“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
– Henry Miller
Last week in an unfortunate incident involving some stairs and a bag of bottles I broke my finger. More painful than my pathetic injury was the embarrassment of the great crashing sound that accompanied my journey down the flight of stairs. Despite the inconvenience of not being able to write, my apologies, I’ve had the luxury of a few days off work to devote to reading and revisiting old favourites. I also had time to catch up on some favourite blogs, and stumbled- as is clearly my style these days- over this fantastic quotation in the Mathilda Project:
“How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!”
– Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library”
As nothing could be truer when I look at my piecemeal introduction to Sydney, more or less entirely done according a map of bookshops, I was inspired to write about such discoveries once mended. And now I’m pretty much mended. So for booklovers and walkers alike, wander with me from Oxford Street down Crown.
We start at the Paddington end. Begin at Berkelouw‘s Cafe 1812 for some breakfast, a glass of fresh orange juice and a perusal of the papers. Save your morning coffee fix for Ampersand on the other side of the street where you can capitalize on their $10 Take-away coffee and a paperback deal. Try and get a smile out of the beardy French Barista, a favourite pastime of mine. You are now primed by caffeine and armed with today’s reading, so start walking.
Head down Oxford Street on the Bekelouw side towards the city. Take a moment to peek into The Bookshop Darlinghurst, where gay literature abounds and the décor is likely to speed up your heart rate. Recommended authors here would include Armistead Maupin, and Sarah Waters, but make use of the staff to find something for your own taste- they are utterly charming and brimming with ideas.
At Taylor square cross again, staying on Oxford Street, and walk down to number 114, which houses pop-up bookshop Beautiful Pages. This graphic design concept store is rather minimalist but full of beautiful books and gigglesome posters. Design has leapt off the page into the shop’s layout and the original bookshelves and displays. The lovely owner, Tiana Vasiljev is invariably behind the counter ready to answer any questions about the books, their contents or further recommendations. Tiana’s been selling these online for a couple of years now and has personally read and selected every item of this boutique selection- she really knows her stuff! The stock is very niche, but even if you aren’t into graphic design it’s a funky place to look over.
Once you’ve gloried in the coolness of it all step back into the Sydney sun. Turn right and keep walking down Oxford Street until you get to Crown Street and turn left down it.
Crown Street is one of my ultimate Sydney favourites. Objectively it’s handsome. The street is bordered by lovely little terraced houses with wrought iron balconies (look out for numbers 309 and 344- SO cute) and has a surprising amount of greenery. Beyond the merely architectural, there are lots of little galleries, art and design shops, terraced restaurants, vintage or unusual clothes retailers, and some real quirk. I was recently told by a friend that Surry Hills is in fact rated the 23rd most fashionable neighbourhood in the world. Let that whet your appetite. That said, I’m not trendy. And I’m not as well off as this street requires for full enjoyment. But I still love it, and in typically Australian fashion the area remains unpretentious. Embrace it.
Oscar and Friends Bookshop on the corner of Crown and Campbell St is a tiny little store that sells mainstream literature, new releases and some great children’s stuff.
You’re looking at the average $19.95 paperback price but they do 10% off many staff recommendations. In a pleasant departure from the commonplace, winners of a whole range of prizes, not just the ever dominant Booker Prize, are flagged on the shelves so you’ll see stuff from the Miles Franklin Award, the Orange Prize and many more. Also targeting the committed reader are some fantastic staff reviews. Look out for recommendations by Natalie that are always comprehensive and humorous. Her take on The Discovery of Witches has put it firmly on my must-read list, as has her recommendation of John Green, whom I was first alerted to by The Broke and the Bookish Blog. There’s a charming, homely feel to the place and the staff are always friendly. So much so in fact, that I’ve decided to attend their book club! Next one is December 3rd where they’ll be discussing May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I’m psyched.
But tarry no more journeyman (woman) there is still much to see!
Holy Kitsch a little further down the street is the perfect ‘weird gift’ place. Specializing in Mexican and Day of the Dead wares they have great posters and small run prints that veer from the hilarious to the macabre.
Right next-door is The Barberia that’s all red and white, and full of pictures- a retro hair-stylist that does Ladies’ cuts for just $65 (cheap by Sydney Standards I’ve discovered!). Trundling on make sure you keep an eye out a little further up for the Blank Space Gallery which rotates in some intriguing artists. They recently had a large work on Cunts for which I wish I’d taken down the artists’ name.
Take time to explore, enjoy the odd collection of individuals who inhabit this strip of Surry Hills. If it gets too hot, and summer is a-coming after all, take a break from the heat to indulge at Messina’s. In my extensive taste tested experience this is Sydney’s BEST ice-cream shop. The Salted Caramel and White Chocolate is divine. Truly.
Now show some commitment and keep walking until TITLE Music & Film comes up on your right. In keeping with the theme you’ll find posters and racks of CDs and in the back there’s even a collection of records. But they also offer biographies and books on street art, Artist of all kinds, Tattoos and design and some great discount coffee table options. For the less artistic amongst us they have a vast collection of Orange Penguin Classics and some eclectic, mostly political, non-fiction. The highlight for me was discovering the Penguin collection of Great Ideas, which combines some top-notch philosophy with brilliant cover work. All for the modest price of $10.
By now it must be lunchtime. Past TITLE is Trinity Pub, which is always buzzing. But closer to the main strip (after the Fauveaux st. intersection) there’s something for very type of foodie. Pubs of note include The Clock and the White Horse and there are some pretty swish wine bars for which I’ve forgotten the names. At 500 Crown there’s a smashing Pizzeria, and around it some great Asian choices from Thai (The Lemon Grass is BYO) to Japanese.
I’ve mentioned Ampersand of Surry Hills before and it’s definitely worth a stop for a glass of wine– perhaps some more perusing. The upstairs floor is particularly bright and inviting, but they also have outside tables and a bar bench at the front where you can do some serious people watching. Since you already have a book, choose one of the comfy seats now and rest your tired feet- you’ve earned it. At least I always feel that I have.
I’ve tried to put together a rough map of all this, A is Berkleouw and H is Trinity Bar, in between you’ve got Ampersand, The Bookshop, Beautiful Pages, Oscar & Friends, the second Ampersand and Title. There’s also a 352 Bus that pretty much covers the walk… if you get lazy, or if you want to then hop on anywhere on Crown and make your way to Bondi for some Gertrude & Alice action! Hope it helps…