Balmain is one of the most pub-dense suburbs in Sydney, thanks to its proud working class history as a working wharf and the place where the Australian Labor Party got their start. But times have changed and Balmain is now a well-heeled neck of the woods and many corner boozers have become homes and boutiques. However there are plenty of watering holes left for when you have a thirst that only a well-poured beer can quench, and these are our top picks.
Once upon a time the Balmain Hotel was a little-pub-that-couldn’t-be-arsed but now it’s the something-for-everyone-tiki-express. Polished floorboards have replaced sticky carpet in the stripped-back public bar. And downstairs the old bistro has become a cocktail bar and dinner hot spot for bright young things and families.
What was once the old Commercial pub down in East Balmain had a five-year stint as a Belgian Beer Cafe before it was lovingly restored back to a neighbourhood watering hole in the form of the East Village Balmain. But in a nod to its previous life you can still get a pot of mussels for half price on Wednesdays.
The Bald Rock was built in 1876 and is still in its original structure. The walls are Sydney sandstone, the ceiling is pressed tin and outside there's a big courtyard that looks straight over White Bay. It's an extremely pleasant place to lose an evening, we can tell you that much. The hotel boasts live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening as well as free sausage sizzles on Friday afternoons.
Born in 1874, Dick's has long been one of best sports bars in the suburb. It has its feet firmly rooted in tradition, where locals are known by name. Trivia is on a Tuesday and happy hour (Mon-Fri 3-6pm) reigns supreme. Plus, Monday to Wednesdays you can get a decent rump for $15.
This old Balmain favourite is steeped in authentic Aussie beer-culture history, previous owners the Cooper family left their mark in its stunning dark woodwork and scattered Australiana. Secondly, you won't find many out-of-towners in the London – the hotel is nicely tucked away from all the mid-town action of Darling Street.
On a deceptively busy roundabout in the back of Balmain sits on the suburbs biggest pubs. And while there’s a load of room most are filled with functions on the weekend. If you can secure a spot on the balcony upstairs get stuck into the thought out modern bistro menu.
The Workers is a pokie free, late night spot in an area crying out for more youthful boozing options. You'll find it above the Unity Hall (a typical old Aussie boozer) but up here the beers are cold, the soundtrack is eclectic – we get a particularly golden streak of Alt-J, Tegan and Sarah, Alicia Keys and Jurassic 5 – and a rooftop is always a high card.
A lovely old neighbourhood public house in the quiet backstreets of Balmain, the Riverview is gussied up in the style of a classic British gastro pub, its bright red doors holding the promise of a good feed and a few tall tales at the matching red-tiled bar. The menu here is a cut above your standard pub bistro and you can put your faith in the kitchen and order the ‘trust the chef’ tasting menu for $75.
For drinks in smaller surrounds
Not only is the Inner West home to many of the eccentric, creative and proudly rainbow tribes of Sydney, it's also where you'll find some of the best small bar action. Tiny little haunts slinging great drinks and keeping the vibes lively and local. If you don't have one already, your home-away-from-home is probably on this list.