06 January 2018

Acland St StKilda - Melbourne's best cake and coffee street? the world's best?

I have happily read the book Acland Street: The Grand Lady of St Kilda, written by Dr Judith Buck­rich (Nov 2017). It ex­plores the history of architecture on Acland St, starting from the 1850s and early settlement, through swamps, race courses, development of the Acland St village, Vict­orian prosperity and boarding house poverty.

Buckrich searched the archives and inter­viewed famous peop­le from the Melbourne Jewish community who had a connection to Acland St. She recognised that the street was one of Melbourne's most important because it mirrored so much of the social change that occurred in Australian cities over 175 years. It encapsulated the social and cultural history of the city in a unique way, having been part of Melbourne’s entertainment scene for decades, as well as home to the wealthiest and poorest of its citizens.

The Melbourne suburb of St Kilda was named after Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 10th Baronet (1787–1871) of Killerton Manor in Devon, a British politician and land owner. He owned the cruiser yacht Lady of St Kilda from 1834-40, after which the area was named during one of the ship's visits to Melbourne in 1842. His wife Lady Lydia Hoare was the first English lady to set foot in St Kilda.

This land was once shrubland, lagoons and dunes. For its traditional owners, the Kulin Nation, the St Kilda Triangle was part of an area called Euroe Yroke. After Europ­ean settlement, St Kilda became a bustling seaside suburb, and the Triangle site became a recreat­ional space for decades.

Acland St StKilda 2015.
Shops and cafes on either side, cars and trams down the centre

Acland St StKilda 2017
Cars can no longer drive through. Trams must turn around at the end of the street.

St Kilda became a municip­al­ity in 1857, and in the same year a railwayline was built connecting it to Melbourne’s city cen­t­re. Regular train services resulted in increased visitors to St Kilda’s sea baths, jetty prom­en­ade, cricket, bowling clubs and the St Kilda Cup. By the mid-1860s, St Kilda had 15 residential hotels, including the famous George Hotel.

During the 1880s land boom, it became a densely pop­ulated dis­t­rict of large stone mansions and palatial hotels, mostly along the broad Fitzroy, Grey and Acland streets. From the 1890s, many mansions became boarding houses and brothels.
After WW1, the suburb was a magnet for Eur­op­ean migr­ants and singles from less acc­eptable sub-cul­tures. There were artists, musicians, writ­ers, the LGB com­m­unity and anyone who was poor but wanted the joys of seaside life. This suburb of con­trasts was, and is, impossible to pin down economically and socially.

After the opening of the cable tramway in 1891, the St Kilda Foreshore Committee was formed by the government to make their area into a Mediterranean seaside resort. Carlo Catani was contracted to prepare a masterplan for St Kilda’s beaut­ification in 1906. Catani’s famous leisure precinct along the bay, as far as Point Ormond, included notable features like the Sea Baths (1910), Luna Park (1912), Palais de Danse I (1913), Palais de Danse II (1926) and Palais Theatre (1927).

European migrants and refugees were arriving by 1946, often taken there straight off the boat - they gave the street a totally cosmopolitan flav­our! And Jews like my par­ents, who had been living in Carlton before the war, started to migrate south to St Kilda, Elwood and Caulfield. They too frequent­ed the cafés, delicatessens and cake shops in Acland St.

Sund­ays mornings was standing-room only as Jewish men gathered on the street to sort out the politics of the day, eat latkes at Café Scheherazade, buy kugelhopf from Monarch and the latest novels from the Balberyszski Bookshop.  Monarch opened in 1934 and was the first of the cake shops here. Two doors away was Scheherazade Coffee Lounge, founded in 1958 by Avram and Masha Zeleznikow who had migrated from Par­is a few years ear­lier. Regulars ordered traditional fare like gefilte fish, chopped chicken liver, potato latkes and kreplach.

Modern visitors to the continental cake shops in Acland St find reminders of a dwindling European-Jewish ambience; alas (for me) the cul­tural shift has led to the departure of small, but important businesses. Today Balberszki book sellers, Wielunski milk bar, Berioska, Eilat and Carmel restaurants, the Budapest delicat­essen, Eat-More Poultry are gone, while Chinese businesses such as Fairy Stork restaurant are going too. The cake shops that were bastions of yesteryear, are now part of a gradual shift from “remnant European” to a "more international beachside" culture.

Acland St cake shops,
inside and outside tables

More recently the Palais de Danse III opened on the Triangle site, and was later renamed Palace Entertainment Cen­tre. Des­troyed by fire in 2007, a masterplan was later approv­ed by Council incorporating repairs to the Palais Theatre and a redevelopment of the Triangle site. Trad­ers fear that Acland St will lose its distinctiveness. Nonetheless it is still a colourful street adorned with art on the footpath and an ass­ort­ment of talented street performers. In Aug 2014, the Coun­cil and the community delivered a project for the St Kilda Triang­le site.

In the book, Acland St's cake shops provided a link to St Kilda's European heritage, and to my childhood. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, my parents and their friends spent Sun­day afternoons eating cheesecake and sour cream in East Euro­pean restaurants, especially Scheherazade. The best year was 1956 when my father was integrally involved in the Melbourne Olympic Games. He arranged outings for the homesick Is­raeli team (all 3 athletes and some older managers) in Acland St.

Happily the fab­ul­ous Esplanade Market is still open every Sunday. There's also live enter­tain­ment, good food and an attractive atmosphere at famous local bar/restaurant, the Vine­yard. And Luna Park of course.


Deb said...

Thank you, thank you. My parents used to take us in the old days. We would meet anyone who came from their city in Poland. Like a reunion.

Cousin said...

I just gained 2 ks looking at the photos

Happy 2018 frrom your cousin

Leon Sims said...

An excellent insight to Acland St - I have the book on Lygon St and often ask my friends if they realised it was a Jewish enclave before the Italian influx. Nothing is forever and changes happen. Your blog offers us reflection. Thanks Hels.

Andrew said...

Looks like I might be buying a book with paper pages instead of electronic ones. St Kilda is the most amazing place. I mostly love it, at times dislike some of the so called characters. But it all goes to make up the character of the suburb. The photo of Acland Street is already out of date, not showing the newish tram terminus. I don't think I really like what was done down there, apart from closing the street and improving the tram facilities.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, A strolling and gathering area like Acland Street sounds fascinating. Most places like that I have known have been eliminated or at least radically altered. Every time I hear about a "planning commission" I think uh-oh, there's the end of that. Developers and contractors will come in and destroy whatever is original. (There are perhaps a few exceptions to this).

In reference to the cakes and pastries, I grew up so spoiled with many fine bakers in the family that I tend to avoid the more commercial products. If I think about it, I can still taste my great-grandmother's strudel!

Hels said...


When people were learning English in the late 40s and 50s, the coffee shops were a perfect meeting place. The owners, waiters and customers could all relax in Polish, German or Yiddish etc.

Hels said...

Hi cous,

Just as well our family tended to eat simple, fat-free and cream-free foods during the week back then :)

And not just because money was tight.

Hels said...


Change is both inevitable and valuable, as long as community values are not destroyed. For example if mum-and-dad businesses were closed down and multi-storeyed, concrete junk food shops were tolerated, StKilda would be reduced to any other soulless suburb.

Hels said...


Oops you are quite correct about the new appearance of Acland St. I will go tomorrow and take a more up to date photo.

After all those meetings and debates about the renovated precinct, a lot of people were very keen to see the outcome. what was your opinion?

Hels said...


My mother could not bake (nor can I), so I took a particular interest in any future in-laws' abilities to bake. Especially strudel :)

Plus my parents wouldn't tolerate Nescafe. Any man I was interested in had to be able to grind proper coffee.

Parnassus said...

Hi again, By the way, I tried to look up St. Kilda, to see what she or he did, and while many places and things are so named, it seems to be a mystery just where the name originates--there is no actual St. Kilda, as far as I can tell.

Hels said...


the most famous St Kilda anywhere is in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. I am presuming that the yacht Lady of St Kilda, after which this suburb was named (during 1842), was itself named after the Scottish island of St Kilda.

At the same time, I have no trouble in admitting that naming rights are always open to all types of interpretations.

bazza said...

I was in St Kilda five years ago. We walked along part of Acland Street and I think the fun-fair at one end was closed at that time. We also walked along the beach and onto the pier with a wonderful view of the city and the harbour. Lovely memories! We are planning to go back in two years time. Leah is an excellent baker but only my sister can make strudel like my Ukrainian Booba!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s quixotic Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...


I cannot bake, but I can take you to our favourite places in two years, when you come to Melbourne :)

In my writing, I focused on the post-1945 era because that seemed the most relevant. But the joy of reading Judith Buck­rich is ex­ploring the area starting from the 1850s, through the impressive ups of St Kilda and its considerable downs. As you said, Acland St is surrounded by the beach, Luna Park, the pier, Palais etc etc. Natural beauty, tourist attractions AND social change!

CherryPie said...

A fascinating history. I love the look of the cakes in the current cafe :-)

mem said...

I so miss that street from the old days . The cakes were just so pretty to look at and the cheesecake so good to eat . Scheherazade was fantastic , I dont think there is anywhere in Melbourne which has taken up that particular gap in the market. The Schnitzel was THE best ever.

Hels said...


I think a window filled with very attractive colours and shapes is as important a decorative art as porcelain, jewellery, textiles and wallpapers. Alas the Department of Art History at my uni doesn't agree with me :)

Hels said...


Scheherazade etc were important experiences in our young years *nod*. Even now, MANY decades later, we still talk about family birthday parties, the food and drinks, meeting friends on the steps down to the beach...

MikeR said...

Good old St. Kilda. My Aunt and Uncle lived there in the early 1980s when his company had some sort contract w/ the Australian military. My cousin's boyfriend asked late one afternoon if I wanted to go "See the penguins?". I told him he was full of it, and I wasn't about to be taken in by Australia's version of the "snipe hunt". My Aunt swore it was fact and off we went to a boardwalk and pier where there were other people gathered for the show. Damned if the little fella's didn't come riding the waves in around nightfall and head to their nests in the rocks. I was stunned. Penguins in what's assumed to be a desert country! I'll never forget the penguins of St. Kilda and hope they still thrive.

Hels said...


it goes to show ... we don't know everything about our own city! And that sometimes the memories from decades ago are the most precious.

When my brothers and I were children, mum and dad took us to Acland St and the StKilda Baths often on Sunday afternoons. Now I only take overseas and interstate visitors, or when my grandchildren want to get away from home for a few hours :)

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Hels said...


I love having new readers, so welcome to Melbourne :)

Happy Tourist said...

I went on a tour of Acland St, Luna Park and the baths over the weekend. Gained 4 lbs.

Hels said...


welcome to Melbourne! Somebody designed a very nice tour for you :)

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