Kings Cross institutions: Cafes and bars that have survived the apartment boomAn artist's impression of the new Omnia development in Kings Cross. Despite decades of change in the area, some stalwarts remain. Photo: Supplied

Kings Cross institutions: Cafes and bars that have survived the apartment boom

Jimmy Thomson

While the launch of another massive new apartment block, the hourglass-shaped Omnia, purports to propel ever-changing Kings Cross into its Manhattan phase, there are some stalwarts that have weathered every storm this “naughty but nice” area of Sydney has to throw at them.

Drug wars, police corruption, the GFC and, more recently, the lockout laws have seen cafes, restaurants, clubs and bars open and close like a sugar daddy’s wallet.

There are some terrific new restaurants, cafes and bars in the Cross, but some places just keep going, balancing tradition with innovation.

Here are six Kings Cross institutions that await the next batch of wide-eyed newcomers to live under the glow of the revamped Coca Cola sign.

Caffe Roma

Caffe Roma in Kings Cross.Caffe Roma in Kings Cross. Photo: Cole Bennetts

Tucked around the corner behind Bayswater Road in Kellett Street is one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets. For 25 years, as restaurants, nightclubs and even brothels have come and gone from this leafy backstreet, Danilo and Julie Tozzi’s eclectically-styled eatery has survived to provide a more than reliable late-night refuge for diners hankering for a true taste of Italian cuisine.

The pizza bases are biscuit thin, the pastas are inventive, the mains and veggies superb and the desserts are diet-busters. On top of that is a very reasonable wine list and the chance to spot local celebrities, both famous and infamous, grabbing an after-show dinner. The outdoor courtyard is perfect for summer evenings.

Bar Coluzzi

Bar Coluzzi in 2013. Bar Coluzzi in 2013. Photo: Fiona Morris

It’s been just over a year since much-loved champion boxer and barista Luigi Coluzzi passed away. Luigi opened the cafe that bears his name in William Street in 1957 and moved it to its current location in Victoria Street, just along from Una’s, in 1970.

These days it’s road warriors – lycra-clad cyclists – who make up its early morning clientele rather than prize fighters, but boxing pictures still adorn the walls and the place is doing some nifty footwork, keeping the traditionalists happy while reacting to the changing tastes of the Cross and its coffee-quaffing hordes. There’s more on its Facebook page.

Cafe Hernandez

Cafe Hernandez in Potts Point.Cafe Hernandez in Potts Point. Photo: Cole Bennetts

“Why don’t you get this door lock fixed?” asks a customer.

“Why do we need a lock?” answers the waiter. “We never close.”

Halfway down Kings Cross Rd is not only one of the best coffee shops in Sydney – they roast their own beans on the premises – it’s also one of the few remaining truly all-night venues beloved by insomniacs and shift workers alike.

Poets and police, taxi drivers and backpackers pass through, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Great coffee, cakes, croissants and snacks with a Spanish  flavour  are  there day and night.

Adding to the ambience, there’s a piano that hasn’t clunked out a tune in decades and paintings by the original proprietor’s wife. And the door is never locked.


Diners enjoying the food at Govindas. Diners enjoying the food at Govindas. Photo: Govindas Facebook

Years ago, this Hare Krishna run restaurant used to give out free meals to the needy – until they discovered that half the people in the queue were just greedy city types scoring a free feed on the way home from work.

Now there’s a self-serve all-you-can-eat diner and a cinema upstairs where you can lie back on giant cushions and watch recent release movies. The food is wholesome, tasty, fresh and resolutely vegetarian, but alcohol is not permitted.


Una's restaurant may stay on as the area is redeveloped.Una’s restaurant may stay on as the area is redeveloped. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

You couldn’t get much less vegetarian than Una’s which has been serving Austrian, German, Swiss and Hungarian style schnitzel and steak in Victoria St for the past few decades. The original Una opened up at 286 Victoria St nearly 50 years ago, serving tinned spaghetti and paying the rent from the proceeds of a jukebox.

The current incarnation has left its shabby past well behind and is famed for its giant plates of meaty treats, including its signature schnitzels, accompanied by rosti – a statin-challenging fry-up of potatoes and onions – washed down with European lager and followed by apple strudel and ice cream. Not for nibblers, nervous eaters, or vegos, Una’s is where you go just before you go on a diet.

Tropicana Caffe

Tropicana Caffe in Darlinghurst in 2015.Tropicana Caffe in Darlinghurst in 2015. Photo: Cole Bennetts

Thirty-five years ago the Trop first opened at 227 Victoria Street as a small coffee and snacks cafe, complete with pokies and pinball machines. Since then it has changed hands a couple of times, moved across the road and back again and with each change has grown in size and scope.

Then barista Sergio Tezzo bought the business in 1983, got rid of the machines and together with his wife Simonetta turned it into something more than a by-word for good, reasonably priced, Italian influenced food. The salads are legendary, the pastas authentic, the mains creative and the toasted sandwiches freshly made to order (rather than sitting on display waiting to be grilled).

Open from 5.30 in the morning to 11 at night, the Tropicana will get you through a whole day in the Cross and continues to innovate with electronic menu boards and smartphone apps. It even seems to have outlived the famous Tropfest short-film festival that was born here.

Newbies beware – you order off a menu on the wall, pay (cash only) at the counter and select your table off a number on the ceiling. The cakes, biscuits and desserts may tempt you as you queue but there are healthy options too.

  • Jimmy Thomson writes Flat Chat for Domain, wrote the true crime bookSnitch and has lived in Kings Cross for 25 years.

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