Watching a suburb shapeshift through time from the Kings Cross Hotel balcony
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE LOCAL, A QUARTERLY FEATURE OF NEIGHBOURHOOD NEWSPAPER.
By Aidan de Lorenzo
Men don’t often speak at urinals. Maybe at a Midnight Oil show, where men have hard Aussie husks yet soft environmental cores. But as a rule, it’s a silent ritual.
Five years ago, I walked into the men’s at the Kings Cross Hotel. As I peed, a man turned his head in a rare offer of urinal universality.
“How old are you?”
“Guess,” I said.
He blew out his cheeks.
“MMah... 34.” “I’m 19!”
“Blimey,” he said, shaking off. “You must’ve had a hard life.”
I considered my smooth face and big Clovelly eyes that haven’t seen too much other than private school and generous parents, and I felt a tad guilty.
Back then I used to frequent this corner of William Street and Victo- ria Street, the gateway to Sydney’s puffed-out partytown. Kings Cross. A regal name for a royal assembly of girls in dresses, heels and high-up hair, boys bouncing after them. From grand theatre, music, art, decadent dining, to soldiers sprawling, beer and balconies. Fresh out of school, I’d go and it was hot vomit on the nose, “Hi honey!”, hippy, tipsy, “brothel haha”, turn to the gutter, spit, “IDs thanks guys.” Wink, white tee, muscles, seccy leans in: “How’s your night been, mate?”
From its grandiose beginnings, to the respectable 2018 too-quiet, The Cross has shapeshifted with its audience.
The suburb’s named after King Edward VII. He didn’t meet the royal expectations of his parents and country. Instead, he excelled at charm, tactics and sociability. At 17, Eddie spent three nights with the actress Nellie Clifden and was ever after considered a playboy. Frivolous, indiscreet and irrespon- sible. I suspect His Excellency’s legacy became a mischievous curse, sealed to the soul of Kings Cross in its naming. Images of smiling drag queens, bulged teenage scuffles and tenacious little touts.
The iconic Coke sign is visible from the balcony where I now sit, on the corner of this new Cross. The neon grid of vertical reds and whites illuminating spits of rain and cars driving home.
In the building opposite, three stories higher, a hot and fast aerobics class steals Coke’s focus. Up, left, point, arms back, step back, thrust! (repeat). Lift it Bill! I know you can give me more! I bite into a salt-and- peppered squid ring. A local, his back to the show, facing me, sips his beer.
“Had to wean myself off,” he says.
It takes me a moment to under- stand he’s talking about watching the aerobics.
Lockout laws, inexorable forces of gentrification, and Sydney’s crazed hunger for development has brought about a new, polite demo- graphic. The usual party has fled slightly west to Newtown. Edward’s crossed kingdom has migrated, his spirit of frivolity now materialising as wayward souls clinging to the old days and the old ways.
I suck the fried calamari crumbs off my fingers. They’ve changed the menu here, dropping pub burgers for an expansive variety that caters to the modern foodie tastes, and there’s a selection of craft beer on tap. In the corner, a dad is gnawing on some ribs as his kid slurps a lem- onade. There’s a group of women celebrating something with glass chinks and giggles. And, left to right, a top-knotted guy sweeps his phone with Hollywood precision.
“Stay strong,” I say to the non-aerobics-watching man. I slug the dregs of my hoppy IPA, as he raises his in thanks, and I head to the second floor to catch the Kings Cross Theatre’s 7.30 show.