By day Kings Cross is pretty scummy, but by night this suburb lights up like a Christmas tree on acid. ‘The Cross’ or ‘The Strip’, as it’s known, is an adult’s playground with the perfect balance of sleaziness, charm and excitement.
It’s the kind of place that draws you in, sometimes unintentionally. You might be having a few quiet drinks in the city and next thing you know, the sun is coming up and you’re fighting for a cab (or a kebab) on the Strip. It’s kind of like the Bermuda Triangle of Sydney. Most people experience a mysterious memory loss, sometimes permanent damage and often find themselves waking up next to more than what they bargained for. In short, just roll with it, let it suck you in, spit you out and bleed you dry.
Thanks to Aussie gangster TV series Underbelly, which is set in the Cross and aired on Aussie TV last year, the area is more popular than ever. From the late 80s, Kings Cross was known as “The Golden Mile”. This was the period when criminals, prostitutes and corrupt cops ruled the streets.
This was Kings Cross at its most dangerous, seedy and drug-infested, and many would say that it was the Cross at its best. But a commission into the corrupt handlings of the New South Wales police in 1995 made all of the glory run through the hands of the law. Many Sydney police were shamed and could never work again. Others fled, and some committed suicide.
Since then the Cross has cleaned up its act and while there are elements of the old Golden Mile that keep its reputation as a seedy, violent and sex and drug-filled underworld, it is mostly just a great place to go out and drink.
Sure, you’ll still see the odd tranny-hooker, some wheelings and dealings, fights and hustling, but it’s not the playground where you can get away with anything like it once was.
One of the newer bars to hit the Cross is the Sugarmill, a pub with a trendy, slick feel to it. Attracting everyone from backpackers to businessmen to locals, it is the kind of pub that unites us all. Probably because everyone likes a $10 steak and extended happy hours. The old-school bohemian theme is infused with modern street-press music posters on the wall, so depending on which way you sway, there’s a nice balance that isn’t overly pretentious, but isn’t seedy either. Oh and did I mention the $3 beers?
Kick on next door at the Kit and Kaboodle, one of the Cross’s more exclusive nightclubs where you can sip on a whisky straight up and mix with Sydney’s hottest people. Straight up.
Or there is Sapphire on Kellet Street, where, if you get through the exclusive door policy (read: you’re not blind drunk) you’ll be rubbing shoulders/throwing punches with footballers. These guys are the new kings of the underworld, just pick up a newspaper on Monday morning and check the headlines, guarantee one of them has been in a fight/been caught with drugs/been caught urinating on a cop car. Classy guys, footballers.
If small, funky bars with great atmosphere are more your thing, head to Le Panic on Bayswater Road or Tonic Lounge, which is hidden away on the dark side of Kellet Street.
If you just want to spend the night posing with the hope of making the social pages, you can do so at Trademark which also houses Piano Bar under the famous Coke sign. Or Hugo’s which is the bar for the models, quasi-celebs and the beautiful people. They look over the scum from the balcony with their noses held high. They might think they’re better and maybe they are, there’s always someone in my group that gets refused entry. It’s no wonder Hugo’s goes by the nickname “Huge Egos”.
But don’t dismay, there’s a bar where everyone is welcome and will satisfy those Britannia cravings. Lots of Brit-pop on rotation, continual drink specials and late night cheesy pop anthems to get you in the mood, it must be the number one hook-up spot for desperate backpackers. No need to walk 500 miles for love, they’re right there at Empire.
Speaking of backpackers, the Cross lures them in like a horse to water. And these horses sure can drink. World Bar is always popular amongst travellers. That might be because its name suggests racial harmony… or maybe it’s because of the happy hours, three levels of fun and its signature drink – the cocktail-filled teapot. Open all day and night, which is perfect because sipping out of a teacup is the norm at any given hour.
Next door to World Bar is the seedy underground nightclub known as Candy’s Apartment, step back into a debauched world with Andy Warhol-inspired décor and some of Sydney’s up and coming DJs, they’ll keep you going until 6am.
Kings Cross caters for everyone. Say for instance that you like playing bingo or, perhaps, you like men who dress up as women. Well, tick both of those boxes at Mansions Hotel. Trannies like Penny Tration drop their balls from 8pm every Thursday night. Anyone for number 88? Two fat whores.
The Cross loves to reinvent itself. Another makeover has been given to the Kings Cross Hotel, which, on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and William Street, is kind of like the entrance to the amusement park that is the Cross. It used to be a dive, but now it’s five levels of pure fun with bars, nightclubs and a 24-hour licence. Plus, on level five you get an amazing view of the glitzy strip and the Coke sign across the road.
If you just want a bar where you’re able to find a table and watch the game, Club Swans is waiting for you. It’s a genuinely Aussie kind of bar located in the middle of the Cross. It seems out of place amongst the glitz and trash, yet it does a roaring trade. Just goes to show that the Strip caters to all ball games.
When the games end and you don’t fancy the ladies at Empire, the strip clubs will be calling you in… literally… the doormen will be begging you. World famous Showgirls houses the best erotic dancers in the country, with nude table-top dancing, private rooms and hostesses who will be at your beck and call – for a price of course. At the other end of the spectrum is Bada Bing, more of a relaxed, buck’s night kind of establishment with girls who are experts in the art of pole-dancing. But make sure you buy your tokens if you want to guarantee an eyeful, these ladies won’t let you sit front row for nothing.
There’s no doubt the Cross is designed to provide so much fun you won’t want to sleep. But unfortunately the sun does come up and the lights do go down. Then it’s strictly red-eye district. Hey, I didn’t say it was pretty.