Over the last two decades Newtown’s identity has slowly morphed from bohemian to hipster – and the booze and food scene is thriving in this colourful slice of the Inner West. We gathered a few friends from Newtown and Enmore’s hospitality scene to discuss the community, its challenges and what lies ahead.
“Newtown is a chosen home," explains Oscar McMahon of Newtown brewery Young Henrys. "It’s not necessarily where everybody grows up. It’s an amazing microcosm of different cultures all living together and people being proud of that diversity. The heart of it is that whoever you are, you’re OK – as long as you respect everyone else."
“I think Newtown is the only place to close both a McDonald’s and a KFC.”
- Claire Van Vuuren, Bloodwood
Sarah Doyle, of Porteño and Bodega, has lived in Newtown for more than 15 years. She thinks the area has ‘spirit’. “I know it’s a wanky word,” she smiles, “but you feel that with Newtown. Everyone is welcome... I think a lot of people are coming to experience that, and a lot of people are wanting to stay."
“It’s a good food and drink town,” adds Charles Cameron of Brewtown Newtown. “It’s also a bit of a party town. The most exciting thing on the horizon is probably the weekend.”
Our Newtown locals describe their beloved suburb using words like ‘bright’, ‘real’, ‘artistic’ and above all, 'inclusive'. But just how rosy is it, really, for those who live and work in the boho ’burb? Ongoing issues include prohibitive property prices, discontent with local government, the ripple effect of the lockout laws and WestConnex, the planned motorway development between St Peters and Beverly Hills that is expected to drastically increase traffic on King Street.
“Why aren’t there more great cafés in Newtown?”
- Garth Anderson, Stinking Bishops
“If I were mayor of Newtown,” says McMahon. “I’d stop WestConnex.” The concern is that more traffic on King Street will turn it into a 24-hour clearway. Mitch Grady of Bloodwood says that "it will drastically change our businesses, our home. Who can park near their home on a Friday night? I can't, and if there’s then a clearway up King Street, parking’s going to get even worse. And because Newtown has never been a Liberal voting area, we’ve got no political sway.”
More and more partygoers flock to Newtown on a Friday and Saturday night than ever before thanks to Sydney’s lockout laws. But the new nighttime crowd doesn’t seem to bother some. Louise Dowling of Mary’s thinks the concerns are overblown. “There’s a big hoo-ha about it, but nothing bad has happened.” Says her colleague Kenny Graham, who owns Mary's: "We close at midnight and we never have any bother, we’ve never had to deal with any violence.” Naomi Hart of Hartsyard isn't so sure. “We used to have punks and dumpster divers," she points out. "Now we’ve got girls in mini-skirts getting wasted.”
“Everyone says ‘of course you’re from Newtown’. Maybe it’s because I like wearing flannelette and MC5 shirts.”
- Louise Dowling, Mary’s
For Newtown’s business owners, property prices are the biggest dampener. Claire Van Vuuren from Bloodwood thinks that property prices have brought a new demographic to the area. “People think it’s easy to open businesses here,” she says. “But it’s not. Even if your business is booming, rent isn’t locked at a reasonable level.” Jokes McMahon, “I don’t even know how you kids can live in Newtown these days.”
“We employ students and they all live in Newtown, so it’s not that expensive,” retorts Graham. “Statistics of the area show that the highest employment in Newtown is in IT. There are lots of families; there’s something like 200 babies in the park at lunch. It’s probably just that people who live there have now grown up.”
“Surry Hills never had my heart the way Newtown does. It doesn’t have a heart the way things do on King Street.”
- Charles Cameron, Brewtown Newtown
“I’m always surprised by the south end of King Street,” says Hart. “I always think it’s going to take off and then for whatever reason I’m surprised by the number of businesses turning over. When you get past the Dendy, rents double.”
With property a key concern, it's also frustrating that so much prime real estate in the area remains under-utilised. The old Newtown Post Office, Anna's Takeaway on Australia Street, the Hub and the heritage-listed petrol station on South King all appear on wish lists. "These premises are just being destroyed by sitting there vacant. They are the heart of Newtown – and deserve to be something special," says Doyle.
“Someone said ‘if you don’t like where you live, change it’. We want to eat at places like we’re creating, and we’re creating the places we want for our area.”
- Sarah Doyle, Porteño
There’s talk of ongoing disputes with residents versus business owners, but as the owners of Bloodwood point out, outdated zoning regulations are controlling a lot of the fun. “Any complaints after eight o’clock, and you go back to the original restrictions,” says Van Vuuren. DA difficulties were the reason new small bar the Gretz chose not to renovate its façade.
With the area’s biggest change makers around the one table, it’s clear to see that it’s people who make the place. Is the boom sustainable long term? “I think we need to get someone on council,” says Doyle. “A Newtown local. We can only talk from a hospitality perspective, but we’ve learnt that competition’s great! More people makes things more interesting – and keeps you wanting to be better.”
“If you’ve got imagination, do something with the culture in your immediate vicinity.”
- Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys