Guest Post: Vintage Sydney

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I was recently approached by Michelle from Ravishing Retro about the possibility of doing a guest post. While one might not think that there is a lot of crossover between a travel blog and a blog primarily about the retro lifestyle – I feel like sometimes a place can be experienced through new eyes if you just adjust the angle at you’re looking at it from.

Sydney is best known for the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the sport, the food, and the beaches – but there are sides to it that go overlooked and Sydney’s vintage past is one of them. And it goes beyond just checking out The Rocks…

Read on.

Vintage Sydney

Looking dapper at the Porteno Cafe in Newtown
Looking dapper at the Porteno Cafe in Newtown

Sydney is a city steeped in history. When you consider some of the glorious old buildings, the statues, the museums and such, there is a lot to explore of of the city’s past; but if you thought all that remained were these edifices, you’d be terribly mistaken. In fact, there are people in Sydney who live the past, and who dedicate their lives to its revival. I speak of the vintage scene, which is a side of Sydney few except the petticoat-wearing devotees themselves encounter.

The “vintage scene” is made up of people who in some capacity live a lifestyle inspired by the past. Though there are of course lovers and re-enactors of all centuries in varying numbers, “vintage” lifestylers are more concerned with the early to mid-twentieth century. When I refer to “vintage” this is what I refer to: the 1920s-early 1960s – anything older than this is considered antique.

You might see an odd hat-wearing fellow pass you by, or a lady wearing white gloves in the middle of summer. These are the devotees of which I speak, who frequent a host of interest-specific stores, places and events. If you’d like to dabble a little in the past, here’s my little guide to vintage Sydney:

The Vanguard, Newtown

If you’d like to dine with the sultry sounds of a 40s jazz band as your soundtrack, The Vanguard is where you ought to be. It’s a beautiful venue in Newtown built to emulate a 1920s theatre restaurant, playing host to almost exclusively retro or vintage-inspired acts: burlesque, jazz, rockabilly music… I can attest to the fact that the crowd is always well-dressed.

Porteno, Surry Hills

At Porteno you’ll be greeted by pin-up Maitre d’ extraordinaire Sarah Doyle, who will show you to your seats in a vintage frock and platinum blonde pin-curls. Your steak will be cooked by two heavily tattooed rockabilly men, their hair slicked back with bryl cream – it’s South American cuisine with a rock’n’roll vibe. This is not just a well-respected fine dining establishment (it won best restaurant in 2011), but also a sort of mecca for the vintage crowd.

Sterling, Surry Hills

Should you envy Sarah Doyle’s pin-curls so fiercely that you wish to emulate them yourself, make an appointment at Sterling in Surry Hills which specialises in retro hair. The ladies can have their hair set in all manner of extravagant vintage styles to the soundtrack of vinyl records, whilst the men can visit the “barber shop” out the back.

Rose Seidler House, Wahroonga

If you’re willing to endure the half-hour drive out of Sydney into the suburbs, Rose Seidler House is worth visiting. It’s a 1950s home designed by the celebrated architect Harry Seidler that is preserved in all its splendour by the Historic Houses Trust. It’s stark, modern style is really quite fascinating. For one day a year Rose Seidler House is transformed into a sort of fete for the annual Fifties Fair, for which devotees of the era clear their calendars months in advance.

Retrospec’d, Newtown

There is quite an impressive array of vintage stores in Sydney, but Retrospec’d stands out as it is predominately a reproduction vintage store. The store sells garments designed to replicate the look and feel of 1940s and 50s fashions, which is particularly useful if it’s difficult for you to find vintage frocks in your size (oh, the tiny waists!)

Green Room Lounge Bar, Newtown

This bar, named for its proximity to the beautiful old Enmore Theatre a few doors down, feels comfortingly like a 1950s living room. As you sit on the retro couches sipping your mojito, old movies are screened with subtitles on the back wall (“Annie” was on last time I visited). The cocktail list is retro-inspired, as is the music. It’s a lovely, casual bar with a distinct fifties flavour.

Jazz City Diner, Darlinghurst

There is a proliferation of old-school diners opening up in Sydney, but Jazz City Diner just off Oxford St is my favourite of these. It serves up traditional American diner food, but really really good American diner food. Sitting up at the counter, you can watch your delicious burger prepared as you sip a malted milkshake, or else hang out in a cute little booth fitted out with its own TV. Simply divine!

Traditional vintage style on display
Traditional vintage style on display

Sydney has quite a scene for those wanting to live the past, or even for those just wanting to dabble. Petticoats are optional, but if you feel so inclined, there’s a crowd of devotees waiting to welcome you to their retro haunts.

Ravishing Retro

You can read more about Sydney’s vintage/retro scene over at Michelle’s Ravishing Retro blog. There’s plenty of interesting stories about a subculture that – I can admit – I hadn’t heard of until I spoke with Michelle on Twitter.

You can find here there at @mabellemichelle.

Michelle is also going to provide me with some future posts on the vintage scenes in Portland and London. Huzzah!

Watch This Space!

I’m going to be organizing a little ‘retro tour’ of Sydney based on Michelle’s recommendations just as soon as I get back from all of my upcoming travel.

Familiar with Sydney’s vintage scene and want to point me in the right direction? I’d love some pointers.

Know of another Sydney subculture that you’re fascinated by? I’d love to hear about it!

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