NEW York City’s Nolita district has downtown Manhattan written all over it – but if you close your eyes and listen for a minute, you could be forgiven for thinking you were wandering the alleyways of Melbourne.
With an increasing number of young Australians moving to the US in search of career opportunities courtesy of the E-3 visa, and Australian tourists making up the sixth-largest visitor group in New York, those destined for the Big Apple inevitably find themselves living or socialising north of Little Italy, Nolita for short.
Within this roughly six-by-six-block territory there are no less than 10 authentic Australian hot spots, ranging from coffee shops and art galleries to clothing stores and nightclubs.
”We’re trying to get the name Nolita changed to ‘Little Australia’ or ‘Australita’,” jokes supermodel and long-time resident Nicole Trunfio. It is a moniker that has already caught on among fashionable friends and neighbours such as fellow super-beauty Jess Hart.
”It feels like a community and that’s hard to find in a big concrete city like New York,” Hart suggests when asked why Australians seem to gravitate to the area.
Mulberry Street, which could be deemed the capital of Little Australia, is home to some original haunts that still draw devoted fans today.
Before the days of international stardom and Vogue cover shoots, Hart got her elbows greasy during regular part-time shifts at Ruby’s – a hole-in-the-wall eatery serving flat whites and burgers named after Sydney’s best surf beaches. ”Ruby’s was great,” she recalls of her early days in the city. ”Everyone used to meet there or just hang there when they wanted to kill time.
”You always knew you would run into someone if you went by. Working there was fun. I’m still great friends with [Australian owners] Linc [Lincoln Pilcher] and Nick [Mathers].”
For Trunfio, making friends with fellow expats was similarly easy.
”That’s the great thing about Nolita,” she says. ”You go hang out and you end up becoming a part of the clan, which means lots of summer BBQs and an extended Aussie family in NYC. It makes being away from Oz warmer and homier.”
Since both models arrived on the scene more home-grown talent has bought real estate in the area. The latest addition to the scene is B-Space, a concept store-come-studio-come-showroom for Australian artists and styleites and their American admirers.
Opened by Pete Maiden, a former Rolling Stone staffer from Sydney, the space boasts a collection of Australian brands such as Volley shoes, Mambo, Ellery eyewear, Driza-Bone jackets and pieces from Trunfio’s own jewellery line. ”I’m a proud Aussie,” says Maiden, adding: ”The idea for B-Space is to showcase our culture, brands and lifestyle to America.
”There’s something about the lifestyle and the people that Americans seem to like. It’s outdoorsy, beachy. We’re fun, we don’t take ourselves too seriously and the Americans that come here get that.”
Many of Maiden’s Australian friends live or work in the area as proprietors or managers of bars and clubs. Ruby’s co-owner Mathers recently opened Dudley’s nearby, where punters can order the same beloved Bronte burger that graces the menu at Ruby’s and West Village Australian favourite Kingswood, opened by Sydneysiders Mathers and Pilcher in 2007.
Fellow expat Dylan Hales helms The Randolph at Broome, a cocktail and coffee bar, while Brinkley’s, three blocks away, still draws the ”Little Oz” crew before they hit Southside, a den of debauchery below the restaurant that is run by Ronnie Flynn, a gregarious Australian nightlife fixture.
Heading back up Mulberry towards Prince Street, a sweetly perfumed, immaculate boutique called Damsel in Distress exclusively stocks Australian brands such as Sass & Bide, Maurie & Eve and One Teaspoon. Owners Lyn Wills and Lisa Brooks had no connection to the area before stumbling upon the store three years ago but Wills recognises they struck gold.
”It’s like a community; we all know each other,” she says, adding she encourages her customers to check out Ruby’s and B-Space.
”This year we’re hoping to host a pre-Christmas party at the store,” says Maiden, adding he and his American partner, Sloane Angell, will be asking guests to dress in board shorts and T-shirts in acknowledgement of the summer festivities many will be missing. While the spirit of Bondi is no doubt capable of pervading New York’s December freeze, let’s hope their heating is turned up.