My life in Melbourne - Chapel Street

Since the day I first set foot there in October 2016, my love for Melbourne has never weakened. First, there are all the objective reasons that make it a city recognised as one of the most pleasant to live in the world: its cafes and restaurants, its dynamic cultural scene, its multiple parks… But above all, there are all the unforgettable memories that I have accumulated there over the years. I wanted to reveal you some of these slices of life, while taking the opportunity to show you my favourite places in Melbourne. With this article, head to the bustling Chapel Street and the neighbourhoods of Prahran and Windsor!

Click here for my recommendations of places to visit on Chapel Street.

Part I - 2016/2017

Not far from Windsor train station in southern Melbourne, a huge palm tree stands in one of the one-way lanes perpendicular to Chapel Street. It’s impossible to miss it. There are no other trees nearby, and it towers over all the buildings around it. At the foot of this palm tree is a house invisible from the street, hidden by a tall brown palisade. It’s in this house that I experienced some of my strongest emotions in Australia.

Eastbourne Street, Melbourne

Little throwback. I arrived in Melbourne at the end of September 2016. My first weeks were quite difficult, between unsuccessful job search, a stay in a particularly dirty youth hostel and misadventures with my van… But in the space of just a few days, I got a job as a barista for the famous French luxury brand Ladurée, and I moved into this famous house.

The Ladurée shop at Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne

I remember perfectly the evening of my visit. The day before, I had replied to an online ad for a room available in a sharehouse. A guy named Dain had offered me to drop by in the evening to see the room and meet the other roommates. I arrived a little early and a pretty blonde girl wearing a lot of make-up opened the door. She greeted me with a pronounced North American accent and invited me to come inside.

I followed her along a dark corridor whose floor was covered in a not-so-new brown carpet. It opened into some sort of dining room, with several shelves overflowing with food along the right wall and three fridges to my left. A large rectangular wooden table sat in the centre and a few people were seated around it, drinking a beer or enjoying a glass of wine. She gave me the introductions:

“My name is Leanne. The blonde girl is Steph, we both come from Toronto in Canada. The couple sitting next to her are Hillary and Trevor, they’re American.
-From Portland, Oregon! added Hillary with a large smile.
-Then you have Mayuko who is Japanese and Ruben, another Frenchy. The others aren’t here, but you’ll meet them soon enough.”

She went on to list the nationalities of the housemates absent that evening: South Korea, Thailand, Italy, the Netherlands… With each new country she mentioned, my eyes sparkled more and more, as the idea of living in such a multicultural environment pleased me a lot. I also quickly introduced myself, then Leanne showed me around. The house was entirely on one level. The dining room opened onto a small outdoor courtyard partly protected by a wooden roof, with a picnic table and four rows of ropes on which linen was hanging. There were five rooms on either side of the corridor: two girls’ dorms and a boys’ dorm with 3 beds each, a double room occupied by the American couple, and one single room, the one for me. In total, twelve roommates could live there simultaneously, while having to share two showers, three toilets, a tiny kitchen and a living room with two faded sofas facing a large television screen.

The whole thing looked grossly neglected. The TV was directly on the floor, a window pane was cracked and had been roughly patched up with brown tape, and the furniture in the room was limited to a bed, a desk, a folding chair and a wardrobe. But this house, although a little dilapidated and obviously too small to accommodate so many people at the same time, awakened a real fantasy in me. I felt like I was dragged inside a French movie called l’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck in English) that I really like, where the main character spends a year in Barcelona as an Erasmus student. Living under the same roof than eleven other travellers from the entire world was the promise of many encounters, discoveries, laughter, joy and unforgettable evenings. Tears, arguments, sadness and anger too, very likely. But more than anything, it was the certainty of living unique moments, of feeling intense emotions, of building indelible memories. I didn’t hesitate a single second and moved in the following day.

My instinct did not deceive me. It was the very first time I stayed in a sharehouse and despite the inevitable inconveniences of living with such a large group of people, I absolutely loved the few months I spent in this house. I got on very quickly with most of my roommates, especially with Leanne, Steph, Ruben, Hillary and Trevor, the most party-loving of them. Our first night together was for Halloween, just a couple of days after I moved in. I had bought a mask at the last minute from a joke shop, and followed this little group to a club on Chapel Street.

It was that night that I realised what a nightlife hotspot this part of Melbourne was. I had never set foot on Chapel Street before. I discovered an almost uninterrupted line of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, from the suburb of Windsor where I lived to the ones of Prahran and South Yarra further north. This Halloween party was the first of a long series. I quickly got into the habit of starting my Friday or Saturday evenings with a few drinks at home with my flatmates, before heading to the Wolf, the bar at the corner of our street and Chapel Street. Most of our nights ended at Lucky Coq, 100m further on, where we danced until late at night. We went out every weekend. I hadn’t partied so much since the end of my studies, and I sometimes felt rejuvenated!

Among the other places we went to regularly, there was the Tusk with its shaded terrace, the Yellow Bird for Sunday brunch, Jalisco with its mojitos and Mexican dishes… And from time to time, we pushed the door of Jungle Boy, a bar hidden behind an innocent-looking sandwich shop, to enjoy a “Zombie”, a delicious cocktail with a high alcohol content…

Beyond its bars and restaurants, Chapel Street had a real working-class atmosphere that I liked a lot. It was a melting pot of people, several op-shops and antique shops, a lot of graffiti and murals in the surrounding lanes that I enjoyed exploring during my strolls… One of these alleys was even called “Artists Lane”!

I also enjoyed the mix of architectural styles. On the Windsor side, Chapel Street was lined with one-storey houses, with colourful facades and sometimes beautifully decorated pediments. Arriving on Prahran, the buildings rose in a disparate assortment of genres: the massive colonnades of Revolver (a nightclub famous for its excesses of all kinds), the Victorian architecture of the Town Hall or even the incredible Prahran Arcade, my favourite building on the street.

Finally, even if I much preferred the South Melbourne Market, I also went from time to time to the Prahran Market, a stone’s throw from Chapel Street on Commercial Road.

I lived in this house for nearly four months, from late October to mid-February. For Christmas, me and Tich, one of my roommates with Swedish and Thai background, organised an amazing New Year’s Eve party. About twenty guests, games, a lot of laughter, delicious food, overall an ideal moment to forget the fact that for the first time in my life, I was celebrating Christmas away from my parents.

New roommates kept arriving and leaving during these four months, as everyone was at a different stage of their stay in Australia. I said goodbye with sadness to the two Canadians and the American couple in January, but at the same time I met Marine, another French girl. She quickly became my new evening partner, and I eventually created a very close friendship with her. Over time, I lost contact with most of my roommates (I only saw Hillary and Trevor again in New Zealand a year later), but not with Marine. She still lives in Melbourne and we see each other regularly. She is now the mother of an adorable little girl, and she just told me that she was expecting her second child, just a few days before publishing this article!

And then it was my turn to leave the house, to begin my farmwork for three months and get my second Working Holiday Visa. It was with great emotion that I packed my clothes and travel things, adding many memories inside my backpack. I have never set foot there since.

Part II - since 2023

But I came back to Chapel Street. And by a funny coincidence, that’s actually where I live right now, in March 2024… Since I came back in Melbourne twelve months ago, I have been frequenting the same places again as seven years ago!

Shortly after I arrived, I found a shared room at the intersection with Alma Road, in St Kilda East. Nothing compared to the house where I used to live! This time I had only one roommate (Paula, a Colombian girl whom I quite rarely saw). The apartment where I stayed was much more comfortable, clean and well maintained. I hadn’t lived in a room this big since leaving Switzerland in 2016! And I was only five minutes’ walk from Windsor and the first bars, and ten minutes from the Lucky Coq. I never would have imagined a few years ago that one day I would come back to settle here, so close to these places that have marked me forever…

I stayed in this apartment from April until the end of October. After a break of a few weeks in Glen Iris, a much more residential suburb further east, I’m now back on Chapel Street! I live at the southern end of the street, on the border between the districts of Balaclava and St Kilda, which I will have the opportunity to talk about in future articles. I stay with Igor, a great French friend that I met last year. We currently have two other housemates, also French, Laurine and Valentine. They recently moved in to replace Lucie, a friend that I met during that unforgettable (for bad reasons) trip to South America in December 2022. She also lives in Australia now, and she briefly stayed with us.

I very quickly regained my bearings in this corner of Melbourne so dear to my heart. Almost nothing has changed: the tram in the middle of the street, the countless op-shops, the characteristic jerky beeping when pedestrian lights turn green, the somewhat feverish atmosphere of Friday and Saturday evenings… Some murals that I really liked have disappeared, but others are still here and a few have appeared in the meantime. The places I used to go are still there too. I went back to the Yellow Bird several times, with Maya (a very good French friend whom I met in Melbourne in 2016, who also came back to live here in December 2022) and her boyfriend Simon. They used to live almost next door to my first apartment and they hosted me for two weeks upon my arrival, but they sadly flew back to France last December. I’ve also been to Lucky Coq three times, which apart from the exterior painting hasn’t changed, and I even went back to Jungle Boy to sip a Zombie with Igor.

Unlike 2016 when I had to drive every day to the huge Chadstone shopping centre further south, I now also work in the neighbourhood, in Prahran, on a small street parallel to Chapel Street. I am a barista again, in a cake shop called Wildflour Bakery whose displays are always full of delicious pastries… I pass my old street almost every day, each time with a little nostalgic look at this huge palm tree, still standing straight and which even seems to have grown a few meters in recent years.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between my first stay seven years ago and now is myself. I was only 28 when I first moved to Chapel Street, I hadn’t travelled much, neither did I explore or simply lived. I knew I was there temporarily, but I had no idea where I would go next. I was just enjoying the moment. At 36 today, I still don’t know exactly what my future will look like, but all the experiences I’ve had in recent years have deeply changed me. I now know much better who I am and what I dream of. I only need to find out how to how to achieve these dreams… In the meantime, even if I don’t want to party as much as I used to (and above all I recover much less well!), that doesn’t prevent me from still enjoying every moment of happiness spent on Chapel Street.

My recommendations of places to see or to visit on or around Chapel Street

There is not a specific place to see on Chapel Street, it is the street itself that is worth the detour. You need to walk along its entire length, soak up its atmosphere, admire the architecture of the buildings, visit the op-shops and sit on the terrace of a bar or a café. Here are some good places to visit in the suburbs of Prahran and Windsor:

  • Wildflour Bakery : impossible not to start with this bakery located on St Edmonds Road where I currently work! Don’t miss the delicious cakes and biscuits baked by Matilda, the owner of the place. Accompany them with a coffee that I would be happy to serve you!
  • Babble Café : excellent place for a delicious brunch with very good service, in front of Prahran Square, a stone’s throw away from Chapel Street.
  • Lucky Coq : at the corner between Chapel and High Street, it is still my favourite club! Entrance is free, and the atmosphere is always great.
  • Lasagnalab : on High Street, a hundred metres away from Chapel Street, a restaurant of lasagnes, as the name suggests. Generous platefuls, ideal to share!
  • Yellow Bird : the place to satisfy everyone. Brunch is really good, so are beers, and the reduced-price tacos on ‘Tijuana Tuesday’ every week are a real treat!
  • Henrietta : an excellent restaurant of Middle Eastern specialities, revisited with an Australian twist. Slightly more expensive, but really delicious!
  • Jungle Boy : behind the innocent-looking façade of a sandwich shop, push the door of what seems to be the cold room and enter the tropical atmosphere of this secret bar! Cocktails are not cheap but really tasty, especially the famous Zombie.

Finally, there’s a lot of street art in the suburbs of Prahran and Windsor! My favourite murals can be seen on the walls of the huge building of Melbourne Polytechnic, by the artists Guido Van Helten, Sofles and Reka ONE. I also really like the gigantic robot overlooking Chapel Street near the intersection with Commercial Road, painted by the British artist Phlegm. Next to Windsor station, the portrait of the Australian basketball player Ben Simmons by Lynch has sadly been slightly defaced, but I still like its colours. Don’t miss also Artists Lane, a narrow alley whose walls are covered with paintings!

Have you ever been on Chapel Street? Do you know any other good places to recommend in the suburbs of Prahran or Windsor? Feel free to share them in the comments!

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