Can we all just let out one enormous sigh? This city feels five times bigger and more energetic than it did a year ago. Melbourne is more confident, more nuanced, more contradictory and more surprising than we’ve ever seen it before. Venues are opening constantly, festivals are back-to-back all year long, and creative people are continually pushing us to reconsider the possibilities of our city spaces with pop-ups, community spaces and public art.

Here’s a wrap of what 2014 looked like to us.

EATING

If you thought dining was starting to get a little predictable in Melbourne – as it certainly can be (I’m looking at you, lobster rolls/fried chicken/anything in bao) – 2014 was a year of refreshing, fun and just plain clever ideas.

In fact, lets move dishes to the side for a minute and just look at some of the most interesting ideas of 2014.

1. Prix Fixe opens Melbourne’s first ticketed restaurant
At a time when a 45-minute wait for a dinner table was starting to feel reasonable, Jason M Jones and Phillippa Sibley found a solution: sell the tables in advance. Upside: it cuts the queuing for customers, solves the no-show bookings problem for the restaurant, and limits wastage. Downside: how many people are willing to commit to dinner in advance?

2. Jason Jones’ Waiting for Gas
The other Jason Jones (behind Mamasita and B’Stilla) was set to open B’Stilla Cantina in Fitzroy. When he learned the gas meter was delayed, he cheerily opened a pop-up bar serving wine and cold seafood called Waiting for Gas. Genius.

3. Filter coffee and smorrebrod
In a bold move, Auction Rooms’ Andrew Kelly went against the grain to open Filter, a meticulously designed space on King Street that serves Swedish smorrebrod and puts filter coffee front and centre.

4. Showing love to the suburbs
Once proving success in Fitzroy and the CBD, Jimmy Grants changed tack and opened a third in Ormond. Kudos also to the team behind Carlton restaurant Epocha for opening Elyros in Camberwell. The CBD and inner north/south are safe bets, but taking a chance in a new area can have its own rewards.

5. Diverting traffic
What do you do when the dining crowd plus the takeaway crowd is causing a traffic jam? Create two lanes. Auction Rooms specifically opened Counter for takeaway, Hanoi Hannah opened a separate ‘Express Lane’ venue, followed by Charlie Dumpling’s takeaway spot a few doors down, Charlie Dumpling Jr.

6. New Orleans-style debauchery 'til late
A champagne, absinthe and oyster bar with a 7am license. Only good things could ever have come from that combination at Le Bon Ton.

7. In-N-Out popping up for two hours
It arrived without notice, churned out a mountain of burgers and disappeared into the ether.

We’re looking forward to some interesting concepts to come to fruition: Mick and Will Balleau's Jewish deli-meets-rock-‘n’-roll saloon, Jason M Jones, Simon Moss and Adam North’s Parisian-inspired steak frites restaurant Entrecôte, Matt Bax’s Grand Budapest Hotel-style Bar Exuberante and Lune Croissanterie’s expansion into the north. And of course: if you’re sick of Heston madness now, hasn’t even begun.

ART & CULTURE

Melbourne hasn’t been short of exhibitions or cultural festivals this year – in fact we’ve hardly managed to take a breath and let it all sink in: Melbourne Music Week at Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne Festival, White Night, MIFF and Melbourne Fringe.

For its major exhibition, the NGV went all out on neon, corsets and nautical stripes for its dazzling Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective. We also got to know cult artist David Shrigley as an exhibition of his crude, darkly humorous drawings are now on show at the NGV.

Heide Museum of Modern Art had a slew of phenomenal exhibitions showcasing artists such as Emily Floyd (also now showing The Dawn at NGV Australia), Arthur Boyd and the late Gunter Christmann. Utopian Slumps announced its closure, as founder Melissa Loughnan prepares to join the team at Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Architecture and design hub MPavilion opened like a flower (and continues to daily) for summer and we explored how Melbourne got its laneway culture.

FASHION

This was weird year for retail in Melbourne. The international giants landed, the niche local boutiques dug in their heels, and it seems anything in between continues to slowly sink in quicksand.

This year alone Melbourne got COS, H&M, APC, UNIQLO, Marais. In April, Emporium, the 48,000-square-metre shopping complex opened on Lonsdale Street with a total of 225 stores.

We saw wins for local retailers too: Melbourne designer Ingrid Verner opened her first store, Kuwaii opened a second (as did bassike, Dinosaur Designs and Megan Park), and Pet Shop Girls moved to a slick new space on Little Lonsdale. Dion Lee (technically from Sydney, but we’re happy to claim him) opened his first Melbourne store in Emporium. The bold and highly conceptual DUST store opened next to Izakaya Den. In sad news, we saw Collette Dinnigan close her last Melbourne store, and Alice Euphemia, which has stocked and supported emerging Australian fashion for more than 18 years closed its doors.

NIGHTLIFE

Goodbye sticky carpets – this year was all about the face-lifted pub. The Gaso, The Terminus, The Empress, The Lincoln Hotel, The Marquis of Lorne, St Hotel and L’Hotel Gitan (previously Hotel Max) all went under the knife.

The real nightlife explosion we noticed was Thornbury, with the addition of several outstanding new bars including Back Room Bar, Joanie’s Baretto, Trumpy, Pallino Bar and Northern Git.

Orange wine continues to intrigue and confuse drinkers, establishing a presence on wine lists all over the city and being championed by bars such as Clever Polly and Luxembourg.

We also put together a neat list of our favourite Bloody Marys in Melbourne to help you cope with all the nightlife exploring you did the evening before.