Melbourne, Day 2: The Glitzy and Glamorous Life of a Faux Melbournian Socialite

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Originally on this trip, I thought I would have to explore solo on both Thursday and Friday, but Bill fortunately got some time off today, so he was able to tick off a long list of downtown sightseeing before our mystery evening plans.

Bill and Me at the Basquiat and Haring exhibit

After dining on some homemade French toast made by yours truly, we kick off the day by taking public transport to Degraves Street, an area choked with coffee shops and little cafes. It reminds me of European cities: it's tight and bustling, and a great place to explore.

Hello Degraves Street. I've arrived!

From there, Bill leads us to the Block Arcade, a gorgeous mall with Victorian architecture done in the Mannerist style. The place is beautiful, illuminated by sunlight shining through the glass ceiling. It reminds me a bit of the Gum in Moscow, Russia, which harks back to a time where shopping wasn't a necessity but a luxury. Here there are fancy but familiar chain stores for suits, silks and lotions.

Although the bush fires throughout Australia aren't affecting Melbourne, you can see an appreciation for the firefighters' efforts. 

Block Arcade

We grab a coffee at a cafe called Little Collins to perk ourselves up before heading onward to walk some more.

We then walk to Royal Arcade, another opulent 19th-century mall with glass roofs and mosaic floors. There is a line running out of the popular Hopetoun tea room, but we skip it and walk through and explore. We instead stop inside a witchy shop called Spellbox that sells crystals and spell powders and magic wands, both attracting Harry Potter fans and adult mystic types who need a shop for wormwood and energy crystals. Bill and I spin a wheel that grants us our fortunes. Bill puts his back in the window from which it emerged, and I am pretty sure he'll be cursed forever.

One of the interesting quirks of the Royal Arcade are the two carved creatures of Gog and Magog ringing the bell at the quarter and full hours of the clock, who have done so since 1892. We stick around to watch, but it's pretty underwhelming. The left figure rings the bell four times to indicate the hour, and the right figure rings the bell twice times, to indicate two o'clock. It was still a fun sight.

Gog and Magog

We then approach Bourke Street Mall, a strip of popular chain stores on the titular street, which is low on car traffic to allow for pedestrian rule. We then cross to Emporium Mall, a more modern shopping mall with expensive and luxury chains. It's fun to see such a modern shopping centre, reminiscent of the Mid Valley Mall in Kuala Lumpur. Think lots of space, lots of shops, and lots of floors.

Finally we head through to Melbourne Central, a shopping mall which today seems to be hosting the entire youth population of Melbourne, with crowds of teens and 20-somethings pushing their way through more affordable shops. We're hungry but it's getting later, so we opt for a light lunch of sushi at the Makoto Sushi Train restaurant in the mall. Something that Vanuatu lacks is affordable, good sushi, and this restaurant was the perfect remedy. I had never eaten at the train part of the sushi train (there's one in Port Vila, but I always just order off the menu and sit at the normal tables), so this was quite the novelty. I had to remind myself that this was supposed to be a snack, and stopped at four small plates of sushi.

Bill and I headed off again and he educates me on the 9-story tall Coop's Shot Tower, a tower constructed in 1889 and seemingly out of place in the middle of the Melbourne Central Mall. It was saved from demolition in 1973 when it was incorporated into this mall complex, with a glass dome roof hovering above it.

Coop's Shot Tower

After too much bustling and stimulation, we walk over to the State Library Victoria for some calm and quiet. You don't need a library card to explore Australia's oldest public library, which was established in 1854. In fact, I tried to book a tour of the "Domes to Catacombs" but it was completely full. Regardless, we were able to wander around and guide ourselves through the LaTrobe Reading Room, a three-story glass domed room for the public to use for research and reading, as well as a collection of various historical artifacts, such as the armor that famed Australian outlaw Ned Kelly used during his final shootout with police.

LaTrobe Reading Room

Ned Kelly's Armor

Mentally exhausted from a long day of exploring, we decide to head back home, but not before an unsuccessful run to the Salvos on Bourke Street, where I could not find a cool jacket. Boo.

When we return to Bill's, we take time to get gussied up for the evening plans, which, per usual, are completely a mystery to me. I hold up outfits so Bill can choose an appropriate one for the events. We go with fun and flashy. It's great that the weather as warmed up for the evening as well, so I can wear a halter without freezing. The weather in Melbourne is quite unpredictable, jumping up and down in temperature, but I came prepared for it all.

We head off via public transport back to the CBD (Central Business District), where Bill takes me to Chin Chin. As it is a popular spot that doesn't take reservations, we had to arrive early to ensure a short wait. When we arrive, we're informed that it will be 45 minutes, so we put in our names and go to the downstairs Gogo Bar where we order some hip cocktails and try not to dance to the DJ's groovy beats. I get a Cantilever Margarita, which features aperol, mezcal, passionfruit, honey, cantaloupe, and a spicy chili salt rim. Vanuatu is plentiful with cocktails, but nothing more innovative than sugar on sugar. These savory, sweet and spicy ones are becoming my signature here.

Bill's Nsssau (rum drink) on the left, my margarita on the right.

Gogo Bar

After one drink, we're beckoned upstairs to our spot at the bar. The menu is tapas style, and once we see there is a chef's choice combo called "Feed Me #1: The Classics" for roughly the same price as the number of tapas we planned to order anyway, we pick that instead. We get far more than our money's worth when we are served:

  • signature pork "roll ups" which are pulled pork pancakes with slaw and hoisin sauce
  • kingfish sashimi with lime, chili, coconut and Thai basil
  • crispy barramundi (freshwater fish) and green apple salad with caramelized pork, peanuts and chili
  • corn fritters with lettuce cups served with chili jam, ginger and mint
  • and finally, pad seuw of braised wagyu beef with gai laan, rice noodles and crispy shallots.

Chin Chin's drink menu

Every single one is amazingly delicious, and we get full quite quickly. The Thai iced teas and lemon lime and bitters mocktails we order are a nice break from the alcohol and are great to wash down the spice of some of the dishes. I am roughly tallying the prices of what they bring out, and I assume they are done when the total matches the price of the combo. I am full...but then they bring out two more dishes, telling us these are "the last of the savory course, then one sweet dish will conclude the meal." Neither of us are mentally prepared for this. They set before us a butter chicken curry and a plate of stir fried green beans with shredded coconut, burnt chili and cashews. The last dish is a coconut tapioca pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, just enough for a taste but not too much to make us explode.

We get the check and rush off. Bill has been fervently checking his watch all evening, after telling me the event we are going to tonight is from 6-10pm. I am thinking of all the possible events it could be, especially one that is appropriate to arrive late to, but I don't ever guess correctly when he takes me to a gallery opening at NGV, the National Gallery of Victoria, an art museum.

Outside the NGV

Bill likes the glass fountain wall with Keith Haring accents

A DJ mixes music in the courtyard outside

The central room of the NBV

Awkward prom pic

We arrive with just over an hour to explore. The Friday Night Series is a special recurring event in which the gallery is open late, DJ spotlight 80s music, bartenders mix cocktails, drag performers give shows, and it's a classy and sassy good time. There are loads of fashionably dressed people holding champagne flutes and cocktails while strolling the open spaces. We arrive too late to see the drag show portion, but the new Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring exhibit is open. Bill grabs a glass of sparkling rose before we head to the exhibit, where there is a sign forbidding us from entering with drinks. We chug the freshly poured drink and walk in.

Haring on the left, Basquiat on the right

It is an interesting exhibit. I love galleries and exploring different kinds of art, but at first, while checking out their earlier works, I am unimpressed. It is only the more high concept works with integrated fashion or music or other art collaboration that I become more interested. The show itself is fun and playful, with both Bill and me sharing an interest in the black light room.

the black light room

After snapping some pics in the main hall, which was lined with hot pink shimmery curtains, seemingly moving along to the DJ's electronic mix, we are ushered out as the museum closes its doors for the night. It was a fantastic event for the evening, but we still have a million tapas to digest, so off we walk towards the Yarra River.

Yarra River at night, unfortunately tinged brown by the runoff from the ashfall of the Aussie bushfires

With Chinese New Year taking place on January 25, the city is full of celebratory events and decor. We walk through the night festival on the South Bank of the Yarra River (fun fact: Yarra is the indigenous word for a source of water), heading to the Crown Casino, which also has a magnificent display for the New Year. The streets and casino are packed with people, both young and old. I am so happy to be in a place with bustling nightlife again.

The night festival had little light figures for each of the Chinese years, like the year of the pig

We were both born the year of the Dragon.

Crown Casino decorated for Chinese New Year

We still have some energy, so before we head home, we make one more stop at a bar that Bill's been wanting to check out. The bar is called Two Wrongs, its title written with slightly skewed lettering with ink stains around it to suit the theme. The bouncer coaxes us inside and we head to the bar, which is tended only by young scrawny 20-something men with manbuns and skeezy moustaches, where we order two Passionpop slushies, made with a brand name of cheap sparkling wine. The bartender asks if he can pop our cherries before dropping a maraschino cherry into each of our cups.

Two Wrongs

The place is sensory overload, in the best way. A couple walls have gold spray-painted guns adorning them. The massive two story wall is covered in recognizable classic art but with a graffiti twist, and splattered with neon spray paint. The massive TV above the bar is playing a 90s TaeBo instructional exercise video. A stripper pole illuminated by a disco ball at the base of the stairs attracts a man wearing a teal silk blazer (no shirt) and leopard print pants, who tilts down his leopard print sunglasses before taking a swig of his cocktail and having a spin. At the top of the stairs, forks stabbed into the wall spell out, "fork this place," just above a vintage velvet chaise lounge. On the ground floor, the ceiling is illuminated by rainbow twinkle lights. Just behind a handful of naked women statues glowing in the neon of a "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS" sign is a Mexican food counter, beside a pool table and old school arcade hunting game.


Bill and I take our drinks and sit on one of the mismatched vintage couches and people watch. Our favorite part of all this madness is the three-person couch near the window, raised slightly higher than the rest of us, where three female patrons drink their cocktails and look down on us all. "That's a power move right there," Bill comments.

Once we finish our drinks, we take the short walk back home to recharge before yet another mystery day tomorrow!