Open doors: new & reinvented

New Sydney destinations and the people behind them

Arguably, nowhere embraces new destinations like Sydney. The way we jostle to check out the latest inner Sydney hotspots creates a steady flow of new social destinations. But what draws us to these destinations themselves? At the core of this evolution, there are people who believe in our buildings, our backstreets, our forgotten pockets.

Look at how Porteno awoke a gaudy old residence on Cleveland Street. Or, how 121BC proved a rustic Italian enotecta/cantina could co-exist within one of Surry Hill’s most modern buildings. We thrive on reinvention. And it’s the confidence of these tastemakers that can make us see the city differently.

We asked the people behind the places: what ideas are they bringing to the inner city?

The grand

Of course, the Old Clare Hotel at Chippendale is on every must watch list. Now a monster of a construction site, a series of restaurants are set to open from July. Ex-Momofuku Seiobo chef Clayton Wells will head Automata, which seems to have equal parts architectural and foodie appeal.

Insiders are tight lipped about the final finishes, but architect Matt Machine has a industrial look to unveil, “playing on themes of machinery and non-electronic automation.” He’s known for building motorcycles as much as he is for architecture. Add that to this 1930s warehouse-style building with 6-metre ceilings and original arched windows, and intrigue is born.

The unassuming

In contrast to big-budget juggernauts, Bondi’s Porch & Parlour are proof you can start on a shoestring. In 2015, the café will expand next door. In a building once doomed with unsuccessful businesses, it shows that good ideas do stick.

“We just knew that this corner was so special,” co-owner Sam Smith says. “It’s right by the beach. We knew there were other renovations happening in the pocket. So we dived in and took full advantage. We had an idea of what locals want and how to look after them – creating a community,”

The café embraces a timeworn look of exposed brick, rough rendered textures, recycled timber and industrial-style lighting. The portico is peppered with rust, completing the café’s identity.

On a tourist strip like Campbell Parade, few café/wine bars thrive for all four seasons, let alone live on to expand. “We’ll clean up a little bit of the, er, ‘rustic-ness’ of this place,” Sam says. “But that’s part of the charm. We have to know where to stop, and that will be a fine line.”

The unusual

Here’s one fitout born from necessity and the art of acclimatising to your environment. District Salon is the adapt-to-fit layer atop The Stables, a mini-department-concept store in Surry Hills. With design from Henry Wilson, a simple idea has become special. He’s responsible for the new-look Aesop in Balmain and the smooth furniture at Nomad restaurant in Surry Hills.

Wilson ensured District Salon could be modular. Rooftop hair salon by day, it’s a multi-use event space by night (think pop-up brand launches, product nights and PR events.) Stables pioneer Danny Sekulich says the space was originally set for a small bar pouring natural wines. Council said no. “What’s the next best thing?” he says. “We’re allowed BYO and as we were going through this discovery we thought about our private-entry lift, roof balcony, and being in the middle of Surry Hills – that’s pretty special in terms of privacy, exclusivity and uniqueness. “It’s definitely unusual. It’s a little bit high-end, but not wanky, and in keeping with the rest of the building.”

The natural wine dream still smolders, with functions partnering with local natural, organic and sustainable seller DRNKS.

The trailblazers

There hasn’t been a distillery in Inner Sydney since the 1850s. In mid March, one called Archie Rose came to Roseberry. Set behind Kitchen By Mike and Koskela, the location is already a proven destination. While the team is busy distilling craft vodka, gin and rye whiskey, punters can order food from Black Star next door.

The fitout is just as remarkable as the concept. The distillery, ageing room and adjoining bar are an impressive mix of timber and copper. The mezzanine function level overlooks the main booths styled as giant whisky barrels.

Another chapter

The crew behind Riley Street Garage famously reinvented that space (a Westfield execs old car park). Now, Surly’s has just been ignited. It sits somewhere between the warehouse dining of Riley Street, and the diner dive atmosphere of its little brother, The Stuffed Beaver.

Finding a home in the old Table for 20 and Sticky Bar building on Campbell Street in Surry Hills, it delivers North American authenticity, with BBQ & smoker. As for the fitout, manager Mike Galvin says the space has revealed its own character along the way.

“We had ideas of filling the bar with our favourite pieces and injecting a sense of age and history into what’s essentially a ‘new’ place. Then you pull out some old plaster, and find treasures – like an old church window, which is now part of our back bar. Sometimes it’s better to let the space tell its own story.”

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