There was a dark time, not so many years ago, when after work drinks were limited to pubs and huge booze barns with no soul. 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.
The best bars in the city
Linger in the evening light with a rum and coconut, a Jamaican lager or the compact thirst-busting powers of a crisp VB throwdown on this new CBD rooftop.
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.
That queue of people rolling out of a dark, nondescript laneway on Clarence Street is for Baxter Inn. This basement-level hooch sanctuary is where to go for whisky adventures where your phone reception cannot follow.
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. They almost seem to take it as a personal challenge, which is why they’ll take your milk punch and raise it with a King’s Cup of leftover spirits infused with honeycomb, poppy seeds, caraway, grapefruit, mandarin and whey.
The second outing from the Ramblin' Rascal Tavern trio is an underground homage to all things '70s sleaze, from the groovy soundtrack to the offer of a revved up Cosmopolitan. Make like the Godfather of Soul – get up offa that thing and head on down.
There's only room for 20 standing bodies in this former parking spot turned mezcaleria from the folks that brought you Tio's in Surry Hills. The best strategy here? Hit up the super friendly team for their recommendations, and let them show you the way to agave-induced nirvana.
A drink in this subterranean rum bar is as good as a holiday. All that’s ever needed to reset a shitty day, or keep a good one rolling is rum cocktails, some jangly tunes and good chat, and you can get it all at Lobo Plantation.
Imagine getting lost in the lobby of a grand Parisian hotel in the 1920s, making a wrong turn and ending up in a chic little cocktail parlour. That's what they're going for at Little Felix, and they nail it. Plus, all the wines are poured from magnum and there's a kickass collection of French cheeses to match.
Broadly speaking, the design here 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. And it deserves its lauded position.
This bar is a cross between a sleazy ’70s pizza parlour and the late, legendary New York music dive, CBGB. Sure, the plastic glasses are a shame, but a stack of tinnies in the fridges makes up for it.
The Duke of Clarence feels like it was designed to bring George Orwell’s famous fantasy pub to life. It boasts all the trappings of a 19th Century tavern, right down to the potted red geraniums above the door.
The city finally has an ace little tapas bar. Don’t linger and reply to that last email, because the early bird gets the best seats that line the long counter. More stools sit against the wall and there is just enough room to squeeze four people who don’t have strong boundary issues into the window seats.
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.
The degree of cocktail finesse on display at Bancho Bar is staggering. This refined Japanese whisky and fine drinking establishment in a Chinatown alley is from the people who brought you Tokyo Bird in Surry Hills.
Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern has all the trappings of a dive bar. You’ve got the pin-ups behind the bar along with wrestling championship belts, hats, a flamingo and a latex phallus. They keep the lights low, the crunchy corn kernels coming and swampy saloon tunes cranking.
“Excuse me sir, is this where the psychic is? “Nah mate, this is a bar called Employees Only.” So much for speakeasy subterfuge. The first Australian branch of the famous New York speakeasy is a love-letter to the heyday of mid-oughts bartending.
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.
Grandma's is to be found underneath a guitar shop, in a space that might have once been a store room, or a bunker. Pass an enormous deer head mounted on the wall, take the AstroTurfed stairs down to the basement, and hit the bar for rum cocktails in nan-chic surrounds.
You might not be able to go back in time, but you can spend your nights drinking cocktails, listening to jazz and eating things with varying levels of melted cheese on them, which isn’t a bad consolation prize for the 21st century lot.
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. 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.