Sydney’s CBD might be best known for soaring harbour views witnessed from sky-high buildings, but when it comes to the latest dining trends, the action is all taking place below street level.
In the past two years, a flurry of new restaurants and bars have popped up below some of the city’s most prominent streets in traditionally underutilised basement spaces.
As recently as June, established operators like Mary’s Group – behind hit Newtown burger joint Mary’s – have opened up space below ground in the CBD. The group opened Mary’s Underground, a high-end bar and restaurant in the former Basement live music venue, in Circular Quay in June.
“Sydney is seeing a substantial shift in the food and beverage scene as these once unloved and underutilised basements are being revitalised and revived with cool new and funky concepts that are filling the huge demand that exists in the market for quality venues at the moment,” said Matt Pontey, associate director investment services at Colliers International.
In an ode to underground dining spaces recently penned for The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Good Weekend, chief restaurant critic Terry Durack wrote that basement level lets diners escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
“The actual physical act of descending the stairs is transformative in itself. There’s a liberating sense of getting away from it all and leaving the everyday world behind, for Somewhere Else. As such, it’s easier to focus on what you are eating, and the people you are eating with. No distractions, no views, no traffic,” Durack wrote.
Although Melbourne has traditionally had the upper hand when it comes to basement-level dining, Sydney has witnessed a recent spate of subterranean restaurant openings, according to Durack.
“Sydney has been busy playing catch-up, of course, and now has basement bars aplenty, from Employees Only and Palmer & Co to the new Mary’s Underground. An extravagant, fully formed restaurant experience lurks down a tradies’ entrance in a nondescript lane in The Rocks at Bistecca, with negronis on tap and carved-to-order Tuscan steaks.”
Mr Pontey said the calibre and diversity of recent openings is a reflection of city office workers demand for a product akin to that on offer in financial hubs in the northern hemisphere.
“The focus is no longer just on the chef, but also on the overall dining experience,” Mr Pontey said.
“The Sydney dining scene is progressing towards a more New York-style scene, where corporate workers and tourists seek out trendy and exciting dining experiences over the drib and drab of the traditional CBD dining options,” he said.
Efforts to encourage the use of “fine-grain” spaces like lanes and underused basements in the city – led by the City of Sydney – has helped propel the latest batch of restaurants, according to Mr Pontey.
“The introduction of small bars and restaurants to the city has been an absolute game-changer that is helping Sydney keep up with other global cities,” he said.
Mr Pontey is currently marketing the 291-square-metre property that houses basement restaurant Bistecca, lot 58 at 4 Bridge Street.
“Bistecca is the next evolution of basement dining, and entertainment as a new and unique concept delivers what has to be Sydney’s very best T-bone steak,” Mr Pontey said.
The dual-entry property, which comes with a small bar liquor licence, is located at the bottom of the heritage-listed Cliveden building – home to a mix of commercial and residential premises.
According to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage entry for Cliveden, the 12-storey Federation free classical-style building has “high historic significance as an major 20th-century contribution to the consolidation of Bridge Street as a centre of Sydney’s shipping, insurance and trading precinct and was a dominant feature on the city skyline from Circular Quay”.
“The basement was previously a hairdresser, it was then transformed into Bistecca with a substantial fitout completed in early 2018 and Bistecca opening it’s doors shortly after too much fanfare and rave reviews,” Mr Pontey said.
Bistecca – which has a 10-year lease on the property that started in 2018 – is owned by the Liquid & Larder hospitality group, the same outfit behind Grandma’s Bar, Wild Rover and Whiskey Co-op.
Mr Pontey said the current owners of the basement space were selling so that they could “recycle the capital into other property ventures”.
He declined to provide a price guide but cited the $10.5 million sale of Lot 4 at Hudson House, 131 Macquarie Street, and the $9.5 million sale of Lot 1, 507-509 Kent Street (both in 2018), as examples of what CBD assets have been able to fetch in recent times.
“It is incredibly rare to have the opportunity to purchase on Bridge Street, in particular, a retail asset with such a long-term tenure to a great operator. It’s a fantastic asset, low maintenance set-and-forget type of trophy that will appeal to investors in a market where quality always shines through,” he said.
Bridge Street is in the midst of an infrastructure boom, according to Mr Pontey, with investors likely to be attracted to the precinct’s long-term prospects.
“There is nowhere in Australia right now where there is more expenditure on infrastructure and development projects occurring than Bridge Street, Sydney,” he said. “Bridge Street is set to significantly benefit from the much needed upgrade of Circular Quay as it transitions from an office district to a lifestyle and business hub [as well as] AMP’s $1 billion development, Quay Quarter Towers, Pontiac Land Groups $300 million refurbishment of the Sandstones and the $200 million upgrade of the InterContinental Hotel as well as the nearby Light Rail stop, which will deliver customers almost to the restaurant’s doorstep.”
The property is to be auctioned on September 19.
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