The standard recipe for urban gentrification works something like this. First, locate a suitable patch of industrial wasteland where the police sirens wail and broken glass litters the streets. Next, whip up some artistic buzz by opening a gallery to give the area a bit of bohemian cachet and cultural oomph. Sprinkle liberally with organic cafes and boutiques. Then simply pop in the oven and wait for the property prices to rocket.
This tried-and-tested method for turning dilapidation into urban chic has been used everywhere from New York's Lower East Side to Amsterdam's Docklands to east London's Shoreditch and Brick Lane. Closer to home, it's also propelled the astonishing makeover of Danks Street. Waterloo is chiefly known as a rough-and-ready suburb dominated by its housing commission tower blocks. When the 2006 Census measured NSW's top 20 most socially disadvantaged areas, Waterloo scored three separate hits. Danks Street meanwhile developed a fearsome reputation for Christian rock as the happy-clappy headquarters of the Hillsong Church. From these unlikely roots, it's dolled itself into arts hub and gourmet haven attracting Sydneysiders from all over.
The gallery complex behind this industrial revolution sits in the old Kodak factory at 2 Danks Street. There are 10 galleries under the same roof, offering an exciting mix of contemporary art. Brenda May was one of the pioneers who moved her gallery here six and a half-years ago. "Before that there was nothing here," she says. "Bleak was the best way to describe it. You couldn't even get a coffee or a sandwich around here."
May has since watched the grim row of crumbling warehouses transform into a self-contained destination. She's also aware the Brenda May Gallery will have to relocate in the next three years due to Danks Street's rising rents. It's the inevitable second wave of gentrification where capital floods into the newly fashionable area, commodifying cultural assets and displacing the original agents. Not that May seems fazed. "It will happen to us, but change is change. We'll go and do it somewhere else. We'll find a new area."
Under the same roof is the much-celebrated Danks Street Depot. With its cement floor and corrugated roof, it's a stylish but understated space and the food adopts a similar line. Chef Jared Ingersoll runs this upmarket cafe on the principles of the slow food movement and relies on seasonal ingredients from local producers. In the evening, the Depot offers more substantial bistro fare as well as a comfortable cocktail bar.
To gauge the impact of the Danks Street rebirth, walk up to Warehouse 5. Made from recycled timber, concrete and glass, this space-age residential complex was designed by prestige architects Nation Fender Katsalidis and cost some $75 million to build. The contrast with the nearby housing commission flats is acute.
Opposite is Fratelli Fresh, the famous warehouse market and foodie paradise. It's a bamboozling place for the indecisive. Do you want your apple juice squeezed from Golden Delicious, Pink Ladies, Fujis or Granny Smiths? The consumer vertigo only intensifies in the Italian provedore upstairs. There are shelves of olive oil in a zillion permutations (cold-extracted, unfiltered, extra-virgin, pre-pubescent...). This isn't a polite drizzle of oil, it's a tsunami.
You might start to feel dizzy at this stage, struggling to process the galactic range of gourmet exotica. If so, take a deep breath, shield your eyes from the terrifying array of balsamic vinegar, and head through to Cafe Sopra. Chef Andy Bunn plunders Fratelli's vast selection of produce to create Italian recipes that sing. It's well worth the wait for a table, but if the queues prove intolerable then hunker down in the Wah Wah Lounge instead.
The hallmarks of the revamped Waterloo become increasingly familiar as you continue up the road. Around the corner on Young Street, pick up a loaf of walnut and raisin sourdough from Sonoma, a traditional artisan baker that provides the bread for Tetsuya's and Icebergs. It's all about art, aspirational homewares and great food that's slightly self-righteous.
Danks Street is like taking a short holiday from the fast-food jungle to an island of gentle refinement and good taste. By the time you leave, the world invariably seems like a more civilised place. That's Danks Street in all its truffle-infused, artisan-made, hand-crafted glory.
In the 'hood
2 Danks Street There are 10 galleries under one roof at this lively arts hub offering Australian and international contemporary art. 2 Danks Street, Waterloo, 2017
Danks Street Depot Believe the hype. Chef Jared Ingersoll delivers brilliant brunches and contemporary bistro fare in this cool, industrial space. 1/2 Danks Street, Waterloo, 2017 (02 9698 2201).
Wah Wah Lounge Mind-bending wallpaper meets great coffee at this buzzy lifestyle cafe. Check out the awesome breakfast bruschetta. 1 Danks Street, Waterloo, 2017 (02 9699 3456).
Fratelli Fresh The warehouse market is one of Sydney's top sources of fresh produce while brunch at Cafe Sopra kicks any weekend off to a perfect start. 7 Danks Street, Waterloo, 2017 (1300 552 119).
Sonoma Artisan Sourdough Bakers Take home some ciabatta rolls and a loaf of wholemeal spelt, or stop in the cafe for coffee and a fresh panini. 2/9 Dank St, Waterloo, 2017 (02 9699 1920).
Bus From the Eddy Avenue Stand C bus-stop take the 393, 372 or 395 to Cleveland Street. Walk down Bourke Street to Waterloo (800 metres). Bus fare: $3
Train Take the South Line, Airport and East Hills Line or the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line to Green Square Station. Walk down Bourke Street to Waterloo (1816 metres). Train fare: $4.80
Parking Two hour and some free parking is available in the nearby streets.
Apartment113/169 Phillip Street, Waterloo (Warehouse facing Danks St)
Previous sale: $400,000 on 4/4/03
House 1 Kensington Street, Waterloo (2 bed 1 bath)
Price Offers over $570,000
Previous sale: $140,000 18/1/93
Prices courtesy of Location 2065.