by JOHN MOYLE
That Sydney’s Kings Cross is resilient is something of an understatement when considering that in recent memory it has survived the eighties’ heroin epidemic and since 2014 has been under the harshest lockout laws in Australia.
In spite of all of this the area built and maintained a reputation for some of the finest dining in Sydney.
However, this year threw some daunting challenges to the Cross, and the country as a whole. We went into the New Year with the worst bush fires in memory, and then, on January 25, a small and unwanted visitor entered the country; the novel virus COVID-19.
At first we didn’t know what havoc it would sow, but that became clear by March 20, when borders were closed and “social distancing” imposed, meaning the end of pubs, clubs and restaurants for the foreseeable future.
One thing other than fine dining that the Cross is known for its the exorbitant rents, and suddenly restaurants were looking at the blunt end of the stick with no seated customers and no staff. It was adapt and innovate or die, and nowhere is that more evident than in Llankelly Place.
Orwell’s Coffee seized an opportunity when they invited flower seller Amira Zaia from the hibernating Kings Cross markets to turn the northern end of the little laneway into a semblance of a Parisian flower market.
At the other end of the lane Oracle Cafe’s Jun and Sylvia have dug into their Indonesian pantry and have started selling take home rendangs and Balinese chicken dishes. “It has been so successful for us that we are planning to keep it on the menu,” Jun, Oracle Cafe co-owner, said.
Night-times see the laneway buzzing with delivery riders and people picking up food from restaurants such as Et Al and Boccone Pizza.
Lou Hunt, along with her partner, Portland Georgiou, operate the Melbourne-style cafe Jospeh Hyde that is now doing a takeaway range after adapting their usual sit down menu that has allowed them to retain some of their key staff.
“Around 70 per cent of our regulars are still coming for our cooked meals, which also give the chefs still working more work to do,” Lou Hunt, Joseph Hyde owner, said.
On the weekends the cafe becomes a mini-market as the owners have invited other vendors to use the space selling roasted nuts, dog treats, fruit and veg and hand knitted scarves and hats.
In an effort to retain some of his staff Melo’s co-owner Michael Bradley sat down and crunched the numbers to just stay afloat. “We found that we would need to sell across five days of trading at least 50 meals a day for delivery or pick-up,” Michael Bradley, Melo’s co-owner, said. “We have been successful on all the Fridays and very close to it on the other days.”
Like most establishments across Sydney Melo’s has had to make hard decisions about staffing. “The casuals were the first to lose their shifts and now there is myself and two others full-time and we are paying for one casual in the kitchen and will be looking at JobKeeper for the others,” Michael said.
Honkas is a dumpling and beer place in Roslyn Street and has come up with a way of fighting back against the high fees charged by Uber Eats and Deliveroo by starting Love Local delivery service to the area, using two staff members and their electric bikes.
“Uber Eats and Deliveroo charge 38.5 per cent per delivery and we are charging local restaurants 12 per cent and that includes GST, with payment through Stripe,” Hamilton Kings, Honkas, said. “It means we can stay open.”
Hamilton spent two weeks building the website that now services around 20 restaurants, including the New Hampton Hotel. “We had to change from being a pub to takeaway food and bottle shop, but now we have the Posh Parmy back and are doing large bottles of Negroni and margaritas to go,” Megan Pollard, New Hampton function manager said.
Before COVID-19 the New Hampton was a popular local bar and functions venue employing around 20 staff including casuals. “A lot of these people are now unemployed and some of those were international students and backpackers so are not entitled government benefits,” Megan said.
Across the road is the Piccolo Bar, a Kings Cross institution that is the last link to the area’s Bohemian past. New owners Brendan and Lilly Kanikevich has just taken over the lease when the lockdown came into place.
“We have restructured our menu our menu so that it is more focused on home meals and party food that will put a smile on your face during tough times,” Brendan Kanikevich, Piccolo Bar, said.
While many in the area can afford deliveries from some of the area’s finest restaurants, such as Monopole, Yellow and Franca, the Kings Cross police are sparing a thought for the less well off in Wooloomooloo by arranging the delivery of food parcels.
“We have identified some families there that need some support and we are doing that in partnership with the local PCYC,” Senior Constable Sam Donni, Crime Prevention Officer, Kings Cross Police said. “With the families with kids we are passing on things about COVID-19 and some of the activities that they can do at home and talk to them about their schooling.”
For the last four weeks, an event each Sunday brings smiles to hundreds of people when opera singers David Carroll and Sylvie Woods take to the rooftop of Franconia, in Macleay street, and perform four songs.
“I’m standing on a rooftop singing out into the world and you can’t hear yourself and you pray that you have hit the right note,” opera singer David Carroll said.
While a lot us are missing the companionship found in bars and restaurants one innovative DJ in Darlinghurst has come up with a novel solution – a virtual pub called the COVID Arms.
“The COVID Arms came about because we just needed a social connection in a similar way,” Stevio Bee, COVID Arms convener said. “The live music is done by people who would normally be doing it in pubs prior to COVID, and now they are doing it from their homes and people can connect on through Watch Party on Facebook or YouTube.”
While this is not a definitive roundup of the many different approaches to the current situation it is an acknowledgement of the efforts everyone is making locally, nationally and around the world.
However long this goes on it seems likely that online hook-ups and home delivery of food will be here to stay.
Shine on you crazy people.