Leigh Street: Adelaide’s hip cultural hub

What is it about the one-way cobbled street just off Hindley Street, Leigh Street, which has everyone abuzz?

What is it about the one-way cobbled street just off Hindley Street, Leigh Street, which has everyone abuzz? Perhaps it’s the beautifully restored buildings, new fashionable bars and delicious restaurants that are the drawcards, or is it something more?

“The street is not only about the pavement, it is about the people who offer a diverse range of services and experiences for our customers to enjoy,” Julie Barnes, owner of Leigh Street Luggage (one of the oldest retailers on the strip), says.

Leigh Street has long been a popular haunt with city workers and residents but all of a sudden it’s the place to be and is giving Rundle Street a run for its money as the cultural centre of town. So when did it all change and Leigh Street become so fashionable? In the late 90s the street underwent a major redevelopment when Sydney company, Ipoh, acquired the street and adjacent land from the Anglican Church who had owned it since William Leigh donated it to them in 1839.

Ipoh and the Adelaide City Council worked together to carry out a major redevelopment of the street and buildings to restore some old-world charm. This saw the widening of the footpath, restricting the traffic to one-way and adding heritage-style lampposts, street signs and furniture. The new look reinforced the street’s cultural heritage and resulted in a street like no other in the CBD.

Businesses like Leigh Street Luggage, Rigoni’s, the Stage Shop and Alec’s Hairdresser have been trading on the street for more than 30 years. More recent additions such as Udaberri, Coffee Branch and Casablabla add a new flavor, which is attracting younger generations. According to Barnes: “There is a great mix of businesses, you can meet for a coffee in arguably the best coffee shop, get a quick haircut, pickup your dry cleaning, buy a beautiful wallet, have lunch, have a massage and many other things.”

Apart from the historical importance Leigh Street also serves a practical role. It’s a daily thoroughfare for hundreds of workers linking the now hub of the CBD in Waymouth Street to the train station. It will also eventually form part of the direct north-south pedestrian route between what will be the redeveloped Riverbank Precinct, including the Railway Station and the West End, through to Currie Street and beyond to the Central Market.

Once all the morning and afternoon foot traffic disappears it can feel like you’re a million miles away, even though the street runs off the main drag of Hindley Street. It’s this vibe that Rigoni’s part owner and head chef Tony Bailey believes is key: “Hopefully visitors to the area feel as though they are escaping the rat race that working in the city can be. With the new changes being made to the use of the street this will only become more evident.”

Rigoni’s, which opened in 1979, has changed owners along the way but they haven’t changed their philosophy and are staying true to their rustic Italian brand. “We have no reason to change the current identity of Rigoni’s and no plans to do so,” Bailey says. It’s this mix of old and new, traditional and edgy that brings a diverse crowd to the street – a cultural hub where hipsters and suits meet.

The street has undergone many significant changes especially when it went from a two-way to a one-way street. Last summer the council closed the street to traffic on Friday nights to create a lively alfresco dining atmosphere. There is some speculation that the State Government is considering a permanent closure to traffic, a move, which is dividing retailers. Barnes says: “In my opinion it is now almost perfect. We could do with more trees and some flower troughs to add colour and atmosphere. A shared traffic zone with a speed limit of 10kms and more street lighting would be ideal.”

While Bailey suggests: “Since we moved into Leigh Street, a number of new businesses have opened up in the immediate vicinity. The area has become a lot more vibrant and there seem to be a lot more people enjoying the fantastic atmosphere. The new street closures are only adding to the feel of the area and giving it a much more relaxed atmosphere.”

It’s the Leigh Street community that keeps customers coming back. “We like to think that we add to the culture of the street,” Bailey continues.

“We offer a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere; which guests love; as well as enjoying the company of our other residents… it’s what makes the street a great place to be.” Barnes agrees:

“It has evolved into a great community of traders and our customers. It feels safe and we all look out for each other.”

On the Leigh Street Block

COFFEE BRANCH

It didn’t take long for Coffee Branch to install its reputation as the best coffee house in the west end after joining Leigh Street two years ago. It’s a popular hangout for both hipsters and suits needing their daily fix. The decor is slick and minimalist with a fixie (bike) or two hanging on the walls and while space is hard to come by no one seems phased by this as customers spill out the front and enjoy some of the best coffee Adelaide has on offer.

What: Five senses coffee, cakes, gourmet treats.

CASABLABLA

Establishing itself on the Leigh Street strip in 2009 it was immediately popular with locals and tourists alike. Inspired by Morocco, Turkey, Bali and Cambodia you can enjoy tapas most nights of the week and be entertained by live music and dancers.

What: Spanish tapas, pizza, paella plus an extensive wine list, classic cocktails and sangria.

UDABERRI

Udaberri, the newest kid on the block, has been an instant hit with the Friday night after work crowd. Try and get there early on the weekends if you want to avoid queuing up and get a possie at the bar. If crowds and queues aren’t your thing avoid Friday nights and drop in for a mid-week glass of wine and some simple yet delicious tapas (or Pintxos rather).

What: Pintxos, a selection of Spanish wines, plus cocktails and beers on tap.

COS

This charming restaurant in housed in a beautifully restored 1800s heritage listed building with a leafy and ambient courtyard area. Run by husband and wife team Peter (head chef) and Donna Burrows the relaxed yet sophisticated atmosphere is perfect for a business lunch, romantic dinner or large group.

What: a la carte lunch and dinner menu plus an extensive wine list including local, interstate and international varieties.

Aside from the restaurants, cafes and bars, a range of creative and design agencies call Leigh Street home to compliment it as the new home for the creative class. Agencies based on Leigh Street include CDAA, Kick Creative, Slippery Fish and Clemenger BBDO.

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