Sandwiched between a long-standing Japanese restaurant and a trendy barbershop in now very gentrified Surry Hills is a newly-renovated terrace with a colourful past.
For nearly 40 years after the First World War, 212 Devonshire Street was “Mum’s Place” – the headquarters and command centre of one of Sydney’s biggest criminal empires, offering at naturally extortionate prices anything your addled heart desired, from sly grog to girls, SP betting to cocaine – and fruit and veg from the shop out front.
And it was home for “Mum” – best known on Surry Hills mean streets and in Truth’s yellow pages as Kate “Sly Grog Queen” Leigh – her wayward daughter Eileen, and a rogues’ gallery of some of Sydney’s worst bashers, slashers and gunmen, including Frederick “Chow” Hayes, Gregory “Gunman” Gaffney, Wally Tomlinson and more.
While nearby 2 Lansdowne Street – long since demolished for Ward Park – was the biggest of the flamboyant Kate’s 20-odd sly grog shops, and she shot dead “burglarious” standover man John “Snowy” Pendergast at 104 Riley Street – now a gym – 212 Devonshire Street would remain her home until she died in 1964, aged 82, bankrupt and alone.
After years of neglect, the four-bedroom renovator’s delight sold for $1.7 million in 2015, $700,000 over reserve. For a while, it was a coffee shop called – what else? – Sly.