Things to do in Melbourne #6: get in the Brunswick Street groove

polly cocktail barMelbourne’s Brunswick Street is one of happening precincts where sub-cultures come together and drink coffee — possibly with soy milk. We had a taste test last night, hitting a couple of hot spots: Brunswick Street Gallery, Polly, Polyster records and books, and Grub Street Bookshop. Ah, kulcha!

The gallery is established in a three-storey house and boasts narrow stairs and two floors of exhibition rooms of varying colour, lighting and space. Last night’s selection of opening exhibits was reasonably eclectic: a photographic display of the zodiac using friends of the photographer and another showcasing the female form in a largely empty room; pop art protests; still lifes perhaps aimed at the cafe set; a projected installation; big photos of kids in cages with A Message; an ode to Kodachrome using a Chinese scene. My favourite showing, though, displayed in a delightfully red room with defunct fireplace where its black and white drawings really popped, was Transform by Hannah Mueller: her pictures had narrative, dimension due the overlaying of cutouts, and lots of skeletons and other repeating motifs, including birds, vivisection and masks. Mueller’s bio, if I remember it accurately, said she was a Sydneysider still at art college or uni, in which case, whoa! Sadly, no web presence that I could find to point you to (I don’t think this Hannah is the one in Assassin’s Creed, though it might explain some stuff!), and the BSG website is kind of obtuse and annoying.

Anyway, within staggering distance of the gallery and on opposite sides of the street are the two Polyster stores, one dealing in alternative books — lots of tattoos and art, social commentary and Interesting Stuff, and the other in alternative cds and vinyl. Nearby is Grub, complete with secondhand bookstore smell and narrow aisles, a minuscule genre fiction section but a truly drool-worthy non-fiction section heavy on the arts and the humanities.

The jewel in the crown of last night’s stroll was Polly. Oh, Polly! With its concrete floor and red velvet couches, its classy nekkid ladies upon the stressed red walls, its funky brass handles on the door of the loos, and its separate smoking antechamber at the front. It offers a fine array of absinthe and cocktails, and the tastiest little $6 pizzas, and pretty darn good service, too. Its decadent lavishness would suggest it to be the natural environment of a goth/burlesque crowd, but I think the hipsters might’ve outpriced them. I haven’t been in town long enough to know the tides of the sub-culture drift. Regardless, it’s a comfy space and one of my favourite Melburnian drinking holes so far.

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