poor old Sydney. Just 15 years ago, it was revelling in a triumphant Olympic Games amid claims it was the finest city in the world. London has since snatched the "best-ever Olympics" title. Now Melbourne, long-time second fiddle to Sydney, has been voted the world's most liveable city for the past two years.

It shouldn't be a surprise in a country with such competitive instincts that the two cities have been slugging it out for so long (Melbourne hosted her own successful Olympics in 1956). In the 19th century, Melbourne enjoyed a gold rush and the world's highest per capita champagne consumption and, despite the Victorian grandeur, was a busy port full of high-rollers adopting fairly low morals. Then the city developed a rep for being too British, while vibrant Sydney drew the successive waves of immigrants seeking the good life in Oz.  

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Now, the Ugg's on the other foot. Melbourne is as creative a city as any right now, with hip eateries, gig venues, galleries and speakeasies popping up quicker than you can say "strewth".

1 | Stay
We're partial to a boutique hotel but for once we're going with a 240-roomer. That its smallest chamber is more than 500sq ft, plus the luxuriant marble baths and super comfy beds might hint at why. With ace interiors, awesome sunset views, award-winning restaurant and spa, the Park Hyatt is a winner. For small but perfectly formed, try the Lyall with a mere 40 apartment-style rooms. Melbourne Park Hyatt; The Lyall

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2 | Lunch
The pared-back warehouse look doesn't get much more chic than at Cutler & Co in Fitzroy — exposed brick walls, reclaimed hanging lanterns, black-clad waiters, you know the drill. Expect extremely glam ladies who (look at their) lunch, a killer local wine list and a degustation menu, but trust me, you won't be able to look beyond the 1.1kg rib-eye and a bottle of Heathcote Estate Shiraz. Cutler And Co

3 | Dine
Tapas at Movida, Chinese at Dainty Sichuan, haute cuisine at Vue de Monde are reminders of Melbourne's cosmopolitan dining options. But try bite-size Euro-Korean cuisine meets Oz-style tucker at Huxtable — named oddly but affectionately after The Cosby Show family. Sit outside on trending Smith Street or at the bar to watch the chefs. Order the Korean BBQ pork ribs with spicy coleslaw and chilli gherkin. Huxtable

4 | Drink
Neo-speakeasy Eau de Vie is hidden down one of the many street art-decorated laneways (alleys) between the grander European avenues. Try retracing your steps after one too many Vasalas Experience cocktails of gin, absinthe, apple and lemon juices, pear purée, jasmine syrup and mint leaves, served from a crystal absinthe fountain. Easier to locate is the funky Ponyfish Island bar under the Southbank pedestrian bridge across the Yarra River. Eau de Vie; Pony Island

5 | Party
Beneath the art student pretensions and loft-apartment-meets-digs-décor, Ferdydurke ("named after the novel… [that] explored the problems of immaturity and youth… and dealt with ironic, critical examination of class roles in society…") is an A-grade hipster bar. The music playlist is epically eclectic, hotdogs are $3 and the beer is micro-brewed locally. Ferdydurke

6 | See
Aussies use no-nonsense language, so seven storeys above Swanton Street is The Rooftop Cinema. Can you tell what it is yet? During the summer (December to March), watch art-house and cult classics under the stars with a burger, fries and a cold one. Rooftop Cinema

7 | Do
Eat a big breakfast: in Melbourne, the morning meal has been elevated to a serious art form. Try Spanish mackerel with vegetable escabeche, poached eggs and soda bread at either of the two supercool St Ali cafés (Nicholson Street and Yarra Place). Or tackle an El Grande Cerdo brekkie of black pudding, bubble and squeak, poached eggs, toast and fruit chutney at Birdman Eating, where toy birdmen dangle overhead. Stali; Birdman Eating

8 | Shop
Most modish Melburnians adopt the Henry Ford approach to colour — "any, as long as it's black". Stock up at Eastern Market Fabrica. Eastern Market Fabrica

9 | When in…
Lap up the city's coffee culture. Italian immigrants have given the city a distinctly Euro-flavour, apparent in its caffeine addiction. At Twenty & Six Espresso, ask the barista for the daily special pour-over. Twenty & Six

10 | Why now?
In a nation that defines itself by its athletic prowess, Melbourne is the sporting altar at which Aussies worship. Highlights: Melbourne Cup horse racing (November); Boxing Day cricket test match at the MCG (December); Australian Open tennis (January); Australian F1 Grand Prix (March). 

The 2016 Melbourne Grand Prix is on March 20th. Esquire is partnering with F1 team Williams Martini Racing again throughout the season.

Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company

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