Lygon Street is renowned as the birthplace of Melbourne’s world-famous café culture, and for its abundance of fine Italian cuisine. But there’s much more to this inner urban boulevard than the cafes, pasta restaurants, pizza joints and gelaterias established by enterprising Italian immigrants who began arriving in the 1950s.
From humble origins
Originally known as Cameron Street, it traces north from the edge of Melbourne’s CBD through Carlton and onward to the heart of cosmopolitan Brunswick. It was renamed in the 1870s in honour of the Englishman Lord William Lygon, who went on to become the Governor of New South Wales.
These days it’s lined with restaurants, cafes and upmarket boutiques, and patronised not only by the residents of the now-affluent suburbs it runs through, but also budget-conscious university students from nearby University of Melbourne, and a steady stream of curious tourists from all over the world.
The leafy Carlton end of Lygon, still known as ‘Little Italy’, is presided over by Borsari’s Corner, featuring a heritage-listed neon sign named after the Italian cyclist and Olympic gold medallist Nino Borsari, who founded a cycling store at the site when he became stranded in Australia during World War II. He later expanded his range, and Borsari Emporium became an institution among the local Italian community.
The strip is also home to Australia’s oldest pizzeria, Toto’s, and it's said the first-ever ‘Aussie’ pizza was served in Lygon Street. It adjoins Argyll Square, while sprawling Carlton Gardens – home to the magnificent Royal Exhibition Building and the Melbourne Museum – is just two blocks’ walk away.
Grab your morning heartstarter from D.O.C Espresso, but make sure not to miss the sweet, sweet treats at Brunetti Classico, either. For lunch or dinner, take your pick. Pop into King and Godfree for pasta just like mama used to make, or cruise the street and chat to the maitre d’s as you browse their menus. You’d be remiss not to stop at legendary wine bar Jimmy Watson’s for a cheeky vino, and the rooftop bar at Johnny’s Green Room is a great spot to while away a fine evening.
How the other half lives
But your dose of dolce vita is only half-done. From Elgin Street, catch a tram or take a stroll past the Melbourne General Cemetery to reach the street’s bustling Brunswick end, where you’ll be tempted by a melting pot of cuisines. Go Texan at Bluebonnet Barbecue or New York-style at Bouvier, or stick with proud Sicilian fare at Bar Idda or pizza-done-right at 400 Gradi.
It’s not just about the food, either. With boutique shopping interspersed along both ends of Lygon Street, be prepared to indulge in some serious retail therapy.
Then there’s the famous Readings bookshop to browse, Cinema Nova to catch the latest arthouse flick, a performance at La Mama theatre, or stop by to admire Melbourne Trades Hall, reputedly the world’s oldest trade union building.