Melbourne's CBD comes back to life with art, light and elaborate outdoor venues

Petanque Social at Crown.
Petanque Social at Crown.  Photo: Redouane Chaouki

The city of Melbourne has come roaring back to life with several of its large-scale activations now up and running.

Restaurateur Shane Delia has taken over Bond Street with Layla, a giant Birdcage-style marquee outside his flagship restaurant, Maha, where he's rolling out arak cocktails, souffra dinners and weekend brunches where you can bring your pooch.

With indoor capacity increasing, venues such as Andrew McConnell's Gimlet at Cavendish House are reopening. From November 24, the glamorous space will available for lunch, dinner and supper, while continuing to offer private dining.

Southbank is activated end to end. Every scrap of the broad boardwalk has been taken over by dining extensions. Outside Crown Casino is Petanque Social, a giant bar and entertainment area with big screens set for the tennis, a sandy pitch for flinging balls, lounges and a menu distilling Crown's stable of restaurants including Rosetta, Nobu and DOC Pizza. Further along, Mirvac's Riverside Quay has worked with solutions company Spacecube to erect sheltered and heated outdoor pods on the water's edge to house extensions of venues such as Soho and Hopscotch.

Expanded dining precincts are now in full force, with restaurants at the top end of Bourke Street and Flinders Lane spilling into car spaces with flash new greenery-trimmed dining decks.

At weekends, multiple alleys in Chinatown and hospitality-heavy laneways such as Crossley Place are closed to traffic entirely, transforming into Degraves-style piazzas.

Andrew McConnell's Gimlet at Cavendish House.
Andrew McConnell's Gimlet at Cavendish House. Photo: Sharyn Cairns

Some businesses didn't get all their wishes. Russell Place wasn't permitted to close, but that hasn't stopped businesses getting creative. Starting next week, Gin Palace and Bar Ampere will launch a gin caravan in the car park across the road, while the Marameo team fires up a grill.

Other venues scored big. Melbourne's cupboard-sized Bar Americano in Presgrave Place suddenly has laneway seats for 30 drinkers – triple its usual capacity.

The energy is already electric, but if that's not enough to tempt you to the CBD, perhaps some art will. A free, inflatable light and sound installation has launched in Fed Square; iconic buildings such as Flinders Street Station are being covered in floral arrangements while laneways are undergoing major art overhauls. The first arcade, West Side Place on Spencer Street, features work by Melbourne artists Rone, Reko Rennie and George Rose.

Bring on summer!