Friday 16 July 2010

Introducing... The Warburton Quarter

I've been back from Poland for two weeks, the jetlag has mostly gone, and I'm getting used to the icy winter we're having this year in Melbourne.

Winter aside, what I'm enjoying most is the coffee. Beautiful, delicious, flavoursome espresso coffee, mmmmmm.

The glow hasn't quite faded yet, after two months of drinking insipid filtered coffee and low-quality, badly-prepared espresso coffee in Central Europe (I hasten to point out that I love Central Europe - but not for its coffee).

The best thing about this fine Melbourne coffee is its proximity to where I live.

My apartment is on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Little Bourke Street in Melbourne's city centre, and I most frequent the section of Little Bourke which runs as far west as Warburton Lane.

It's a small area, comprising about 80 metres of Little Bourke Street and four alleyways leading off it at right angles: Somerset Place, Rankins Lane and Warburton Lane to the south; and Whitehart Lane and Warburton Alley to the north. This little zone doesn't have a name to itself, as in marketing terms it's part of the city's larger Hardware Precinct.

But I think it has a special identity all its own (at least in my head). So I've given it a title: The Warburton Quarter. Snappy, isn't it?

Let me take you on a quick tour of my favourite Warburton Quarter hangouts:


Brother Baba Budan, 359 Little Bourke Street
Fine, fine coffee in an always lively setting. I like to take the laptop down there occasionally, squeeze in around the communal table and work to the background social hum.

Brood Box, 8 Rankins Lane
This combined gallery and cafe is an atmospheric place to sip the morning coffee over The Age. I like to take Sydney media people here for coffee, to make them jealous.

Captains of Industry, 2 Somerset Place
Another fine cafe above the street in a big roomy space which also houses a tailor, cobbler and barber; the place exudes a kind of elegant masculinity. Fine hand-made sandwiches and a great view over Elizabeth Street and the General Post Office building through the big windows.

+39, 362 Little Bourke Street
 Great cafe which is also a restaurant. I eat breakfast here a lot - it's simple stuff like panini but expertly made. The sole e luna semi-calzone pizza is also great for lunch.

Bushwa & Hooey, 361 Little Bourke Street
I particularly like this cafe's homemade lunch options - the arancini are great, and nothing beats their giant sausage rolls teamed with the Greek salad.


Murmur, 17 Warburton Lane
Cool bar above the laneway, in a big roomy former warehouse space that still has the opening in the floor where gear was once hauled up by hand from the street. Good cocktails, comfy lounges.

Softbelly, 367 Little Bourke Street
This is more like your local pub - relaxed, friendly, social and with good bar food. It also hires out DVDs, which is handy as no-one else does so in the city centre.


Paddy Pallin, 360 Little Bourke Street
Cavernous place selling all manner of travel gear, tending toward the adventurous. I buy all sorts of stuff here for my travels - combination locks, power adaptors, combination fork/spoons etc.

Backpacking Light, 29 Somerset Place
Another good travel gear retailer; I bought my brilliant foldable plastic bowl here (I use it to eat muesli for dinner in hotels when I'm too tired to go out again).

Camera Action, 217 Elizabeth Street
On the Elizabeth Street corner, and where I get all my photographic equipment. Good service and knowledgeable sales people.

Crumpler, 355 Little Bourke Street
Sellers of very cool bags, including camera bags of various sizes and funky satchels. I bought the bag for my largest camera here; it's a tough but good-looking bag that's lasted for six years so far.


Sakura Lounge, 8 Warburton Lane
Classy little massage centre specialising in Asian-style treatments. I had a shiatsu massage here once that was damn good.

And those are just the places I use reasonably regularly within an 80 metre stretch of Little Bourke Street! There's also an Indian restaurant and a sushi place and a footwear shop and a travel agent and a classy homewares shop, among others within the zone.

The Warburton Quarter is a fun place to live (and drink).


  1. Well, I think that 99% of those who live in Central Europe are now dreaming of Australian chilly winter cause it's boiling hot here.I'm not used to see temperature that is more similar to Sicilian ones. I wish I were in Melbourne!
    Just to defend coffee in my region: in many countries of Eastern Europe there is almost no tradition of making coffee just as it should be done, people here prefer hard drinks and it is obviously sad.

  2. Actually I know what you're saying Vinka, I've been in Poland on 30+ degree days and it's not a lot of fun - the cities are not really built for hot weather. However, experiencing those 25 degree days with bright sunshine while sitting in a beer garden in the Old Town somewhere - ahhhhh, very nice.

  3. Nothing quite like the coffees and clubs at Melbourne. The ones here in Singapore are quite different as expresso isn't the drink of choice for the older generations. That however is changing, although most of our coffee chains here are rather bad - like Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf!

  4. Tim

    I feel your pain but as I'm English I could cope with the coffee (actually a couple of places in Krakow were OK - the rest of the time I resorted to sachets of all-in-one Nescafe from the shop), what really got me was the terribly bad tea that you got everywhere! So much so that when my dad picked me up from the airport in the UK I asked him to bring me a flask and some decent tea bags!

  5. Cool Insider: The kind way to look upon chains such as Starbucks is that they're a necessary evolutionary step toward the establishment of great local cafes, after people's palates adapt to espresso.

    Nick: You're quite right about the tea. An Australian friend living in Germany says it's because they don't pour boiling water directly onto the teabag, but bring it to the table; by which point the water has gone off the boil. The Poles do a nice tea with rum though.

  6. Nice of you to mention the hub of camping stores within range of good coffee places. Backpacking Light sells the Ortlieb coffee filters so you can make your own delicious coffee like I did for 4 months on bike across Europe!

  7. Sounds good Therese, though I'm allergic to carrying any more luggage than I have to - even if it's just coffee and filter papers etc. And I've never been that fond of filtered coffee. Somehow, however, I imagine an actual espresso machine would be too bulky. ;)