Ask a local why Collingwood, in Melbourne’s inner north, is so hip, and chances are they’ll start reeling off some of the famous institutions that call it home. There’s The Tote, a bastion of the Melbourne live music scene, where countless local and touring bands ply their trade above the stained, sticky carpet. There’s the Melba Spiegeltent, home to one of the country’s most forward-thinking arts troupes, Circus Oz. And there’s Le Bon Ton, where you’ll wash down countless oysters with champagne and absinthe until well into the night. But the area was not always awash with such hedonistic adventures.
One of the earliest suburbs to be named in Melbourne, the initial subdivision and sale of the land now known as Collingwood took place mainly through the 1840s, and with the establishment of a tram line up Smith Street in 1887 the strip rivalled Chapel Street for shopping at the turn of the century. With the 1960s came the building of high-rise housing commission towers throughout the suburb, and over the past two decades an increase of trendy apartment buildings and converted warehouses have transformed the suburb once again.
At the heart of the suburb — despite its eastern side technically part of Fitzroy — is Smith Street. Over the past few years it has become a mecca for dining of all tastes and budgets, from the garish Mexican hotspot Hotel Jesus and its cheap tacos and Tecate to the fine dining establishment — and bucket list fodder for any Melbourne foodie — Saint Crispin. Bargain hunters are also known to frequent the area, with sports and activewear factory outlets prominent north of Johnston Street (if you can travel past The Craft & Co without being enticed by their amazing deli and in-house distillery!).
Another reason that cool kids from all over Melbourne descend upon Collingwood is for its vibrant arts scene. Backwoods Gallery is one such destination; its focus on urban contemporary art, illustration and street art ensure it’s high on every visiting Instagrammer’s hit list. Its location — off Easey Street via a nondescript laneway and up a flight of stairs — is also quintessentially Melbourne.
Late at night, Collingwood is as lively as at any time during the day. From the Tote to the Bendigo Hotel, Grace Darling Hotel and Gasometer Hotel, the sound of live music permeates the core of the suburb. For those who would prefer to trade a guitar amp for a gin cocktail, Mr Scruff’s mixes top-flight drinks with killer tunes for a night to remember, with The Noble Experiment another Smith Street venue with a penchant for fancy beverages and devilishly good bar snacks.
Waking up the next morning might seem a struggle; luckily Collingwood is home to some of the most-acclaimed coffee and breakfast spots this side of the Yarra River. Proud Mary is an institution for those craving a caffeine fix in a cool, central location; while CIBI combines Japanese breakfast delicacies with a retail experience that will fix that hangover faster than you can say ‘put it on my card’.