By Maggie Alderson
Right next to the city's central business district, Surry Hills has been on the verge of becoming Sydney's next happening neighborhood for about 20 years, but thanks to a tenacious assortment of homeless people, garment factories, druggies, and brothels, it has held on to its raffish atmosphere. As a result, rents are still low enough to allow interesting businesses to open up, and the chain stores have yet to arrive.
Mixed in among auto shops and rag trade wholesalers are tree-lined streets with charming, if dilapidated, Victorian terrace houses (the curly-whirly wrought-iron balconies are reminiscent of New Orleans's). They provide cheap lodging for arty young things who appreciate the buildings' historic character—and the easy walk to the city center and the watering holes of Oxford Street. Some of the terraces have been tastefully gussied up, but many postgrad group shares remain. The youthful creative spirit is palpable.
And there is a lot of groovy stuff here now. Expensive warehouse conversions (some very disappointing) are almost an epidemic. But Surry Hills' grungy edgeexcites a sense of discovery in the intrepid chaser of cool. The flea market on the corner of Crown and Foveaux, held the first Saturday of every month, is still among the best for funky junk. Nowadays, there's something new to see every week.
For the time being, most of the good stuff is clustered around Crown Street. For an overview, start by investigating the quirky clothing stores at the Oxford Street end, and continue on to Cleveland Street, which has a gritty but colorful mix of Turkish restaurants (some with belly dancers), Indian sweets shops, pubs, and rough-and-ready neighborhoodstores. A few stretches of Crown are a bit bare and boring, but keep going. On a warm summer day, you'll enjoy the walk in leaf-dappled sunshine.
Longrain 85 Commonwealth St.; 61-2/9280-2888; dinner for two $38. A great bar and restaurant in a renovated wooden warehouse, serving a fusion of Australian and Thai food on smart communal tables. A no-tie zone.
Uchi Lounge 15 Brisbane St.; 61-2/9261-3524; dinner for two $32. Downstairs it's part lounge, part café, serving great Japanese food and good coffee. It's always busy, and the coming-soon upstairs restaurantwill surely attract even more of the hip crowd.
MarqueShop 4, 355 Crown St.; 61-2/9332-2225. One of Sydney's new breed of smart contemporary French restaurants. The kitchen is intent on mastering the classics, but don't expect a stuffy atmosphere in the coolly modern dining room.
Bills 2 359 Crown St; 61-2/9360-4762. The younger brother of Sydney's best breakfast spot (Bills) is a great neighborhood bistro serving modern Australian food. Try owner Bill Granger's famous ricotta pancakes, or the steak sandwich with roasted garlic cream and rocket salad It was Ralph Fiennes's hangout when he was in town making Oscar and Lucinda. Sensible fellow.
MG Garage 490 Crown St.; 61-2/9383-9383.When it first made the Sydney Morning HeraldGood Food Guide (the local oracle), this glamorous spot earned a rating of three hats, which placed it among the top five restaurants in town. With no formal training, Greek-born Janni Kyritsis cooks like no one else. His food is an audacious mix of complex classic techniques, Australian ingredients, and Mediterranean bravado. The room is elegant and buzzy—and the MG cars on display are actually for sale.
Fuel 476-488 Crown St.; 61-2/9383-9388. Right next door to MG Garage, Fuel is a designer food store and great café also under the direction of Janni Kyritsis. This is the one place in Surry Hills where you're likely to see the four-wheel-drive and chino-pants brigade who come in from more sedate suburbs.
Prasits Northside On Crown 413 Crown St.; 61-2/9319-0748. Really great Thai food in a sleeker environment than the average corner Thai (though some of us prefer the more casual Prasits Northside Takeaway, just up the road at 395 Crown). Grab a high stool at one of the Formica tables and swoon over green mango and crabmeat salad with kaffir lime, mint, garlic, and loads of chili. As you eat, you can eavesdrop on gossiping Opera Australia backstage boys (the Opera Centre is in Surry Hills).
Clock Hotel470 Crown St.; 61-2/9331-5333. A big converted pub with a surprisingly chic and cozy restaurant serving food way beyond pub grub, but with the comfort factor intact. The whole roast "chook" (chicken) for two is yum (as Aussies say).
Chee Soon & Fitzgerald 387 Crown St.; 61-2/9360-1031. The first store in Sydney to deal seriously in mid-century furniture and artifacts, and still the best. The guys here know the difference between a real piece of Murano glass and a piece of seventies tat from someone's Aunty's beach house; a lot of the other dealers don't. They specialize in Marimekko fabrics—vintage and new—and have original Jim Thompson silks and Japanese wallpapers in stock.
Norman & QuaineCommonwealth St. Touting its own great designs, this sleekly modern furniture emporium is the place to buy a perfect sofa or lamp.
Zoo Emporium 332 Crown St.; 61-2/9380-5990. A retro store with a great sense of humor. There's always a good selection of hilarious sunglasses and other accessories.
Mister Stinky 482 Cleveland St.; 61-2/9310-7005. Handpicked vintage clothing, plus "new" garments made from recycled fabrics. Not for the corporate dresser.
YPV314 Crown St.; 61-2/9332-4090. Three of Sydney's edgiest labels—YPV, Pigsinspace, and Mooks—in one cool space. A word of warning to the normally proportioned adult: These clothes are cut so small they should be reported to the board of discrimination.
Wheels & Dollbaby 259 Crown St.; 61-2/9361-3286.Camp retro glam rock clothes and accessories. Very L.A., with an Aussie twist. Michael Jackson is rumored to have shopped here when he was last in Sydney.
WANT TO BLEND IN? Dress down! In Surry Hills, both sexes wear pretty much the same thing: cropped pants, Birkenstocks, short-sleeved T's over long ones, courier bags, the odd piercing.