There was a dark time, not so many years ago, when after work drinks were limited to huge booze barns with no soul and pubs. Those were your options. Fast forward less than a decade and the CBD now possesses an exceptional collection of bars, from underground tropical hideaways to booze attics with cocktail maestros at the helm. You can drink life-changing wines, the freshest ales and fruity elixirs made from seasonal harvests, and sometimes you can do it all in the same place. It's a big part of what makes Sydney awesome.
When Assembly first opened in Regent Place there wasn’t much else in the complex, but now it’s a real city hotspot where Thai restaurants and izakayas sit side by side. Below decks there’s a Vietnamese canteen, and this secret city bar. To tell you the truth, we’re kind of tempted to keep it on the DL – the drinks are bloody good and they fry the hell out of a chicken thigh.
A hidden bar of forest green walls, glossy white tiles and smooth wood surfaces is the place to decompress after a long week. They've got all the gins behind the bar, plus big game drinkers can also busy themselves with the impressive single malt collection, or a few nips of calvados.
It’s not a cheap exercise to drink here, but when you’ve frocked up for a little high culture, you want an experience that matches the majesty of your surrounds. Claim one of the four seats at the gleaming brass bar and you’ll feel like a monarch of the arts. In the midst of all this finery we also receive some of the warmest service in town. We’re sure pre-theatre hours will be manic, but in between there’s great chat to be had with the genial team manning the shakers and super-chilling your glass with liquid nitrogen. Forget the Concert Hall – you can get drinks and a show right here at the bar.
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.
There are two things, straight off the bat, that make this pocket-sized CBD bar the standard setter it is. That’s the drinks and the service. No matter who is shaking up their short, sharp and perfectly executed menu, scrawled on brown paper with a sharpie at the beginning of each service, you're in for a win.
Easy Eight is bringing ace eats to Sydney’s most compact bar crawl (they're in the same loading dock as the Baxter Inn and the Barber Shop). It's kitted out like an old soul diner, and food is a big part of their appeal. They've aimed high with a menu that includes a 12-hour smoked brisket, roast chicken, grilled king prawns and a whole smoked pumpkin with goat’s cheese – there’s a whole lot more than a sandwich press in this bar kitchen.
In high-rise cities like Tokyo, many of the best things are not on the ground floor. You have to head up the stairs of commercial towers, tuck around laneways and use your best sleuthing skills to find great hidden bars. And while we’ve already got an excellent collection of underground haunts in Sydney, now we also have PS40, a cocktail bar and soda operation hiding just above eye level in the heart of the CBD.
A CBD basement bar where the beers are ordered from light (Marilyn) to dark (Bettie) and the cocktails are primarily dark, bitter and boozy. Want a shit tinnie? They have a case of those too for $6 a pop, and snacks areMary's burgers orderd from their new city outlet.
Being hidden down the stairs behind a cupboard-sized room lined in old Singer sewing machines has never deterred the Sydney booze hounds from finding and filling the booths and bar stools at this cocktail cubbyhole. But as more small bars join the CBD ranks, the delicious burden of watering the after-work crowds is getting shared around. Now you can stop by Stitch on a Wednesday night with no queues but that almost-full buzz inside.
Being hidden down the stairs behind a cupboard-sized room lined in old Singer sewing machines has never deterred the Sydney booze hounds from finding and filling the booths and bar stools at this cocktail cubbyhole. But as more small bars join the CBD ranks, the delicious burden of watering the after-work crowds is getting shared around. Now you can stop by Stitch on a Wednesday night with no queues but that almost-full buzz inside. We can’t guarantee that the Elegantly Wasted will do exactly what it says on the label, but the mix of tequila, blackcurrent, kaffir lime, lime juice and ginger beer will certainly help you on your way. Don’t like to stray too far from the classics? Order a bourbon Negroni that adds some sweet vanilla and oak flavours to the bitter kick of the original. This is also an excellent spot for whisky lovers. Their collection is over 50 bottles strong and the Islay, Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands and Island drams are all well represented. The nice thing about Stitch is that they seem to genuinely like drinkers, as well as drinks. The service is attentive and they are just as happy to serve you a nip of something neat as they are to dream up a beverage to your mood. They keep the dirty blues soundtrack at chatting-friendly volumes, you can reserve a table and the light is flatteringly muted. This is a good place to be in the CBD.
The worst part about discovering a great new bar? Once the cat is out of the bag, everyone wants in. Luckily the New Orleans-inspired cocktail den that has set up shop on King Street in the city is not exactly easy to find. The Swinging Cat hides underneath a Subway sandwich shop and boasts almost no signage. Of course, such is the CBD’s after-work thirst that the place pumps after knock off regardless – Sydney booze hounds can sniff out good drinks at a thousand paces.
The great thing about a cocktail bar in a famously upmarket hotel is that drinks come with a hint of holiday. Get acquainted with the Lady of Guadalupe, a reworked Margarita that tames a lug of Ilegal mezcal with a sweet and nutty macadamia liqueur, before ramping things back up with lime juice and a gentle jalapeño agave. It’s a less punchy and more intriguing take on the spring break special.
The jewel in Sydney’s crown is its harbour – always has been, always will be. This love affair with the crushed sapphire liquid expanse of the Harbour dates back many, many thousands of years to when the Gadigal people of central Sydney paddled their canoes around the bays, into the coves and across the open seas in search of fish or en route to ceremonial sites or neighbouring settlements. Today, those journeys of discovery are provided by Sydney Ferries when you clamber aboard one of the picture-postcard green-and-yellow ferries that still scoot across the harbour as they have for the past century-and-a-half.