No one is pretending that cocktails are a cost-effective way to relax or party in Sydney. In a city where $20 a drink isn't an uncommon price tag, you really want to know that what's in your glass has been shaken and stirred by the best in the business. These are the places that you can always trust to give you a truly outstanding drink in exchange for your hard-earned.
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Cocktail bars in Sydney
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, like PS40, a cocktail bar and soda operation hiding just above eye level in the heart of the CBD.
Even the most jaded Sydney booze hound enjoys the thrill of a concealed entrance, even more so when it involves a lift, a rooftop bar, and a Southern Gothic style cocktail bar with some of the city's best shakers and makers behind the speed rack.
The little DIY attic above a café down near Circular Quay was not where anyone expected to find the city’s best fruit-driven, seasonal cocktail menu where there was a new set of drinks to discover each time we remounted those creaky timber stairs
It’s easy to go amber blind in here and forget that you are sitting in front of some of the best bartenders in the city. They’ve mastered the classics for people who know what they like (Old Pals and Trinidad Sours all round!), but they also have a knack for finding the right match for an indecisive palate.
The first Western Sydney enterprise from the Speakeasy Group (Eau De Vie, Mjolner) is a stunner. You need to seek it out on the 26th floor of the shiny new V by Crown building. Here bartenders mix a mean Martini, especially the Asta, a sharp, savoury uptown mix with jalapeno, in a liquid nitrogen-cooled Nick and Nora glass (naturally).
A swift antidote to every serious wine bar and tonic water menu is delivered in the form of Jacoby’s, an Inner West Tiki bar decked out in glowing fishing floats, dried puffer fish, and flocked banana palm wallpaper. They’re also sporting some of the city’s most ridiculous cocktails, and a whole lot of Twin Peaks references for die-hard fans.
At Charlie Parker’s, the cocktail bar underneath French country restaurant Fred’s, they’re very proud of their rotary vacuum distillation machinery. They use it to strip the colour and a lot of the flavour out of whisky so that they can mix the muted version with powdered stone, a little moss infusion and some red wood bark to make a drink that tastes like a bushwalk after heavy rain.
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. They’ve brought their A-Game to the competitive sport that is inner city drinking, and you, thirsty worker bee, are the real winners.
The party-till-dawn spirit might not live in Potts Point any longer, but the drink-good-cocktails-until-you-take-yourself-home spirit is in plentiful supply at Jangling Jack’s. Jangling Jack’s power comes from acting like a neighbourhood bar with a wide welcome for locals, but never allowing mediocrity in the door when it comes to the drinks.
Bartending is in many ways the study of party alchemy – mixing drinks to lift you up, cool you out and caress your soul if it’s in need of a little TLC. A well made Singapore Sling can send your tongue on a exotic getaway, even if the rest of you has to stay right here and pay the bills; a daiquiri has the power to convince your hips you’ve got the rhythm in you; and an Old Pal can be your best friend after a long day in the salt mines.
The Wild Rover is one of those bars that people like to think of as their personal hideout. You’ll run out of cash before you get to the end of the cocktail list, so we recommend starting at the end and working your way backwards, which will allow you to kick things off with an Irish Penicillin. It’s a cold-busting lug of Irish whiskey mixed with fresh lemon juice, honey, ginger, plus a nip of 16-year-old Lagavulin.
They’re not afraid to serve the Bitter Truth at Sydney’s hidden voodoo bar, and that’s because it’s an excellent cocktail, and not your friend telling you how badly you disgraced yourself the night before. Want something gutsier to fortify your spirit? Old Fashioneds and barrel-aged cocktails might be a dime a dozen in Sydney, but the fig and walnut version they serve at Papa Gede’s is the one we want to drink most.
It's the hypothetical end of the world for Oxford Street's favourite spritzer bar, This Must Be the Place. Don't worry – they aren't shutting their doors – the bar is using the concept as a creative launching pad, reimagining the entire menu as if the bar had to function in a dystopian future, much like The Handmaid's Tale.
There is a dapper gent setting fire to a chopping board in front of our table, and he’s not an arsonist or attempting some sort of Breakfast Club-style fire alarm evacuation – he’s our bartender and the smoke of the cedar board is destined a Smoky Rob Rob will be added. Blowtorching the serving ware is just the beginning of the dinner entertainment at this theatrical cocktail bar hidden out the back of the Kirketon Hotel in Darlinghurst.
There’s north of 80 bottles of gin on the menu at this low-lit hideaway, but you don’t have to drink it – even if there’s no better way to cool down a hot night in the city than with a high-end G & T. Perhaps a mix of dark rum, chestnut liqueur, cold drip coffee and salted caramel is more your speed, with a cheese board, a little charcuterie or a house made sausage roll for ballast.
We’re not surprised that a kickass cocktail bar has opened up in the heart of the legal and financial business district – we’re surprised it has taken this long. Broadly speaking, the design 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.
It’s only once you’re sitting on the beautiful deck of this third-floor cocktail lounge that you realise that it was the missing piece of Sydney’s bar puzzle all along. Up here, things are strictly professional. You are greeted at the entranceway, shown to a seat, started a tab and possibly given a time limit until the next booking arrives (they do not follow the finders keepers rules here).
You know what happiness is? It's sitting down with a maple pecan Old Fashioned on the side in the Golden Age Cinema’s subterranean bar. You don’t even need the promise of an A-grade feature film afterwards – a well-made sandwich and a cocktail completes the picture.
This gin hall in a Marrickville warehouse possesses a church-like reverie – white walls, a backlit archway, and a mysterious clay shrine behind the counter (an altar to Ginsus, their gin god and mascot). On the menu are three house gins, each offered in a classic gin and tonic (paired with a specific tonic water), shaken in a martini, or fashioned into a changing line-up of cocktails.
The underground space is massive but Palmer and Co has a devoted following and stays open late so there’s never stacks of seats to spare. Once you’re comfy it’s time to let the deft, vintage-styled staff take care of you. Cut through all the rich bar food with a Blind Tiger, or order up summertime vibes in a classic El Diablo.
This 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. Had a bad day? You need a Sazerac. The cognac-based cocktail is mixed with bitters and sugar in an absinthe-rinsed, super-chilled glass. It blushes like an ingenue and boozes like a man about town.