ARIA Week blog - day four: The best of Sydney

By Hayden Donnell

Hayden Donnell is in Sydney for Aria Week, the Australian Recording Industry Association awards being held on Sunday and at which Lorde is performing. He's filing daily updates for nzherald.co.nz.
A pair of concierges at the entrance to the QT Hotel in Sydney. Photo / QT
A pair of concierges at the entrance to the QT Hotel in Sydney. Photo / QT

Tonight is the main event. The Aria Awards will honour the best of Australian music, with performances from Flume and Tame Impala. It'll also have some decent overseas acts. Alicia Keys will be there. Lorde will be doing a "small vom" as she gets out of her limo onto the red carpet.


I'll be reviewing the show tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some of the best things I've found to do in Sydney over the last four days.

Find the hidden bars of Clarence St
When you see the concrete archway, turn right.

Walk down the dark alley and turn again at what looks like the back entrance to a store. Head down three flights of stairs and into the fire exit. There, you've made it to The Baxter Inn - one of the best new bars in Sydney.

It seems enough people have found the Baxter to ensure its survival. When I went, the bar was packed. Mustachioed bartenders were bouncing between patrons, offering their tips on what to order from the bafflingly long whiskey list (including one on sale for a cool $250 a shot). Old-time music was playing. A euphonium hung on the wall. If you play it, the bartenders have to take a shot.

The appropriately-named Grandma's isn't much easier to find. Prospective customers must turn into a music shop, head down some stairs and through the door under the taxidermied stag head. It's worth the effort. The bar is less glamorous than the Baxter, but it makes up for it in home comforts . Sit down in a rocking chair next to the knitting gear and sip at your Earl Grey martini. Now that's what I call a Friday night.

Visit the QT

The QT Hotel in Sydney. Photo / QT
The QT Hotel in Sydney. Photo / QT

The QT is like a fancy hotel designed by Blade Runner-era Ridley Scott. A concierge in a red wig and a black dress greets you at the door and points you in the right direction. There are many possible right directions. You can do some fine dining at Gowings on level two, get a haircut at the in-house barber shop, a massage at spaQ or just have a drink. Oh, you can also stay in one of the immaculately fitted-out rooms.

Go op shopping
Sydney is a great place to find bargain clothes. Who knew? Surry Hills is a parade of vintage stores, from Cream on Crown and Grandma Takes A Trip on Crown St to Mr Stinky's on Cleveland. King Street in Newtown is the same, with your standard op shops mixing it up with more upmarket vintage stores

If those two streets don't sate your thirst for old clothes, take a trip to the Glebe markets. It features impressive array of clothes stores competing for space alongside dozens of stalls peddling food and assorted trinkets.

Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art
The MCA is looking great after undergoing a $53 million do-up. Its rejuvenation has attracted an impressive rolling roster of special exhibitions. But if you don't want to fork out $20 for something like a career retrospective of Yoko Ono, there's still floors full of great Australian art to view.

Yoko Ono stands between two screens showing her performing Cut Piece in 1965 and 2003.
Yoko Ono stands between two screens showing her performing Cut Piece in 1965 and 2003.

Have a drink at Earl's Juke Joint
There are plenty of good bars on King and Enmore Streets in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. The Sixth Borough sources beers from Brooklyn. Newtown Social Club does a mean pizza. But Earl's Juke Joint is the best.

The roomy tavern at 407 King Street is built inside an old butcher's shop with its signage intact. It boasts a beautiful 11m-long wooden bar, glasses of Resch's and alcoholic ginger beer on tap for $4 and $5 respectively and what I was confidently told is the best Pina Colada on sale in Sydney and possibly the world.

But the service is the real highlight. Our bartender, inspired either by my winning personality or the fact I work for a newspaper, decided to make me something called a 'Rattlesnake', which he described as "like a whiskey sour but with Absinthe". It was probably the best thing that's happened to me in Sydney.

Hayden Donnell traveled courtesy of Destination NSW.

- nzherald.co.nz

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