A Martini at The Charles Bar
Photograph: Steven Woodburn

The best cocktail bars in Sydney

The master mixers making sure every drink is delicious

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No one is pretending that cocktails are a cost-effective way to relax or party in Sydney. In a city where a $25 cocktail 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. Here, Time Our Sydney critics, including Food & Drink Editor Avril Treasure, have put together a list of the best places for cocktails in Sydney that you can always trust to give you an outstanding drink in exchange for your hard-earned. You're welcome. 

Want something a bit stiffer? Try one of the the best bars in Sydney.

Or still hungry? Try one of Sydney's best cheap eats. Or head up to one of Sydney's best rooftop bars.

Cocktail bars in Sydney

  • Cocktail bars
  • Newtown

The Bar Planet team has managed to pulled the ultimate party trick. They’ve taken an old, stiff drink (the Martini) with a reputation for being elitist and outdated, and transformed it into a fun, unpretentious, and out of this world experience.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

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 down an alleyway in the heart of the CBD. The cocktails at PS40 are out of the box all right – so if you're wanting to shake things up, come here.

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  • Millers Point

There’s no denying we live in a really ridiculously good looking city. Sydney possesses a truly indulgent amount of water frontage, plus iconic architecture, world-class green spaces and carefully preserved industrial landmarks as a reminder of times past – all this and we haven’t even left the harbour yet. And you can see it all from the two-tiered cocktail bar at the top of the Hotel Palisade. If you've got mates or parents in town visiting – or just feel like a fancy cocktail at a fancy place – Henry Deane is one of Sydney's best spots for a tipple with a view.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

At the end of a service alley, a step back from the CBD bustle, gold light spills out onto the asphalt. There’s a scent of lime in the air, the sound of Boston shakers, and somewhere behind it, just a hint of danger. This is Cantina OK, the standing-room-only bar that since February of 2019 has plied Sydney with good, clean, sort-of illicit fun fuelled by mezcal and backed up by one of the sharpest bar teams in the city. Cantina OK pours one of the best Margaritas in Sydney, but you will need luck on your side to get a taste.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

Swillhouse – the (top) guns behind some of Sydney’s coolest and best venues (think Le Foote, Hubert, Alberto’s LoungeShady Pines Saloon and The Baxter Inn) – have opened a late-night live music venue called The Caterpillar Club. Come for classic ‘90s cocktails like Pina Coladas, Lychee Martinis, Mango Martinis, and a Zombie on tap. Plus, the Caterpillar Downfall, which you can only get in the bamboo room (a tropical gear change from the rest of the space). These guys never do anything half-arsed, so trust us when we say the cocktails, as well as the vibe, is five stars all the way.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

If you’re a cocktail lover, listen to this: a bright and tropical Mango and Yuzu Martini served with a white chocolate-stuffed olive; punch made from Loulou’s golden croissants swirled with rum, passionfruit, vanilla, garnished with meringue and passionfruit gel; and a strawberry and basil twist on an Americano featuring forgotten fruit and house-made basil cordial. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? And you’re right – they are. These and more are some of the cocktails you can find at the CBD’s sexy and European-inspired Charles Bar, found right next door to its flash Charles Brasserie.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
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  • Darlinghurst
  • price 2 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

There is never a night we don’t want to be drinking at Shady Pines. They know the joy of a shit tinnie and the importance of a well-made cocktail. And they both live in harmony inside this American-style saloon with the vintage rock up loud and more whisky where that came from.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Paddington
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Maybe it's the tangerine-orange room with at least 15 glittering disco balls. Or the two-person karaoke booth with its own button for tequila. Or perhaps it's the banging cocktails, including the Gimlet El Maiz, which uses a cordial made from toasted leftover tortillas (yes, really). Regardless, the colourful bar from the Maybe Group, El Primo Sanchez, slaps. We just can’t wait to go back.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Newtown

Pleasure Club – a late-night entertainment venue, cocktail bar and debauchery den by the Odd Culture group – is finally open. This purple-hued, disco-ball-lit bar located in a grungy basement just off King Street is a place where hedonism in all its forms is encouraged. The team has brought on some expert mixers and shakers for all things drinks, including Sam Kirk from Jacksons on George and Matt Whiley of the just-closed Re. When we went, we drank Vegemite cocktails as well as one called Chicken Parm (inspired by your favourite pub classic) – and yep, they tasted freakishly spot-on. The less adventurous might prefer the Cherry Ripe or the Passion Pop number.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 3 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Sydney’s EDV 2.0 serves up classy signature cocktails in a dark, speakeasy-style setting with flashes of razzle dazzle. Drinking at this 1920s-inspired bar is a whole multisensory experience. If you're looking for an out-of-the-ordinary night out with excellent cocktails, this is it.

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Alice Ellis
Sydney Editor
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

The Marble Bar, a speakeasy-style bar underground the Hilton Sydney hotel, turned 130 in 2023. It’s hard to believe Sydney has any bars that are this old, right? The lavish fit-out makes the place feel like a time capsule. It is, indeed, clad in marble, with elaborate pillars and archways throughout. The ceilings are designed with ornate plaster detail, coated in gold. The bars are made from polished mahogany. And a collection of French realist-style paintings by Julian Ashton, commissioned in the late 1800s for a record-breaking sum, line the walls in gilded frames. The space is divine, and we say you can’t really call yourself a true Sydneysider until you’ve at least stopped by for a cocktail.

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Alice Ellis
Sydney Editor
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  • Cocktail bars
  • Darlinghurst

Renowned for its striking scarlet colour, the waratah is one of Australia's best-known native flowers. It's also the name of new Darlinghurst bar by Australia’s former Best Bartender Evan Stroeve (ex Re., Bulletin Place, the Baxter Inn and Shady Pines Saloon) and Cynthia Litster. The opening drinks menu has been inspired by the rainforest ecosystem. Standouts include the 'Mango and Cream' made with rum, spiced mango, caramelised cream, coconut and lime. Negroni lovers (us) should try the 'Cacao and Cherry', with gin, local cherries and wine made from Daintree cacao. 

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Even the most jaded Sydney booze hound enjoys the thrill of a concealed entrance, even more so when it involves a lift (or a heck of a lot of stairs), a rooftop bar, and a Southern Gothic style cocktail bar with some of the city's best shakers and makers behind the speed rack.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

Kittyhawk is a kickass cocktail bar in the heart of the legal and financial business district. 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. 

  • Newtown
  • price 2 of 4

If you were going to spend the rest of your life at one bar and restaurant you’d need it to be the complete package. We’re talking amazing drinks, great service and cheese enough to kill a man. An ace steak wouldn’t hurt and if they could also have an impressive canned goods store that would last you through an apocalypse, that’d cap it off. In short, at Continental you’re looking at your future life partner, in venue form. It’s an offshoot of the Porteño family, and there are only delicious things going into the glasses. Or cans.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

The brains behind legendary Sydney bar Old Mate’s Place and Newtown’s speakeasy-style tropical cocktail boozer Huelo are at it again – this time with a hidden Caribbean-inspired rum bar, affectionately named Old Loves. Found in a dark and moody basement on Clarence Street, the subterranean bar has a 320-strong rum list with a fair share of rare and exciting tipples. Expect “classic tiki cocktails and our modern twists”, including the Banana Hammock with rum, banana, coconut, jerk spice and bitters; and the West Side Ramos with green mango gin, elderflower, coconut rum, cream, citrus and West Coast Cooler. Plus, Old Love’s seasonal Daiquiris, made from market-fresh fruit.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
  • Cocktail bars
  • Paddington
  • price 2 of 4

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. If you're after an intimate venue with top-tier cocktails, Charlie Parker delivers.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • The Rocks
  • price 2 of 4

Award-winning cocktail bar Maybe Sammy is a polished affair bathed in Golden Age glamour — blond wood, white marble, grey-green leather stools, plush rosy banquettes — and there’s plenty of substance to back up the style. 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.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

For a Sydney bar to be considered as having a great view, it's usually mandatory to have the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the line of sight. Or at the very least, an unobstructed glimpse of some water. But at Dean and Nancy on 22, its seemingly duff location, surrounded on all sides by CBD skyscrapers, is very much part of the appeal. Summoning the spirit of a 1960s New York cocktail lounge, you could very well mistake Sydney’s city blocks for those of Downtown Manhattan (if you don't look too closely). Sure, it may not be quite Madison Avenue, but George Street will still do.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

The team behind Sydney’s tiniest and coolest Margarita boozer, Cantina OK, have opened an ‘extra-ordinary’ subterranean bar. Meaning centre in Spanish, Centro 86 is hidden in a CBD basement on Pitt Street (though, entry is via Hoskings Place), in the centre of Sydney’s high-rolling and drinking action. And while tequila and Margaritas are the specialty at Centro 86 – there are 100 tequilas on offer, including some ‘world's rarest’, plus five signature Margs – don’t expect just a bigger version of Cantina OK. Instead, creative director Jeremy Blackmore says you’ll stumble into “an old fancy Mexican cantina on shrooms.”

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
  • Surry Hills
  • price 2 of 4

Toasting goodbye to its wilder days of foot-stomping shenanigans, whisky-centric speakeasy the Wild Rover is now full-grown and pretty darn sexy, reflecting the maturing drinking and dining scene of our town. Summoning the bustling charm of yesteryear and the sophistication of a dapper New York cocktail bar, the Rover has retained its former good-time Irish heritage with an added lick of polish and a chic wine bar feel. The signature welcoming chorus of "Ayeeeeeee!" from the bar staff has stayed (a great touch we would have missed), but the new offering is so much more than the whisky-soaked dive behind a dry cleaners shopfront we used to know.

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  • 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.

Dimly lit and dramatic as the movie itself, Apollonia is, by sheer geography alone, a triumph. Carved into the sandstone bedrock of Customs House, the hand-chipped, 150-year-old walls have been ambitiously transported to the 21st century, with accents of marble bars, deeply stained wooden finishes, mismatched tiles and red leather banquette seating.

The vibe is sophisticated and plush, a naturally cosy cave with dark carpeted flooring that we suspect this will be a top after-work date bar for years to come. With gold and velvet finishings and abundant in (oh, so flattering) candlelight, Apollonia is a little bit fancy with an effortlessly cool and approachable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret. From the friendly hostess greeting you behind velvet curtains at the bottom of a blackened staircase, to the prime people-watching seating on the raised platform, this could well be a contender for Sydney’s coolest bar. And with 23 cocktails on the list, including a signature Pineapple Negroni on tap, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy.

Apollonia is part of a four-level acquisition by Singapore-based bar group House Made Hospitality, and is part of the company’s first Australian venture, Hinchcliff House. The four-level, multi-faceted venue has a 200-person function space on the roof; an art deco bar and restaurant, Lana, with a blushing pink marble bar; and a bright and airy café and restaurant on the ground level called Grana, where flour for bread, pasta and pastries are milled on-site and coffee is served from 6am. Then there's the star of the show: basement bar, Apollonia. 

If cocktails ain’t your thing, a comprehensive wine list of local and Italian drops will keep you going until 3am, after the midnight toasting ritual, of course. A tidy but considered snack list can soak up all those vinos. Start with a garlic crostino or two, a super light and fluffy yet still crunchy crouton with pickles and prosciutto, or perhaps a shared board of local cheeses and charcuterie with pickles and sourdough. A pasta dish of cappelini, broccoli, lemon, chilli and pangrattato is possibly best avoided, with the flavour of the ingredients showing up on paper but not on the plate. A pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon and even the slightest heat of the so-called chilli is sorely needed, but it’s nothing a bowl of Sicilian spiced waffle fries can’t make up for.

  • Newtown
  • price 2 of 4

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. And Earl's Juke Joint does a great job of them all.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

A cocktail joint named after a dive bar in a cult Patrick Swayze flick with a ’70s aesthetic inspired by the Golden Age of Porn. It sounds like a cockeyed concept that, in most hands, would go terribly, painfully, catastrophically awry. But “Cosmo” Soto, Dardan Shervashidze and Charlie Lehmann are not most hands – they’re Baxter Inn alumni, the rabble-rousers who glorified “shit tins” and shirtless overalls at the Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern and two-time winners of the Time Out Bar Award for Best Bar Team. These are the right guys for the job.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Parramatta
  • price 3 of 4

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).

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney

Now & Then has a pretty cool concept: the cocktail and wine bar celebrates the best cocktails, wine and beers from the past – as well as the ones we’re loving right now. In fact, there’s literally one menu called ‘now’ featuring tipples of the moment, as well as a separate menu called – you guessed it – ‘then’ with twists on retro classics. Walk down memory lane with a seasonal fresh fruit Caipiroska; Lychee Vesper; and Tobler’s Toblerone, featuring the gold-tier choccie.

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Avril Treasure
Food & Drink Editor, Time Out Sydney
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  • Breweries
  • Surry Hills

Come here for a drink, and you’ll find yourself faced with a cocktail list devoted exclusively to Brix’s trio of spirits. There’s plenty more rum behind the bar, of course – about 120 bottles from all over the world – with an emphasis on other Australian craft producers. Taps, tinnies and wines on offer all maintain a local focus, too, while the open kitchen looks to Latin America for inspiration – think kingfish ceviche, oxtail croquettes, and corn tamales with black beans and chocolate mole.

  • Cocktail bars
  • Enmore
  • price 2 of 4

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. 

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  • 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. They’ve brought their A-Game to the competitive sport that is inner city drinking, and you, thirsty worker bee, are the real winners. 

  • Cocktail bars
  • Potts Point
  • price 2 of 4
Jangling Jack's
Jangling Jack's

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.

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  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
Papa Gede's
Papa Gede's

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. 

  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4
The Barber Shop
The Barber Shop

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.

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  • Surry Hills
  • price 1 of 4
Golden Age Bar
Golden Age Bar

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. 

  • Cocktail bars
  • Marrickville

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. 

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

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.

  • Surry Hills
  • price 1 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Over the last decade, the killer team at Tio's has served more than 100,000 Margaritas. Play your cards right and in a quiet moment the bartenders will walk you through some of the extra special stuff, like the Los Dazantes mezcal that burns like a grass fire and extinguishes as quickly with a mineral, citrus, salty herbal flavour. Or maybe you just want a Parallel cocktail made with mezcal, green mango, lemongrass and lime leaf that lets salty sweet and sour spiral around your tongue. Or just order a Paloma and let the hours fly by to the sound of Mexican surf-rock and the rustle of paper bags that the free spiced popcorn comes in.

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  • Sydney
The Swinging Cat
The Swinging Cat

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. 

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