The hidden Australian expat community living in New York City

IF you’re an Aussie living in New York City, chances are you’ve spent a fair amount of time in the popular downtown Manhattan district of Nolita.

Twenty years ago, locals taking a stroll through the micro-neighbourhood north of Little Italy might have heard the occasional ocker on a street corner. Today, order a flat white and do some people watching on Mott or Mulberry street and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching the passing parade on one of Sydney or Melbourne’s trendiest strips.

In 2014, daily NYC weblog Gothamist ran an article titled ‘What’s with all the Aussies living in NYC?’

“They’re on the subway, in the beer line at PS1 Warm Up, and holding the elevator for you at your office. Sometimes it feels like Australians are becoming as common in New York as bank branches,” the article read.

They weren’t wrong, the rapid influx of Aussies to the city is very real, and this is no more prevalent than in Nolita.

With a rising number of young Australians moving to the US in search of career opportunities courtesy of the E-3 visa, expats flocking to the Big Apple inevitably find themselves socialising and settling into the buzzing district, now affectionately dubbed ‘Little Australia’ or ‘Australita’. Within a roughly six-by-six block territory there are no less than 20 different Australian-owned businesses, from coffee shops to clothing stores, art galleries and nightclubs.

For Sydney-born mates Giles Russell and Henry Roberts, who relocated to NYC in 2012 with the intention of bringing Aussie cafe culture to the Big Apple, business is booming. The duo opened Two Hands, which has been described as “New York’s most instagrammable cafe”, on Mott Street in June, 2014. Following the uber success of Ruby’s cafe on Mulberry Street, which kickstarted the wave over a decade ago, the boys have been a part of cultivating a sense of community for homesick expats braving the move.

“We worked in the neighbourhood and it felt very familiar, obviously because of all of the Aussies, and every year that we’ve lived here more and more come, so there was a good kind of community. It kind of felt a little bit like home here,” Russell told

“This area is so full of young people from around the world, especially young Australians, but there wasn’t really anywhere you could get really healthy food on the go and also really good coffee at the same time.”

At 2pm on a Thursday, there was barely a spare seat in the place and the staff were busy pumping out anything from avocado toast to acai bowls and real coffee en masse. But you won’t find any vegemite or kanga-skewers on the menu.

“When we created the concept for our cafe we definitely wanted it to be influenced by Australia, it’s impossible for it not to be because we grew up there and we lived there for 24 years before we moved here, but we didn’t want to force it on people. The New York customer is smarter than that, they’ll realise when they come in. And we wanted to be a part of the community,” Roberts added.

The business partners, who are now gearing up for the opening of their second act, a Two Hands restaurant in neighbouring district Tribeca, explained they never set out to be known as an ‘Aussie cafe’ but as it started to progress, they decided to roll with it. “It stands to reason that if there’s a Little Italy, a Little Koreatown, Chinatown — all of these areas have their nationality and their own identity, Australia needed one of those and it happened so organically,” Roberts explained.

“Now Americans know about the Australian coffee culture and they want to get to know it and be a part of it and that’s been a really big leg up for us.”

Frank Ford, one of Nolita’s original long-term expats, inadvertently kickstarted the mini Antipodean invasion back in 1998 with Eight Mile Creek, the only goodtime Aussie venue in the neighbourhood for a number of years. The pub, serving hometown favourites like meat pies, sausage rolls, and Vegemite sandwiches, closed its doors in 2012. But Frank and his Australian cattle dog Spitfire never left. In fact, he’s lived in the same apartment for 24 years.

“I wasn’t meant to be here for a long time,” he told “I got work here, my wife opened up a jewellery store in 1995, and in 1998 we opened up the pub.”

“The thing about the early days was, there weren’t that many Australians here, then the financial boom started, with the banking and advertising and all of these Australians came to live here.”

Ford, 49, says the influx of Aussies really started to gain momentum around 2005-2006. “I think a lot of it now, it does remind you of Sydney and Melbourne. It has an old school vibe to it, reminds you of home,” he said.

In the 24 years since he arrived, Ford says, “the bars have changed, the area has changed, the people have changed but it’s an area that has progressed in a very positive way ... Australians are more confident about being Australian.

“It’s become an area that when Aussies come to visit they want to come and see Aussies doing well, being successful.”

Along with their coffee beans and kangaroo meat, expats are bringing their fashion to ‘Little Australia’. Nolita has become the NYC mecca for many of the country’s prominent fashion designers and beauty brands from Sass & Bide, Zimmermann, One Teaspoon, Ksubi, Aesop, Mambo, Dinosaur Designs and even Driza-Bone.

There’s no denying it, Nolita is under the affectionate siege of the Aussies. And it looks like they’re here to stay.




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