Top attractions Down Under

Posted on 17 Dec 2005 at 12:33am
By Andrew Collins – Contributing Travel Writer

Winter has set in for much of the North American continent. That means chilly weather and dark, gloomy days.
Such is not the case on the other side of the world. In Sydney, Australia the hippest and hottest gay destination in the Southern Hemisphere summer’s coming on. And in February mid-summer in Australia it’s the time for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which in 2006 runs February 4 to March 4. This celebration rivals any queer festival in the world.
Regardless of your interest in Mardi Gras, it’s a terrific time to visit this stunning city.
The Sydney Opera House is justly one of the world’s foremost achievements in architectural design. Apart from possessing a magnificent exterior overlooking Sydney Harbour, it presents fine musical and theatrical performances all year long.
It’s also right beside Circular Quay, from which you can catch water taxis and harbor cruises to famous beach communities like Manly, Watsons Bay and the Harbour Islands. You can also head to Taronga Zoo, an excellent place to come face to face with the many unusual indigenous animals.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales recently opened a phenomenal wing of Asian works that’s among the most prestigious in the world. Just south of the Opera House, you can lose yourself for hours strolling the lush grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Grab a ride on the sleek monorail to poke around the Darling Harbour neighborhood, home to the shark-infested Sydney Aquarium and impressive Powerhouse Museum, a trove of fascinating science, natural history and anthropology exhibits. If a sky-high photo op appeals to you, take an elevator to the top of 1,060-foot Sydney Tower, where the hemisphere’s highest observatory platform offers 360-degree views.
Sydney’s natural scenery is ideally viewed by strolling along the Bondi Coastal Walk, a simple and easy path along the ocean that takes less than an hour to complete. For more adventure, book a tour with BridgeClimb Sydney to hike across the very top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the most beautiful structures in the world.
Sydney’s renowned gay scene is concentrated chiefly along Oxford Street, in the city’s Darlinghurst and Surry sections. It’s pretty busy from about the edge of Hyde Park for several blocks east and as you continue along Oxford into the Paddington section, you’ll find fewer gay hangouts but still plenty of fun businesses.
Top among the watering holes is the Colombian Hotel. (Bars and pubs in Australia often take the name “hotel.”) This mixed-gender spot offers two floors of fun. The upper lounge is the snazziest space, where you can order fancy cocktails and watch fun videos alongside a smartly dressed bunch of bon vivants. Downstairs, it’s more laid-back and a better space to mingle with strangers and sip beer.
Nearby, the Exchange Hotel has long been a favorite for dancing and cruising. This four-level club has several dance areas and lounges and it cranks into the wee hours on weekends. Crowds gather in the neighborhood’s gay epicenter, Taylor Square, which you can see from the balcony at the Kinselas Hotel.
Manacle is one of the top leather bars in Australia, and across the street, the Oxford Hotel has been popular with gay guys for years. It’s open 24 hours and draws an eclectic bunch.
The bi-level Midnight Shift has a disco upstairs and a laid-back bar with pool tables and seating on the ground level. Younger guys tend to favor the loud and festive Stonewall Hotel, which offers dancing downstairs and a lounge on the second floor. Finally, hardcore lesbian and gay disco bunnies cut loose at ARQ, which is open only Thursday through Sunday nights and packs in hundreds of buff dance-aholics.
Sydney’s less-famous pocket of gayness is along King Street in the Newtown area, where bars tend to draw a neighborhood-y crowd. Some reliable nightlife options along King Street include the Bank Hotel (which appeals to a mostly female and fairly butch clientele) and the Newtown Hotel (which pulls in a varied posse of guys for drag shows, videos and cruising).
Serious fans of drag shouldn’t miss the Imperial Hotel, which has drag-king competitions and shows inspired by the cult classic “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
Sydney has emerged in recent years as one of the world capitals of inventive dining there are great restaurants all over town. For a truly special occasion, few restaurants in Australia deliver more “wow” factor than Rockpool, a temple of creative modern Australian, aka “Mod Oz”) cuisine, where you might sample such innovate fare as stir-fried squid and King prawns with squid-ink noodles, smoked bacon, tomatoes, chilies and coriander.
Another must for gourmands is Altitude, which sits atop the ritzy Shangri-La Hotel, on the 36th floor), affording unrivaled views of Sydney Harbour and serving stellar Mod Oz fare.
For more casual dining and drinking, stop by one of the city’s quintessentially old-school pubs, such as the warm and festive Lord Nelson Hotel, which serves a nice array of ales and lagers as well as superb Aussie wines and tasty pub food. And for incredibly delicious Thai food, look to Sailors Thai, an elegant restaurant on one of the Rocks’ busiest streets.
If Asian cuisine is your weakness, venture a bit farther east into the Surry Hills neighborhood to Billy Kwong, an intimate restaurant where international celeb chef Kylie Kwong dreams up magically modern takes on traditional Cantonese food.
In the heart of the main gay district, for inexpensive, home-style food, drop by laid-back Betty’s Soup Kitchen, which is known for its huge, meal-size bowls of soup, plus simple pastas and homemade desserts. The Grumpy Baker is a cute coffeehouse with delicious baked goods and a typically delicious-looking clientele, too.
Wok on Inn and Don Don are side-by-side cheap and handy Asian restaurants, the first specializing in noodle bowls and the second in sushi. Nearby in trendy Paddington, Toko Sushi on Oxford turns out some of the most inventive sushi in town, in an uber-slick dining room.
In the up-and-coming Inner West part of Sydney, the Newtown and Glebe neighborhoods have become popular for funky shopping and ethnic dining. Great dining spots here include Kilimanjaro for inexpensive, delicious African fare; Sumalee for tasty Thai treats; and Iku Kitchen for vegetarian victuals.
Sydney has a number of inviting accommodations, most of them downtown. Directly facing Sydney Harbour, you’ll find the Park Hyatt, a four-story hotel with unbelievably cushy rooms, round-the-clock butler service and a loyal celeb following. Eat lunch in the open-air dining room overlooking the harbor and Opera House.
Up the street, The Establishment, run by Aussie design guru Justin Hemmes, turns heads with its 33 super-stylish rooms and chic public spaces. For the ultimate in style, book one of the sleek rooms at the W Hotel Sydney, where Russell Crowe is said to have an apartment.
There aren’t many hotels on Oxford Street, but one lovely option is Sullivans Hotel. This intimate and friendly property has 64 well-priced rooms plus a pool and exercise room. Right on Hyde Park, there’s the Sheraton on the Park, a thoroughly upscale lodging with about 550 sleek rooms and a great health club, pool and spa. Nearby Southern Cross Suites has spacious studio rooms with kitchenettes. Another smart option is the Medusa with 18 rooms all decked with dazzling colors and mod furnishings.
Also consider staying at Dive Hotel, about five miles from downtown. This intimate 14-room hotel is done in cool blacks and whites with striking modern furniture. Even if you don’t overnight out in this direction, at least plan a brief excursion Sydney’s fashionable seaside neighborhoods have loads of character plus intriguing shops and restaurants.
You might plan to watch the sun set from Bondi Beach’s Icebergs, a futuristic, glass-walled cantina. A panna cotta with chocolate sauce and chestnut honey is a marvelous way to finish a perfect Sydney evening.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Accomodations
Dive Hotel, 234 Arden St., 02/9665-5538, Divehotel.com.au. The Establishment, 5 Bridge La., 02/9240-3100. Medusa, 267 Darlinghurst Rd., 02/9331-1000, Medusa.com.au. Park Hyatt, 7 Hickson Rd., 02/9241-1234, Sydney.park.hyatt.com. Sheraton on the Park, 161 Elizabeth St., 02/9286-6000, Sheraton.com/sydney. Southern Cross Suites, Wentworth and Goulburn Sts., 02/9277-3388. Sullivans Hotel, 21 Oxford St., 02/9361-0211, Sullivans.com.au. W Hotel Sydney, 6 Cooper Wharf Rd., 02/9331-9000, Whotels.com.
Bars & Clubs
ARQ, 16 Flinders St., 02/9380-8700, Arqsydney.com.au. Bank Hotel, 324 King St., 02/9557-1692. Colombian Hotel, Oxford and Crown Sts., 02/9360-2151. Exchange Hotel, 34-44 Oxford St., 02/9331-1936. Imperial Hotel, 35 Erskineville Rd., 02/9519-9899. Kinselas Hotel, 383-387 Bourke St., 02/9331-3100. Manacle, basement of Taylor Square Hotel, 1 Flinders St., 02/9331-2950. Midnight Shift, 85 Oxford St., 02/9360-4319. Newtown Hotel, King and Watkins Sts., 02/9557-1329. Oxford Hotel, 134 Oxford St., 02/9331-3467. Stonewall Hotel, 175 Oxford St., 02/9360-1963.
Food
Altitude, Shangri-La Hotel, 176 Cumberland St., 02/9250-6123. Betty’s Soup Kitchen, 84 Oxford St., 02/9360-9698. Billy Kwong, 355 Crown St., 02/9332-3300. Don Don, 80 Oxford St., 02/9331-3544. Grumpy Baker, 151 Oxford St., 02/9380-4177. Icebergs, 1 Notts Ave., 02/9365-9000. Iku Kitchen, 25A Glebe Point Rd., 02/9692-8720. Kilimanjaro, 280 King St., 02/9557-4565. Lord Nelson Hotel, Kent and Argyle Sts., 02/9251-1532. Rockpool, 107 George St., 02/9252-1888. Sailors Thai, 106 George St., 02/9251-2466. Sumalee, 324 King St., 02/9565-1730. Toko Sushi on Oxford, 362 Oxford St., 02/9380-7001. Wok on Inn, 80 Oxford St., 02/9332-4554.
Resources
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, Mardigras.org.au.

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