In the 1970s, Fitzroy took over from Carlton as the home of the city’s artistic community, and every year at the end of September, the colourful Fringe Parade and a street party on Brunswick Street usher in the Fringe Festival, the alternative scene’s answer to the highbrow Melbourne International Arts Festival. The International Comedy Festival (April) and the Next Wave Festival (May, even numbered years), two other notable arts events, also take place mainly in Fitzroy.

The district’s focus is Brunswick Street, especially between Gertrude Street, home to trendy galleries, great boutiques and performance art spaces, and Johnston Street, with its lively Spanish bars. In the shadow of Housing Commission tower blocks, welfare agencies and charity shops rub shoulders with funky secondhand clothes and junk shops, ethnic supermarkets and restaurants, cafés full of grungy students, artists, writers and musicians, and thriving bookshops. Most of the rough old hotels have been done up to match the prevailing mood: the Provincial is a good example, with its distressed paint-job and café/bar.

Some great pubs have remained untouched down the side streets, however, such as the Napier Hotel at 210 Napier St opposite Fitzroy Town Hall, and The Standard at 293 Fitzroy St, which has perhaps Melbourne’s best beer garden. Fitzroy’s fringe art leanings are reflected in wacky street installations such as mosaic chairs, and sculptures like Mr Poetry. The eye-catching wrought-iron gate at the entrance to the Fitzroy Nursery at 390 Brunswick St, with its fairy-tale motif, sets the theme for the Artists Garden above the nursery, which exhibits sculptures and other decorative items for garden use.