Footscray, in Melbourne’s inner west, is a cultural melting pot with a vibrant community culture. From Eastern European and Vietnamese migrants who made it their home 40 odd years ago, to the more recently arrived residents from Bangladesh and Ethiopia, young families and first home buyers, Footscray ties together an eclectic mix of cultures to create a must-visit neighbourhood.
International cuisine is abundant, the arts scene is thriving and more and more quirky bars and left-of-field boutiques are popping up as the fabric of the community evolves. Its riverside location just five kilometres from the city centre makes it easy to access by train or by bike.
Markets and multiculturalism
Dozens of stalls selling fresh produce at surprisingly affordable prices make the Footscray Market a bustling destination. With a meat and seafood hall, nut and deli shops, Asian and continental supermarket, and fresh fruit and vegetable stalls all under cover, there’s everything needed to keep the pantry, picnic basket or hotel bar-fridge well-stocked. The rooftop also makes for a great vantage point with views over the city. Just 500 metres away, Little Saigon will fill any gaps in the shopping trolley, with all manner of Vietnamese ingredients including all the ingredients for a homemade pho or bánh mì.
African communities form a large part of Footscray and as such, the local council has partnered with the African Australian Small Business Association to install banners representing the flags of all 54 African nations. Positioned along Nicholson Street and parts of Irving Street, it is hoped the flags will show the African community that they are welcome in Footscray, as well as acknowledge their cultural heritage and contribution to the area. Some of Melbourne’s most authentic African cuisine can be found in Footscray, at restaurants such as Café Lalibela and African Taste, both specialising in traditional Ethiopian fare. The neighbourhood also hosts two African festivals: the Emerge in the West Festival (June) and the Ethiopian New Year Festival (September).
To showcase the best of Footscray’s markets and multiculturalism, Melbourne Food Experiences has developed Footscray Food Tour and Lunch. Starting with a hot jam doughnut from the famous Olympic Doughnut van, the tour takes visitors through the butchers, fishmongers and delis of the Footscray Market. There’s then the chance to try a range of international cuisine including Indian snacks, the famed ricotta-filled cannoli at Cavillaro, sugarcane juice at Little Saigon and traditional African bread followed by lunch at Ethiopian restaurant Konjo.
Music and performance
A thriving arts scene has emerged in Footscray, largely with thanks to the Footscray Community Arts Centre. One of Melbourne’s most vibrant cultural hubs, the centre hosts a regular program of exhibitions, performances, workshops and events with the help of a large community of innovative artists. Situated on the banks of the Maribyrnong River, the precinct features theatre performances, workshops, a bar and cafe and gallery spaces such as Five Walls. It is also the venue of the annual St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, famed for its high calibre of international and local musical acts. Nearby, the Footscray Drill Hall is home to Footscray’s experimental theatre company Snuff Puppets and the Women’s Circus.
Footscray’s most-loved live music venue, the Reverence Hotel, was named Melbourne’s Best Live Music Pub in the 2015 Time Out Melbourne Pub Awards. Affectionately known as The Rev, the hotel plays host to local and international artists mostly from the rock genre. A large bar, pool table, two band rooms and a beer garden, ensure there’s plenty of space for entertainment and its Mexican menu specialises in vegan food made with locally sourced ingredients. Gigs are also regularly held at Littlefoot Bar, the Dancing Dog Cafe and Jambo.
Eating and drinking
Though better known for its multicultural eateries, the cafe culture that pervades Melbourne has arrived in Footscray with the launch of several cafes specialising in coffee and brunch. Located opposite the train station, Guerrilla Espresso makes an ideal first stop on any Footscray expedition. The coffee is touted as the best in the west, and though the menu is short, it covers all bases for breakfast, brunch or snacks. One of the hippest venues in the area, Rudimentary serves up Vietnamese-inspired brunch in three converted shipping containers. The space is bright and airy and backs onto a garden of astro-turf, perfect for lazy afternoons.
For a more serious meal, The Plough Hotel is a restaurant, bar and boutique hotel with a focus on regional produce. The menu centres around pub favourites, share plates and pizzas and includes an extensive selection of Victorian wine and craft beer. Pasta and beer boutique Fox in the Corn serves locally made pasta with fresh produce along with good coffee and a range of craft beer while Copper Pot Seddon offers an experience akin to that of Europe’s neighbourhood bodegas and trattorias.
For a quick fix, 8Bit claims to serve Melbourne’s finest hamburgers, milkshakes, fries and hotdogs, and the fact that they sell out every day suggests this might not be far from the truth. Meat lovers can get stuck into some smokey meats at Up in Smoke, where the focus is on beef and beer.
Those who like their bars with a bit of quirk can’t go past beer and pizza bar Honeycomb Hideout, the once-warehouse-now-watering-hole Back Alley Sally, the rustic Small French Bar, and the welcoming Littlefoot Bar, where food, live music and fun times await.
A new community food hall is slated to join Footscray’s dining and bar scene in early 2017, combining food trucks with other local food start-ups. Pending council approval, ‘Welcome to Footscray’ will be located on the ground level of The Dream Factory, and will feature a permanent bar and a rotating roster of food trucks. Run by the team behind the popular Welcome to Thornbury and harnessing Melburnians’ love of coming together for a bite to eat, Welcome to Footscray will have a firm focus on the local area, and a strong community feel.
One of the largest and most intact examples of an Edwardian park in Australia, Footscray Park comprises 15 hectares with views across the Maribyrnong River to Flemington Racecourse. Here, visitors can enjoy play grounds, barbecues, an outdoor stage, landscaped ponds and of course wide open spaces. The park also has a designated dog off lead area to ensure fun for all members of the family.
Footscray is home to the biggest Chinese temple in Australia, The Heavenly Queen Chinese temple, newly built in honour of ‘Mazu’, Lin Mo Liang (A.D. 960-987). Located on what was a vacant site along the Maribyrnong River, the Buddhist temple is comprised of six-buildings, and includes a memorial hall, souvenir shop, exhibition centre, drum tower, a secondary temple, bell tower, lake pavilion and extensive Chinese gardens.
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