things to do in Melbourne #4 — dinner and a show, with added penguins!

No smoking sign

Melbourne’s a great town for dining out — it prides itself on its culinary culture, in fact. Which makes the reason for it to cling to the foul tradition of smoking in al fresco dining areas rather puzzling. Just recently the Monash City Council caved to business pressure and gave up a proposed ban; the businesses were more concerned about losing their smoker market — who would continue to eat out anyway — than attracting the much bigger non-smoker market. A curious piece of business intelligence, but there you go. Old habits — and old smokers, for that matter — die hard. And it looks as if the council will continue to chip away, so good on ’em. But that’s not the point of this here rumination

Rather, it’s to direct your attention to the rather groovy Butterfly Club in South Melbourne. We went there a couple of Sundays ago, not so much for the show, but the decor. How very hipster of us! But seriously, it’s such a lovely venue, long and narrow in an old shop/residence, with a bar downstairs and another up, both with lounging rooms attached, and the most wonderfully squeaky wooden stairs to the loo with a view of who’s waiting in line, and in the front room, the performance space with its fold-down theatre chairs and the most rudimentary of lighting. It’s like having a cabaret in your own lounge room. And everywhere, there is kitsch: old books and here a Robocop action figure and there some island masks, vintage lamps and bits of boats … wonderful stuff.

We chanced upon Christine Moffat, performing Really Nice Day, with able support from a male pianist who had his role to play, and even the audience was dragged into the conceit. It was a lovely kidnap tale with a healthy dose of psycho, interspersed with musical numbers that helped move the narrative along. I’ll never listen to ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ in quite the same way again!

Anyhoo, after the show we had dinner around the corner at the Groove Train (with Butterfly Club discount, no less), which probably isn’t up there on the city’s fine dining guide but ain’t to be sneezed at (billowing clouds of nicotine notwithstanding) for a filling well-priced meal, and then — penguins!

One benefit of daylight saving is you can have your 6pm show and a meal and still get to St Kilda by twilight. Twas a chill little breeze plucking at our coats and the sea was a metallic cobalt colour when we got there, kind of grateful we hadn’t tried to squeeze into the crowded beachside eateries — especially the one with Eddie Maguire bellowing at people to come eat their entrees over the PA. Yikes!

No, much better the slow walk along the jetty and out to the rock wall, where some intrepid little penguins (formerly known as fairy penguins) had braved the city side of the protective mesh fence. There’s a rookery out there, amazing given the proximity to smelly old humanity with its dogs and lower order specimens who have, in the past, delighted in destroying little penguins (hence the fence).

How amazing is it to be able to wander a manmade structure in a busy bay, and be able to spy wobbling penguins climbing the rocky ramparts, extending their fragile little community into foreign territory? And even more amazing is it to be able to snaffle a soft-serve ice cream — with nuts — on the walk back?

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