Martijn, what attracted you to Alexandria in the first place?
I was travelling between Holland and Australia, and I noticed that while there were heaps of bouldering gyms over there, there was nothing to match it in Sydney. I wanted to start something here and Alexandria was the right fit. The space is perfect because it’s in a complex with lots of other venues. There’s been so much change over the past couple of years as the area has shifted from more industrial to a place where there are heaps of different things popping up all the time. We’re excited to be a part of that.
What makes 9 Degrees different?
The main thing is that we don’t use any ropes, you’re just free to climb wherever you want. The wall is only a couple of metres high, but it’s quite an achievement to get to the top. We have short challenges in different colours, depending on your experience, so you start off on the easier ones if you’re new and then you graduate to harder and harder climbs. Our slogan is ‘climbing makes you happy’; one of our customers wrote that down on the chalkboard just after we’d opened. And it’s true; you can’t not be happy after you climb.
Who do you get climbing?
We get all sorts. When we first opened people thought “bouldering is just for guys with their shirts off climbing really steep walls”, but this concept has made people think differently about climbing. At night, after work, this place fills up. You see people come in and they scan their card, and they look sort of lifeless but then by the time they leave they look happy. Something’s happened in that time, and I think it’s a combination of climbing, which brings you back to yourself, and socialising. It’s a workout, but it’s fun. Unlike the gym, people find excuses to come back. We want people to feel at home here – they might come and use the free WiFi to do some work and then go for a climb, there’s free yoga classes, and we have slacklines that people can practice on as well. There’s even a dogs of 9 Degrees community, because dogs are welcome too.
Climbing can be thirsty work – where do you head for drinks after a shift?
The Rocks Brewing Company – they’re three minutes’ walk from here, which is handy. They have a great space with great food, and they have ten craft beers on tap that are brewed on site. There’s also a big outdoor area where there’s live music on the weekends. The same guys own the Lord Raglan, which, not surprisingly, has a big range of beers on tap. For something fancier, there’s the Potting Shed at the Grounds of Alexandria, which is always pumping, or Bar No 5.
What are your go-to restaurants in the area?
Al Aseel is a good place to go to with a group to get rowdy – we recently had a staff dinner there. One of my favourite restaurants is in Alexandria; it’s called Thai Thai. It’s a very low-key, family-run restaurant and they have the best pad Thai. I recently discovered Pino’s Vino e Cucina, which is a lovely, old-school Italian place.
Where else can people head to after dark?
People are always surprised when I tell them there’s an ice-rink in Alexandria – Ice Zoo – which is really good fun. You can take classes, and they have ice hockey, but the best thing about it is the Saturday night disco, where you can just cut loose and be silly. Even better, they’re licensed so you can have a drink. Yulli’s Brews have live jazz on Thursday nights, and on Sundays you can go along and see some stand-up and have a beer. At Sun Studios they quite often open up the place at night for events or photography exhibitions, which are always worth catching.
Martijn's after-dark picks for Alexandria
Forget the bad day you've just had in the office and strap on a pair of climbing shoes and explore the 140 different routes along nine degrees of difficulty at 9 Degrees. Climbers don’t use ropes or harnesses but instead scale shorter walls beside thick, padded flooring. You don't need a climbing partner, equipment or much training – simply rock up and go.
Once beer o’clock strikes the big open space fills with people keen for ice cold brews poured straight from the source and burgers, hot wings and nachos to accompany them. Furnish your drinking hand with a pale ale or golden ale and let the good times roll.
Being spoiled for choice is a nice problem to have, and with the rise of dedicated craft beer bars around Sydney, it’s becoming endemic. We’re big fans of the Rocks Brewing gang here. Unlike their brewery bar further down in Alexandria, the Lord Raglan plays well with others. You’ll have to keep an eye on the slate labels suspended over the bar to see what’s on offer.
The crowds outside Sydney’s favourite mega-café, the Grounds of Alexandria, are a permanent fixture on weekends. And to continue their domination, the Grounds has added a booze barn. Head to the Potting Shed on a chill evening and be greeted by a flickering wheelbarrow fire pit with blankets for chilly knees and marshmallows ready to toast.
Looking for a place to match those feel-good vibes from the '80s sitcom Cheers? Even though people here probably won't know your name, that doesn't mean this urban respite isn't the 2018 equivalent... just a better looking, more progressive one. Here the bar staff will keep a lonely out-of-towner company before palming them off – lovingly – to a new, potential friend. Yes it's nothing but love here at Bar No 5, with a ‘dogs welcome’ sign out the front and pride flag draped in the window, you immediately get a sense you're among potential friends.
Like an oasis in the desert, a charming Italian trattoria is the last thing you expect to find in the quiet backstreets of residential Alexandria. Seek out Pino’s Vino e Cucina, however, and you will discover that the combination of dark timber, warm candlelight, soft leather banquettes, excellent wine and one of Sydney’s most tender steaks results in the only place you want to eat at for the foreseeable future.
Whether you can do an axel jump in your sleep or you’re just looking to escape the heat, you can enjoy a winter wonderland all year round at Ice Zoo in Alexandria. Alongside traditional ice skating facilities, they offer skating classes that'll help thaw out any icy beginner away from the wall. When you’re not tearing up the ice you can warm up with a warming drink at either the café or licenced bar.
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant has been here for over 25 years and their popularity with locals is testament to their traditional and familiar Thai dishes, such as chicken panang curry, red and green curries and fish chu chee. If you’re craving a pad Thai but can’t be bothered to leave the house, you’re in luck because this team of friendly staff will happily deliver.
Al Aseel have been feeding reasonably priced and delicious Lebanese food to Sydneysiders for more than 15 years, with locations in Bankstown, Greenacre and Newtown. Now the industrial 'burb of Alexandria gets its own fattoush filled restaurant.
What’s better than a beer between friends? If you ask brewery owners Karl Cooney and James Harvey, they'd say there's nothing they love more. Enjoying the simplicity of life is a philosophy that shines through in their food and brews. All their beers are brewed on site, including the Betoota Bitter, named for the satirical news site. You could call this place a pub, a bar, a brewery or a restaurant and in the evenings when they host rocking live music you can call them a live music venue too.