Halfway down a Melbourne city center laneway, there’s a nondescript doorway set in an old brick wall. Of course, there are many such doorways in the city, but on the other side of this wall is a large private courtyard and garden belonging to the ‘Melbourne Club,’ a gentleman’s social club established back in 1838.
The club had its beginnings as something of hostel for sheep farmers who needed somewhere to stay in the city. However in 1858, after the construction of a large clubhouse, it was transformed into an exclusive members-only club for upper-class males. That clubhouse on Collins Street remains to this day and the impressive enclosed private garden and courtyard are one of the cities few remaining examples of such a historical garden.
The laneway door was apparently used by members at the end of an evening to escort their wives to the women only, Lyceum Club on Ridgway Place. However, it’s suggested that while that reason may have some truth, there might have been a somewhat more clandestine use for the darkened laneway door.
Right opposite the door stands the architecturally impressive Monaco House, an interesting angular building erected in 2007 as the Honorary Consulate of Principality of Monaco. However, the building that stood in its place before was home to many kinds of businesses over the years and for quite some time it was a busy brothel.
According to local legend, gentlemen who fancied something of a liaison with one of the cities working ladies would simply excuse themselves from the smokey rooms of the clubhouse to ‘get a breath of fresh air’ or ‘go for a stroll in the garden.’ They would then use the side door onto Ridgeway Place and walk directly across the narrow laneway into the welcoming arms of some pay-by-the-hour company.
These days a cafe now sits opposite the door, however, it borrows its name and the color of its stalls from the history of the location. Liaison Cafe is a popular coffee spot for many city slickers, though apparently, this particular liaison hasn’t proved quite as popular with Melbourne Club members looking to stretch their legs.
Stand in Ridgeway Lane using Google Street View and see the door on the right and Monaco House on the left.