‘I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade’ Paul Kelly ‘From St Kilda to King’s Cross’
For some reason St Kilda will forever feel like my playground. Despite the onslaught of gentrification which threatens to extinguish its spark, St Kilda remains Melbourne’s gritty, eccentric, seaside suburb. It’s hard to put my finger on what it is about this little place that makes me hold my hand to my chest and sigh everytime I return but below is a guide of the places which, I think, make St Kilda special.
One of the best parts of St. Kilda would have to be Carlilse St. – the ethnically rich shopping strip where Jewish delicatessens and cheap Asian shops neighbour each other harmoniously. The many café’s along Carlilse st. go through an all too common cycle. They start out promising, and if they’re good, word of mouth spreads and they become a hang out for “those in the know,” including local celebrities and musicians. Then before you know it, Jewish Mums wearing weird, layered clothing ensembles in various shades of gray catch on, and soon you find yourself eating breakfast one morning next to a table of half your friends’ mums ordering skim-milk porridges and talking about their sex lives (shudder.)
Amongst the litany of cafes on Carlisle Street, of notable mention is Jewish mainstay Glicks. Glick’s is like a killer mutant that just grows bigger and bigger and spreads its tentacles across Melbourne, with thuggish vandalism, fiscal crises and disgruntled customers not seeming to put a dent in its success. Come Friday, Glick’s descends into mayhem, with daggers being exchanged over who’s first in queue to buy a gefilte fish ball. Screaming, pushing, shouting and community gossip fill that sweaty, challah smelling room. My fellow Semite friend put it aptly, commenting: ‘If I wasn’t Jewish and had seen that then I’d be an anti-Semite!” It is certainly a physically and emotionally exhilarating experience which would serve as a good visual for anyone studying Lord of the Flies or preparing for battle.
If you keep walking from Carlisle Street towards the beach you will see local pub ‘The Greyhound Hotel’. ‘The Greyhound’ used to look like a hotel but since I’ve been back has been renovated to the point where it truly resembles a brothel now (at least now there’ll be no more surprises upon entry). It’s here that I saw possibly the seediest drag show ever which felt like the equivalent of someone smearing your body with Vaseline and then telling you ‘well I thought it was Vaseline… but I’m not quite sure anymore’.
Stroll further down and eventually you will hit Acland Street. Franchises like Sportsgirl and Jay Jays have tried to stub out the local charm of Acland Street. Sadly they have nearly succeeded, but there is still evidence of a distinct, bohemian quality in this area. Even the drunks of St Kilda seem to have a friendly warmth to them. When me and a friend used to perform at an open-mic night on Acland street our main demographic would be a group of homeless drunks who would migrate from the Catani gardens nearby and cheer hysterically everytime we busted out a Christine Anu cover of ‘Come join my party”, exclaiming: ‘I fucking LOVE this song..Fucking LOVE it!!’ at appropriate (and inappropriate) intervals.
If you walk past Acland Street you will eventually hit the Esplanade with the laughing smile of Luna Park in the background. As the weather warms up the ratio of beer bottles per person here rises exponentially. Despite it being the summer backyard for Melbournians hailing from all over and the fact that the water is polluted, it is achingly beautiful and there is always somewhere to find a quiet, contemplative spot. Kite surfers dot the skyline and if you face your back to the tacky, beachside restaurants and just look at the dilapidated peer and the vista of the bay then it makes your heart skip a beat. Melbourne recently experienced it’s first truly warm summer day and at dusk the tourists and locals frolicking in the beach slowly became black shadows while mates sharing a drink and awkward couples on first dates watched on from the board walk. Sigh.
These places constitute the backdrops for the memories made in St Kilda every single day and despite it being the home to backpackers, artists, yuppies, prostitutes and alcoholics, I suppose what makes St Kilda so damn special is that no matter who you are, St Kilda belongs to you too.