Gertrude Street Fitzroy

Gertrude Street Fitzroy

Gertrude Street is a real Melbourne secret!

PHOTO: Gertrude Street, originally uploaded by AhIzMeh.

In our search for the best secrets in Melbourne, we start our journey not in the Melbourne CBD but just a very short tram ride north in the a joining suburb of Fitzroy.


#86 Tram from Bourke Street

Gertrude Street

Gertrude street has a dark history and has long been know as one of the most notorious streets in Melbourne and for 100 years (1890 to 1990) this area was steeped in poverty and crime. But cheap rent close to Melbourne also made it attractive to immigrants, musicians and artists (Tom Roberts, Charles Gilbert and Arthur Boyd all lived in the area).

In 1980 Brunswick Street became the fashionable place to be seen having coffee. Theatre, art and culture thrived as Melbourne’s creativity was hatched from the scribblings around the coffee tables. Businesses of passion were created and this street certainly overshadowed its darker sister Gertrude.

Gertrude Street Today

“If I only had 1 recommendation for a day out in Melbourne I think I would suggest a trip to Gertrude st, Fitzroy. Such a great collection of small boutiques, breakfast, lunch and dinner spots and small galleries… a truly eclectic mix.” Lucy from Design Files

Fast forward to 2009 and those ‘businesses of passion’ have been sold on, all that creative passion has moved to a new street …Gertrude Street has persevered and is now the new home to groovy cafes, fashion outlets, tapas bars, restaurants, galleries, art supplies and book stores. The passion is alive and you get that exciting feeling of being part of something filled with potential.

The goal of MelbourneOnMelbourne.com is uncover the secrets, those real gems that lay hidden to a three day traveler to Melbourne. As we uncover these gems for YOU, each one will lead us on to another as we keep posing the same question to each creative entrepreneur that we discover.

“What Is The Most Exciting Business You Have Discovered In Melbourne?”

So this site is a conversation of exciting people talking about exciting places in Melbourne. We are always looking to talk to the creator of an exciting shop or business and we are overwhelmed with great places to start our journey just in Gertrude Street alone. So we are starting our journey with one of the most creative identities in the street.

201 Gertrude Street

Tatiana Bistrin of Bistrins Emporium
Fashion, Gifts and much more.
PH: (03) 9416 0095

Tania grew up on Gertrude Street right next to the (then notorious) Builders Arms Hotel, stepping over the drunken underbelly of Melbourne on her way to school each morning. Tania’s father, George Bistrin had arrived in Melbourne with nothing but a suitcase and a passion for people and music. George would work hard by day, compose during his breaks and conduct a band by night. His commitment to hard work saw the Bistrin family running many ‘businesses of passion’ along Gertrude Street at various times through the 20th century including a music store, a record label and a European news agency. Tania has kept her fathers spirit alive in Gertrude Street with her very own business of passion.

Bistrins Emporium is a shop that is hard to label and it certainly qualifies as a Melbourne Secret, there is no fancy sign out the front and yet her shop has been in Gertrude Street well before it started becoming groovy. To understand this shop you need to first understand the owner…

“Tatiana Bistrin is a trained artist, musician, designer, theater manager, flamenco dancer, teacher and a student of fashion.”

Every item of stock inside Bistrins Emporium has been hand picked by an extremely creative person with a keen eye for style and usefulness. Tania is a seasoned expert a dressing people and her shop on Gertrude Street, although dominated by woman’s fashions, has something for everyone. Clothes, gifts, cards, soaps, jewelry, books and her store is one of the few places in Melbourne that you can buy a piano accordion.

Bistrins Emporium is directly opposite ‘Deans Art Supplies’ and situated between the Builders Arms Hotel and the Indian Restaurant (just up from that old fashioned barber).

We interviewed Tania and will soon share that recording with you as she uncovers some real Gertrude Street secrets:

  • The Gertrude Gallery
  • The best restaurant in Gertrude Street
  • Best bar, Gertrude Street
  • Tapas in Gertrude Street

Subscribe to our email list for updates and we look forward to finding out of you too have discovered a true ‘Business of Passion’ in Melbourne.

Gertrude Street History

Gertrude Street and Brunswick Street were both created in the 1840′s when the land was subdivided by its then owners, Captain Brunswick Smythe and Benjamin Baxter. Getrude Street was named after the captains daughter, Gertrude Smythe. Prior to the ‘moving on’ of the Wurundjeri people during the colonial settlement, the Fitzroy area was steeped in indigenous history and continues to be to this day.

Migration and the Gold Rush quickly turns Fitzroy into a well populated area of land ownership, subdivision and profit for landlords. Living there translated to over-crowding, tent cities, poverty, no police, illegal grog shops, unlicensed pubs, and dust.

In the 1850′s conditions improve and the iconic Melbourne terrace houses are being built. The oldest of these surviving terrace houses in Melbourne is the ‘Glass Terrace’ running from 64-78 Gertrude Street. The three landmark hotels of this area were also built during this decade; the Rob Roy, the Builder’s Arms and the Renown Tavern (later the Leviathan, now the Gertrude).

In the 1880′s the Melbourne Exhibition Building brings visitors to the area, the shanties and temporary shacks are demolished and the area becomes famous for its brothels. In 1888 the Exhibition Building is host to the Centenary Exhibition, bringing with it better access via Cable Trams and their Engine House situated at the corner of Nicholson and Gertrude Streets. The exhibitions encourage trade as retail, commerce and manufacturing businesses transform the area into a village of shopkeepers and small industry, followed by meeting places, schools, churches and Hotels. Property prices boom, large properties get converted into boarding houses mainly catering for the single men flocking to Melbourne.

In 1890 a depression hits Fitzroy hard and the majority of the residents rely on charities for food, shelter and clothes

By the end of the 19th century Gertrude Street is home to a number of village type businesses servicing the working class locals:
- Photography Studio (#10)
- Tanners (#12)
- Tobacconist (#32)
- Dressmaker (#34)
- Confectioner (#36)
- Boot Maker (#52-60)
- Wood Yard (#52-60)
- Blacksmith (#52-60)
- Tailor (#52-60)
- Baker (#62)
- Cabinet Maker
- Laundry
- Fruiterer
- Upholster (#51-#61)
- Confectioner (#51-#61)
- Furniture Shop (#51-#61)
- Greengrocer (#51-#61)
- Butcher (#51-#61)

…But the area does not shed its reputation for over-crowding, poverty, sly grog, prostitution, rival gangs and criminal activities for 100 years, until 1990.

1918 and the First World War ends with many of the ex-soldiers moving into the local boarding houses. Cocaine becomes popular and drives rival gangs into localized drug wars culminating in ‘The Fitzroy Vendetta’ of 1919, a major shoot-out between gangs from Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond.

In the 1920′s traffic still flows from Melbourne to the Exhibition Building and Gertrude Street becomes the gateway to the larger retail shops on Brunswick and Smith Streets, the later being home to Foy & Gibson’s Department Store and building. This variety of clothing factories, furniture warehouses and clothing stores draws visitors along Gertrude Street which remains dotted with factories creating; iron works, carpets, cloth, textile, chocolate and confectionery. Smith Streets becomes the main thoroughfare out towards the rural farmlands around Heidelberg.

In 1929 the Wall Street Crash sparks a world wide economic depression. In 1931 the ‘Great Depression’ hits Melbourne, some sections of Gertrude Street becomes slums as the buildings fall into disrepair and the residents into debt and poverty. During the 1930′s many indigenous people start moving back to the area.

In the 1940′s Gertrude Street becomes well know for its furniture and drapery outlets. Johnston’s department Store (Deans Art Supplies today) becomes a mecca for lounge suites and wardrobes.

During the 1950′s the government begins aggressive programs to clear the slums by demolishing forcible acquired buildings and constructing the high-rise Housing Commission estates (corner of Brunswick and Gertrude Street).

It is around this time that the Bistrin family businesses becomes a local landmark in Gertrude Street and plants the seed for what is now Bistrins Emporium at 201Gertrude Street, Melbourne.

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