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Bulletin Place The Drink List
Photograph: Anna Kucera

The 56 best bars in Sydney right now

Our definitive pick of Sydney’s best watering holes, where good drinking and good times reign supreme

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October 2021: You’ve got to hand it to Sydney’s bars for digging deep and weathering one hell of a proverbial storm. Lockdown after lockdown has led to some brilliantly creative solutions from Sydney's resourceful hospos. Some venues launched home-delivery services, some opened pop-up bottle shops, others hosted masterclasses via Zoom and some, sadly have closed their doors for good. The resilience that the hospitality industry has shown deserves a standing ovation and with reopenings (and grand openings) on the horizon, there's never been a better time to get out and support the bars, pubs and clubs that are the heartbeat of our town.

Things have certainly been tough, there's no getting around that, so whether it's your local or a special somewhere worth travelling for: get out there – and when you do, be sure not only to treat the staff with kindness and respect, but also to accept whatever regulations and restrictions with patience and understanding. Things continue to evolve at a rapid pace, and while we make every effort to ensure the details below are correct, we encourage you to contact venues directly or check social media accounts before popping in for the most up-to-date info.

We’ve whittled this update down to focus on what really matters most to us in a bar – what it is, why we love it and whatever hot tips we think will make your visit even better. The bottom line, however, is still the same: if it's on this list, we think it's a winner – and we hope that you do, too.

This is the Time Out DRINK list, our picks for the best bars in Sydney right now, from fresh faces to tried-and-tested temples of great booze, ranked by our local editors. We’re looking for quality above all, with fun, flavour, atmosphere, creativity and value for money at every price point. That’s why you’ll find car space in a CBD laneway packed with mezcal alongside a Euro-style deli serving cocktails in cans, distilleries, a brewery and just about everything in between. Cheers to you, Sydney.

Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList.

Want to show your favourite venues even more love? Make sure you vote in our Time Out Bar and Restaurant Revive Awards!

Time Out's 56 best Sydney bars

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

What is it? What must be Sydney’s tiniest bar, tucked into a repurposed car spot at the end of an unassuming CBD laneway. 

Why we love it: For starters, Cantina OK serves the benchmark Margarita on the market, shaken with a 50/50 blend of tequila and mezcal, shaved ice and orange oil. But more than that, you’ve got to applaud the audacity required to pull this concept off and the energy it takes to pump out an absurd volume of drinks in what’s essentially a broom closet.

Time Out tip: While it’s easy to get carried away with those Margaritas, the mezcal collection merits a deep dive.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • The Rocks
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? In the words of the dashing team sporting double-breasted pink jackets behind the bar: a “hotel bar without the hotel”. 

Why we love it: It’s a top-to-tail throwback to the roaring ’50s, from the swanky surrounds and Sammy Davis Jr tunes to theatrical touches like a Martini trolley and a ‘High Rollers’ cocktail list, all brought to life with razzle-dazzle showmanship. The international accolades just keep piling up.

Time Out tip: The $11 Mini cocktails are the perfect primer while you pore over the rest of the list – and they’re half price between 4.30-5.30pm every day.

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  • Bars
  • Surry Hills
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? The tried and tested Surry Hills go-to for tequila-powered thrills.

Why we love it: It’s just about the closest thing we’ve got to a honky-tonk down in Mexico. A post-work Paloma or three has been known to turn into a tour of the hundred-plus tequilas behind the bar and fistfuls of free popcorn – but hey, isn’t that why we keep going back? 

Time Out tip: Cocktail prices hit rock bottom between 4-6pm each and every day the doors are open. And you can now soak up an extra round thanks to the newly expanded food offering.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Our 2020 Bar of the Year winner, where the inventiveness never fails to nail it. 

Why we love it: Ever tried a Breakfast Negroni infused with actual banana bread? A whimsical take on Irish coffee that toys with different temperatures? Or a Rye Whisky Sour spiked with sage and sweet potato? You taste something unthinkable each and every time you visit PS40, and regardless of how crazy your drink sounds, it always works. 

Time Out tip: Book a seat for the recently launched Takeover Tuesdays, when big-name local chefs plate up set menus with cocktails to match.

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

What is it? Part forgotten library, part unsuspecting CBD rooftop and home to some of the city’s choicest cocktails.

Why we love it: Sydneysiders love nothing more than “secret” bars, rooftops, serious cocktails and a side of good chat – and this bar has ’em all in spades. In just a few short years, Old Mate’s has carved out a place for itself at the top of the heap, and it shows no signs of slowing down. 

Time Out tip: It’s open till 2am on Sundays, if you need to fight off a case of the scaries with a drink and a cheesesteak. 

  • Bars
  • Newtown
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A staunch Inner West fave that tips its hat to rollicking New Orleans, behind a butcher shop’s facade on south King Street.

Why we love it: There’s hardly a warmer welcome in all of Sydney than the one you’ll get at Earl’s, and there’s hardly a better spot to settle in for solid innings. Whatever your thirst desires – a cracking craft brew, time-honoured cocktail, natural wine, or nip from the heavily stocked back bar – the legends behind the stick always have the answers and the know-how to back ’em up. 

Time Out tip: Avoid peak time on weekends if queuing ain’t your thing.

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

What is it? Sydney’s first (and only) cocktail joint named after the dive bar in a cult Patrick Swayze flick with a ’70s aesthetic inspired by the Golden Age of Porn. 

Why we love it: Yes, the premise is totally ridiculous, but it absolutely works because squeezing into a booth, ordering a Stinger or a White Russian and belting out Boogie Nights-era classics is the definition of a Very Good Time.

Time Out tip: The Discretionary – a tequila-based number with cold-brew coffee, maple and whey – might just be the single best coffee cocktail you’ll ever taste. 

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The subterranean shrine to whisky that set a new standard for our city’s drinking culture.

Why we love it: What can be said about Baxter that hasn’t been said already? It burst onto the scene at full pelt, dripping in never-before-seen levels of professionalism, attention to detail and hooch that made you scratch your head and wonder: “How on Earth did they even score this?” It has collected honours and awards the world over in the time since, and it deserves every single one of them. 

Time Out tip: Get in early, wait times can still be a thing. 

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

What is it? Where to head if what you’re after is a little bit of Old Havana and a whole lot of rum. 

Why we love it: Quite a few top-shelf watering holes now compete for your attention on Clarence Street, but Lobo’s staying power is a testament to its consistency. No matter the hour, the mood is always right the moment you descend the winding staircase, lean into a Chesterfield and leaf through the 250-odd rums.  

Time Out tip: Try their signature creation, the Old Grogram, which is made with house-spiced rum, stout vermouth and cinnamon that’s torched before your eyes.

  • Bars
  • Darlinghurst
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A Sydney institution, aka ground zero for whisky and fresh apple juice, taxidermy, shelled peanuts and endless Country Western hits.

Why we love it: Shady upped the ante in a big way when the lights switched on for the first time just over a decade (!) ago, giving rise to some of the country’s top talent and putting Sydney on the map as a drinking destination. Its appeal and importance have not waned. 

Time Out tip: The so-called ‘World’s Greatest Happy Hour’ takes place daily (!!) from 4-6pm, spruiking $4.50 tinnies, wines and spirits, as well as $10 Negronis and Margaritas.

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  • Restaurants
  • Newtown
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Newtown’s HQ for dynamite cold cuts, killer cheeses, tinned fish and canned cocktails. 

Why we love it: Setting foot in this Australia Street institution is like stepping back in time, to the backstreets of Lisbon or Madrid. Soaking up the old-world atmosphere at the bar, ‘Mar-tinny’ in hand with a couple of gildas on the side, is always guaranteed to cure whatever ails you.

Time Out tip: Curious about the world of vermouth or amaro? This is the place to get stuck in. And if you’ve never tackled the lunchtime-only meatball sandwich, don’t wait any longer. 

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A pokey nook named after the voodoo spirit of lust and laughter, in what was once a garage at the end of a cobblestone lane.

Why we love it: It’s the kind of humble operation you want to get behind, where fun is always first on the agenda, but things that matter are never overlooked. The Tiki-leaning cocktails are not only considered, carefully crafted and reasonably priced, but they’re always served with a smile. 

Time Out tip: Thumbs up for the wicked absinthe list, sell-out comedy nights and the fact that you can bring your pooch.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Enmore
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What is it? A raucous and fully realised Tiki bar on Enmore Road that playfully nods to Twin Peaks, of all things.

Why we love it: While the Tiki trope often verges on the downright silly, it’s a bona fide chapter of the cocktail canon and the pros here honour it with respect and enthusiasm. If you’re searching for Sydney’s meanest Mai Tai, look no further.

Time Out tip: Party mode is in full swing on Friday and Saturday, but it’s a surprisingly civilised spot for a sneaky school-night tipple.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Potts Point
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What is it? The Potts Point sequel to game-changing wine bar Love, Tilly Devine, with a more Euro-centric look and feel. 

Why we love it: People watching on a pleasant evening doesn’t get much better than a perch overlooking Llankelly Place, with a chalice (read: magnum) of natty wine. It’s dangerous just how quickly one bottle can turn into two or three here, thanks in large part to the savvy staff who know the superb wine list through and through. 

Time Out tip: Simon Drolz-Cox (ex-10 William Street) is now on the pans, so you’ll leave very happy if you arrive hungry.

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Jangling Jack's
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Potts Point
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What is it? Cut-above cocktails in a moody, dark and narrow sliver of Potts Point.

Why we love it: Here’s that rare neighbourhood haunt that’s worth crossing town for. The staff know the specs to just about every mixed drink in the book, and the spiffy yet comfortable setting makes you want to stay awhile. It’s an optimal way to wet the whistle before or after dinner at the multitude of nearby restaurants.

Time Out tip: The food is far better than it needs to be (especially the burger), so drinks may well turn into dinner.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • The Rocks
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What is it? First on the list for a bar crawl in the Rocks, where your whisky’s steeped in history. 

Why we love it: No other establishment on this round-up backs up its enormous whisky stockpile with a backdrop like this – a labyrinth of crannies and courtyards sited below a heritage-listed sandstone beauty. The Rocks might be known for overpriced beers and faux First Fleet atmospherics, but this baby’s built with the discerning drinker in mind. 

Time Out tip: Whisky flights take you to the Highlands, Lowlands and everywhere in between, even as far as India and Taiwan.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Surry Hills

What is it? The cocktail-bar component of Four Pillars’ new Surry Hills flagship ‘laboratory’.

Why we love it: Contagious excitement was palpable the minute Victorian gin giant Four Pillars announced it was opening a microdistillery and bar up north – and the end result does not disappoint. The schmick industrial aesthetic is just as sharp as the well-thought-out cocktails that push the envelope, like a Southside with beeswax and peppermint gum or a spruced-up Bee’s Knees with apricot and eucalypt.

Time Out tip: For the full-blown experience, reserve a spot for a masterclass and exit through the gift shop.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Marrickville
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? Marrickville’s very first dedicated wine bar – and our 2020 Time Out Bar Award winner for Best Wine Bar. 

Why we love it: Some wine bars are hoity-toity stomping grounds for snobs and wannabes, but not Where’s Nick. It’s the come-one-come-all spirit and neighbourhood sensibility, coupled with a cleverly curated list of affordable, conversation-starting drops and knowledgeable staff that make it such a standout.

Time Out tip: Grab a few bottles from the bar’s website if your personal cellar needs a top-up. Delivery is free for orders over $85.

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  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? A sprawling CBD basement with the promise of good pizza, pinball, craft beers, live bands and a very late licence. 

Why we love it: The stopless Swillhouse Group’s follow-up to the Baxter Inn brought a much dose of rock‘n’roll attitude to the centre of the city when it opened in 2013. On any given night, you’ll still stand shoulder to shoulder with an up-for-it crowd of office workers, beer nerds, pinball wizards, local bands and their Inner West fans. 

Time Out tip: Find your way to the ‘Fun Room’ out the back for a winning bar-within-a-bar experience.

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

What is it? A CBD bunker loaded with Cognac, “shit tins” and some of the friendliest faces in the biz. 

Why we love it: There are plenty of underground bars hiding under office buildings in the 2000 postcode, but none quite like the Tav, which lives up to its name thanks to the urge it stirs to make a little mischief. It’s a real-deal boozer dressed in dive-bar clothing, and when five o’clock rolls around, it’s exactly where you want to be.  

Time Out tip: The complimentary corn nuts are addictive, but Mary’s burgers are on offer from upstairs should you need something more.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Haymarket

What is it? The small bar Chinatown deserves, backed by a bankruptcy-inducing whisky collection and bang-on snacks.

Why we love it: Getting your hands on something decent to drink around Haymarket is no longer impossible thanks to Bancho. The catalogue of Japanese whisky, as well as rare and independent bottlings, is hard to ignore, but a Shochu Highball topped up with Calpis and a couple of soft-shell crab bao will also cure whatever ails you. 

Time Out tip: Cough up $200 and you can store your very own bottle of whisky in one of the 38 purpose-built lockers.

  • Bars
  • Redfern

What is it? The Golden Gully gang’s latest venture, which brings homegrown booze, plant-based eats and sunny vibes to Redfern Street.

Why we love it: Dynn Szmulewicz, Dan McBride and Emma Evans are on to a winning formula, and show no signs of slowing down. Easy, refreshing drinks made with new-wave Australian spirits and native ingredients; wallet-friendly snacks that go hard on seasonal produce, and a lively crew of young things that make you feel like a regular after the first round. It’s a cracker.

Time Out tip: Tuesday nights offer $10 pasta, but if you’re after a multi-course affair, reserve a table at DD’s out back.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? Merivale’s classy love letter to 1920s Paris, in amongst the buzz of bustling Ash Street. 

Why we love it: Sometimes a night on the tiles calls for a bit of old-fashioned luxury: extra-stiff classic cocktails in glimmering glassware, white tablecloths, table lamps, waistcoated waitstaff and wines poured from magnum. Little Felix gets these grown-up details very right and ups the ante with sophisticated hors d’oeuvres, charcuterie and imported cheese.

Time Out tip: The Paris Meridian is a must-order riff on the immortal French 75 – and probably the finest Champagne cocktail in town.

  • Restaurants
  • Modern Australian
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? One of the Harbour City’s most acclaimed wine bars, freshly relocated to the heart of the (mostly wine-bar-free) CBD. 

Why we love it: Monopole 2.0 is lighter and brighter than its Potts Point predecessor and more user-friendly, too, thanks to an approachable bistro-style menu. Thankfully, the spectacular wine selection, seasoned hospitality and first-rate work in the kitchen have not been lost in transit. 

Time Out tip: Take an early mark – happy hour (Wed-Fri, 4-5.30pm) means $2.50 oysters, $20 carafes of house wine and baller Champagne for $88 a bottle. 

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  • Bars
  • Redfern
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What is it? More than just a Redfern local, it’s a full-fledged community hub that’s all about inclusivity and flying that free-spirited flag.

Why we love it: Stereogamous spinning tunes, kooky decor, drag shows and that permanently parked van in the courtyard where you can kiki all night – these are just some of the reasons why the Tit remains an eternal favourite. You never quite know how your night will end up here, and that’s the best part.

Time Out tip: The menu describes the Bloody Mary – or Hail Mary, as it’s known here – as a “religious experience”. It’s not wrong.

  • Bars
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A two-storey stalwart hiding in plain sight on Campbell Street, with no shortage of Irish spirit. 

Why we love it: A big burst of craic hits you the moment the giant door swings open and you stumble into this Surry Hills stayer. The all-are-welcome ethos is as much of a drawcard as the index of whiskey (yes, with an ‘e’), small-batch beers and – of course – that now-famous spiced lamb sausage roll. 

Time Out tip: Keep your eyes peeled for trivia nights, as well as whiskey and art sessions.

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

What is it? A not-so-secret but extremely well-hidden underground drinkery, entirely detached from the outside world. 

Why we love it: It’d be easy to rely on the speakeasy gimmickry at play, but this troop of tin shakers has the chops to back it up. You’ll encounter some of the CBD’s more interesting cocktails down here, starring turmeric-infused rum or salted macadamia sherry, say, and garnished with edible apricot-sesame paper. It’s an especially smart pick if you’re eager to impress a first date.

Time Out tip: Looking to host a boozy shindig at home? Get in touch and they’ll design and deliver a tailored spread of eats and drinks.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? One of the world’s most lionised bar franchises lurking underneath the CBD streets, marked only by the trademark neon ‘Psychic’ signage.

Why we love it: What’s in your glass is always complex, cutting edge and a tad high-brow at EO (hello, Woodford Reserve washed with truffle butter), but life is for living after all. Throw in steak tartare tossed tableside, burlesque dancers on the bar, and you’ve got quite a night on your hands.

Time Out tip: The tarot readings are pricey but legit, and they come with a cocktail. Turns out fortune favours the bold – and the thirsty.

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  • Bars
  • Glebe

What is it? Natural wine meets striking design in a lavishly restored Glebe terrace.

Why we love it: Let’s face it: Glebe Point Road’s been sorely in need of somewhere slightly extra for a little while now, and No. 92 brings it in a big way. Wine lists this sharp are seldom so affordable, especially in such luxuriously appointed confines. Pattern Studio’s dreamy interiors alone make poking in worthwhile. 

Time Out tip: Apero hour happens Wednesday through Saturday, from 3-6pm, pushing $12 cocktails and ten-buck wines by the glass. 

  • Bars
  • Sydney

What is it? Sydney’s tallest bar, a whopping 83 floors above street level, decked out in swinging ’60s nostalgia.

Why we love it: Even the most jaded among us would be wowed by the 360-degree views from the top of Sydney Tower. And while bars like this usually pander to the tourist trade and rest on the laurels of prime real estate, there’s a measure of polish going on up here that just can’t be denied. 

Time Out tip: There’s a smart casual dress code in place, and a minimum spend of $30 per head applies, so make it a big night out.

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

What is it? An extension of the farm-to-table philosophy at Fred’s – Merivale’s top-tier farm-to-table fine diner – in bar form. 

Why we love it: Fancy a Scotch Old Fashioned with lemongrass and umeshu? Much like the restaurant upstairs, cocktails here take seasonality seriously and tinker with flavours the way a chef might. And speaking of chefs, Danielle Alvarez oversees the bar food menu, so consider it another way to experience her Midas touch (at a fraction of what it costs on the ground floor).

Time Out tip: The wood-fired flatbread stands toe-to-toe with any proper pizzeria you can think of.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Marrickville
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What is it? Home base for the much loved Grifter Brewing Co, in an old Marrickville laundromat warehouse.

Why we love it: Taprooms are pretty much a dime a dozen in the Inner West these days, but this one ticks all the right boxes: peppy staff, a pool table, food trucks on weekends and just about the best pale ale money can buy. Oh, and yes – it’s also dog-friendly. 

Time Out tip: Beer merch does not get much better than the hats, tees and stubby coolers for sale.

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  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Picture an 18th-century London tavern smack bang in the core of the CBD, and there you have it.

Why we love it: In the depths of winter, there’s no post quite like one in front of the roaring fireplace with a Scotch egg in one hand and a hand-pumped cask ale in the other, with a Sunday roast on the way. And while it might look and feel like a pub, there are cocktail smarts aplenty here, too.

Time Out tip: Those roasts have a tendency to sell out, so booking is highly recommended.

  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? What you get when you shuffle Sydny’s OG rockabilly tapas restaurant into one of the most beloved wine bars we’ve ever known. 

Why we love it: No two ways about it – the slim, long table in the middle of this barely lit corridor has always been and continues to be a Holy Grail site for wine drinking. The bonus is that you can now enjoy Elvis Abrahamowicz and Ben Milgate’s fish fingers and Basque cheesecake alongside.

Time Out tip: The good folk here will open anything (yes, anything!) by the glass upon request. But don’t forget your credit card, the tally can add up real quick.

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  • Restaurants
  • Darlinghurst

What is it? The famed Chippo nightspot reimagined as a cool and casual spot to get watered and fed in Taylor Square.

Why we love it: The corner of Oxford and Flinders hasn’t had a good thing going for it in ages; and while we’ll all miss those hazy late nights at the OG, there’s a lot to be said for watching the world go by over a handful of Spritzes and a picture-perfect plate of pickles. These are the operators you want in control of a spot like this. 

Time Out tip: The joint is jumping more often than not, so bookings are a wise move.

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

What is it? Arguably the most elaborately hidden bar around, on the other side of a 1920s deli fridge door, down a spiral staircase just off the Corso in Manly.

Why we love it: Sandstone, marble, flickering candles, fluted glass, scalloped banquettes, turn-of-the-century copper beer taps – no expense has been spared here. And there’s just as much detail in the drinks, which pay homage to Sydney’s history and wild ingredients that grow nearby.

Time Out tip: Two-hour cocktail classes let you enjoy exclusive use of the venue with a group of six or more, for $65 per head.

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  • Bars
  • Rosebery
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The most awarded distillery Down Under, with a very handsome bar attached. 

Why we love it: Let’s face it – Rosebery is not the first suburb that springs to mind when you’re after a wee dram. Yet, the spirited greeting and the feeling that comes with being surrounded by stacks of whisky casks always remind you that Archie Rose is more than just a pioneering producer, it’s a primo port of call in its own right. 

Time Out tip: Their hotly anticipated single malt whisky was released in 2020 and has already been judged Australia’s Best Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards. Give it a crack.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Parramatta
  • price 3 of 4

What is it? Bells-and-whistles bartending with more than a hint of Old Hollywood glamour, 26 storeys above the hustle and bustle of Parramatta.

Why we love it: This just might be the rooftop bar that trumps them all, boasting 270-degree panoramas that stretch from the Blue Mountains to the Harbour Bridge. The intricate, technique-heavy cocktails and baller Champagne line-up are every bit as memorable.

Time Out tip: Get there on a clear day to capitalise on crystal clear views, and try to snag the swing for two on the terrace for an extra cute couple snapshot.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Newtown

What is it? A newish saloon-style dive across from the Enmore Theatre, captained by two loveable industry veterans.

Why we love it: Co-owners Jason Crawley and Dylan Howarth sweat the small stuff: swivelly vinyl stools, frosty beer mugs, carefully concocted cocktails, witty banter and a sing-along swamp rock soundtrack to match. It’s the sort of hangout bartenders love, and it feels right at home in the Inner West.

Time Out tip: It’s an obvious choice for a pre-or-post-gig pint, but you can also score a good old-fashioned hot dog if you’re hungry.

  • Bars
  • Leichhardt
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? The tight little Aussie-focussed local that’s breathed new life into Leichhardt.

Why we love it: There’s a lot to be said for bars that bring something fresh and exciting to a neck of the woods in need of a bit more energy – and the Gully’s done just that. The long list of refreshers showcases the very best of Australian booze, and the plant-based fare punches well above its weight. It’s a blueprint for the future of the neighbourhood bar. 

Time Out tip: The $45 four-course set menu served upstairs is a bloody bargain.

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  • Bars
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? One part whisky specialist, one part Ginza-inspired small bar and one part yakitori-ya in a nondescript Surry Hills lane.

Why we love it: What’s not to love about a bar that embodies the high art of Japanese drinking culture to a T? From the personalised service and the Suntory Toki Highballs zapped with yuzu honey down to the skewers of crisp chicken skin and the offer of a 30-year-old Hibiki poured over hand-chipped ice, Tokyo Bird knows how to stick the landing. 

Time Out tip: Not a whisky drinker? Scope out the impressive assortment of Japanese beers, shochu and umeshu instead.

  • Bars
  • Darlinghurst
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? Now more than a decade old, it’s the little laneway bar that made a big impact in our wine bar landscape.

Why we love it: Tilly injected the doldrums of Darlinghurst with a bit of Melbourne's soul and showed us just how good we have it in our own backyard by shining a spotlight on Australia’s avant-garde lo-fi wine producers. It still does its things better than most, and you still can’t beat that coveted window seat for the ultimate date night.

Time Out tip: Be sure to include the parmesan toast with housemade ‘Japanese vegemite’ in your order.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Potts Point
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A clubby, Art Deco Potts Point player that harkens back to the halcyon days of 1950s New York.

Why we love it: There’s a distinctly adult feel to the Roosevelt, all plush patterned carpet, dark wood, dim lights and plenty of corners where couples canoodle. You could say the same about the revivers like the Dead End, too – a mix of Scotch, Averna, kirsch and house vermouth, which arrives in a smoking glass gun. Bang bang.

Time Out tip: Hire the hidden poker room for an extra-private gathering. They’ll even arrange a croupier if you’re serious about card play.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Bondi
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? An intimate, rustic-chic natural wine bar in the middle of Bondi Road.

Why we love it: Slaking your thirst somewhere in Bondi that isn’t geared to beach bums, big groups or backpackers is tough. Once you’re wedged into the banquette behind one of the tiny tables and basking in Ode’s warm orange glow, you’ll find it hard to imagine yourself being happier anywhere else. And that’s before a glass of sloshy Sicilian red and a bowl of glorious housemade pasta land in front of you.

Time Out tip: The focaccia is impossibly fluffy and absolutely off the charts.

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  • Redfern
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A no-frills Redfern mainstay that epitomises the ideal chilled-out neighbourhood local. 

Why we love it: Arcadia feels like a cosy, worn-in share house – the twinkle of fairy lights, shelves full of bric-a-brac, the omnipresent smell of toasties in the press and a chipper crew that always remembers your name. Whether it’s a glass of red, a Negroni or something crafty on tap, you always drink well here and the inviting charm never fades.

Time Out tip: Tommy’s Margaritas only set you back at a tenner all Sunday long. 

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The second project from the team behind Ester, and a far cry from the run-of-the-mill wine bar.

Why we love it: Poly gives us yet another reason to fall in love with Mat Lindsay’s wood-fired cooking and the hazy, skinsy, racy wines that sing along with it. Whether it’s a glass of something Georgian and obscure or a bottle from the new kid on the Adelaide Hills block, what’s pouring is always in tune with the zeitgeist. 

Time Out tip: No visit is complete without at least one serving of the fried potato coated in salted egg yolk and chives.

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  • Bondi Beach
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? A compact Bondi charmer that puts sustainability, native ingredients and Australian flavours at the forefront.

Why we love it: Lots of places talk the talk, but don’t necessarily walk the walk when it comes to sourcing, wastage and the ethical side of things. These guys give more than a damn, and it shows in just about everything, from a deftly shaken mountain pepper Margarita with strawberry-gum leaf to the menu crammed with vegan, gluten-free and wild-caught goodness.

Time Out tip: Happy hour takes place daily, with drink specials, cheap oysters and live music on weekends.

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

What is it? One of the city’s defining gin mills, where you can cross off a trim, a shave and a textbook Tom Collins in one fell swoop.

Why we love it: Spirit trends may come and go, but Australia’s love for gin is eternal. The ‘compendium’ spans 700-plus labels, so if a juniper-fuelled knees-up is on the cards, this is the address to be reckoned with. 

Time Out tip: These are G&Ts done right, with hefty pours and all the trimmings. Don’t hold back.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Potts Point

What is it? A Bohemian cabaret parlour in the thick of the Cross, inspired by Prohibition-era Sydney and Australia’s very first it girl, Dulcie Deamer.

Why we love it: Dulcie's channels the city's hedonistic heyday better than most, thanks to careful research and a scheme that Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly would approve of. The cocktails, made with nothing but Australian spirits and liqueurs, are as compelling as whatever's happening on stage.

Time Out tip: Check the website for upcoming cabaret performances, or sign up for a private cocktail masterclass if you want to be the star of the show.

  • Bars
  • Marrickville
  • price 2 of 4

What is it? The Arcadia Liquors posse’s bigger, slightly brighter digs on Marrickville Road. 

Why we love it: What Marrickville lacked for a long time was a lived-in, no-nonsense neighbourhood alehouse, slicker than your average pub, but not quite as swish as a cocktail bar. The Marrickville Hotel nails the brief from top to tail, in the most unpretentious and welcoming way.

Time Out tip: Drink specials like $10 Bloody Marys, $10 Spritzes and $15 jugs are commonplace, so be on the lookout.

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  • Potts Point

What is it? An urbane Potts Point newcomer that plays like a glammed-up Barcelona corner tapas bar.

Why we love it: Some bars just fit right into their surrounding suburb like a leather glove, and Bar Sopra is one of them. The wide-open windows and glossy fit-out will beckon you as you walk past, but free-flowing Manzanilla sherry, Estrella Damm on tap, and righteously creamy jamon croquettes with truffle aioli may well keep you glued to your seat until close.

Time Out tip: You can count the number of seats on fingers and toes, so book or sneak in off-peak.

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

What is it? A self-proclaimed “retro-sexual haven of cosmopolitan kitsch and faded granny glamour”.

Why we love it: This is one of the true-blue trailblazers in Sydney’s small-bar renaissance, and it has stood the test of time. Even after a decade, there’s still something irresistible in that guilty-pleasure way about the daggy crochet stylings and the tongue-in-cheek fun that is the combination of a jaffle and a peanut butter colada. 

Time Out tip: Other places on this list might spring to mind first, but Grandma’s has all the trappings of a great date bar.

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

What is it? Parramatta’s first small bar – in a car park where you’d never expect to find it.

Why we love it: Sydney’s second CBD is on the up and up nowadays, but Uncle Kurt’s was among the first to spearhead its renaissance half a decade ago. Pumping hip-hop beats, Reuben sambos and methodically mixed cocktails keep the dial set to Downtown New York, and that’s just the way we like it. 

Time Out tip: If you’re keen for a mean Indian feed, remember that Harris Park is only one train stop away.

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

What is it? A Redfern local fave, that manages to cram a whole lot of quality into a corner pigeonhole that’s always heaving. 

Why we love it: Bart makes it all look so simple – unfussy comfort food, on-trend wines, worthy beers and service with a smile along with a diehard following of regulars. Of course, we all know that a lot of paddling takes place under the surface for all this to go off without a hitch. 

Time Out tip: Tuesday’s popular ‘Family Meal’ special gives you a bowl of pasta and a glass of natural wine for $35.

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  • Newtown
  • price 1 of 4

What is it? Heavy metal, unfined and unfiltered wine, shots of Jack and what many consider to be Sydney’s best burger in a former Inner West STD clinic.

Why we love it: The Mary’s empire has expanded far and wide over the course of the last several years, but the one that started it all is still the one to beat if you want to wrap your hands around one of those eponymous burgers or an outrageously crunchy half chook and chase it with a schooner of Slayer Juice.

Time Out tip: You wouldn’t guess it, but the wine list is an absolute gold mine.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Alexandria

What is it? An inner-city rec hall inspired by surf clubs of yore, kitted out in vintage trophies, Hawaiian prints and buzzing neon signage. 

Why we love it: It never hurts to tap into your inner 18-year-old self every now and again. The Surf Club makes that a very real possibility, with a “cocktail” that involves a miniature Smirnoff bottle tipped into a tin of Passiona and the option of a Chiko Roll to go along with it. 

Time Out tip: Trivia takes place on Tuesday nights from 7.30pm, with burgers and a choice of side on special for $15.

And now for the city's best eats...

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