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
Perched on the Parramatta Road side of Leichhardt, this historic pub has grown to be one of Sydney’s most dedicated live music venues. With a fairly committed metal, punk and hardcore community, the newest owners have taken steps to ensure this doesn’t fade, removing the entire pokies room including machines to make more space for their dedicated band room. The front bar serves as a stage also with No Refunds every Thursday night, an event that taps into the emerging, experimental, underbellies of some of Sydney’s best bands. They also host a raging whole-venue festival frequently that’s worth a pop in.
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).
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.
First and foremost, this is a legitimate cultural club founded in 1968 that services Sydney’s Portuguese community. It is also semi-secretly a really excellent venue for music. There’s two separate band rooms: upstairs is a fully kitted out, blue light-tinged function room and downstairs is a little bit more of an airless basement rec-room vibe, Both have stages and adjoining outdoor-ish areas for smashing durries. Showcases from independent local labels like Paradise Daily have snowballed into takeovers from poppier party juggernauts like Heaps Gay.
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 no frills, vintage drinking hole in Wooolloomooloo doesn't really look like it could accomodate a band, the front room is particularly cosy and laden with decor. And yet, every Sunday the room is filled with jazz hooting from a vigourous band squeezed into the corner. Get in early, as they toe-tapping locals line the bar pretty quickly. The East Sydney Hotel has also recently changed it's menu to plant based, so this is an absolute mecca if you're a trumpet lovin' vegan.
Redfern’s neighbourhood art bar, the Bearded Tit is a cornucopia of kitsch and glamour. The weird and wonderful are welcomed here; there is a mix of punters that properly reflects the Sydney rainbow, and an ethos of inclusivity is paramount. A small stage in the corner near the window, framed by red velvet curtains and crass bric-a-brac, is just as likely to host a Kate Bush tribute cabaret as it is to elevate an idiosyncrativ live music act. Go for the friendly vibe, stay for the surprises.
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?
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.
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.