Like most big cities, Sydney has its share of urban myths – some almost believable, others consigned to the realm of fantasy and a good old fashioned leg pull. My all time favourite is the supposed jazz concert at the Elizabethan theatre in Newtown that billed the legendary pianist George Shearing as their featured attraction. When the curtains parted there was a guy shearing a sheep with a t-shirt emblazoned ‘George’.
Kings Cross has always enjoyed a colourful and nefarious reputation and you would think it would be reeking with all kinds of urban myths. Maybe most of the wicked and bizarre goings on are actually true, which might account for a paucity of real mythology. Nevertheless I have scraped together the following anecdotal accounts, some of which I actually witnessed myself, the remainder very much open to scrutiny.
99 CENT SOUP AT THE NEW YORK RESTAURANT: The original New York Restaurant was a KC institution for decades, serving basic low cost meals to bohemians, students and working class locals. In the 1990s a basic meat and veg could be bought for a few dollars and a plate of chicken soup for a bargain 99 cents. Many wondered how soup could be priced so reasonably until the rumour became widespread that the cook had a chicken on a string which he lowered into a pot of boiling water for five or ten minutes, each time a plate was ordered.
THE ONE HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Here’s one I can actually verify as I dropped into the Mansions Hotel on New Year’s Eve to catch a set from the legendary saxophonist Merv Acheson sometime in the mid 80s. The band was still playing when a horse and rider burst into the bar, much to the astonishment of all within. The middle aged horseman looked like he had ridden all the way from Bourke, covered in dust and grime. Within a minute he was gone, galloping across Bayswater Road and up the stairs of the adjacent Hampton Court Hotel. Regulars at the bar put it down to just another hallucination brought on by the delirium tremens.
WHEN THE STREETS WERE LINED WITH GOLD: Well not exactly the precious metal but a substance just as much sought after – cocaine! In the 1980s the Cross was awash with coke as dealers and crooked cops made it as easy to buy as a bottle of milk. Occasionally somebody would drop their deal on the pavement and hence the curious scene I witnessed one night, outside the somewhat notorious Manzil Room. Two young men had come upon just such a discarded deal, and down on their hands and knees, they were snorting it up through straws they had commandeered from a nearby convenience store. Waste not, want not!
THE RESPONSIBLE SERVICE OF ALCOHOL: The Cross has always had a reputation for drunkenness and drinking to excess yet at the Paradise Jazz Cellar on Darlinghurst Road it was almost impossible to get inebriated if you were drinking spirits. The 80s venue was owned by Abe Saffron and the drinks were so watered down, you would get a bigger buzz from drinking cold tea. Punters left the late night venue, their wallets well and truly skinned, but at least they were stone cold sober!
NUDE CHESTING AT THE PICCADILLY HOTEL: Yes, I have touched on this one before but even today there are skeptics who believe that it never happened. Again the 1980s and a midweek ‘grunge’ night at the Piccadilly Hotel on Victoria Street, hosted by the band Lubricated Goat and their friends. At the end of the night, a couple of the band members would strip off completely naked and engage in a kind of jousting, bumping their chests together in an almost primeval ritual – right in front of the bar. Occasionally a couple of late night drinkers would enter the pub, just as the chesting had begun and wonder what the hell they had walked in on.
Sadly today such good natured nudie shenanigans would probably see a hotel losing its licence, you’d probably need to go to an outback roadhouse to see horses anywhere near the bar, coke is too expensive to drop on the street and six or more shots of Jack Daniels is actually going to get you molo. On the other hand somewhere in this city of five million souls, there’s at least one chef preparing plates of budget priced chicken soup by lowering a well plucked bird into a boiling pot of water, with just a pinch of salt for flavouring.