James Jackson loves an after-work workout. “There’s nothing better than enjoying an evening yoga or conditioning class while watching the sun set over the city,” he says. Handy, then, that Jackson’s workout spot of choice is also his work.
Jackson is the head of health and fitness at Paramount Recreation Club in Surry Hills – touted as a gym for people who don’t like gyms. Opening in the Paramount Pictures Building in 2018, its sleek design – lashings of blond timber and exposed concrete, and a Palm Springs palette of crisp white and blue, with accents of green courtesy of a generous array of indoor plants – made it the most Instagram-worthy place to work out in the city.
“Evenings are one of the most beautiful times of the day up on the roof,” Jackson says of the spot. “They’re also one of the most important. Our clientele often work long and stressful days, so we see ourselves as this third space between the office and home. Somewhere they can let off steam, decompress from the day and reset.”
An evening gym session here comes with extra benefits, Jackson says. “Studies suggest working out in the evening can do wonders for our sleep patterns, digestion and stress levels.” When he’s not practising his downward dog, the trainer likes to use the twilight hours to swim laps or run to the Opera House and back.
At the Paramount Recreation Club, health is treated as a holistic concept. “Rather than just focusing on improving the physical body, we create a program around mental and social health, too,” says Jackson. “We think of the club as a place for members to work out, hang out and feel like they’re part of a like-minded and supportive community. We want to make sure anyone who experiences the Rec Club leaves feeling better than when they arrived.”
A weekly program of around 50 small-group classes is based on the club’s three pillars of strength, conditioning and movement. Each pillar includes a number of different classes, from yoga, pilates and meditation, to strength training, boxing and cardio. The club’s signature class, the Paramount Workout, is a mix of all three pillars and provides a perfectly balanced 55-minute routine, according to Jackson.
While it’s impossible to escape the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic right now, Jackson says it’s fortunate the club has been able to continue operating – with few changes. A new Open Gym membership and Open Gym casual pass allows members to use the club’s fitness space to do self-directed fitness training during the day. Other than that, he says, programming hasn’t changed too much. “We’ve always had small group classes where personal attention and our clients’ safety were our top priorities.”
The Paramount Recreation Club’s rooftop setting means it’s well-placed to adapt to the new Covid-19 restrictions. “We’re continuing with our socially-distanced, open-air classes where every client has their own two-by-two-metre space for exercise and is allocated their own mats, weights, and wipes each time they train,” Jackson says. “Entry and exit points are clearly marked and our trainers and concierge team are on hand to assist at all times. Our classes are now 50 minutes with a 10-minute deep clean in between.”
Like the residents of its surrounding Surry Hills neighbourhood, Paramount’s clientele is a diverse mix. “Because our classes are generally no more than eight people, we’re able to provide individual attention to each participant and cater to a wide range of experience and fitness levels,” Jackson says. “Our general vibe is always fun, safe, challenging and not too serious. Although, don’t think you’ll walk away without breaking a sweat.”
A major drawcard for the club is Kiosk, a cafe open to the public for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. “Including a food offering in the club was something we thought a lot about when we first opened,” Jackson says. “So many gyms and health clubs operate on a ‘swipe in, swipe out’ basis, without giving their members a reason to really engage with the space. For us, including places to eat, work, relax and spend time is a way to encourage our community to feel more at home here.”
Though it closed during the Covid-19 lockdown, Kiosk finally relaunched in early September with a month-long residency by chef Mitch Orr. The reopening coincided with the start of a new event series, Saturdays, which features a morning market with fresh produce, flowers, ceramics and pantry essentials, and music from local DJs. Paramount’s sister business Golden Age Cinema & Bar is running a pop-up bar for the event, pouring natural wine, craft beer and cocktails into the evening.
The Paramount Recreation Club is located in a precinct surrounding Commonwealth Street that boasts some of the most innovative operators in inner Sydney. “[Neighbouring] Golden Age is somewhere I like to spend time after work,” Jackson says. “They’ve got an amazing film and live music program, a killer Negroni and the best toastie in town.”
Among his top Surry Hills dining picks are the organic wines and premium bites of Poly, Southeast Asian star Chin Chin and Dan Peperell’s Italian diner Alberto’s. “Shwarmama is a new fancy kebab shop that’s just opened for lunch and dinner and is great to grab takeout from and head to the park. There’s always a sense that something exciting is about to open up just around the corner, and there’s always somewhere new to eat.”