Sydney It is the sort of event that Sydney does well. A big crowd of Bellevue Hill money, media types, politicians, diplomats, artists and beautiful young things is packed onto a rooftop terrace for the launch of a glitzy hotel. The evening is warm, the music's pumping and the champagne flows freely, but a distinct sense of unease runs through the crowd. What the hell, everyone seems to be thinking, are we doing in Kings Cross? Almost five years after the then lord mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, unveiled plans to clean up the city's notorious red-light district, the unthinkable is actually beginning to happen: Kings Cross is becoming habitable again. Once the sole preserve of drug dealers, gamblers, prostitutes and low-life criminals (and more recently backpackers), 'the Cross', as it is universally known, is today making a concerted effort to shed its sleazy image. Although a few of the old strip joints on Darlinghurst Road still survive, most of the gangsters have long since moved south of the border to Melbourne. The death in 2006 of Abe Saffron, the man once dubbed Mr Sin, marked the passing of pimps, stand-over men and pornographers who once ran the area. Saffron, who owned the notorious Roosevelt club, amassed a fortune by supplying American servicemen with booze, drugs and girls during the Vietnam war. His death prompted an outpouring of nostalgia for the Kings Cross of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, for much of the 20th century Kings Cross and the surrounding suburbs of Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay and Darlinghurst were the centre of bohemian life in Sydney. The poet Kenneth Slessor, actor Errol Flynn, painter John Olsen and novelist Frank Moorhouse are just some of the famous names who once lived here, drawn to the precinct's raffish charms and cheap apartments. Moorhouse was a teenager when he first visited Sydney's den of iniquity. 'The Cross in 1950 must have been considered safe enough for my parents to allow me to go out alone,' he said. 'Prostitution was in a precinct in East Sydney off William Street and there were no 'adult' shops. Bars in hotels, where most people drank, closed at 6pm. Vice was much more secretive then.' Moorhouse, who has once again taken up residency, sadly recalls the loss of its infamous bars, clubs and hotels. 'Three of the legendary hotels - the Sebel, the Gazebo and the Rex - have been turned into flats, and those parts of the old Cross that cannot be reinvented have been distilled into brass history notes embedded in the footpaths.' Ironically, the area's newest attraction, The Storrier, a glamorous 70-suite boutique hotel on Springfield Avenue, is named after one of Sydney's most successful artists, Tim Storrier, 59, who attended art school in Darlinghurst, but avoided the Cross. 'It wasn't my bloody stomping ground,' he said. 'In those days it was basically whores and bad booze.' Now, winds of change are blowing through the fetid streets of Kings Cross. New bars, restaurants and ritzy shops are springing up all over the place. Even the famous Coca-Cola sign at the top of Williams Street is up for sale. But not everyone is happy with this clean, family-friendly makeover. When Baron's, a bohemian upstairs bar, closed last November, regulars held a boozy all-night wake to mark its passing. 'We're not an A-list bar,' explained owner Michael Sherote, as he poured last drinks. 'Anyone could come here - from street sweepers to celebrities.' The site will be razed for redevelopment. Despite assurances that the Kings Cross institution will be reborn elsewhere, no one expects to see the likes of Baron's - famous for its open fire, backgammon tables, jukebox and broken-down furniture - again. Vale Baron's.