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Street art Mural Around Redfern
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

A local's guide to Redfern

Young and old sit side by side in this culturally rich suburb in the heart of Sydney

Written by
Divya Venkataraman
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Just to the south of Surry Hills and near the bustling transport hub of Central Station lies Redfern, a suburb with a long-standing history for the First Nations people of the city. From the '90s, increasing gentrification ushered in the area's transformation into an urban, laid-back locale of modern eateries and quirky, low-lit bars. Now, the area stands as a mix of the old and the new, of the working class and the North Shore emigrés, of the historical and the incorrigibly hipster. 

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EAT DRINK COFFEE THINGS TO DO SHOPPING

What's Redfern known for?

First and foremost, it's an area of historical significance – as landlords campaigned to evict First Nations residents from their homes in the '60s, Australia's own civil rights movement was born on Redfern's streets. More recently, a reputation for great food and drink has been added to its identity. George Street and its leafy off-shoot lanes hold a wealth of eateries and dive bars to satiate all kinds of hunger. Time Out spoke to Dhunghutti man and artist Blak Douglas, who's had a lifelong love affair with the area and its close community feel. "I lived here, made art here, had a gallery here. You go down to the park, and you gotta say hey to everyone. It's changed heaps in my time, but there's lots that's still the same."

Why do the locals love it?

Redfern has a casual, creative vibe in its street art and public spaces, as well as a diverse and eclectic dining scene. It allows room for the bold and boundary-pushing, while also catering to those who are particular about the provenance of their pinot grigio. 

How do I get to Redfern? 

The suburb is most easily accessible by train – hop off at Redfern station or walk about 15 minutes from Central station. The 309 and 343 buses head there from the city, too. You can drive, but parking, as in many inner-city suburbs, is limited. 

What's nearby?

You're a hop, skip and jump from Surry Hills to your east and the trendy, more residential suburb of Waterloo to the south. The Carriageworks market in Eveleigh is close by, too – perfect for checking out the latest art exhibition during the week and swinging by the farmers' market overflowing with fresh produce and well-dressed market-goers on Saturdays.

Map of Redfern

If you only do one thing...

Head over to the warehouse/events space/gallery that is 107 Projects and take part in a life-drawing class, Groove Therapy dance session or a poetry workshop – the venue's creative, unusual offerings go to the heart of what this suburb is all about. It's temporarily closed due to restrictions, but we're crossing our fingers it'll be back soon.

Eat
Photograph: Bistro St Jacques

Eat

Even as Redfern's dining star rises, its neighbourhood eateries have maintained a friendly, local vibe about them without succumbing to the pretension of many other culinary hot spots. Bush (55 George St) is a quirky Australiana-inspired café whose star dish is, unexpectedly, the cheeseburger, while Ron's Upstairs (133A Redfern St) owned by the same folk as a much-loved small bar down the road, Arcadia Liquors, has set up shop in what used to be an old Thai restaurant and revamped it in 70's kitsch décor which contrasts boldly with the modern, Mediterranean-inspired menu.

Moving a little further across the continent, Kepos St Kitchen (96 Kepos St) is a bustling brunch favourite and home to some of the best hummus in Sydney – which you can watch be hand-churned at your table at nearby sister restaurant, Kepos and Co (18 Danks St). While the latter doesn't get nearly the limelight of the former, it's intimate, features a more sincerely Middle Eastern menu, and looks out over an aquamarine pool that gives you the sense of dining in a Moroccan riad.

For a more European vibe, settle in for Southern French fare in a bistro setting at Bistro St Jacques (96 Pitt St) – they're serving classics like steak frites with Café de Paris butter and oysters served with Champagne vinegar – and, because we're in Redfern, even the restaurant whose cuisine is perhaps most antithetical to the idea of plant-based eating has an extensive vegan menu available.

Many of Redfern's dining charms are found in the cosiest of venues. For an excellent Sicilian-style pizza made to be washed down with (BYO!) red wine, check out itsy-bitsy pizza joint La Coppola (152 Redfern St), and for steaming hot secret-recipe ramen (a vegan option is available), check out RaRa Ramen (66B Regent Street), a tiny 28-seater joint that's usually got lines running out the door. Another Japanese eatery, Juan Bowl and Tea (94A Pitt St) specialises in elaborately flavoured bowls and a mean matcha tiramisu – but if it's dessert you're looking for, you might also want to stop by Ciccone and Sons (195 Regent St) (some say it's the best gelato in the city).

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Drink
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Drink

When it comes to finding the smoothest tipple, Redfern's got you spoiled for choice. Misfits (106 George St)is a shape-shifting venue with intimate corners for dates as well as a far-reaching menu for group dinners while nearby Bart Jr's (96 Pitt St) bright, light space decked out in native flowers dispenses with the idea that bars must be dimly-lit and moody to be serious watering holes – it's got a natural wine list to rival the best of 'em. If moodiness is your style, head over to Moya's Juniper Lounge (101 Regent St) for live jazz on Sunday evenings and fresh, botanically minded drinks or settle in with the locals at the low-key, non-nonsense hangout The Dock (182 Redfern St).

While there is a whole crop of new drinking holes that have emerged, Redfern was once home to more than 20 pubs. "I certainly savour the last remaining parts of old Redfern," says Blak Douglas. "I like going to the ones that still have a bit of that feel about them, like the Tudor (90 Pitt St) and the Abbotts Hotel (45-47 Botany Rd). You know, in the area, we call The Abbotts 'the last Blacks' pub'". It's Douglas' go-to for the "cheapest, best pub meal" in the area.

For some more 'real Redfern' vibes, Douglas also recommends pulling up a stool in the fairy light-strung courtyard of Arcadia Liquors (7 Cope St) – it's the perfect place to while an evening away with good conversation and on a glass of full-bodied (and reasonably priced) red.

Finally, you'd be a real dick to pass up a visit to the inclusive and creative quirk factory the Bearded Tit (183 Regent St)– crocheted penises abound, drag performances take centre-stage, and the drinks are stiff but complex. While the Bearded Tit has announced it won't be opening again until all restrictions are lifted on venues, you can buy a virtual drink online (as well as great local art).

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Coffee
Photograph: Katje Ford

Coffee

You've certainly come to the right side of town for a brew. Check out Little Evie (688 Bourke St) on the Waterloo side of the 'burb for light café fare in an airy, bright setting. It wouldn't hurt to stop over at the picturesque St Jude (728 Bourke St) nearby either, which, if you were wondering, is named after the Catholic patron saint of hopeless causes – especially if you can bag one of the street tables overhung by trees.

If you're on the other side of Redfern, check out Southside Charmers (306 Chalmers St) for Five Senses roasted coffee with the backdrop of tropical palm fronds and neons, and try Three Williams (613 Elizabeth St) for great coffee, bustling energy, and an excellent pea and avocado mash on toast in an underground warehouse-style setting.

The Tin Humpy (137 Redfern St) is an Indigenous-owned café with smooth Grounds of Alexandria coffee and all-day fare – linger a while and take in the Aboriginal artwork that lines the walls. Finally, Scout's Honour (118 George St) has great coffee as well as Moonrise kingdom-esque outdoor how-tos on its crockery – so you might even learn something while you sip at the streetside café.

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Things to do
Photograph: Rhiannon Hopley

Things to do

To truly get a sense of Redfern and its long, complex history, pull back the curtain on the neighbourhood's deep-rooted arts scene.

Dhungatti man and contemporary artist Blak Douglas worked and created in the area for ten years, even leading street art tours of the suburb for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In his time, the socio-economic makeup of Redfern has shifted significantly – but Redfern's First Nations residents and cultural history have undeniably made the area what it is today. Douglas admits he saw a veritable "tsunami of gentrification" – but with it, he says, have come "a new influx of people, with a new taste for art." 107 Projects (107 Redfern St), an experimental and creative space where exhibitions, yoga classes and dance lessons take place, is one of his favourite venues in the area. Director Jess Cook, "one of the most egalitarian creators in Australia," finds a way to branch out and respond to the needs of the local community while pushing boundaries with the centre's offerings.

For more innovative and contemporary work by local artists, Douglas recommends stopping by DuckRabbit (138 Little Eveleigh St), a cosy gallery operated by seasoned artist Hugh Ramage, which hosts events like the celebrated annual Vincent Prize group exhibition. The Redfern Community Centre (29-53 Hugo St) too, is dedicated to its local community and displays art by local creators.

Right on Redfern's main thoroughfare sits the innocuously named Redfern Convenience Store (152a Redfern St)– you'd be forgiven for not knowing it's the 'Greatest Convenience Store on Earth'. That's what Hazem Zedda, its owner, believes anyway – and you'd probably find similarly held views among the store's 22k Instagram followers. Having gained a cult following for its friendly service and its collection of quirky imported candies, you're bound to bump into visitors who've travelled from afar following the smoke trail of Redfern Convenience Store's social media fame.

Once you've stuffed some sweet treats in your arms, head over to the nearby Yerrabingin Rooftop Farm (2 Davy Rd) in Eveleigh – it's a sprawling urban farm which marries Indigenous knowledge with contemporary design to grow native species like warrigal greens, saltbush, river mint, finger lime and lilly pilly, as well as advocating for native permaculture and environmental sustainability through community learning. For some more sweet outdoor space, try sprawling on the grass at centrally-located Redfern Park (Redfern St).

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Shopping
Photograph: Maxim Boon/Time Out

Shopping

More than ever, Redfern has become home to small, creative stores full of locally made wares and design. Swing by on a weekend to pick up fresh flowers with a friendly smile at the locals-first neighbourhood florist, Merchant and Green (674 Bourke St). At Journals in nearby Darlington (266 Abercrombie St) you'll be able to pick up a gift (or treat) for the paper-lovers you know – it's stocked with a plethora of leather-bound notebooks, writing paper and creative, niche magazines.

On the higher end, head to Trit House right by Three Williams (613 Elizabeth St) to ogle at the sumptuous Scandinavian-inspired furniture on display and make mental calculations as to how many lifetimes you'd have to work at your current job to afford one velvet chaise. The Dea Store (146 Regent St) combines chic and quirky homewares from overseas and local designers into one holistic space –drop by to spend time amongst the beautiful objects.

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Mark your calendars...
Photograph: Jacquie Manning

Mark your calendars...

Every Saturday in nearby Eveleigh, the Carriageworks Farmers Market (245 Wilson St) comes out to shine. It's full of fresh produce by some of the city's best makers and growers – think Pepe Saya butter slathered onto sourdough, Suzy Spoon Vegetarian Butcher's unmissable vegetarian and vegan 'meats', fresh flowers and steaming bowls of pho, all set to the wafting scent of Single O coffee. You'll be lingering longer than you'd bargained for. 

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