The Grounds of Alexandria: In the Belly of the Bourgeois Bohemian Beast

Little boys in straw trilby hats? Tick!

Men in Deus ex Machina (if they’ve got children) or Superdry (if they don’t) vintage print t-shirts? Tick!

Rolled pastel three-quarter-length pants? Tick!

Ray-Bans, Havaianas, and trucker caps as far as the eye can see? Tick, tick, and tick!

Disney for hipsters...

Disney for hipsters…

Where else could we be but the Grounds of Alexandria, Sydney’s much-hyped epicentre of everything organic, sustainable, inner-west, New Class, cashed-up, and Bourgeois Bohemian, or “BoBo”, to borrow David Brooks’ perfect portmanteau? A Stuff White People Like theme park, the Grounds is an eco’stainable paradise reclaimed from Bourke Street’s post-industrial ruin, just the place to park your Audi 4WD and unexplainable job title to entertain your “Nothing But Flowers” fantasies for a couple of hours.

And a couple of hours it will be, given the ridiculous popularity of the place.  As Disneyland is to the American lumpen-masses, for the keen observer of Sydney’s tribes, the Grounds is the perfect place to observe the moneyed inner-west hipster in his natural environment.

Of course, it is not just the people who make a theme park, it is also the attractions: Thrill at the chickens scratching around in their coop! Coo at the baby pig rooting around in his pen complete with cubby house furnished with not-unpricey dog bed! Admire the “kitchen gardens” as lush as the fairways at Augusta! Ponder the “Research Facility” where scientists work in three shifts to discover the perfect ristretto! Flatter yourself that everything you’re about to eat, when you finally get the chance, will come from flora and fauna so lovingly tended!

Capitalist piggy

Capitalist piggy

And indeed it is a good thing that there’s so much to do because it takes forever to get a table, though whether the activities create the wait is very much a question of which came first, the biodynamic chicken or the free-range egg? Regular readers of this site know that queuing for restaurants is something the Prick has never understood. Queuing for nice, pleasant, but in no way spectacular café food makes no sense at all. Yet having come this far, we couldn’t really abandon the project.

Taking the host’s word that it would be about a half an hour for a table, we took the opportunity to call in at the epically great Salt Meats Cheese next door, something which made the short hop over from Stately Prick Manor worth the trip even without a visit to the Grounds. There we stocked up on salamis and cheeses and ‘nduja and American goodies like Tabasco-brand Bloody Mary mix and hot sauces and flavoured salts (we’ll be sprinkling some espresso salt over a chocolate ganache one of these days), looked into some pasta classes (they’ll do a kids’ party if you ask!) and had a great chat with one of the gents staffing the galeria del jamon who, in great contrast to every other counterman in this town, hands-down refused to sell us anything until all of us had tried it first.

Eli, the Middlemost Little Prick, declared, “I could live here. Seriously.”

We nearly would have had to move in given how we found things back at the Grounds: A half-hour wait turned into forty-five, and “it’ll be longer than five more minutes, but less than ten” turned into another twenty. Despite this, new customers kept joining the queue, happy to take their buzzers and the promise of a ninety-minute (!) wait.



What were they waiting for? The same thing as us: Food which, when we finally got to a table, was good, fine, and would be lovely at any corner café, accompanied by service that was friendly and efficient. Everything was as nice and inoffensive as a gaggle of Enmore playground mothers nodding over the wisdom of a carbon tax or the right-ness of public schools. “Breakfast burgers” were perfectly pleasant creations on brioche buns. Banana bread was fresh and moist. A “Turkish-style” eggs dish kind of missed the point with under-done, al dente-to-the-point-of-crunchy beans and under-seasoned everything. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Paying $7 for jelly jars of ice dressed with orange-carrot-ginger juice was mildly annoying, but like losing a few euro to gypsie scammers in Piazzo San Marco, it’s just the sort of colourful rip-off that comes with the territory. Even the Herald’s Terry Durack, whose Peter Pan complex regularly leads him to talk up any joint where more than two customers are wearing Onitsuka Tiger sneakers, could only bring himself to give it a 13/20, which is probably fair.

So why bother? Well, if food is your thing, you shouldn’t. Because what is on offer here is not a meal but a Rousseauian fantasy of a society remade where the cosmopolitan city dweller’s life is no longer divorced from the farmer on the periphery and where the middlemen, those evil corporations with their false consciousness-creating marketing schemes, are cut out of the equation. Thus the Grounds is not just a (wildly successful) capitalist project, but a socialist and revolutionary one as well: It may not have worked out so well when Pol Pot, Mao, and Castro sent their urban intelligentsia to the fields, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring the fields to the urban intelligentsia, right?

Nice try, but the long waits prove what Churchill famously pointed out, namely that every attempt to create Utopia turns into “Queue-topia” in the end.
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19 Responses to The Grounds of Alexandria: In the Belly of the Bourgeois Bohemian Beast

  1. Dr Duck says:

    A classic post … a thoroughly enjoyable read. Particularly the second last paragraph. Those hypocritical poseurs all love to bitch about big corporations, but love their I-phones, designer clothing and accouterments. I’d hate the place, but at least that deli sounds good. You can’t get ‘nduja in Goulburn. Years ago, before we new what ‘nduja was, there used to be a decent soft, spreadable style salami made on King Island, but unfortunately it did not last long.

    • chiefprick says:

      Thank you, sir. Salt Meats Cheese is absolutely worth a look when you’re in town. In the meantime, I’m sure we could arrange an ‘nduja shipment … let us know!

  2. Nic says:

    Sydney is expensive full stop. I was in Tokyo recently and had a lunch degustation meal with two glasses of wine in a Michellin stared restaurant for $110 AUD. Decent staff, excellent service, a visit from a pleasant chef. There’s no way I could have had a meal like that for that price in Sydney.

  3. The asphyxiating hilarity of HipsVille is the growing preponderance of regional European dialects and noms de guerre to denote various comestibles and eating establishments.

    Putting aside the shocking irony of a hipster-hating food mile blowout in procuring such delicacies, do I really need to sit in a corner cafe in suburban Sydney and have thrust in front of me a breakfast menu entirely in French to prove the poxy pretentiousness of the bearded couple who run the joint?

    Oooohhh, I see you know the Spanish for ham and cheese roll. Good for you. Where’s my coffee?

  4. Dan Lewis says:

    FYI The baby pig’s name is Kevin Bacon.

  5. Tara says:

    One of your best posts, Prick – hilarious and informative. I can’t decide if I want to go there or not..

  6. Hipsters, in my view, would make an excellent source of Soylent Green.

  7. TimT says:

    It sounds like an imitation CERES.
    The story of CERES is the story of the north of Melbourne in miniature. The hippy freaks (and maybe I’d be one if I was born a generation or so ago) moved in to what were then the outer suburbs or country towns, and set up shop. In Eltham there was an artist’s colony (Montsalvat) and people started making mud-brick huts all over the place. In Heidleberg there was an artist’s cooperative (Heide) and gallery, and some of the original members of the Digger’s Club. In my own suburb, Lalor, there were communist ex-servicemen who set up a housing cooperative. And CERES was started in 1981 on the grounds of what used to a rubbish tip.

    Gentrification followed long, long after. I guess I’m part of that, living in what started off as a communist cooperative but is now just an outerlying Melbourne suburb. I like the hippy beginnings very much; I admire their DIY spirit (though Lalor was started by communists they were, paradoxically, anti-government communists – they got cranky at the lack of housing for returned soldiers and decided to build the housing for themselves.)

    In Sydney though it sounds like what they’re trying to do is start with the gentrification, and then follow up with the bearded hippy freaks. Sort of like trying to build a house by starting with the top bricks and building down. I suspect it won’t work.

    • Anonymous says:

      I found CERES to be as pretentious and try hard as The Grounds just better at pretending not to be…..more underlying ‘Look at us, we are so evolved’ in yr face.

  8. Hoddle Boulevard says:

    It’s more like an Abbotsford Convent. Less hippy, more or a mono cultural Farmers Market type place.
    Whiter than a Klan meeting in Alabama!

  9. I don’t know who it is that doesn’t get about much, either me or these… gentrified hippster types. I’ve never encountered any, & vice versa.
    There is actually quite a bit of the post that I can’t quite translate into something I can conceptualise.
    “Hipster” = a type of work trousers. In the post above it clearly it means something else entirely.
    Living in country where beards are worn by real men, as a sign of professional proficiency, achievement and competence, I’m somewhat struggling with the concept of a beard being “counter-culture” or “freak.”
    Running chooks & pigs in the yard of a restaurat is a common one in some parts. I’ve seen it aplenty is Sri Lanka & like places.
    I’ve also seen people die from it.
    Do these fellers realise the’re running a risk of Bird Flu, or Japanese Encephalitis? The main thing in their favour, and thus saving them, is the barrier of distance between them and the next barnyard.

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