No two ways about it, Sydney's bar scene is flourishing. There are epic craft brewery bars, a rock-solid collection of cocktail haunts in the CBD, killer pubs and a host of exceptional wine bars. There were hardly any of them a decade ago, and now they're popping up left, right and centre all over town. It makes no difference whether you're a novice or an expert, fancy something natural or classic, old world or new, or whether you want to spend moderately or extravagantly – there's somewhere on our list for every palate, at every price point. Bottoms up.
The top spots for top drops around town
Marrickville's first and only dedicated wine bar also happens to be Sydney's best. Why? Because there's absolutely no pretense here – just well-loved mismatched furniture, service both warm and informed, and a whole heck of a lot of interesting wine at incredible value. Brothers and co-owners Julian and Dominic Abouzeid want you to drink well more than anything else, and to that end they keep the tightly edited selection on constant rotation. The by-the-glass blackboard is a treasure trove for new discoveries, but be warned it's pretty much a guarantee that one glass will turn into a bottle.
These guys got it right the first time with their Darlinghurst darling Love, Tilly Devine, but their Potts Point follow-up casts the net wider with a broader selection of wines from around the world and a (slightly) larger kitchen for more involved snacking. Order something fresh and mineral-driven from the 46-page list to accompany the signature smoked mussels on toast, and you will feel like you've stumbled upon a little gem on a Parisian backstreet. For added fun, try a glass of mystery wine – guess the grape variety and country of origin, and it's on the house.
Get here between 5 and 7pm for one of the best bargains in town: the glorious Aperitivo Hour. A fistful of gold coins will score you snacks and drinks that land at five to seven bucks. On Sundays, an ever-changing roll call of some of the country's best chefs pop in and take over. If you can't make it early, don't sweat it. Any time is a good time at this narrow corridor on the pub's ground level, and you'll make fast friends with the more esoteric side of the natural wine world in no time.
What do you get when one of Sydney's most beloved tapas restaurants moves into one of the best wine bars in town? Wyno x Bodega, that's what. Everything here – and we mean everything – is available by the glass, which means you have 300-plus (!) labels to choose from and some cult classic snacks (fish fingers, for the win) to keep you company. The knockout selection of sherry and Madeira doesn't hurt, either, and sitting elbow to elbow at the long communal table means you'll probably end up swapping stories and a swig or two with your neighbour.
At Monopole, the lights are dimmed to the point of near blackness, the tasting notes on the by-the-glass list read like short love letters, and the food – whether it's a slice of housemade charcuterie or a dry-aged duck breast – is reason enough for a visit if you happen to be on the wagon. But how could you? This is not a place for abstinence; it's a place for surrendering your wallet and taking a deep dive into the treasure trove of a cellar, packed with obscurities, famed drops and everything in between.
Love, Tilly Devine was one of the early adopters in the small bar boom, and it's no less popular now than when it opened a decade ago. There's still a Melburnian magic about the tucked-away laneway location, and securing a perch by the window still feels like a badge of honour. This is a particularly smart choice if you're looking to get acquainted with some of the dominant players in Australia's minimal-intervention winemaking game. And always come with enough room for at least one serving of the parmesan toast with Japanese vegemite.
The line between wine bar and restaurant is mighty fine, and no venue in town treads it quite like 10 Willie. Slide in after work for that legendary pretzel and a chalice of something wild and orange, or end your night at the bar with an unforgettable tiramisù and a sweet vermouth or amaro. Coming for a proper feed is most certainly worth it – splurge on a magnum of something off-kilter and see just how many small plates and truly al dente pastas you can fit on one of the pint-sized tables.
Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant? Who knows? Who cares? When the brains behind Ester throw their weight behind a more casual walk-in establishment stocked with bottles of funky, cloudy goodness from all over the world and umami-packed eats like unmissable anchovy toast and fried potato with salted egg sauce, expectations run high. And if the seemingly never-ending convivial buzz in the cool industrial space is anything to go by, those expectations are not only met, but exceeded.
Exposed brick, timber beams and a vibrant golden glow set quite the scene at Ode – so much so, in fact, that staying for a quick round is practically impossible. Carafes of the natural house wines are a pocket-friendly way to get the ball rolling and so, too, is the springy and salty housemade focaccia, which is perfect for swiping through the remnants of burrata with zucchini and chilli oil or housemade ricotta gnocchi with leeks and parmesan cream. Much like the menu, the wine list changes regularly, so an adventure is always on the cards.
Fix might just be the one that started it all. Back when it opened, in 2006, there was hardly a wine bar in town, let alone one that offered so daring a selection from avant-garde European producers. The list remains razor-sharp today, with 100 options by the glass alone, all of which are also available in tasting pours and carafes, so you can really have some fun. Owner Stuart Knox is almost always on hand to offer expert assistance, and you definitely shouldn't overlook the share plates – especially the first-rate fried chicken.
Given the prime Double Bay location, you could be forgiven for mistaking Bibo for an exclusive haunt for high rollers. Yes, there are wines by the glass poured from jeroboam bottles worth almost $50, but there's also plenty of joy for less than $15 on a carte that offers breadth and depth, old world and new world in equal measure. Pair it all with the likes of smoked mackerel pâté or flaming (literally) chorizo, and you've got a good night ahead of you.
There's been a changing of the guard at this Woollahra mainstay, but you wouldn't know it. The narrow, low-lit room is just as inviting, the tariff just as comprehensive, the service equally informed and obliging. If you're craving something rare with some serious bottle age, you'll definitely find it here – and a stockpile of premium pours by the glass lets you dip the toe in without committing to a triple-digit price tag for 750ml.
A much-needed addition to Pyrmont's bar landscape, Bar Clementine packs a ton of old-world elegance into its petite corner spot on Harris Street. Pull up a seat at the marble-topped bar and let owner Eric Mendoza walk you through his compact and well-priced list. Consider sneaking out of the office for an extended break so that you can get amongst a flank steak frites. Just be forewarned that you might very well end up sticking around for happy hour, too.
Who'd turn down the offer of a quick rosé when you've still got sand between your toes after a swim down at the beach? Or a $45 five-course tasting menu with the option of matched wines for an additional $45? Finally, Coogee has the Mediterranean wine bar it always desperately needed, and the appeal here is the approachability factor. With close to 25 wines by the glass and a big chunk by the bottle available for less than $100, there's lots of ground to cover.
There's room for just 40 punters in this timber cubby on the south end of King Street, which is pretty much the fully realised vision of the small, neighbourhood wine bar. The stereo's set to country and blues, and sommelier Sophie Otton (formerly of Rockpool Bar and Grill and Billy Kwong) stocks the shelves with well-crafted wines from titans in the sustainably farmed, hands-off wine world both from our golden soils and overseas. There's no list, per se – so get chatting and fall in love with something new and exciting.