Non-Shelbyville Sydney map

A work colleague of mine recently made a colourful remark to someone. "You live in [boring outer suburb]?", she gasped. "That's so Shelbyville!" Interesting term, "Shelbyville". Otherwise known as "the 'burbs", or "not where the hip-hop folks live". Got me thinking. Where in Sydney is a trendy place for young 20-somethings to live, and where is Shelbyville?

I've lived in Sydney all my life. I've almost always lived quite squarely in Shelbyville myself. However, since the age of 18, I've gotten to know most of the popular nightlife haunts pretty well. And since entering the world of student share-houses, I've also become pretty familiar with the city's accommodation hotspots. So, having this background, and being a fan of online mapping funkiness, I decided to sit down and make a map of the trendiest spots in Sydney to live and play.

Map of non-Shelbyville Sydney

Map of non-Shelbyville Sydney

This map represents my opinion, and my opinion only. It's based on where I most commonly go out at night with my friends and colleagues, and on where my friends and colleagues live or have lived. I make no pretense: this map is biased, and any fellow Sydney-sider will no doubt have numerous criticisms of its inclusions and its omissions. If you wish to voice your qualms, feel free to leave a comment. I'll do my best to go through and justify the most controversial details of the map. But, in general, my justification is simply that "this is a map of my Sydney, so of course it's not going to be exactly the same as a map of your Sydney".

In this map, the coloured dots represent nightlife hotspots. In general, they represent exact streets or clusters of streets that are home to a number of bars, although some dots are pinpointing individual bars. The coloured regions represent accommodation hotspots. These regions should be thought of as covering a general area — usually a suburb or a group of neighbouring suburbs — rather than covering exact streets.

The nightlife hotspots and the accommodation hotspots almost always overlap. You could say that one defines the other, and vice versa. The main exception to this rule is the Sydney CBD (i.e. George St, Martin Place, and Darling Harbour), which has the biggest nightlife concentration of anywhere, but which has almost no permanent accommodation, apart from a few recently-built towering monstrosities (and I wouldn't consider them trendy, as they're super-pricey and utterly soulless). There are a few other exceptions, which I'll get to shortly.

As you can see, the map is concentrated around the city centre, the Inner West, and the Eastern Suburbs. As a (recently-graduated) Uni student and a young professional, these are the areas that are almost exclusively on my radar these days.

The trendy areas

  • Inner West. Glebe, Newtown, Annandale and Leichhardt are the heart of where to stay and where to party in the Inner West. In particular, Newtown — the hippie student capital of Sydney — is one of my most frequent night hangouts. The suburbs surrounding Newtown (e.g. Erskineville, Stanmore) are also great places to live, although I can't say I party in those places myself.
  • Around City Centre. Surry Hills is on the CBD's doorstep, and it's a very trendy place both for living and for partying. Surry Hills is also where I work, so I've inevitably been frequenting many of its watering-holes of late. Ultimo and Chippendale are also close to my heart, as that's the neighbourhood of my old uni. At the last minute, I included Pyrmont, as it has nice accommodation these days; however, its only real night attraction is the casino, and casinos ain't particularly my thing. The Rocks is special, because it's a really good place to go out for drinks, but it's basically inside the CBD, and I don't know anyone who actually lives there. I reluctantly decided to include Darlinghurst and The Cross, as they're becoming increasingly hip places of abode — and they're also home to Sydney's most intense all-night party joints — but personally, I don't go out to that area at night, and I don't see the attraction of living next door to hookers and crack junkies.
  • Eastern Suburbs. Much of the East is overpriced beyond trendy standards, and/or is suburban Shelbyville. I've identified five main spots that go (more-or-less) in a line between City and Surf, and that aren't in this category: Paddington, Woollahra, Bondi Junction, Bondi, and Bondi Beach. Woollahra doesn't offer much nightlife itself, but its location between Paddington and The Jungo means that plenty of choice is nearby. Double Bay has some decent bars come evening-time, but considering that the only person I know who lives there is my Grandma, I can't really call it a trendy place to live. Bronte is a bit of a special case: I've never been out there at night, and I don't think it has much in the way of bars, but I know quite a few people that have lived there; plus, it really is a lovely beach. Coogee is actually the most remote place (from the city) that made it on the map, but there's no way I could have left it out. Also, the Randwick / UNSW area probably doesn't seriously qualify as a trendy spot; but because so many of my friends study at and/or live near UNSW, it qualifies for me.

Sorry, it's Shelbyville

  • Balmain. Also surrounding suburbs (i.e. Rozelle, Lilyfield, Drummoyne). I know that plenty of young and trendy people live and hang out in these places. But personally, I don't know anyone who lives in these areas, and I've never been out to them at night.
  • Harbour bays in the East. This mainly includes Elizabeth Bay, Rose Bay, and Watsons Bay. I know they all have some decent night hangouts. But all of them are also luxury suburbs, not for mere mortals; I for one don't have any friends living in those places.
  • Manly. I know that Manly people will never forgive me for this. I also know that Manly is a super-cool place both to live and to hang out. But I'm sorry — it's just too far from everywhere else! This is why people in non-Shelbyville Sydney, whether justified or not, call Manly Shelbyville.
  • Lower North Shore. North Sydney, Crows Nest, Neutral Bay, and Mosman. All Shelbyville. I'm a North Shore boy, so having lived there, and having now moved out into the real world, I should know. Yes, there are bars in all these suburbs. But does anyone from out of the area actually go to them? And would anyone actually move to these areas in order to be "where the action is"? No.
  • Everywhere else in Sydney is well and truly Shelbyville. My home through the teenage years — the mid North Shore around Chatswood and Gordon — is Shelbyville. No questions asked. My current abode — the Strathfield and Burwood area — is Shelbyville. No exception. The Shire is Shelbyville. Rockdale / Brighton is Shelbyville. Maroubra is Shelbyville. The Northern Beaches are Shelbyville. Parramatta is Shelbyville. And the Rest of the West is so daym Shelbyville it's not funny.

Further reading

Some sources that I used to get a feel for different opinions about Sydney's cool corners:

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