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A bartender behind the bar at Frankie's Pizza by the Slice pulli
Photograph: Daniel Boud

These are Sydney's best dive bars

These watering holes are lived-in, comfortable, and have plenty of space for toilet poetry

Written by
Elizabeth McDonald
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Historically speaking, a 'dive bar' has been less about trends, craft beers, and  dare we say  particularly friendly service. They're more about police raids, underground characters and sticky floors. In Sydney though, for better or worse, dive bars have evolved past the Bundy and Coke, schooners of Old, and criminal activity (as far as we're aware).

What has remained from the dive tradition, is affordable drinks, unpretentious service and a distinctly lived-in atmosphere that makes these Sydney watering-holes comfortable and like you're right at home. Side-by-side with suits, punks, hipsters, queer folks, uni students and '90s revivalists, the humble dive bar is the great equalizer  where nobody knows your name and that's just fine.

We've rounded up our favourite haunts to grab a brew when you just want to pull up a pew, switch off and have a good time.

Want something a little more high-brow for your knock off? Make sure you check out Sydney's best cocktail bars.

Sydney's best dive bars

  • Bars
  • Petersham

There have been plenty of Sydney pubs that have undergone dramatic renos, transforming them from humble community boozers with oodles of character to up-market gastropubs with plenty of polish but not much spirit. Thankfully, that has not been the fate of the Oxford Tavern. Its 2022 facelift hasn't altered its identity, but rather enhanced the thriving dive bar vibes of this pub's notorious yesteryears while making the most notable glow-up where it counts – in the kitchen. 

  • Bars
  • Redfern

The Dock is like a house party where everyone is invited and you don’t need to carve out fridge space behind Thai leftovers and half an elderly watermelon for your drinks. It’s a cosy, low-lit, ramshackle place where the playlist is a freewheeling party mix of cheesy-but-secretly-awesome school disco bangers.

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  • Bars
  • Sydney
  • price 1 of 4
The heart of the business district is not where you’d expect to find an underground heavy metal pizza party, but Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice doesn’t much go in for the expected. The front room feels like a pizza parlour from a movie set, but it’s more Ninja Turtles than Sopranos. Through the looking glass, the bar and band room is where the spirit of rock has holed up and posters and Sharpie graffiti abound.
  • Bars
  • Newtown
  • price 1 of 4

By the look of this dive you’d expect peanut shells crunching under foot. Regulars – like birds on a wire – perch at the bar and a middle-American accent comes from behind it. The worn-in, down-home atmosphere, though, belies expert cocktail, beer and wine chops and sophisticated bar bites.

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  • Bars
  • Redfern
  • price 2 of 4

One of Redfern’s original small bars is still as loud, fairy-lit and friendly as ever. And cheap. Where else can you get a eminently drinkable semillon sauvignon for six bucks and a grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwich for a fiver, other than student housing? There is a wonderful reliability to any visit to Arcadia. It’s always full but somehow you can manage to rustle up a bar stool or one of those vintage metal chairs, or find a spot out in the brick courtyard.

  • Bars
  • Redfern
  • price 1 of 4

If you want to see Sydney at her absolute best, go for a drink at Redfern’s neighbourhood art bar, the Bearded Tit. Inside this uber queer-friendly establishment you get a glimpse of what it could be like if we all just got along. The weird and wonderful are welcomed here; there is a mix of punters that properly reflects the Sydney rainbow, and nobody gives it a second thought. We’re all too busy having a brilliant time.

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  • Clubs
  • House, disco and techno
  • Darlinghurst
  • price 1 of 4

This subterranean club has had a few leases on life – it was once a favoured haunt of the city’s goth and fetish community and it then went on to serve as a destination for club kids across the city. Now, to celebrate its 25th birthday, the William Street club is back with a total New York basement redux.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Sydney
  • price 2 of 4

If, god forbid, anyone ever flipped on the grown-up lights at the Ramblin’ Rascal, what might it look like under the cold, sober light of fluoro? A barely renovated former comedy club in the basement of a nondescript city office block full of dentists, orthodontists and maxillofacial surgeons. The booths are vinyl and the carpet is – well, the less said about the carpet the better. Eyes front, people.

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Waywards
  • Bars
  • Newtown

Up above the Bank Hotel is a cocktail den and live music venue for late night shenanigans and the perfect balcony for bumping into strangers. Follow the red glow of the neon guitar up a flight of stairs and slide into a booth while you wait for the pool table to free up.

  • Bars
  • Newtown
  • price 1 of 4

Yes, Mary's may be taking over the city one burger at a time, and perhaps theirs isn't everyone's style – but if we're talking dive bars, the OG Newtown outlet cannot be overlooked. There's plenty of 'for a good time' style graff on the walls and no matter what time of day you head in, it always feels like Saturday night so for the atmosphere alone, Mary's is one of the best.

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  • Bars
  • Bondi Beach

Describing a venue as a dive bar might, on the face of it, sound like a negative critique, but at this cool-as-hell new drinking den in Bondi Beach, it's very much a compliment. Bringing an entirely different energy to the area, perfect for those wanting to sink beers in their boardies by the beach, Chuck Trailer's delivers a flavour of the Inner West and the US to the eastern beaches.

  • Bars
  • Surry Hills
Star Sydney bartenders Max Greco (Eau de Vie) and Luke Ashton (the Roosevelt) have ripped off the shirt-stays and suspenders and traded them in for cut-off denim, trucker hats and a hefty fistful of rock’n’roll. The only tie you’ll see at Vasco is on Ringo Starr. And on closer inspection, we’re pretty sure that’s a cravat. 
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