“Like seaside suburbs the world over, St Kilda has always had something of a raffish charm,” says Insight Guide … “the colours are bright, the attractions garish, and there’s a whiff of decadence in the air.”
What’s the essence of St Kilda? Well, at the merest hint of sun, “families, students, tourists and anyone else with time on their hands heads down to the Bay for an ice cream on the beach, a cake in Acland Street, a drink in one of the numerous bars and the challenge of trying to keep it all down on one of the more vigorous rides in Luna Park,” writes Melbourne Insight Guide.
“If I’m feeling particularly game, I’ll swim out to the buoys at St Kilda beach, or just float there and taking in the city views from the cool waters of Port Phillip Bay,” says James Norman in The Guardian. “It’s a uniquely Melbourne experience.”
St Kilda has a justifiable reputation as a hub of throbbing nightlife, says Melbourne Insight Guide. There’s a “plethora of bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs pulls in anyone with an eye for a good night out. Some of the city’s best live-music venues are to be found here, and the tawdry dealings in drugs and prostitution that characterised the area for much of the second half of the 20th century have been largely pushed to the margins.”
Fitzroy Street, the spiritual centre of St Kilda, is full of secrets and lies, says Nick Gadd in Melbourne Circle. “For sheer quantity of stories, this is probably one of the richest streets in the Melbourne suburbs. As always, the stories that appeal to me begin with the traces of the past that can be read on the walls.”
If there’s one culinary landmark in St Kilda, it has to be Café Di Stasio, the landmark that has stayed relevant. It’s run by local hero Ronnie Di Stassio, who explained his philosophy to Tim Fisher in Broadsheet. A restaurant, he says, need only cover a few essentials. “A good wine list. Ice, lemon and good food. And a waiter who knows what he’s doing. It’s pretty basic. It’s fundamental. You work hard, and at the end of the day, the reward is going to have a good meal. I think we can all agree on that.” The first time I met Ronnie, says Fisher, he’d spoken of a clear vision for Bar Di Stasio. “It would be a place where travelling friends could come straight off a plane and feel comfortable enough to leave a suitcase behind the bar while heading to meetings in the city. A home away from home for a certain type of person.”
Close behind Cafe Di Stasio, in the iconic stakes is Cicciolina, which is “always packed because it’s always reliably good,” writes Dale Campisi in Melbourne Precincts. “Even if you don’t make it past the drinks and substantial starters in the back bar, you’ll have a good time here, such is the attention to your experience,” says Campisi, recommending the pastas, the “silky-smooth” carpaccio and imbibing from the 150-wine cellar. “This warm room of dark wood, subdued lighting and pencil sketches is a St Kilda institution,” declares the Lonely Planet Melbourne Guide. “You may have to wait for an hour or so for a table,” writes Frommer’s Easy Guide to Australia, “but it will be worth it for delights such as pasta with a goat, tomato, rosemary, orange, cinnamon and red wine ragu…”
As you stroll around St Kilda, there are two other looming icons. The Palais Theatre, which has hosted the likes of the Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones and Leonard Cohen, recently unveiled unveiled a $26 million redevelopment that saved the iconic theatre from almost certainly closing. And Luna Park, the oldest theme park in Australia, where you can hear “the clacking of the wooden rollercoaster and the screams of young children hurtling down its tracks,” writes the Herald Sun.