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The best bars in the CBD

All the best booze action to be had in the heart of the city
Bartenders making drinks at Ramblin Rascal
Photograph: Anna Kucera
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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. 

Want more? Sydney is filled with ace rooftop bars, waterfront bars and beer gardens.

The best bars in the city

1
People sitting on rooftop at Old Mates Place
Photograph: Anna Kucera
Bars, Cocktail bars

Old Mate's Place

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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. 

Time Out says
2
Making cocktails at Bancho Bar
Bars, Cocktail bars

Bancho Bar

icon-location-pin Haymarket

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.

Time Out says
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3
A bartender at Baxter Inn reaching up towards a large wall stack
Bars, Cocktail bars

The Baxter Inn

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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.

Time Out says
4
People sitting inside at Duke of Clarence
Bars, Pubs

The Duke of Clarence

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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. 

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5
A bartender smiling behind the bar at Bulletin Place stiring a c
Bars, Cocktail bars

Bulletin Place

icon-location-pin Circular Quay

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.

Time Out says
6
Cocktails at Kittyhawk
Bars, Cocktail bars

Kittyhawk

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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. 

Time Out says
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7
Anna_Kucera_Lobo_Plantation_2.jpg
Bars, Cocktail bars

Lobo Plantation

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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.

Time Out says
8
Cocktails at PS40
Bars, Cocktail bars

PS40

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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. 

Time Out says
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9
Mary's Burgers at Ramblin Rascal
Bars, Craft beer

Ramblin' Rascal Tavern

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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. 

Time Out says
10
Cheese plate at The Doss House
Bars, Cocktail bars

Doss House

icon-location-pin The Rocks

It’ll take more than one great bar to overturn the Rocks’ reputation as a tourist trap, but one is a very good start, especially when it’s a heavily fortified whisky cave built in a former storehouse/opium den/hospital/cobbler that dates back to 1847. 

Time Out says
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11
People sitting at bar drinking at Bar Topa
Bars, Wine bars

Bar Topa

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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.  

Time Out says
12
Person holding cards at Employees Only
Bars, Cocktail bars

Employees Only

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“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. 

Time Out says
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13
Anna_Kucera_Papa_Gedes_Bar_Dog_1.jpg
Bars, Cocktail bars

Papa Gede's

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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. 

Time Out says
14
A couple sit at a booth at Frankie's Pizza by the Slice
Bars

Frankie's Pizza by the Slice

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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.

Time Out says
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15
Interiors of the bar
Bars, Cocktail bars

The Barber Shop

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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.

Time Out says
16
Bars, Cocktail bars

Palmer and Co

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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. 

Time Out says
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17
Grandmas-Bar-021.jpg
Bars, Craft beer

Grandma's Bar

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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.

Time Out says

Feeling adventurous?

Young boy looking over Sydney harbour
Photo: Murray Fredericks
Things to do, Walks and tours

The best ferry trips in Sydney

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. 

More to explore

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