Where To Eat, Stay & Play In Melbourne’s Theatre District

By Johanna Thornton
Rydges Melbourne is ideally located in the CBD.

Everything you need to know for a weekend well spent in Melbourne, from sitting fireside at a hatted restaurant to poolside at a newly refurbished hotel.

Surrounded by some of Melbourne’s key art and culture venues, the East End Theatre District is a vibrant entertainment precinct on the cusp of

With six historic theatres within walking distance, the likes of Princess Theatre, The Comedy Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, and a concentration of wine bars, restaurants, hotels and boutiques, it’s an ideal base for a culture, fashion and food-filled weekend in Melbourne.

The precinct is bordered by Spring, Lonsdale, Flinders and Swanston streets, creating a hub for theatre and comedy lovers (Melbourne’s Comedy Festival draws crowds from across Australia), but it’s also positioned to take in the best of the surrounding city.

A 15-minute stroll northeast takes you to Gertrude St and Collingwood St in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, known for its local fashion, buzzy laneways and street art. Ten minutes in the opposite direction is the Yarra River with Flinders St’s top restaurants and the National Gallery of Victoria just across the bridge. And to the east is the heritage-listed Treasury Gardens with its stunning mature trees, landscaped lawns and ornamental ponds.

Where to stay

Rydges’ corner King room.
Rydges’ corner King room.

Rydges Hotel

The newly refurbished Rydges Hotel is the ideal jump-off point for a culture-filled weekend.

After an extensive 18-month renovation the Australian-owned hotel has a fresh new look and revamped spaces, including the excellent Bossley Restaurant & Bar on the ground floor, a heated rooftop pool, fitness studio and sleek conference spaces.

Built in 1972, the distinctive post-war building is heritage-listed, and while its concrete exterior and curtain walls have remained untouched, the interior has been completely transformed. The chic yet warm interiors have been designed in collaboration with Australian design firm Luchetti Krelle, with a focus on natural Australian tones like eucalyptus green and rusty ochre.

Each space feels highly considered and comfortable, with a pleasing layering of textures, from the built-in leather banquettes in the lobby to the Palm Springs-style loungers by the pool.

All the artwork in the hotel was custom-made by local artists, and curated by interior designer Janet Graham, with the tone, shade and scale of each piece proportioned perfectly for the space.

Rydges has three room configurations to choose from: 310 King Standard Rooms, 35 Suites and 25 apartment rooms, the latter of which feature a kitchenette, laundry, and separate lounge/dining spaces. At 60sq m, these apartments are a comfortable home away from home.

Every room is equipped with a Rydges Dream Bed, which meets the highest specifications for quality and comfort and truly is the best night’s sleep you’ll have.

With updated tech, including self-service check-in kiosks and in-room TVs offering casting, room service and more, Rydges has positioned itself as the new go-to hotel for discerning travellers in Melbourne’s CBD.

Where to eat

Chef Khanh Nguyen’s Aru brings fire to Little Collins St. Photo / Ari Hatzis
Chef Khanh Nguyen’s Aru brings fire to Little Collins St. Photo / Ari Hatzis


Billed as a modern Australian restaurant with a sharing menu heroing Asian flavours, Aru on Little Collins St welcomes you off the street with the cosy glow of its impressive wood-fired oven; the scent of sweet smoke in the air.

This award-winning restaurant, which opened in 2021, manages to be both earthy and sexy at the same time, with warm terracotta tiles, dim lighting and sleek leather banquettes. A long open kitchen runs the length of the space where chefs are busy tending to the fire and plating expert cuts of duck that have spent time in Aru’s own dry ageing room. These seats at the marble counter are the place to be — close enough to the action that you can feel the warmth from the hearth as you sip a smoked negroni with pickled cherry.

Before any food arrives, a hot towel appears for refreshing your hands, one of many nice touches at Aru, like the leather-bound drinks list and tactile ceramic plates.

From the snacks menu, the Duck Sausage Sanga is Aru’s take on a Bunnings-style sausage with a nicely charred, Leatherwood honey-glazed duck sausage on soft white bread with caramelised onions and topped with mayo and peanut hoisin sauce.

A cold mushroom dish was full of flavour with zesty finger lime and tofu curd, served with a Chinese doughnut for mopping up the sauce. A prehistoric-looking kingfish collar was coated in pumpkin miso and blackened over the fire, served with a charred lime half and orange kosho on the side. Aru is a must-visit. 268 Little Collins St, Melbourne.

Pop-up restaurant Kafeneion. Photo / Johanna Thornton
Pop-up restaurant Kafeneion. Photo / Johanna Thornton


A pop-up restaurant that’s destined to go permanent, Kafeneion on Bourke St is the creation of Stavros Konis and Con Christopoulos, who are serving simple Greek comfort food in the space once occupied by Con’s previous venture Martinis with Mancini. The long, thin space is lined with wine bottles and linen-covered tables for two, a pink glow emanating from the neon sign emblazoned with ‘cocktails’ at the street-side bar area.

The service here was just right, with the waitstaff offering great conversation and suggestions from the menu, which is a little light on detail. While they may not have won us over with the suggestion of the sweetbreads (we’re told they’re fabulous here), we did have to try the simply titled “Chicken, Greek Pasta, from the oven”, which turned out to be tender morsels of chicken that came apart easily with a spoon, in a lightly tomato-infused orzo with carrots and onions — like a life-affirming bowl of chicken soup, served on a charming floral-print oval dish. It was gorgeous with a glass of Karanika Cuvee Speciale Brut from Amyndaio, Greece. Kafenion isn’t about fancy plating or small portions, it’s the place to visit when you feel like Greek home cooking with style. 70 Bourke St, Melbourne.


The official entrance to Melbourne’s Chinatown area is right across the road from Rydges Hotel, with Little Bourke St a treasure trove of eateries, shopping and entertainment and interconnecting side streets, decorated with lanterns and neon lights. The Museum of Chinese Australian History is open daily and offers five floors of culture and history, while the Chinese Mission Church dates back to 1872.

To eat, there are numerous dumpling restaurants like Shanghai Street, Shandong Mama Dumplings and Tim Ho Wan and hot pot specialists like Dragon Hot Pot and Jiyu Thai Hot Pot, bubble tea and dessert, and hidden basement bars like Bar Clara.

Bossley Restaurant & Bar, nestled on the ground floor of 186 Exhibition St.
Bossley Restaurant & Bar, nestled on the ground floor of 186 Exhibition St.

Bossley Restaurant & Bar

This new restaurant on the ground floor of Rydges Hotel is the ideal spot for a pre- or post-theatre get-together, with a modern Australian menu curated by executive chef Paul Griffiths. Bossley is passionate about sourcing ingredients exclusively from Victorian suppliers such as line-caught fish from Port Phillip Bay and beef from the Gippsland region. At Bossley, the snapper is cooked to perfection in a burnt butter sauce with capers and lemon, and chunks of grilled octopus come nestled on a vibrant bed of parsley, chilli and lime sauce. Bossley’s “grill section” highlights aged fillets of beef like rib-eye and tomahawk, with fries in confit garlic aioli or roasted baby carrots to eat alongside. The decor here is beautifully thought out with emerald green banquettes and velvet curtains, reeded glass partitions and herringbone tiled floors. If it’s just a cocktail you’re after, Bossley Bar is open every day, serving sloe gin fizz, negronis and a good list of Australian and New Zealand wines by the glass or bottle. 186 Exhibition St, Melbourne.

Pascale Bar and Grill & QT Rooftop

A five-minute walk from Rydges Hotel, QT Rooftop is a popular spot for city workers looking for an after-work drink. It’s comfortable even in winter, when awnings come across to protect from the elements and candles flicker at every table. QT Rooftop has a partnership with the excellent Four Pillars gin and offers a whole page of martinis, from smokey, deep and bold to floral sour and fun. There’s even a flight of three martinis for $45 to sample. If you’re feeling hungry, Pascale Bar and Grill is a European-style brasserie with a bold amount of glitz and glamour. The menu is strong — from Abrolhos Island scallops with fermented chilli and orange butter, to a great roasted beetroot with cashew cream and pear; and braised beef short rib with celeriac, cavolo nero and buckwheat. The best part of the menu is the tiramisu, which the Pascale team serve directly on to your plate from a perfectly formed tray of ‘misu. Level 1, 133 Russell St, Melbourne.

For impressive cocktails visit The Everleigh, a bar reminiscent of a bygone era. Photo / @Theeverleigh
For impressive cocktails visit The Everleigh, a bar reminiscent of a bygone era. Photo / @Theeverleigh

The Everleigh

For a classic cocktail bar in the heart of Fitzroy, head to The Everleigh for a dark, moody and sophisticated Chesterfield sofa-filled space recently nominated as Cocktail Bar of The Year in the 2023 Australian Bar Awards. With dark wood-panelled walls, cosy leather booths, bentwood stools and crystal chandeliers, The Everleigh is an old-world-style bar that will transport you to another era. The Everleigh offers a full drinks menu but it specialises in creating a drink depending on what you feel like. Let the bartenders take care of you with a brief Q&A to find out your preferences. Do you like your drinks strong and classic, or sweet and fizzy? If you’d rather select from the menu, there’s a suite of premium cocktails (sitting above the $34 mark), like the Trinity Martini with Never Never Juniper Freak Nacy Strength Gin (which hails from Adelaide), with dry and sweet vermouth; or The Everleigh’s take on the sbagliato with gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling wine. Level 1/150-156 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.

Where to shop

Christine’s Boutique

Christine’s was a tip-off from the very cool Jane Rocca of Harper’s Bazaar Australia, who says you can’t beat it for vintage finds and a curated selection of fashion, accessories and fragrance. Christine’s is named after its founder, Christine Barro, who first set up shop on Flinders Lane in 2000. Christine’s is now a two-level emporium of fashion, art, antiques and more on Collins St with a pair of red lips marking the entrance at street level. Find everything from Philip Treacy hats to Clergerie heels, dresses by The Vampire’s Wife and bags by Anya Hindmarch. Christine’s is an opulent oasis in the CBD. Level 2, 14 Collins St.


For luxury shopping head to Marais on Bourke St, where you’ll find international labels such as Loewe, Maison Margiela, Celine, Marni, Khaite, Chloe and more. Located inside the Royal Arcade, Marais added a two-storeyed womenswear boutique in 2014 and it’s unlikely you’ll find pieces as chic as this anywhere else in Melbourne. 73/77 Bourke St, Melbourne.


This shopping mall lets you tick off a few key Australian designers like Aje, Bec + Bridge, Bassike, Dion Lee, R.M. Williams and Zimmermann, and it also has global brands like Muji, Uniqlo (petition to bring Uniqlo to New Zealand!), Zadig & Voltaire and Nike. Emporium is home to Michelin-starred dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung (with outposts in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and America), which means pairing a spot of shopping with world-renowned dumplings. 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.

Cafe-meets-deli-meets-corner store Morning Market. Photo / @Morningmarket.Melbourne
Cafe-meets-deli-meets-corner store Morning Market. Photo / @Morningmarket.Melbourne

Gertrude Street

For a concentration of great Melbourne boutiques, head for a stroll down Gertrude St in Fitzroy, where you’ll find everything from clothing stores to wine bars, lighting shops to perfumeries. Don’t miss cafe-meets-deli-meets-corner store Morning Market, where tables and chairs spill out onto the sidewalk. Here you can shop for flowers, pick up a salad or sandwich, grab groceries and wine, or stop and order a coffee from the white and cream-clad staff. The shelves are an aesthete’s dream, with orderly lines of colourful gourmet tins, fresh fruit and veges, cookbooks, ceramics and more.

Handsome is a Melbourne-based fashion label producing considered pieces for men and women, which designers Sam Rush and Henry Allum describe as “balancing modernity with considered functionality, and with a strong focus on high-quality fabrication”. That ethos is evident in the beautifully tailored outerwear, luxe knitwear, denim and shirtwear.


For design lovers, District curates furniture, lighting and homeware from some of the best designers in the world, like Normann Copenhagen, Toogood and Massproductions. It’s also home to some of New Zealand’s leading homeware designers like Resident, Simon James Design, Nodi Rugs and Nonn. The Melbourne Showroom on Russell St is a treasure trove of inspirational design and accessories for the home. 20 Russell St, Melbourne.

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