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Melbourne has a habit of hiding its light under a bushel – or rather, amid its warren of mysterious laneways. Down many a dark, graffiti-lined alley, you’ll find the city’s coolest hidden hangouts, from buzzing bars to white-hot eateries. If there’s no name on the door, or you have to ring a bell to get in, you’re onto a good thing. Here are our favourite secret seven laneway spots…

Section 8 laneway bar in Melbourne

Out of eyeshot when you glance up Tattersalls Lane from Chinatown’s Little Bourke Street, SECTION 8 (above) is tucked away in a car park-like recess which you won’t clock until you’re right on it. Once spotted (at nos 27–29), you’ll be besotted, though: this grungy outdoor space teams a bar created from shipping containers with wooden pallet seats, lanterns and street art. Mean drinks and tunes up the fun factor.

Lab-chic at the Croft Institute, MelbourneThe location couldn’t be more unlikely, as you disappear down Payne’s Place to Croft Alley, a zigzagging laneway off Little Bourke Street. Keep the faith and you’ll emerge at one of Melbourne’s most surreal spots, cocktail bar  THE CROFT INSTITUTE (right; open 5pm till late daily, or from 8pm Saturdays; closed Sundays). Downstairs is decked out like a madcap laboratory; upstairs, it’s more old-school gym. Bubbling blue liquids in vitrine phials add to the science-geek charm.

Easy to miss, elegant venue VON HAUS, at 1a Crossley Street, will soon make you feel at home. Essentially one room, with a communal wooden table surrounded by smaller perches, and a petite courtyard space, it has a distinctly European feel, with hearty soups and stews, sexy salads and wines by the glass. Open daily, 11am–11pm, this painting-strewn pad has ‘date destination’ written all over it.

Smith’s Melbourne office may be right next door, but even we struggle to find super-secret, sign-free YU-U, a tiny Japanese eatery at 137 Flinders Lane, on the corner of Oliver Lane. Open Monday–Friday for set lunches and dinner (6pm–9.30pm), it’s a casual canteen with counter seats or tables for yakitori and sips of sake.

For a dreamy double-whammy, trot up the road to 21 Liverpool Street, where a bike mounted on the wall outside hints at the laneway gem within. Mao-chic bar DOUBLE HAPPINESS (left) awaits on the ground-floor for a relaxed kick-off cocktail. Afterwards head upstairs, where two storeys of oriental charm unfold at its sister bolthole.

NEW GOLD MOUNTAIN‘s moniker derives from the name Chinese immigrants gave each new mine in Victoria’s goldfields in the 1850s. The first floor is all jade-green glamour, with a romantic red retreat perched above (below). New Gold Mountain, MelbourneLaser-cut panels, a floaty fabric ceiling and peekaboo CBD views ensure secret-assignation attitude. Both are licensed till late, but you may need to buzz to get in…

It’s the hot restaurant du jour, but finding Mexican eatery MAMASITA –  hidden above a 7-11 on Collins Street – is almost as hard as bagging a table. Once inside this simple wood and wrought-iron space, feast on delicious tostaditas, tacos and quesadillas, and zesty ceviches, washed down with top-shelf tequila. Blown-up black-and-white photos and quirky lighting help keep your mind off the queues.

Rooftop bar Madame Brussels, MelbourneFinally, it wouldn’t be Melbourne without some radical rooftop action. Perched an elevator ride above a spaghetti joint at Level 3, 59–63 Bourke Street, kitschy MADAME BRUSSELS sports Astroturf, perky parasols, waitstaff decked out in Fred Perry shorts and tennis kit, and jugs of Pimm’s as big as your head. People-watch in the sun at this good-times garden party.

SECRET LANEWAYS AFTER-HOURS STAYS:

For location-savvy laneway lodgings, try stylish self-catering Apartment 401 in Melbourne’s CBD, just off Flinders Lane. If DIY is just Not Your Thing, there are quirky abodes aplenty in Smith’s Melbourne hotel collectionThe Cullen‘s edgy street-art references will chime nicely with your laneways forays…

The Cullen hotel in Melbourne

SECRET LANEWAYS ADDRESS BOOK:

The Croft Institute 21–25 Croft Alley, Melbourne ( +61 (0)3 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +61 (0)3 9671 4399 end_of_the_skype_highlighting )
Double Happiness 21 Liverpool Street, Melbourne; (+61 (0)3 9650 4488 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +61 (0)3 9650 4488 end_of_the_skype_highlighting)

Madame Brussels Level 3, 59–63 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Mamasita
Level 1, 11 Collins Street, Melbourne (+61 (0)3 9650 3821 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +61 (0)3 9650 3821 end_of_the_skype_highlighting)

New Gold Mountain 21 Liverpool St, Melbourne ( +61 (0)3 9650 8859 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +61 (0)3 9650 8859 end_of_the_skype_highlighting)
Section 8 27–29 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne (+61 0430 291 588 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +61 0430 291 588 end_of_the_skype_highlighting)
Von Haus 1 Crossley Street, Melbourne (+61 (0)3 9662 2756)

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