Residents clearly remember the moment in 1993 when IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch declared that the host city of the 2000 Olympic Games was "Sidd-ay." It's been a frenzy of construction ever since: scads of major hotels (13 downtown alone), a city/airport rail link, two refurbished airport terminals-plus new restaurants, cafés, and bars opening daily. And then there are those Olympic venues (a beach-volleyball stadium on Bondi Beach, that icon of Aussie surf culture?). Locals have yet to decide whether living on a building site for seven years was worth it for two weeks of sport, but everyone agrees that long after the Olympic flame has gone out, Sydney will still be burning bright.
Three new developments are jazzing up an already lively harbor city. At first, the planned buildings at East Circular Quay, a vacant strip between the ferry terminal and the Royal Botanic Gardens, were so unpopular that they inspired mass protests. Once the structures were up - and everyone accepted that views of the Opera House would never be the same again - Sydney came to love the elegant loggia, with its excellent restaurants, bars, and cafés, and an art-house cinema. The fine diner Aria (1 Macquarie St.; 61-2/9247-4750) has some of the best Opera House views; bistro and bar Aqua Luna (18 Opera Quays; 61-2/9251-0311) draws an after-hours crowd. The salty feel of the old naval precinct of Woolloomooloo (that's really how it's spelled), where the Australian Navy still moors battleships, has been diluted by the concrete jungle that is the new Eastern Distributor traffic tunnel. But Woolloomooloo Wharf, a wooden pier where wool was loaded onto ships in the early 1900's, has been imaginatively converted into apartments, a row of top-notch restaurants, and a W hotel. The heart of Sydney has traditionally been the General Post Office building, a gorgeous Victorian sandstone structure dating from 1874. A Westin hotel has been rather oddly bolted to its top, but the basement now houses GPO, a splendid 21st-century food hall (1 Martin Place; 61-2/9229-7700). In this one sleek spot there is a superb steak restaurant, Prime at GPO (61-2/9229-7777), a brasserie, a conveyor-belt sushi counter, a cheese store, a wine shop, a New York-style deli, and several bars serving juice, coffee, and cocktails. The restored ground-level colonnade, the most elegant piece of architecture in downtown Sydney, is a delightful spot for people-watching.
Look just off Oxford Street, the main shopping strip in the Paddington neighborhood, for a pocket of delights: the Corner Shop (43 William St.; 61-2/9380-9828), owned by the city's smartest buyer, Belinda Seper, has both edgy local designers and vintage clothing; nearby is Belinda (39 William St.; 61-2/9380-8728), Seper's accessories store. In the Woollahra neighborhood, on leafy Queen Street, is Orson & Blake (No. 83-85; 61-2/9326-1155), a perfectly balanced mix of housewares, fashion, and books from Australia and beyond. Sydney residents are mad for fine food, so high-end delis are crucial. The best are Simon Johnson (55 Queen St., Woollahra, 61-2/9328-6888; and 181 Harris St., Pyrmont, 61-2/9552-2522); Jones the Grocer (68 Moncur St., Woollahra, 61-2/9362-1222; and 36 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach, 61-2/9130-1100); and Fuel Food (476-488 Crown St., Surry Hills; 61-2/9383-9399), which also has a café supervised by award-winning chef Janni Kyritsis.
The 416-room Westin Sydney (1 Martin Place; 61-2/8223-1111; doubles from $170), in the CBD, has glass bathroom walls - one-way, of course - for city views at tub time. With lighting that makes the Royalton look floodlit, W Sydney (Single Wharf, 6 Cowper Wharf Rd., Woolloomooloo; 61-2/9331-9000; doubles from $220) is big on style and service (Madonna-esque headsets are standard for staff). On the historic Rocks side of the CBD is the contemporary Pier One Parkroyal Sydney Harbour (11 Hickson Rd.; 61-2/8298-9999; doubles from $168). The hip suburb of Darlinghurst has three boutique hotels in a row: the quirky Medusa (267 Darlinghurst Rd.; 61-2/9331-1000; doubles from $157); the minimalist Kirketon (229 Darlinghurst Rd.; 61-2/9332-2011; doubles from $128); and L'otel (114 Darlinghurst Rd.; 61-2/9360-6868; doubles from $90), where French colonial meets Calvin Klein. Rushcutters Harbourside Sydney (100 Bayswater Rd.; 61-2/8353-8988; doubles from $109) overlooks Rushcutters Bay, where Olympic yachting sets sail.
One of the best-known spots to eat in Sydney isn't a swanky see-and-be-seen scene. It's just Bills (433 Liverpool St., Darlinghurst; 61-2/9360-9631; lunch for two $30), a light-filled café whose simple menu - the ricotta hotcakes are to die for - brings locals clamoring for tables. Owner Bill Granger has recently released Bill's Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, the next best thing to actually dining in Sydney. Granger's latest venture is Billy Kwong (355 Crown St., Surry Hills; 61-2/9332-3300; dinner for two $40), a wood-lined Chinese box serving updated Cantonese fare such as braised oxtail with tangerine peel and red dates. FYI: Both spots are BYO. The bar at Otto (The Wharf, Area 8, 6 Cowper Wharf Rd., Woolloomooloo; 61-2/9368-7488; dinner for two $38), a warm space on the wharf, is as popular as its nouveau Italian food. The Jersey Cow (152 Jersey Rd., Woollahra; 61-2/9328-1600; dinner for two $58), a sweet restaurant with an appropriately grass-green carpet, has a new sister. At Sea Cow (110 Boundary St., Paddington; 61-2/9332-2458; dinner for two $16), a stylish fish-and-chips shop, you can take away your meal in a Tiffany-blue box. The sleek, spare Salt, in the Kirketon hotel (229 Darlinghurst Rd., Darlinghurst; 61-2/9332-2566; dinner for two $92), serves intensely flavored food - suckling pig with star anise, pickled cucumber, and green papaya, anyone?- by chef Luke Mangan.
Escaping the Olympics
Olympic-sized crowds giving you an Olympic-sized headache?Hop on a southbound train from Central Railway Station, and an hour later you'll be in Royal National Park (61-2/9542-0648), with its excellent river kayaking and remote beaches. An hour west of the CBD is the Vietnamese neighborhood of Cabramatta, where the markets are full of exotic fruit you can't name, and dozens of shops serve pho noodle soup. It's Southeast Asia without the plane ride. Carol Selva Rajah 61-2/9437-4362; email@example.com conducts food tours.
THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES
Australians are as serious about swimming as they are about cricket, and Sydney has several popular and offbeat places where you can take the plunge. The concrete edifice of the Andrew Charlton Pool (Mrs. Macquarie Rd.; 61-2/9358-6686) is a local icon, nestled into the Domain park, on the edge of the CBD. Most of Sydney's ocean beaches have saltwater pools where you can do your laps without worrying about undertows or sharks. The Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club (1 Notts Ave.; 61-2/9130-3120) is the most famous. It's perched on the rocks at the southern end of Bondi Beach, where salty old characters who never miss a swim mingle with Bondi trendies. Just down the coast in the up-and-coming suburb of Coogee is the Coogee Beach Wylies Baths (Neptune St.; 61-2/9665-2838), another sea pool where fish swim with you. The latest of the lord mayor's grands projets is Cook & Phillip Park (4 College St.; 61-2/9326-0444). Right by the CBD, it's an architectural wonder with two excellent pools and plenty of sporting facilities.
HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE A TOURIST
Sydney is surrounded by beaches, but it's not a resort. If you want to blend in, you'll shed those skimpy beach clothes before you venture into the CBD. (Out-of-towners can be spotted a mile away: they're the ones on Market Street in shorts and sandals, wearing backpacks.) Folks in Australia's financial and media capital love Sydney's recently acquired "world city" status. So while the tax lawyers and merchant bankers may be barefoot beachcombers on weekends, daytime in the city center calls for upscale attire.
The two newest ways to see Sydney Harbor couldn't be more different. MV Garage (61-2/9383-9383), a catering offshoot of chef Janni Kyritsis's hot spot MG Garage, serves a stylish dinner - not a frozen shrimp cocktail in sight - aboard a 62-foot luxury cruiser. The kitschy amphibious vehicle Aussie Duck (61-2/9251-7774) supplies quacking noisemakers for a tour that starts on dry land in the CBD and then takes to the water for stellar views of the Opera House.
Australian fashion was long an oxymoron, so Sydney trendsetters are justifiably proud about the international interest their local heroes are attracting. Five years of Mercedes Australian Fashion Week - the antipodean version of the celebrated Paris shows - have seen a slew of Aussie designers making it into the top stores in the world's fashion capitals. However, you'll find a better selection (and a better deal) here at home base. The ultra-feminine, lingerie-inspired looks from Collette Dinnigan (33 William St., Paddington; 61-2/9360-6691) are favorites with the fashion elite. Akira Isogawa (12A Queen St., Woollahra; 61-2/9361-5221) constructs wearable works of art. The clean lines of the garments at Scanlan & Theodore (443 Oxford St., Paddington; 61-2/9361-6722) typify refined elegance with a contemporary edge. Michelle Jank sews vintage found objects onto modern shapes . With Brave (302 Oxford St., Paddington; 61-2/9332-2940), his label aimed at younger clotheshorses, Wayne Cooper pares down glamour for Gucci girls and boys. Jewel-colored silks and slips for body-conscious babes are hot sellers at Bare (45A Bay St., Double Bay; 61-2/9363-3232). At the budget end of the scale is Witchery (10-14 Martin Place; 61-2/9235-2496) - the Australian equivalent of Club Monaco - where the latest runway trends are brilliantly "interpreted."
A SURE BET
You can't go far in Sydney without running into "the pokies," or electronic poker machines. Bitten by the gambling bug but want something more upmarket?Head for the colorful Royal Randwick racecourse (Alison Rd., Randwick; 61-2/9663-8400).
ON THE TOWN Many of the best bars in Sydney are still connected to restaurants or hotels, a hangover from an old "intention to dine" policy, now less restrictive thanks to the Olympics. The small, dark Fix (229 Darlinghurst Rd., Darlinghurst; 61-2/9332-2566) lies at the back of the chic Kirketon hotel; the lobby has a champagne bar for those who prefer the comfort of a Saarinen tulip chair. The renovated L'otel houses the mosaic-tiled Lime Bar (114 Darlinghurst Rd., Darlinghurst; 61-2/9360-7958), a long and skinny space populated by equally long and skinny models. In a warehouse in groovy Surry Hills is the great Longrain (85 Commonwealth St.; 61-2/9280-2888; dinner for two $44), half modern Thai restaurant and half bar - a good thing, considering the long waits for seats at the communal tables. Summit (Level 47, Australia Square, 264 George St.; 61-2/9247-9777), a sixties revolving restaurant in the Central Business District, has been given a postmodern Dr. No makeover; those sky-high views would make you dizzy even without the vodkatinis.