If you want to take a bus tour around Sydney there are a number of options, from the tourist oriented Sydney Sightseeing bus to the more quirky ghost and historical tours. But what about a trip that deliberately seeks out the eccentric, the bizarre, and the downright cranky? Time to climb aboard the totally different ‘Weird Sydney Tour’.
We’ll be travelling in an old WWII double decker bus, decked out in discreet army camouflage and guaranteed to blend in with the environment. The vibe is high after a round of community singing from an old Boomerang songbook and fittingly we begin our journey at “The Happiest Place In Town”. That’s the sign outside the classic pinball parlour in George Street, immortalised in the loving words of the Do-Ré-Mi song. We stop for 10 or 15 minutes to rattle the old machines, admire the circus-like murals, and immerse ourselves in a world of eternal childhood.
It’s not yet lunchtime but we are feeling peckish and next stop is the offbeat “Bad Taste” restaurant, on top of the Agincourt Hotel in Broadway. We are all seated at tiny tables, straight out of Playschool with Mickey Mouse placemats and vases of plastic flowers. The wait staff is deliberately rude but we know it’s all a game and the food is a welcome sustenance after all that pinball action.
Onwards we cruise, stopping briefly at the Crystal Palace Arcade for a bout of shopping at its idiosyncratic range of shops such as The Land Beyond Beyond, Skin Deep and the eye-popping Badge Shop. The spending does not stop there and our double decker inches its way down the narrow lane that is Sydney’s Rowe Street with its bohemian style cafes, bookshops and galleries. It’s our own little version of Paris’s Left Bank and a set of pawnshop bongos are lovingly passed around the bus.
There’s a welcome cup of coffee at the out-there, galactic-themed Mars Bar in Pitt Street and then our driver announces an hour or two of siesta. We decide against the State Theatrette newsreel in Market Street and opt for the more palatial Capitol at Haymarket. There’s a Roger Codman double on offer but like most of the patrons we curl up in our seats, grindhouse style, for sixty minutes of kip and snooze.
Totally invigorated we climb back aboard the old double decker and head for Kings Cross with an afternoon of nonstop sightseeing and gratuitous pleasures. There’s the obligatory strip clubs, the Kings Cross Wax Works, the Piccolo Bar, the El Rocco Jazz Cellar, the busking birdman at the El Alamein fountain, the Yummy Yummy Food Bar and the funky Outback Bar with it’s fake stuffed fauna and all-Aussie paraphernalia.
The afternoon soon morphs into night as we find ourselves at the Texas Tavern, cocktails in hand, grooving to the sounds of the all-electric Ray Charles automaton Jojo Ivory. He appears to overheat halfway through the set and as the plug is temporarily pulled we make our way to the notorious Venus Room in Orwell Street. Unfortunately there’s just been a shooting and we decide not to venture inside, moving instead for the head-banging ambience of the Manzil Room and it’s super squelchy carpet. There’s a competition as to who can leave the legendary rock venue with the most carpet stuck to the sole of their shoes but that’s soon overshadowed when we discover our bus has been hijacked by a bunch of suburban footy hoons. We are all offered free accommodation at the Astoria for the night but decline in unison and most of us cab it home.
It’s been weird and it’s been wonderful but sadly it all took place some thirty years ago. You not only need a bus but a time machine if you want to jump on the Weird Sydney Tour. These days it’s all just a bit too predictable!