Few places reflect Sydney’s spirit of flux quite like Chippendale. The pocket-sized enclave, sandwiched between Broadway and Cleveland Street, was once an industrial heartland where the lives of working-class families brushed up against a varied cast of characters that played a role in Sydney’s history.
Now, 100-year-old knitting factories are home to prized art collections, breweries have morphed into design-forward hotels and tiny Georgian worker’s cottages are home to the city’s most talented bakers, chefs and artisans.
It’s no wonder why artists, designers and architects have been lured in by the area’s intriguing mix of past and future, which somehow still retains its gritty, industrial energy despite the creative entrepreneurial influence that is quickly remaking the suburb.
“While Central Park has opened Chippendale up to major development, the street life is still full of local, independent establishments” — Julin Ang, co-director of architecture and design firm studioplusthree
Multi-storied buildings: One architect shares her favourite historic local landmarks
Julin Ang is one of the directors at studioplusthree, a young, award-winning architecture practice based in Chippendale since 2014. Ang is an advocate for the area’s architectural textures and its sense of intimacy, an anomaly in sprawling Sydney. “While Chippendale is surrounded by busy roads, it has an [intimate scale] and an active street life,” she says. “The old industrial fabric allows multiple uses: pubs, cafés, galleries, restaurants and houses, all within easy walking distance.”
This 19th-century lane lined with original red-brick terrace houses has been redeveloped, becoming a vibrant corridor dense with restaurants and bars that will continue to evolve. The narrow Spice Alley houses six diverse Asian eateries and a series of tiny courtyards.
2. Indigo Slam
The private house of Judith Neilson – art collector, philanthropist and owner of White Rabbit Gallery – is a sculptural study in curved concrete, minimal interiors and serene, sky-lit spaces.
3. Mortuary Station
The heritage-listed Gothic-style former railway station was once used to transport the dead and their relatives to Rookwood Cemetery. Operating from 1869 to 1947, it’s a physical reminder of historical funeral customs.
“In the last few years, [it has] cemented itself as a great cultural hub of Sydney, bringing in a wide range of creative people” — Clayton Wells, founder and head chef of Automata and founder of A1 Canteen
Top tables: Automata’s chef Clayton Wells serves up a food-focused itinerary
Be it Peking duck, fluffy bao or flaky pastry, Chippendale’s food scene has something for every craving. But few chefs epitomise the neighbourhood’s culinary creativity quite like Clayton Wells.
In September 2015, Wells – who was sous chef at Momofuku Seibo – elevated the area’s dining credentials via Automata, a sleek, concrete-heavy spot that turns out inventive dishes such as steamed hapuka with kombu butter. He followed this up with A1 Canteen, an all-day eatery known for excellent coffee and their muffaletta, a type of sesame bread with Sicilian origins.
For breakfast, Wells likes to start the day at Brickfields, a much-loved café on a sun-dappled corner of the neighbourhood. Here, you can’t go past the excellent coffee and melt-in-your-mouth croissants. “Their bread and pastries are some of the best you will get in Sydney,” he says.
On weekends, Wells would follow this up with lunch at Ester, a much-loved restaurant – home to an enormous wood-fired oven – responsible for Sydney’s newfound obsession with smoky, charred flavours. “It has a killer wine list,” he says. “The must-try dishes: anything with potatoes or crustaceans.”
For dinner, he recommends the smoked prime rib at nearby LP’s Quality Meats, a low-lit eatery that smokes and cures its meats in-house, followed by a nightcap at The Lansdowne Hotel. “[The Lansdowne] has late-night pizza, drinks and live music until late.”
Check out these new bites on the block
One of the latest additions to Chippendale is Fika by Cuppa Flower, offering fresh blooms alongside soulful Japanese-inspired dishes. Its décor – all pastel shades and vintage fixtures – is an Instagrammer’s dream. Carol Xu, who runs the new hangout at Central Park alongside Lynn Kong, was drawn to Chippendale because of its cultural mix and fantastic location.
“It’s very close to the fringe of the CBD, [which attracts] young people,” she shares. Xu often heads to Spice Alley for a hawker-style dinner before indulging her sweet tooth at KOI Dessert Bar. “It’s the [first- ever] dessert bar from an ex-MasterChef contestant,” she says of the Reynold Poernomo-run establishment.
Beer by the numbers
62: The height in metres of the chimney at the 1911 Irving Street Brewery, which is part of the original old Kent Brewery site. It’s an architectural landmark of Chippendale today.
170: Number of years that Kent Brewery, founded in 1835 by John Tooth and Charles Newnham, brewed beers on Parramatta Road. The area is now home to the sleek mixed-use development known as Central Park
1000: The total number of lab staff, engineers, plumbers, fitters and coppersmiths that worked at the Tooth and Co brewery prior to 1980.
3: The quota of schooners – equivalent to three-quarters of an imperial pint, or 425ml – that brewery workers in Chippendale were allowed to consume on the job every day.
“We have noticed that since becoming a new art precinct, [the area] is now a destination for people to explore” — Samantha Ferris, director of Galerie pompom
Art and soul: Gallery director Samantha Ferris shares her top creative spaces
This neighbourhood – where warehouses double as studios for local art stars and new creative talent holds avant-garde shows in shoebox galleries – has always been ground zero for Sydney’s art scene. Samantha Ferris, director of Galerie pompom, an institution that counts up-and-coming artists such as Kylie Banyard and Chris Dolman among its stable, recommends her must-visit local art spaces.
If you’re in Chippendale, a visit to White Rabbit Gallery is mandatory. “White Rabbit’s major exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art draw big crowds, and [people] also love the tea and dumplings from the gallery’s café!” Ferris says. “The artists who work there as gallery invigilators can also share great knowledge and background about the works.”
This moody cocktail bar housed in a century-old warehouse is a favourite hangout of local artists. But for Ferris, Down Under Gallery, which is tucked away in the basement, is the real draw. “It is an art and performance space that hosts one-day-only exhibitions by emerging artists,” she says.
The stylish property is a design obsessive’s fantasy. But don’t be fooled by the slick, neo-industrial surfaces – it also champions serious contemporary art. “Galerie pompom has presented pop-up exhibitions here that have included sculpture, painting and video,” Ferris says. “Their Broadway street frontage means artists’ works can be seen by thousands
of people every day.”
Meet the artists on a street walk
The compact, tree-lined precinct of Chippendale plays host to offbeat spaces and rainbow-bright street art tailor-made for an insightful stroll. This is where Culture Scouts comes in. A tour of the area and nearby Redfern led by local artist Greg Paton is among the company’s most-booked offerings.
“From the Old Clare Hotel, we wind our way through the leafy streets, giving anecdotes about the area’s colourful history. It was once home to an abattoir, breweries and gangsters,” says Erin Eedy, Culture Scouts’ tourism marketing manager. “Our guides give unparalleled access to the local creative community as they are all practising artists themselves.”
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This article was originally published in the December 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine