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A purple-lit laneway scene with people sitting down eating and drinking
Photograph: Supplied/ Destination NSW

The bars of Sydney’s CBD nightlife precinct YCK Laneways

Everything you need to know about the inner city's slickest hospo hub

Maxim Boon
Written by
Maxim Boon
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The bar scene in Sydney’s CBD is stronger than ever before, and perhaps nowhere more so than amongst the collection of watering holes along York, Clarence and Kent Streets. In fact, the calibre of drinking dens in this corner of the inner city is so high that it was renamed in 2021, becoming the YCK Laneways. This nightlife and entertainment precinct is a one-stop destination for a great time out on the town, where you’ll find world-class cocktails, yummy bar snacks and some of the best vibes in the whole damn city. And if you really want to make a night of it, book in to stay at YCK Laneway's official accommodation partner, Little National

Discover even more excellent places for a drink, with our ranking of the 60 best bars in the city.

YCK Laneways

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Creativity has been the watchword here since they switched on the lights in 2016, but that’s always had as much to do with the soft drinks as the hard ones. This also happens to be a soda factory we’re talking about, and as non-alcoholic alternatives become a bigger part of the conversation, it’s important to remember that PS40’s been moving the needle from day one.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Sydney

Set in a historic building at the corner of King and York Streets in Sydney's CBD, Sammy Junior is the coffee-loving offshoot of lauded cocktail bar Maybe Sammy. But unlike its nightowl older brother, Junior is set to be an all-day venue, transitioning from coffee hall to cocktail den. Early birds can fuel up at the espresso bar before work. Then, after quitin' time, choose from a selection of pre-shaken Martinis on tap: there's a Coffee Negroni with Mr Black liqueur, gin and campari; the Martini Australiano with lemon myrtle and gin; the Cascara Fizz which blends vodka with raspberry liqueur; the TI Punch Spritz with rum and rooibos tea; an Espresso Martini shaken up frappe-style, or a creamy Irish coffee with honey, whiskey and filter coffee.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

We love being in on a secret, so a gin palace hidden behind a full-functioning barbershop is right up our alley. And they really love gin here. There’s north of 80 bottles on the menu at this low-lit hideaway with a slight terrarium vibe, including a vintage collection for people with money to burn. They also feature Genever, the Dutch spirit from which gin originates.

 

  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Head through a cobbled laneway below a grand sandstone building on Kent Street and you’ll find Since I Left You’s courtyard canopied in fairy lights. Tall city buildings surround it on all sides and local soul band Audio Soup cranks sexy covers of Bill Withers and Charles & Eddie. Order a short and boozy Mezcal Negroni – the woody smokiness is a good match with owner Nick White’s whipped and creamy “famous guacamole”. 

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  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

The Duke of Clarence feels like it was designed to bring George Orwell’s famous fantasy pub, the Moon under Water, to life. It boasts all the trappings of a 19th Century tavern, right down to the potted red geraniums above the door. They can pull you a perfect pint of Guinness, but really, this is a bar in pub’s clothing: a slender, licensed slice of the city designed to transport you to a different time and place.

Uncle Ming's
  • Bars
  • Sydney

You know you’ve arrived at Uncle Ming’s when you enter a subterranean bar on York Street and the smell of incense hits your face. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and take a look around – you have just entered an opium den-style drinking parlour straight out of downtown Shanghai.

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  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 1 of 4

It’s a whole lot of fun to pop through the faux-dressmaker’s shopfront and head down the stairs to Stitch Bar, where it feels like you’re drinking in the belly of a frigate. The dark timber, hanging lanterns and wooden barrels evoke a time of pirates and doubloons, but happily, there’s a lot more than salted pork rations on the menu, like their in-house barrel-aged spirits list.

The Swinging Cat
  • Bars
  • Sydney

This New Orleans-inspired cocktail den is a pared-back, lamp-lit affair. The black walls and ceiling meet bare timber floors and if you can’t get a seat around the baby grand piano, a comfortable, gentlemanly lounge chair will have to suffice.
It may take its cues from the Big Easy, but the Swinging Cat crew have put in the hard yards to create a bar with style and soul.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

It takes a certain mindset to see the potential for a cosy little bar in an awkward, narrow room off a city laneway, but luckily for us the team at Burrow Bar were able to look past the fluorescent lights and corporate Gyprock walls and imagine something better. They’ve kept things pared back and simple in this narrow burrow; the staff are very chatty and it’s a poser-free zone, so if you’ve been looking for a low-key haunt in the CBD, this is a good place to cool your heels.

  • Restaurants
  • Sydney

This CBD restaurant and bar from the team behind Tequila Mockingbird borrows from all corners of Mexico: scallop aguachile from the Western region of Sinaloa; beef barbacoa inspired by the country’s Carribean diaspora and influences; and tacos al pastor from Puebla’s street food trucks. It’s not bound by any specific area nor by any commitment to making Mexican food in its most traditional or mainstream forms.

 

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Grandma's Bar
  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 1 of 4

Don’t underestimate this inner-city grandma’s capacity for fun. As much as she loves crochet and knitting patterns, she’s also developed quite a taste for rum cocktails during her time in the basement of an office building. Our grandma was into cake and the military tattoo, which is probably why we visit Grandma’s in the city a lot more often. She’s the one with all the rum and a jaffle iron that’s always hot, and she never asks when we’ll be settling down (never).

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

This underground rum bar below Clarence Street is named after Cuban sugar baron Julio Lobo. A cluttered but cohesive mix of flamingo tiles, rattan chairs, banana palms and crumbling patina surfaces provide weathered Cuban charm. But the real visual focus is the bartenders. They create with precision. And fire, if you order the Old Grogram.

 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

They’re not afraid to serve the Bitter Truth at Sydney’s hidden voodoo bar, and that’s because it’s an excellent cocktail, and not your friend telling you how badly you disgraced yourself the night before. A bracingly sour mix of lime juice, Averna and tiki bitters is balanced by sloe gin, and it’ll soothe ruffled feathers and stop a shame spiral in its tracks.

 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Get past the headset-sporting hostess at the door, and you’ll find yourself in a sprawling, low-lit warehouse of a space with metres of exposed brick and geometric prints that at first might seem a little disorienting. Take a lap, and you’ll figure out that upstairs is geared for eating and drinking, while the downstairs cellar and Pamela’s (more on that later) are engineered for late-night hijinks.

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