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Interior at Lobo Plantation
Photograph: Anna Kucera

The best bars in Sydney's CBD

All the best booze action to be had in the heart of the city

Written by
Emily Lloyd-Tait
,
Maxim Boon
,
Matty Hirsch
&
Elizabeth McDonald
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There was a dark time, not so long ago, when after-work drinks were limited to chain pubs and huge booze barns with no soul. Those were your options, like it or lump it. Fast forward less than a decade and Sydney's CBD now possesses one of the best bar scenes in the country, from underground hideaways to cool-as-hell speakeasies to lofty cocktail lounges with mixology 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. These are the very best places to take an elbow and indulge in a few drinks in the heart of Sydney.

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

The best bars in the city

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Circular Quay

In the basement of a heritage warehouse in Sydney’s CBD you’ll find a Sicilian-inspired cocktail bar named for the ill-fated wife of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 mobster masterpiece, The Godfather. But don’t let that put you off. For those of us who have been lying about having seen The Godfather their whole lives, good news. Every page of the drinks menu will run you through the storyline (spoilers lie within, but it’s literally been 50 years) so you can impress your date with cinematic knowledge while sipping on a Letter Never Sent, a standout concoction of wheat vodka, honey liquor, pineapple, clove, housemade almond syrup and fresh nutmeg, shaken and served over ice.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

Created by the team behind multi-award-winning cocktail bar Maybe Sammy, this lofty lounge isn’t just resting on the laurels of its penthouse perch, 22 storeys up atop the A by Adina hotel tower. George Livissianis’ interiors are a glossy timewarp of tiger-striped carpets, dusky-veined black marble, leather upholstery and brushed brass accents that mirror both the amber sunsets that dance off every polished surface in the afternoon and the golden illuminations that light up the double-height ceilings after dark. It’s Vegas. It’s Mafia-chic. It’s the Rat Pack and Mad Men and Frank Sinatra crooning to Monroe and Kennedy. 

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  • Bars
  • Sydney

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Barbarella, the Jetsons and Austin Powers walk into a bar… The vibe of the top-to-bottom refurbishment of Sydney Tower’s top floor, now home to the loftiest cocktail lounge in the city, is not so much a nod to the ‘60s as it is a full-throated power ballad to the kitschest, campest, most swinging design trends of the age. Sitting 83 storeys above street level, it's got killer views of the city and beyond, and in addition to a delicious cocktail list, it's also open until 2am.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

The second of four box-fresh establishments to open at Shell House, the Sky Bar is an Art Deco dream in earthy hues – a palette of burnt umbers, rich terracottas and creamy tones. The design throughout these upper levels of Shell House is a luxurious ode to the building’s unmistakable clock tower – a glazed stone monolith watching over the Sky Bar’s alfresco terrace. Angular, geometric lines, in the weave of the upholstery and the marble mosaic floors, nod to this giant timepiece’s boxy frame, while circular tables and elegantly rounded armchairs mimic the curves and swerves of its clock face.

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

More bartenders should sport double-breasted dinner jackets. More cocktail bars should play jazz hits and lounge covers at conversation-enhancing volume. And more hosts should welcome guests as eagerly as owner Stefano Catino does at Maybe Sammy. It’s a polished affair bathed in Golden Age glamour. Creative director Andrea Gualdi has assembled one of Sydney’s most pedigreed squads of shakers and stirrers, and their commitment to quality is apparent in almost every glass.

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

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. 

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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. 

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  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

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

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.  

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Papa Gede's
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • 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.

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

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. 

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

“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. 

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

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 Bar
  • Bars
  • Sydney

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.

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  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Beauty and convenience don’t always go hand in hand, but Opera Bar is a glam exception to the rule. It manages to be both one of the most enviably located bars in the city as well as its most advantageous spot for a pre-show drink. Not everyone is a fan of the hustle and bustle of this harbourside watering hole, but there's no denying that the buzz here, especially on a sunny Friday arvo after clocking up, is part of its charm, alongside its jaw-dropping location adjacent to Australia's two most famous icons. 

 

Palmer and Co
  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Modern Australian
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4

Not only one of the CBD's finest, this revolving wonder could also qualify as one of the most underrated bars in the city. Sat atop the distinctive Harry Seidler-designed tower at Australia Square, a stone's throw from Wynyard, O Bar will (slowly) whisk you past views of Sydney from one horizon to another. One of its distinctive party tricks is the bar's use of liquid nitrogen to chill its glassware. When your drink is delivered to your table, before it's decantered, your server will cast the super-chilled liquid to the floor in a cascade of smokey magic, evaporating before it hits the carpet. 

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