Rediscovering the Nostalgic Charm of Sydney’s Christmas Shopping Experience

by LukeAdmin

Words by Dorian Mode Photography by Lydia Thorpe

After another prison escape, recalcitrant criminal Darcy Dugan reportedly left behind a note scrawled on the wall of his cell which read, “Gone to Gowings.” The reference to the Sydney department store’s advertising slogan was slang for many things including “left in haste”.

Remember when Christmas shopping was special? Remember when all the shop windows of the big department stores in the CBD were replete with animated Yuletide displays? And incongruously there were snowmen and frosting on the windows in the 40 degree heat? But that was when you lived in town. Now you’re retired and moved away from the city, it’s a schlep to drive in and out of the CBD on the same day. Well, the nostalgic Yuletide experience doesn’t have to be a drag if you think outside the square. Why not combine your big Christmas shop with a night in town? Maybe have dinner and see a show? Push the boat (sleigh) out. But it’s expensive to stay in town, right? Wrong. Sure, if you stay around Circular Quay, with waterfront views, it can be pricey. But the other end of town (up Central Station way) offers bargain accommodation, with inexpensive parking.

For this Yuletide sojourn, we stay at the Vibe Hotel in Goulburn St. Parking across the road is a flat weekend daily rate of…wait for it…$14. Moreover, it’s only a lazy walk to the Capital Theatre, where that evening we see Moulin Rouge! (exclamation mark), and a 15min walk to David Jones for some decent shopping. Alternatively, why leave the car at home? Museum Station is on the next block to Vibe Hotel. Psst! This historic Sydney station has been restored as a snapshot of the 1940s and might bring back fun memories of Old Sydney.

Now, I’m a fan of Madeleine St John’s wonderful novel, Ladies in Black, made into a recent–ish film in 2018 by Bruce Beresford. So as soon as I walk into David Jones I’m back in the pages of the novel. In the distance, you’ll hear the musical raindrops of a Steinway piano. Indeed, my chum Rodric White is one of the pianists at DJs. As my wife explores the many perfume counters, I chat with the original pianist, who’s been there for over 20 years and will happily play requests. We then head upstairs to level 8: The Gallery. Older readers may recall this once being an art gallery. Later it was a restaurant, where my wife worked as a waitress in the 1980s. Right now DJs has it set up as an old–school Christmas display, that will thrill the grandkids and fans of Christmas alike.

In the basement, there’s a great food hall where we lunch before walking through to Westfields, then onto Myer (nee Grace Bros). Flanking opposite Myer is the, much remembered by your author, Gowings Building. Here, I used to buy Y–front underwear and sensible trousers at this wonderful old school menswear store. Post shopping, I’d have my hair trimmed upstairs, yes, all in one building, such a male thing to do. The Gowings motto was ‘walk through – no one asked to buy’. Moreover, the overarching advertising catchphrase ‘gone to gowings‘ became part of the Aussie vernacular, which of course was a marketer’s dream. But Gowings was too cocky. In the 90s, filled with retail hubris, they expanded their biz too quickly and had franchises all over Sydney. So like Icarus, flying too close to the sun and overloaded with shopping bags, Gowings ultimately hit the ground with a great thud. I was crestfallen. I still have Gowings trousers, shirts and jackets with the Gowings label stitched into them. Unlike clothes of today, theirs lasted.

The Gowings building is now some horrid makeup store for self absorbed pouting millennials. But if you pop next door (in between the State Theatre and Gowings) you’ll find a lift to the smart Gowings Bar and Grill. The lift to the restaurant is tricky to find from street level in Market Street (No 49, next door to the State Theatre). And alas, the upstairs bar is closed on the day of our visit but we do enjoy a G&T at the retro bar downstairs, flanking the State Theatre.

Laden with Chrissy shopping, we stroll back to the Vibe Hotel via Hyde Park and through the monolithic War Memorial, before meandering downstairs. Here we chance upon a most impressive pocket war museum. Who knew? You could easily spend a couple of hours here reading all the moving stories about veterans but we are booked for an early dinner before our show at the Capital.

On our way to the Vibe, we pass another store across the road from Museum Station that is no more. Remember Mark Foys? This graceful building morphed into Grace Bros Piazza for a while in the 80s before becoming the Family Law Court. Indeed, I once had a summer job at GBs selling ladies’ shoes.

I only lasted a week. A woman asked for a pair of pumps in size 7 and I went out the back looking for them, only to realise it was my lunch hour. So I left her standing there as I went off to lunch. I was always a dreamboat. Much more suited to writing.

Brekkie the following morning is at Storehouse, the cafe and bar within the Vibe Hotel. After a generous serving of bacon and eggs and proper Sydney coffees, we both decide we will do this again next year and avoid driving back to the Coast after shopping in town. Hey, why not make your Chrissy shopping a positive and memorable experience?

Perfectly positioned in the heart of Sydney CBD, Vibe Hotel Sydney is surrounded by Sydney’s premier attractions and only minutes away from hip suburbs like Surry Hills and Darlo.

The hotel features nigh on two–hundred spacious and well–equipped hotel guest rooms, including thirteen suites. There is a rooftop pool, sauna, and gym, or simply lay back and take it easy in your spacious room. The hotel is close to major transport hubs including Central and Museum Stations. From here, you are perfectly placed to explore everything Sydney has to offer. The hotel is right in the middle of some of Sydney’s finest cuisine, with cafés, restaurants and trendy bars all being within walking distance and the aforementioned Capital Theatre is right around the corner.

The Storehouse Sydney Central Café and Bar, located on the ground floor of the hotel, offers barista coffee, wholesome meals and delicious drinks all day, and a room service menu for guests staying overnight.

Moreover, Vibe Hotel is just a block away from Pitt Street and Oxford Street, and equally close to the space and serenity of Hyde Park with its Pool of Reflection, monuments, fountains, and statues and, as we discovered, a wonderful war museum beneath.

Rooms are From $217.89 per night. 111 Goulburn St, Sydney
Phone: (02) 8272 3300

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