IN 2012, Surry Hills was named one of the world’s 50 most stylish neighborhoods in the world.
The once shabby workers’ suburb full of colorful terraced houses nudging the edge of the city is home to the fashion industry, the most revered restaurateurs, and cutting edge café culture.
It may have even more new eatery openings than ubiquitous magazine photo shoots, but Surry Hills relies on a cache of old favorites, too. To risk sounding like a cliché, it’s a place to live in, not just a place to be seen.
So what keeps this suburb in the social spotlight?
It keeps it real
Although you can’t swing a Superdry T-shirt without hitting a bearded millennial holding a craft beer, there’s still resistance to the relentless drive of Sydney’s inner city gentrification in “The Hills”.
Million dollar pads nestle among government-subsidized housing so you can still get a pocket-sparing stir-fry at ever-enduring Noodle Star while some local old-timer cafés are cheap, quinoa-free zones.
A pastry feed at sausage roll stalwart Bourke St Bakery, whilst super trendy, won’t require pawning your Prada, and at the historic Shakespeare Hotel you can sip schooners of beer amid a melee of fashion photographers and laddish laborers.
Despite its facade, this place has a pulse that ensures it’s still not properly pretentious.
Crown St is the undulating, commercial backbone of Surry Hills and home to some of its most iconic hangouts such as The Clock Hotel and Gnome Cafe. What really keeps the crowds coming and the locals content is a mix of trend and tradition.
The monthly markets pull a crowd, the library lawn is always heaving with the caffeine-crazed and sari-clad fashionistas come from afar to the cluster of no-nonsense Indian restaurants on Cleveland St.
And “do’s” may come and go, but this neighborhood is the coiffure capital of Sydney with a dizzying density of hair salons. To avoid confusion, head straight to Eloura Lifestyle Salon and Spa where you’ll get a bonus free hand massage.
Trendy or trusted?
While rents might be off the Richter scale, you can still spend significant swathes of your social life in this suburb that never sleeps.
Avoid the almost weekly openings of heaving restaurants, aerial yoga studios, chic bakeries, bio-dynamic juice hole-in-the-walls, and pet boutiques as they’ll either be closed in a fortnight or cheaper and less crowded in two months.
Endurance speaks volumes. Instead of queuing for hours at that new Italian, head into the back streets to Il Baretto for silken gnocchi.
Forget no bookings, overpriced Japanese joints and reserve a spot at Suzuya for wallet-sparing sashimi. But do join the throng at Four ate Five as it’s worth it for the baked eggs. It’s both substance and style that keeps Surry Hills at the top of Sydney’s popularity pile.