Sydney's bar scene has evolved over the last twelve months. We have bars that are also restaurants, pubs that are cocktail bars, restaurants you visit for drinks and some places that are all three at once. We have bartenders that make every visit a revelation, and bar snacks worth crossing state lines for. People are still loving rooftop bars; natural wines are still all the rage; and we don't need an excuse for a cocktail once quitting time hits.
Every year we put our livers and sleep patterns on the line to bring you, dear reader, a comprehensive guide to the best bars in town to make sure your evenings never run dry.
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A swift antidote to every serious wine bar and tonic water menu is Jacoby’s, an Inner West Tiki bar decked out in glowing fishing floats, dried puffer fish, and flocked banana palm wallpaper. They’re also sporting some of the city’s most ridiculous cocktails, and a whole lot of Twin Peaks references for die-hard fans. But here’s the rub: all the lychee foam, lurid blue liqueurs, flaming lime cheeks and impressive Tiki mugs are just tinsel. This bar is built on the back of a killer team who know the secret recipe for having a good time.
There is no bar in Sydney embracing the mad craft of cocktail experimentation as whole heartedly as the team at PS40, nor any having as much fun doing it. You’re going to wonder who dropped a slice of banana bread into your Negroni. Your bitter mix of Campari, gin and vermouth is unmistakeably flavoured like that ubiquitous breakfast cake and the trick is sous viding banana bread with the spirits plus coffee beans and tonka bean for five hours. And that’s just a taste of the weird flavour science that goes on behind the bar here
We certainly aren’t the only ones enamoured with the backlit wall of whisky, accessible only by scrolling library ladders in this underground bar. The lines of admirers stretch from outside the tatty door in an old loading dock in the city and almost back out onto Clarence Street. The menu board starts at the ceiling and the three-column list eventually sneaks down under the counter and out of sight, featruing every distillery you can’t pronounce – and the small collection you’re confident with.
Wine can quickly become an expensive hobby. Luckily, Matt Swieboda, Nathanial Hatwell and Tristan Blair, who own Dear Sainte Éloise, want to share the love, not hoard it. That’s why there are more than half a dozen wines by the bottle for under $60 at this all-class European-inflected wine bar on Llankelly Place. In a city where it’s easy to find single glasses well over the $20 mark, it’s astonishing to find a range at such an affordable price point, with snacks to match.
It’s only once you’re sitting on the beautiful deck of this third-floor cocktail lounge that you realise that it was the missing piece of Sydney’s bar puzzle all along. Until now, we’ve only been playing at being a global, harbourfront city, because we needed Smoke, the high stakes waterfront cocktail bar that is the crowning glory of Barangaroo House.
We've all heard the lowing from our UK expatriate friends about the state of Sydney’s pubs. They're never old enough, cosy enough, or British enough for their liking (the Lord Dudley and the Lord Nelson get close). So what's a former Liverpool boy to do? Open a venue, that’s what, which is why Mikey Enright, gin maestro and owner of the Barber Shop, has extended his booze empire about 10 metres to the right with a proper British establishment named the Duke of Clarence.
If you were going to spend the rest of your life at one bar you’d need it to be the complete package. We’re talking amazing drinks, great service and cheese enough to kill a man. An ace steak wouldn’t hurt and if they could also have an impressive can store that would last you through an apocalypse you’d be looking at your future life partner, in bar form. We’re sure that you and the Continental Deli Bar Bistro are going to be very happy together.
There’s a few ways to win at Earl’s: get in early, when there’s enough room to nab a spot at the bar; arrive late, for a night cap when the lights are low and spirits are high; or visit in between, for a pre or post-dinner tin or wine. Whenever you get here, you’re set for a good time – and it’s not just because this neighbourhood cocktail den continues to shake up some of the best Daiquiris in town. It’s because they have the power to transform an average night into an excellent one.
Five years ago Bulletin Place gave the Sydney bar scene a haymaker it never saw coming. The little DIY attic above a café down near Circular Quay was not where anyone expected to find the city’s best fruit-driven, seasonal cocktail menu. We weren’t used to having a new set of drinks to discover each time we remounted those creaky timber stairs, but now it's an adventure we willingly embark on every time.
We’re not surprised that a kickass cocktail bar has opened up in the heart of the legal and financial business district – we’re surprised it has taken this long. But a bar like Kittyhawk is worth waiting for. Kittyhawk is from another time and place entirely. Broadly speaking, the design is inspired by Liberation Day in Paris (August 25, 1944), and, more specifically, by the Rum and Rye cocktail that is at the very top of their list.
Lasagne is already excellent – surely on most people’s top five lists – but at the newest iteration of Love Tilly Devine, Darlinghurst’s long-serving alleyway wine bar, they are turning a comfort food into a showstopper. It’s a pasta-heavy rendition, with lots of tender leaves pressing alternating layers of zucchini, and a blushing pink tomato and ricotta filling. But the thing that’ll make you want to stand up and give praise is hot pan-fried ’nduja, that spicy spreadable sausage from Italy’s deep south, which they spoon over the top like the world’s most bombastically flavoursome sauce.
In a feat of design wizardry, they’ve managed to make one of those glass-front, new development retail spaces feel warm, welcoming and lived in. It must be all that caramel coloured timber, golden light and flowers arranged about the room. What they’ve successfully done is upload the spirit of a café into a bar. It might have been the promise of a glass of the Somos barbera rosé that got you here – the sweet/tart tug-o-war reminds us of biting into tart plum skins – but it’s the food menu that will keep you in your seat.
It's the personable and tailored approach that makes this bar truly shine – whether you’re on a first date or on your fifth drink, table service means you can kick back and really relax. The Gloss has been on the menu since TMBTP opened and it still hits you like a fresh breeze on a summer’s day. If you’re after something a bit heavier try the Coffee and Cigarettes for a grown-up coffee cocktail.
Drinking at Ramblin’ Rascal looks a little different to what you’d expect from this part of the CBD. There’s no ice cold import beer on tap, but there are $5 tinnies. You won’t be ordering charcuterie or arancini, but instead getting a Mary’s burger or fried chicken delivered from around the corner. And you won’t be getting your drink poured by a buttoned up, slick-haired waiter, instead from an overall-sporting, bearded barkeep
You’d be hard pressed to find a crew of friendlier or more welcoming bar peeps than the team here. Good chat, solid guidance, and their pro-dog agenda gets major bonus points. Not only does part-owner Josh Ng bring his rescue staffie Bella in some nights, but regulars also bring their faithful hounds for hang times. Their dog-friendly status is because they don’t serve hot food, but salty snacks come in the form of cheeses and meats, and crunchy things like pretzels and pork crackling.
This gin bar is a bit like a mullet – business in the front (it also serves as a men’s grooming parlour) and a party at the back (excellent cocktails with a speakeasy vibe). Sidle up to the bar to find out why and how this small bar gave gin it’s groove back. It’s exemplified in the Gracious Gimlet, which sees a neat and heady dance of celery-infused gin and capsicum distillate add just a hint of bitterness to counteract the sourness of juicy citrus and sweetness of lime cordial.
If you want to see Sydney at her absolute best, go for a drink at Redfern’s neighbourhood art bar, the Bearded Tit. Inside this cosy establishment you get a glimpse of what it could be like if we all just got along. The weird and wonderful are welcomed here; there is a mix of punters that properly reflects the Sydney rainbow, and nobody gives it a second thought. We’re all too busy having a brilliant time.
The party never stops at Shady Pines. Open the unmarked door off a dark lane in Darlinghurst. Open the second door (sound proofing proved necessary once it became clear just how popular this bar was going to remain) and descend into a sunken saloon, complete with peanut shells on the floor. This is the place where Sydney got its taste for booze and fresh apple juice. You somehow never feel like you’re really hitting the sauce if your drink is this fresh and foamy.
The party-till-dawn spirit might not live in Potts Point any longer, but her older, more sophisticated cousin still does and he’s all about the drinking-good-cocktails-until-you-take-yourself-home times, which are in plentiful supply at Jangling Jack’s, Potts Point’s low lit haunt full of excellent libations. Their power comes from acting like a neighbourhood bar with a wide welcome for locals, but never allowing mediocrity in the door when it comes to the drinks
What the Mayor of Bomont (yep, we’re talking Footloose) had to learn the hard way was that you can’t keep the kids from partying. Like mushrooms, the good times will simply find a new base of operations, and one of Sydney's fun times HQ is the lower ground bar underneath Big Poppa’s, the cheese-loving Italian restaurant on Oxford Street sporting an all star cast of Sydney hospo champions.
This is a bar that is refined and sexy, but didn’t lose the fun in the refurb. It’s not just the drinks that impress us (but we’ll rave on those). Everything is perfect, from the snack menu that demands an order of ‘one of everything’, to the photoshoot-worthy lighting and house party soundtrack. Unless you have superglue handy you may as well accept that you’re leaving here with an empty wallet and the kind of buzz you only get from very good wine.
You know what a guaranteed fun time used to be? Smashing wines and Italian snacks at 121 BC. You what’s still fun? Smashing a slightly more international wine list and snacks at Wyno, the same-same-but-different wine bar where 121BC used to be. The Porteno crew, whose Argentinean restaurant is on the adjoining street, took over the beloved wine bar and honestly, the only change is that there’s less Italian stuff on the menu.
Whether it’s your first time here, or you’re known to saddle up to the bar and talk shop with the ultra friendly bar crew, you’ll be impressed. Start with the Jurassic Juice. This party punch bounds out with spicy rum and pine nut syrup in place of an overly sweet orgeat. Along with smart takes on tiki drinks, you’ll find a serious selection of rum (there’s more than 250) and cocktails combos that are so weird they work – like vodka with vanilla Champagne syrup; or rum with carrot juice and lemon.
The sound of new development is the staccato rhythm that Parramatta moves to as Sydney’s second CBD continues to expand, but Uncle Kurt’s is no shiny, corporate bar. It’s got a whole lot more of the spirit of ’80s New York City with a little Berlin punk thrown in for good measure amongst the graffiti on the bar brick walls and the red glow of the neon cleaver. It’s a small operation, but they’re killing it where it counts.
Bibo has all the essential hallmarks of an upmarket Euro-style wine bar: it’s low lit, dark and looks like an old-world smoking room. There’s an open-air deck out the back for balmy nights in the east; a private dining room upstairs that can seat 40 people; and a museum wine list of cellared wines if you are as rich as a Kennedy. If you just want a snifter of a millionaire’s life they also do museum wines by the glass.
You know a suburb was clamouring for a wine bar when at 6.30pm on a Wednesday there’s hardly an empty seat in the house. Where’s Nick, Marrickville’s only wine bar, has been embraced by the swiftly gentrifying Inner West suburb with a fervour usually reserved for relatives thought to be lost at sea. Turns out the residents of 2204 are ready and willing to pull up a mismatched wooden dining chair, open their wallets and lob fistfuls of dollars over the bar in return for more glasses of the Other Right’s late year viognier.
If Brooklyn and Naples had a love child, chose Metallica as its godfather and then they all moved to Sydney together, their home would look like Frankie’s. This subterranean pizza parlour is where you can eat proper NYC-style slices ($6) and catch a live set every night. Mid-week sees the city set co-mingle with band groupies, and theatre-goers sit alongside twentysomethings. Friday and Saturday late night is standing room only until the early hours.
We were already prepared to like the Archie Rose bar. Ever since they pulled the dust cloths off the shining copper stills in the distillery and started pumping out gin, vodka and white rye we’ve been singing the praises of this impressive operation located on Rosebery’s most innovative block. But now that the bar is in full swing we can confirm that we’re falling hard for this warehouse haunt with a local liquor ledger.
Just keep on repressing those teenage memories of the bottle with the red plastic sombrero on it, because crap tequila is the equivalent of Fruity Lexia cask wine – you only drink it when you’re young and dumb. Right now at Tio’s they’ve got around 120 different spirits on their books and some of them are exceptionally difficult to get in this country. Play your cards right and in a quiet moment the bartenders will walk you through some of the extra special stuff.
Sydney has plenty of secrets, and one of our favourites is a compact, two-story jungle whiskey bar with an Irish accent hidden in Surry Hills. The Wild Rover is one of those bars that people like to think of as their personal hideout. A rough day is swiftly mended by a pewter tankard of Guinness, a round of oysters or a juicy, flavoursome lamb sausage roll cooked to order. And that brings us to the end of the snacks menu. By contrast you’ll run out of cash before you get to the end of the cocktail list.
It’s entirely likely that Mary’s is more famous as a burger place than as a bar. People queue for up to an hour just to get in the front door of this slightly scuzzy boozer with a penchant for Slaytanic font (yes, there is a font inspired by the 1980s thrash metal band). People really love Mary’s burgers. Those five star American-style burgers turned Sydney’s bar scene on its head and people still devote their evenings to locking down rounds of cheeseburgers, baskets of fried chicken and super silky mash with gravy.
Some of the best booze action in Surry Hills is the hardest to find. This Japanese whisky bar tucked off Commonwealth Street on Belmore Lane is certainly not going out of its way to draw attention to itself – we have to point it out to people who work almost directly across the road. The bar and kitchen split the counter space evenly, with pride of place given to Japanese whiskeys.
Even Bondi people are calling Bondi Beach Public Bar ‘very Bondi’. Maybe it’s the macadamia milk cocktails; or that it’s next to Lululemon and a stone’s throw from the aquamarine waters of the beach. Or it could be the fact that it’s from the team behind Icebergs and Da Orazio. But crisp white shirts and activewear aside, at its heart it’s really just a pub. BBPB sits on the mostly-toursity section of Campbell Parade, which hasn’t seen much in the way of good bars since White Revolver and Buckler’s Canteen (Vale).
You might not expect a seriously schmick wine bar and restaurant housed in the original Fairfax building in the heart of the CBD to be all about inclusivity, but the Bentley Restaurant and Bar by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and chef Brent Savage wants everyone to have a good time. If you’re not here for the full sit-down dining experience that’s A-OK. Grab a table down on the bar level, vanish some exceptional wines by the glass and let the view into the buzzy, open kitchen tempt you to order up some bar snacks.
They take the art of cocktail making very seriously at Eau De Vie. This hidden cocktail lounge in Darlinghurst isn’t afraid to get creative with their drinks, whether than means deconstructing your Bloody Mary, torching a chopping board for that authentic bushfire flavour or doing all sorts of crazy things with dry ice in the pursuit of pure flavours with a little showmanship on the side. If you’ve got no truck with all this frippery and just want good booze in a glass, you’re still in the right place – they whip up a mean Martini.
The drinking and dining landscape in Sydney keeps shifting under our feet so that strict definitions of bar or restaurant no longer apply. In the age of the lock-out laws we’re all just trying to have the best time we can in the hours allotted to us, and so it makes sense to combine the pleasures of an excellent meal and the joys of an artfully executed cocktail. And that’s what’s on the cards at Dead Ringer.
Last year was when venue definitions got very squiggly. And one of the best examples of these shifting boundaries was the redux Dolphin Hotel. Under the watchful eye of Maurice Terzini (Icebergs Dining Room and Bar) it transformed from a league’n’lager pub into a casual fashion party with an Italian dining room and an exciting new wine bar all inside its walls.
Downstairs at the Angel Hotel it might be all about the tall beers and warm pies, but up on the third level, things get a whole lot classier, and the ABV skyrockets. Head up the stairway around the side of the pub and you’ll arrive at an elegant whisky bar themed aorund the life and time of Merivale’s founding members, the parents of Justin Hemmes, John and Merivale. It feels like one of those exclusive London clubs you see in mid century films.
If you imagine the ideal neighbourhood bar, everything that comes to mind you’ll find at the Gretz in Enmore. So popular was the restaurant Hartsyard further up the street that Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart decided to add a bar to their Inner West venture. Now this nautical, timber-heavy venue with big beers and short cocktails is the only place to get Hartsyard's famous fried chicken.
On Penrith’s High Street is a new cocktail bar adding a second compelling reason to visit the Western Sydney suburb after dark, after a quick El Jannah run, of course. They’ve named this 80-seat bar after Watkin Tench, a British marine officer noted for sailing with the First Fleet and ‘discovering’ the Nepean River. The odd colonial connection is mostly a conduit for the décor, which is themed like a 17th century explorer’s study, and blimey, have they gone all out.
The problem with eating at the bar at chin chin go go (and it’s a nice problem to have) is that the serves here are famously generous, which means only one dish per belly. That is unless you know about the secret menu, where they’ll let you go half half with any curry, the kee mau and the barramundi salad with your cocktails and wine on tap.
Dive bars have not been something we’ve done particularly well in Sydney, but if you just need a place to go where you can crack the top on a tinnie, order up some low and slow barbecued meats and linger over both to a soundtrack of Alice Cooper, the Knack, Kiss, Ram Jam, and Bon Jovi, well, Surly’s has got the goods. They also do a mean Bloody Ceasar for the hangover that just won’t quit without the help of clam juice, celery salt and a whack of Diemen’s stinger hot sauce.
By the look of this dive you’d expect peanut shells crunching under foot. Regulars – like birds on a wire – perch at the bar and a middle-American accent comes from behind it. The worn-in, down-home atmosphere, though, belies expert cocktail, beer and wine chops and sophisticated bar bites. Beers – Grifter tinnies, Feral smoked porter, Sierra Nevada pale ale – are few and good. The whiskey sour is cherry-topped cocktail perfection.
Head through a cobbled laneway below a grand sandstone building on Kent Street and you’ll find Since I Left You’s courtyard decorated in high-rise murals and 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. It’s reminiscent of Melbourne’s much-loved, now-closed St Jerome’s laneway bar, where the Avalanches got their start.
Every suburb needs a little guy – a tiny bar wodged in on the main street between a Student Flights and a pasta joint, one that serves the drinks you wish you could have at home, in surrounds just as comfortable. Feeling like some quiet time? Head upstairs and stretch out on one of the lounges like a territorial house cat with a generous pour of the easy-drinking pinot noir from Delatite that will soothe and revive you. Brought your mates with you? Lay claim to the back room packed with foot stools and vintage chairs.
All rounder is not an insult, especially when it’s describing a neighbourhood party bar that knows how to keep things cruisey in the early part of the week and ramp it up for a blow out at the pointy end. And that is a particular skill of Freda’s, the Chippendale bar tucked out of sight off Regent Street just down from the White Rabbit Gallery. Head here on a school night and gentle disco and house mixes are kept at comfortable chatting volume – put this on your first-date bar list.
It takes serious bar chops to wrest people from the beer gardens of this pub-loving suburb and into a casual nightspot featuring great wine, but Wilhelmina’s has its bar game on lock. It’s in the beautiful Victorian building that began its life as the home of the Working Men’s Institute – a vestige of Balmain’s proud working class roots. Although Wilhelmina’s might not be somewhere you’d post up in your concrete-dusted steel caps, it’s a bloody great spot to knock back a cocktail.
This new auteurist cocktail destination comes by the way of Sydney bar veteran Andy Penney (the Anchor and, back in the day, the Flinders). Stanley’s takes its inspiration from Wes Anderson. Step off Stanley Street and land at the entrance of the Grand Budapest – well, powder pink walls and a red carpet that nod to the set design. Inside, wallpaper familiar from The Royal Tenenbaums covers the wall and behind the bar we spy khaki shorts worthy of Ed Norton’s scoutmaster in Moonrise Kingdom.
It’s entirely possible that the building housing this back alley establishment was once a sharehouse, which, having trouble paying the rent one month, decided to transform into a bar. All the markers are there: the prayer flags, the fairy lights, a framed picture of two former PMs sharing a brew, rolls of brown paper in place of table napkins, and more booze than food in the fridge. Yep, sounds exactly like every sharehouse we partied in from 2005 until now.
Lane Cove is home to many primary schools, flowering gums and dog-friendly cafés, but no small bars, until now. Shorties way more of a vibe than we could have hoped for leafy LC to produce. Try the Wigg Lillet – it’s a bit like a stirred down Aperol Spritz, with a sweet, citrus bent. There’s a boozy macerated twist of Lillet Blanc upfront and gin and orange bitters to round it all out. It’s a little heavy on the Aperol, but served short enough to go down nicely.