The 50 best pubs in Sydney
Prime position in Sydney pub folklore couldn't save rock’n’roll dive the Lansdowne Hotel from shuttering in 2015. But Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham (the duo behind Mary's and the Unicorn) could, raising the dead just two years on and proving some heroes swap capes for flanno.
The Imperial was first ordained a safe space for the LGBTQIA community when Dawn O’Donnell, the mother of gay Sydney, bought it in the '80s. It has opened and shut with many different faces in the years since then, but at its heart it has always been a place for queer identities to thrive on the sticky carpet of the much loved pub.
There’s no room for cultural cringe, because at the Unicorn they have a deep and enduring love for Australiana. Please help yourself to some Jatz crackers and French onion dip. While everyone else is trying to be a European wine bar, a fine diner or a Montauk holiday home, here they’ve got a huge map of Australia across one wall and a prawn cocktail en route to your table. Plus, you won’t find a better schnitzel in town. That's why we love it so much.
The beautiful thing about this old boozer is that it’s a pub designed to facilitate a good time on your terms. Want to sit up at the bar with a huge plate of fish and chips and watch back-to-back AFL games? This is the best place for it. Prefer to sink your tip money in pinball machines while you annihilate jugs of Stone and Wood Pacific Ale and Young Henrys Newtowner? Right this way.
Lots of Sydney pubs are throwing out the rule book when it comes to pub dining, but when we’re talking about a counter meal there’s certain criteria that need to be met. Once you’ve locked down the classics (which they have here) you can start to get a bit experimental. At the Erko they focus on low and slow smoked meats. It’s a proposition that’s certainly earning them a lot of fans, which is rammed at dinner time any night of the week.
Respecting your elders is very, very easy when the lessons they’re doling out are ‘how to have a good time without being a twat’ and the teacher is one of the best old boozers in Sydney. The Crix deserves a medal for its diplomatic skills that mean a truly confusing cross section of drinkers are all happy to pal it up around this ancient, ancient bar.
The people of the Inner West are happy with the resuscitation of this local favourite, which is why even on a Monday night there’s a friendly buzz inside this spacious pub. The best seats in the house are undoubtedly those out in the beer garden, which is covered over to keep the warmth in on a frosty June evening, and strung with colourful lights for that backyard cantina feel.
When it comes to full-throated support of craft beers, few do it better than the Union Hotel in Newtown. On our visit they’ve got beers from Akasha, Modus Operandi, Nail, Hopdog, Rocks, Hart and Hound, Sierra Nevada and Van Dieman in the house, and before you get all “dude, where’s my lager?”, there’s Reschs too. Plus their gin and whisky collections are nothing to sneeze at.
It’s a truly great pub that manages to strike an easy balance between being a familiar, cosy watering hole and raising the bar where it counts. We don’t much mind what old timey art sits on the walls, or if the playlist forgoes Chisel for the Natalie Imbruglia on occasion, so long as a degree of extra care has been taken so that the craft beers on tap reflect the evolving boutique brewing scene in Sydney.
The Hero was built in a no frills era, and they haven’t added any in the intervening 170 years. Timber floors, convict-hewn sandstone walls and lantern light create the shell in which Guinness is to be drunk and songs sung by the fireside. Things can get a little rowdy if a bar crawl comes through, but it’s always got a strong crowd in attendance for cold beers and generous counter meals.
This old corner boozer has had an extreme makeover into a fashione party pub. Not surprising given it’s fairy god-parents are an impressive rollcall of Sydney hospo identities. There's a public bar for arfternoon Sprtiz sessions, a high-end dining room for an Italian feast, and a dedicated wine and charcuterie bar for when you only want the best bits with no filler.
The timber floors of the Local Taphouse have been worn smooth by the continuous foot traffic of the parched and the curious over the last five years. The number of licensed establishments spruiking local, boutique and limited-run brews continues to rise, but this corner hotel in Darlinghurst is an old hand at the craft beer game with their gleaming bank of 20 taps behind the ground floor bar promising some of the frothiest fun to be had in Sydney.
The Forest Lodge is a diamond in the rough. From the outside this brown brick local doesn’t look like much, but inside there’s a decent feed, plenty of space, a warm welcome and a surprisingly excellent craft beer collection. They focus on local brews like Modus Operandi, Wayward, Gang of Four, Murray’s and Badlands, while Coopers, New and Reschs keep the lager dream alive.
A lot of Sydney’s pubs play a single trump – tender steak, good times trivia, clean beer, golden schnitzel – but it’s a truly special boozer that can show a full and winning hand. Dove and Olive is that place. It's pub for all occasions where the beers, food and vibe are were ace and the mounted deer horns came with googly eyes.
In the backstreets of Wolloomooloo the grand old dame of Sydney pubs is still holding court. As a patron of the arts, the old girl hosts regular theatre performances, as well as being a welcoming port for all the salty locals in Woolloomooloo. She may be old, and a bit rough around the edges but to her many fans the Old Fitz is a great beauty that we hope never changes.
A night at the Darlo is as close to a guarantee of good times as Sydney is able to give. This community living room on a Darlinghurst corner is the first port of call for mid week pool comp, they boast a trivia night that has been stumping smart-phone cheaters for five fact-filled years and there’s a weekday happy hour that helps you stretch your booze budget just that little bit further.
Being the oldest continuously licensed pub in the city, the Lord Nelson has had a lot of practice at being awesome. They brew their own beer here and a fresher pint in Sydney is a tall ask. There are six mainstay brews: the summery beginners’ Quayle ale, the bright 3 Sheets, the British-inflected Trafalgar pale ale, the full-flavoured, spicy Victory Ale, Nelson’s Blood for the Guinness/porter fans, and the complex, full o’ flavour Old Admiral.
It’d be a rare occurrence to find yourself at this Bourke Street pub not in the company of at least one floof, pupper or doggo. This pub doesn’t just have a dog-friendly policy, they actively encourage you to pop in even if you’ve only got your pet for company – you only need five bucks to buy a dog bowl of meat and veg, or canine-suitable ‘beef tartare’. For fully grown humans the $15 steak special is always available.
This colourful hotel is like one of those children’s party venues where each room has a different theme. The public bar is all breezy open space with solid timber foundations; downstairs things get more tropical with cocktails and vintage décor. There’s the sitting room with lounge settings and frond print walls, but outside goes full garden party with rainbow umbrellas, festoon lighting and a frangipani tree.
There’s no shortage of pubs in Paddington and Woollahra, but few possess the old world charms of the Lord Dudley. This vast, red brick hotel looks more like a British country manor than an Inner East establishment, and the vibe is similarly relaxed. Out on Quarry Street locals and their faithful hounds get a solid lean on. If it’s a bit nippy for alfresco boozing it’s time to battle for seats as close to the proper wood fire as you can get.
We don’t need to tell you how much Sydney loves a rooftop bar, and the top floor addition to the East Village Hotel (previously the Darlo Village) is an A-grade, lofty drinking perch. Sure, if cardio isn’t your friend you may even find you have to take a breather at the second floor, but that’s not going to be a problem because that’s where they added the Athletic Club, a vintage sports-themed bar.
A lot of fuss gets made over the Glenmore’s unbelievable harbour views. It’s an easy sell, especially because it proves you don’t need to fork out for the kind of Sydney vista that belongs on a postcard. In fact the Glenmore is the sort of place you could make your local, at least for post-work drinks when the rooftop bar gets packed with people loosening their collars and clinking a Peroni.
The Friend in Hand should be the subject of a Slim Dusty song. It feels like someone uprooted an outback pub and replanted it in the back streets of Glebe, complete with a public bar decked out in more Australiana tat than you can poke a stick at. There’s the famous cockatoo that sits happily at one end of the bar; a model train set runs along the back of the bar and there's an impressive collection of foreign currency pinned up.
This is undeniably the most family-friendly watering hole in the Inner West. The front bar is all the best parts of an old school pub without the weird smells, and the beer garden is enormous. There's a games room with pinball, old-school Big Buck Hunter machines and Pacman, and the kids get their own rumpus room in a converted garage, complete with a Mr Men mural and shallow ball pit.
Sydney might be struggling to keep the late-night vibes pumping, but there’s a rebel force of party people and most weekends they are congregating at the Lord Gladstone. The ability to squash so many Sydney scenes inside a modest space is one of this pub’s most impressive attributes. On an unremarkable Saturday night you’ve got Bondi babes, queer indie kids, footy fans and hip-hop heads cramming into the concrete courtyard for a good time.
The Australian Heritage Hotel strikes a comfortable balance between historic tourist stop, and a pub that hard-bitten Sydneysiders still want to frequent, thanks in no small part to their impressive beer collection. They have zero interest in your traditional pizzas here, preferring bizarre flavours like Peking duck, tandoori chicken, and the famous coat of arms pizza with emu and pepper kangaroo meat.
The Hollywood is full to bursting on a Friday and Saturday night – it’s easy to see where some of the old girl’s battle scars came from. She suffers from the normal complaints of old age - the stools are a bit wobbly on their feet and it can smell a bit funny – but we’ve always been told to respect out elders, and when it comes to beers and a good time in Sydney, this dame is an old hand.
Like Narcissus staring adoringly at his own reflection, Sydney’s a city enamoured with its own good looks, hence our obsession with rooftop bars. Happily there’s a new rooftop in town where you can do just that. The open-air, top floor bar is definitely the jewel in the Light Brigade’s rejuvenated crown. But down on the ground floor it's still staunch Swans territory.
The Kirribilli Hotel is not an ostentatious pub. Its rounded, Art Deco, red-brick façade tucks neatly in among the shopfronts lining Broughton Street without drawing too much attention to itself. But we’re always told it’s what’s inside that counts, and what’s inside this amiable local just north of the Bridge is an impressive craft beer selection.
In a leafy pocket of Ultimo you’ll find this old timer that strikes a comfortable balance between the old ways and the new. Traditional pub fixings still have pride of place in the public bar. There’s the requisite Reschs posters, the windows are painted in peeling Celtic script, and out the back they've got Pub ife Kitchen taking slinging their experimental take on American classics.
When a hot dog and a craft brew is all your heart desires then it’s time to cannonball down the slopes of Surry Hills to the Royal Albert Hotel. You will not be the only one making a beeline for this compact taphouse so expect to squeeze inside the front bar to get amongst the good-natured carousing that happens here every evening at quitting time.
This brew pub is the cosiest spot in Manly for a craft brew and some hearty fare. It might not have the over-water appeal of Manly Wharf Hotel, of the sheer size of the Steyne, but it's warm, welcoming and personable. Pop in for a restoritive ale after finishing the Spit to Manly walk, or get comfortable in the new dining area downstairs.
You’ve probably already been hitting this hot spot for a boogie thanks to the kickass DJs they book for their free Friday and Saturday night parties. But now there’s a whole new set of reasons to visit, and it involves a little bar snack called johnny cakes – piping-hot cornmeal pikelets with a creamy pimento cheese spread melting on top. They're part of the mod-Southern menu on offer here.
Maybe you never bothered to venture into the Queens in her former days, which is not surprising, but now it’s an impressive sight. Downstairs the public bar at the front and the dining room up the back are lined in dark timber and lit with an antique, golden glow, making it the classiest spot for a Coopers on tap on this stretch of the Inner West. But upstairs is where they keep the mud crabs for when you want to spalsh cash on dinner.
It’s a famously huge venue and that hasn’t changed, but it’s looking like several million bucks what with the fresh juice cabana, the paddling pool for little humans, the raw bar dishing up Sydney rock oysters and buckets of prawns and the mesmerising twirl of the chickens, porchetta and a whole salmon in the rotisserie. Get in early on weekends for any hope of scoring a table.
The Green Park Hotel is doing it right. It may be only a stone’s throw from the heart of Kings Cross but there’s a very different kind of party going on in this prettied up pub. Inclusivity is the name of the game – it’s the sort of place the full Darlinghust rainbow gravitates to. Even if the sun is still shining, inside it’s always beer o’clock thanks to a green-so-dark-it’s-almost-black paint job, deep blue tiles and a black top bar.
There are two very distinct sides to the Sheaf. On the left of the hall is the public bar where serious East Sydney Roosters fans gather. So far, it’s exactly what you’d expect to find inside a hundred year old pub. But we’re in exceedingly well-heeled Double Bay, and once you get to the beer garden it’s very clear clear that the Sheaf is more blue ribbon than blue collar.
This community hub embraces music, art and weird sports with the same ferocity that it once gave to Tooheys and the ’Tahs (actually, it still does that too), and the joint’s enthusiasm is proving infectious. The bright front bar still shows footy on multiple screens, serves jugs of Carlton and holds fast to the kind of dark carpet that hides a myriad of sins, but the real action is out on the back deck where dogs hang under tables and they host the odd festival in the carpark.
Sure, the drive to South Head is no picnic, but once you’re sitting on the terrace of the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel with a glass of dry rosé, you have to admit that this is a bloody nice place to cash in some down time. Happily, it’s not merely the domain of wealthy boomers with moorings – Watsons Bay Hotel is also an extremely family-friendly venue, helpfully located next to a park and a habour beach.
There are four main quadrants to this late-night hotel at the tipping point of King Street. The front is a quiet sports bar most nights, and a seat in the open window is tops for people watching. Up the back and down the stairs is a beer garden with a retractable roof and heaters. Upstairs is a late-night music venue, but our favourite perch is the craft beer bar in the heart of the pub.
Like many ladies of a certain age, the Lady Hampshire has had some work done, but still retains the bones of the original and the feel of a neighbourhood pub. In a shot in the arm for Sydney’s flagging live music scene, there’s live music in the front bar. And if you too have been dodging Sydney’s lockout laws you’ll be pleased to hear the party’s come to Camperdown, with 3am lights out from Thursday to Saturday.
People's Choice Award 2017
You might be surprised to discover that there is not the pack of twinkly-eyed dock workers inside Harts Pub. Of course, a set of coal-dusted wharfies would look right at home inside the historic terrace hotel in the Rocks, but instead what you’re likely to find is a specific subset of Sydney’s corporate crowd who prefer that ye olde pub feel to the glint of Heineken bottles found in many a CBD bar.
At this harbourfront temple to craft beer, they keep the taps closer to the easy drinking end of the craft spectrum. The king of pale ales, the Ekim After Battle, is not only on tap, but also part of their happy hour offering that runs 4-7pm. That’s three very happy hours of five-dollar pours, and they don’t just discount the run-of-the-mill stuff.
There’s not much we like more at Time Out than a well-worn boozer that still remembers the frenzy of the six o’clock swill. But sometimes the smell is so ingrained in the beer-soaked carpet that there’s nothing left to do but rip it out and start again. While you’re there you may as well throw 30 craft beer taps behind the bar, a whole shelf dedicated to bourbon and as many taxidermy beasts as you can lay your hands on.
This dependable Bondi boozer hosts live music every Wednesday, will grill you a solid burger and has plenty of screens so you can catch every live boxing or sport match.
Being spoiled for choice is a nice problem to have, and with the rise of dedicated craft beer bars around Sydney, it’s becoming endemic. The Rocks Brewing Co have their very own pub in Alexandria with a bar constructed from old doors, 12 taps, fridges for the fancy bottled stuff, old arcade games and no pokies in sight.
This grand old establishment on the Woolwich peninsula is how we imagine a country club would be minus the golf or horses. A raised terrace built in the shade of a great tree is where weekly high tea happens. The first-floor cocktail bar boasts a wraparound verandah that looks over the river, but it’s in the cavernous main bar, trussed in golden timbers, that people congregate.
This popular CBD pub is exactly where you want to go to loose that light blue collar and make short work of your first, cold beer. The downstairs area can get packed after knock-off, so it's worth forging ahead and making for the back stairs that lead to the first floor. A gentle refurb has made this a comfortable, relaxed spot for a drink, a chat and a classic counter meal.
On any day of the week the Oxford Tav' does a juicy schnitzel, but for four seet hours on a Tuesday evening not only can you play a raucous game of trivia, but you can also demolish a $12 golden-crumbed fillet of chicken. They also do American-style barbecues on Fridays thorugh Sundays where you can buy your meats by the 100g.
What’s the point in having a dependable, temperate climate if don’t you take every opportunity for an al fresco drink you can? We assume this was the thinking behind the design of the Albion Hotel in Parramatta, because this place is mostly beer garden, which gets two thumbs up from us. They also have some of the friendliest staff in the city.