Contrary to contemporary yarns, there are still pubs who play live music in Sydney. Many of them have even lashed back at the encroaching frontline of pokie machines and casinos – the money gobblers that seem to be eating our culture like bloated hungry hippos. Many venues have already had their last rites read to them, yet gigs and live music still thrive in the smaller drinking hole worlds of the Inner West and beyond.
More into dancing to a DJ? Check our guide to the best clubs in Sydney. Or, get acquainted with where to see the larger shows with the best music venues in Sydney list. Want it all the time, never resting, always watching bands, forever and ever? Here is where to see free live music every night of the week.
Bars and pubs for live music
A significant win for music in pubs, this closed Gen-X playground has been reinvigorated and reopened. With a dedicated first floor bandroom you're only a few bucks and a wrist band away from access to the velvet banquette-lined, 250-person venue that manages to feel intimate for a folky show, but gives you room to cut loose when more raucous acts are on the stage. Tap beers and enlightened grub anchor this renewed live music hub in its accessible roots, a pub with gritty guts.
The no fuss vibe here attracted a tiny band called Midnight Oil (!) recently, who chose the atmospheric clouds of hot chippy smell and family-friendly bowling green to launch their highly anticipated national tour. Gigs are here almost every weekend, ranging from community favourites to huge label showcases and micro-festivals. A band playing in a well equipped sports club with a stage, disco ball and sci-fi reminiscent ceiling tiles is a magical thing. The expansive outdoor area is also a renowned social hotspot (especially during Mad Racket parties).
Beyond the bronze velvet curtains at the back of this fab cocktail bar is a tiny mirrored stage. Adjacent to Golden Age's excellent film program is a weekly series of live gigs that span a diverse range of genres. Stumbling in for a frothy Espresso Martini could mean you are just as likely to witness a fragile singer-songrwriter set as you are to find yourself in a jubilant sardine can of punters enjoying a loud electronic set. Keep your eyes peeled on that curtain to roll back. Or, just check their Facebook page like an organised person. Up to you.
This pub has a basketball ring, a huge outdoor movie screen, frequent markets and thankfully a huge stage for live music most weekends. The bands come from all genres and you’re just as likely to see an introspective acoustic set as you are to witness a punching-the-air rock show. You’re always competing with thousands of punters for seating, but who cares if you get to watch some top-notch live music outside of a lock-out zone?
An unassuming crumbly-facade pub on South King Street is exactly the place you’d hope to see a band playing live. Right next to the front bar is a smallish corner stage that is relatively unviewable from the street. This is a real gig in a pub affair and if you squint you could pretend it’s the ’70s. The roster of bands is diverse and sporadic, so keep your ears peeled and a vigilant monitoring eye on Facebook events.
Crowbar has settled in the former Bald Face Stag pub site and painted it both literally and figuratively black. Utilising the huge bar-adjacent band room they're specialising in live punk, hardcore, metal, and the heavier side of rock. It's still a pub at heart though, with tap beers, an in-house plant based bistro called Murdereats and a dog-friendly garden to enjoy a pre-gig schooner in.
The Kings Cross Hotel is a pub at heart, but it’s one that spans a six-storey building. Running with the restrictions rather than sinking under them, they surrender space to live music every week. Head here on a Thursday for a gig night presented by Cobra Club on level four and return for some acoustic tunes to wind down with on a Sunday. The Kings Cross Hotel will often host whole-venue music extravaganzas, a testament to their ongoing torch for the area's cultural past.
There's certainly a strong celtic vibe to much of what happens at the Gaelic Club and a distinct proclivity towards the colour green and a pint of Guinness, but there is a lot more to this cultural club which was opened in 1955. Alongside traditional Irish music nights there are also cool underground punk, electronic, indie gigs occupying the tiny stage and filling the joint with jubilant moshers. The Gaelic supports these nights with cheap tinnies but the aforementioned Guiness is also cheerily flowing.
Up on the first floor of the whopper King Street pub you’ll find Waywards, a bar and music venue open Thursday through Saturday. Under the peachy light of a guitar-shaped neon, you'll find a tiny stage propping up a roster of surf rock jangle bands, solo pop acts and sprawling neo-blues sets. Waywards sure does keep the lighter in the air for all sorts of Newtown indie manifestations. Go for the gig and stay for the nostalgic dance floor after.
Redfern's dedicated hip hop bar is more than just splashes of colourful paint and craft beer tinnies, it's also an intimate live music and jam space. Regular events range from hip hop performers, open mic freestyle comps and big sound funk, RnB, and jazz bands. Squeeze in to the narrow digs and catch some booming bass under the watchful eye of their Biggie mural.
With one of the city’s best sound systems, this small, underground club below the Civic Hotel attracts great international headliners for all night techno, deep house and electro parties. Though the defitinion of "live music" could be up for debate with so many DJs, you can see heaps of international and local producers twiddle all their knobs to produce beats and sounds at the Civic in the flesh.
Like many ladies of a certain age, she’s had some work done, but still retains the bones of the original and the feel of a neighbourhood pub. The huge front bar is an altar to live sports most nights of the week but return on a blessed weekend eve and be treated to a raucous live show from bands of all sorts of genres. Good pub grub, huge beer garden, and a pub rock perfect vibe abound.
If you want your gig to have easy access to 22 taps playing host to over 300 different brews then this is the pub for you. The Union Hotel is a fairly relaxed beer purveyor with a healthy pool culture and quite regularly theyare also a live music venue. With a small stage even! Shows are short and fill the room with punters. Expect lots of local acts intimately launching their EPs or snappy punk sets bursting with energy.
There are still loads of tours coming through this tried and tested University music venue, which is a blessed relief since Manning's sightlines are among Sydney's best - and having a balcony where one can enjoy an al fresco drink or a durry while still being able to hear and (kinda) see what's going on is a rare pleasure these days.
Local and live, these guys book what sounds good and let you get on with having a good time. Just a small room that affectionately hasn’t had its decor updated for 50 years, yummo bistro and lawn bowls, chilling out and catching some tunes is totally unhard. See a laid back arvo show in the club upstairs or venture in to their basement for an even smaller room with loud bands of many genres.