Any Sydneysider will tell you it hasn’t been a great couple of years to be a night owl in this town. In 2014, the State Government brought in a raft of late-night trading restrictions, collectively known as the lockout laws. If you’re out past 2am, don’t expect to get in anywhere, and last drinks are called at 3.30am. These restrictions have changed the social fabric of our city, changing the way our bars, pubs and nightclubs function. Despite this, Sydney is still up for a good boogie. The trick now is knowing where to look – here's where to start.
Sydney's best nightclubs
Best for: Watching a floor show, pashing a cutie and getting down
At the end of Oxford Street around the corner from the all-hours spa (wink wink) lies a special kind of ark where the animals march two-by-two (sometimes one-by-three) into a sturdy sanctum of entertainment and pleasure. Frequented by drag divas and the A-gays (it’s where we once even saw Jean Paul Gaultier) you really haven't experienced quintessential queer Sydney until you've been to Arq. It’s the kind of place where even the sound system is designed to give you "the ultimate 360 degree aural stimulation". Hello!
Best for: Live music and a boogie after
Oxford Arts is a battler. It’s one of the last remaining live music venues on Oxford Street, which was previously littered with them, and continues to host incredible gigs in a relatively intimate space. International bands coming to town will play here unless they’re Coldplay-sized, and the moshpit is known to get sweaty. The venue also boasts indie electronic producers and DJs, as well as local acts in its gallery bar. It’s a guaranteed great night out.
Best for: Die-hard club action with a world-class view
It's tricky to find, but once you're at Home, the bangers will be booming and you'll be bouncing off the walls with a sweet view of the dazzling Darling Harbour lights glistening in your starry eyes. Heralded as Sydney's only true "superclub", Home recently become the new domain for long-running party crew Starfvckers. It’s got three levels, eight rooms, and a roster of DJs spinning house, techno, trance, EDM, electro and more. Hectic.
Best for: Working up a sweat to your favourite international DJ
Wanna hit Laundry, bro? Nope, we ain't talking about outsourcing your intimates (although they may need an actual laundry after visiting) – this famous club is less about suds and more about superstars. Hosting the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Baauer, DJ Slink and other international dance legends, here’s where you can get lit, turnt and twisted like a wet towel.
Best for: Sassing drag queens in bingo then working the pole like a pro
Named after the revolutionary New York gay bar (seriously, Google the original), Stonewall cranks every night of the week… but the only riots here are over who guessed the correct Rupaul's Drag Race star in Turbo Trivia while you devour a $10 Meals on Heels dish from Dick's Diner. Ever dream of getting up on stage and strutting your stuff with a drag queen or even dancing in a cage with an oiled-up hottie? This is what the Greenwich Village namesake bar fought for. So get liberated, you'll love it.
Best for: Surprise late night sing-a-longs with rock royalty
You wouldn’t think that a classic pizza restaurant in the heart of the business district would be the best rock’n’roll venue in town, but Frankie’s is here to put that misconception to rest. When it isn’t putting loud locals and sneaky international guests on stage in its back room, its DJ is blasting golden oldies from Zeppelin to Cheap Trick that you’ll be shouting along to all night, warm slice in hand. It’s one of the city’s few great Monday night going-out options, while Tuesdays is Rock’n’Roll Karaoke, where you get to belt out a tune with the house band.
Best for: Big room EDM
It’s inside the Star casino, and where else would you expect to find visuals this good and acts that large on an average weekend? About as Vegas as Sydney gets, Marquee has hosted acts such as Calvin Harris, Drake, Avicii, Tiesto, Hardwell and Armin Van Buuren. Expect confetti, glamorous dancers and top Australian DJs as well.
Best for: Local legends and party kids
If you ask anyone who lives there, Bondi Junction is the last place you’d expect to have decent clubs in this city. Known more for its mega-mall than dancefloors, the suburb has had a renaissance since the lockouts, and Jam Gallery has become to venue of choice for the hot young kids. It’s also where festivals usually roll through for after parties, so big-name rappers and DJs are not an uncommon sight – and neither are the lines at the door.
Best for: Dancing to Britney with all your gay uncles
Sometimes, you just want to listen to We Found Love backed up with a Grease mega-mix, surrounded by slightly older (and occasionally grabby) friends of Dorothy. And you're not alone. Palms delivers a guaranteed, daggy good time every damn time. That's why you'll see a long line out the front of the venue from midnight onwards every Friday and Saturday night. A warning, ladies: open-toe shoes will get you turned away.
Best for: Catching your favourite band's free sideshow while picking up a hot backpacker
This Bondi favourite never goes out of style. With a steady stream of locals, backpackers and music lovers turning out to see an evergreen line-up of touring bands and DJs, it's the go-to Eastern Suburbs live music venue. Wednesday's ‘genre-free’ party night is the hot (and free) ticket in town. Hosted by local faves SoSueMe, it packs out the place like a sexy, sea-salted can of tanned and well-oiled sardines.
Best for: Outrageously fun queer nights in the Inner West
Remember when Guy Pearce christened a giant silver tour bus ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’? That Champagne-smashing moment from the movie happened outside this very venue. So it comes as no surprise that it's still a much-loved haven for the LGBTQIA crowd: the party crews behind Heaps Gay, Girlthing and Boything all call this magical place home. What you might not know is that hidden underneath the pub's faded carpet and tatty pool tables is an expansive basement club that hosts international artists and DJs catering to the most fabulous of crowds. If hectic raving ain't yo thang, head back upstairs and find Fran Giapanni for some queer trivia or hit side bar Flamingo's to sing your heart out to some classic party tunes.
Best for: Lettin’ loose in summertime like Hollywood royalty
If you like your daytime disco smoothly descending into late-night house with a side of splash, then cruise on up to the open-air Pool Club. Located in the famed inner-city Ivy complex, this slice of LA-style opulence in the heart of Sydney city is a fun way to treat yourself to a cabana and table service as if you’re a featured player in Entourage. After dark, the party carries on in the Changeroom – yep, you can shimmy outta your wet togs and right onto the D-floor.
Best for: Left-of-centre indie grooves
Hiding in plain sight just off a busy main road in Chippendale, Freda’s is a haven of weirdness for the city’s alternative and queer community. Cool new bands love it, as do shameless DJs trying out their parents’ record collections. You can never really know what you’ll get here, but it’s always something you’ll tell your friends about the next day. Start with Thank God It’s Freda’s, a semi-regular monthly fix for the outré kids.
Best for: Exotic entertainment, classic drinks and eccentric theatrics
It's had many incarnations and name changes but the venue formerly known as Ruby Rabbit has undergone its best makeover yet. Now christened the Oxford Circus, it’s part opium den, part sideshow, and part penthouse. The retro carnival vibes sneak through in the form of chintz couches, elaborate saloon bars, live music and even the occasional burlesque or contortionist act. You'll feel like you've run away and joined the circus… a circus fuelled on Espresso Martinis and Champagne. They even have one of those kitsch 'Zoltar' animatronic fortune teller machines – legit.
Best for: Munching burgers then durries til the early hours
Since its 2015 revival, the faithful Gladdy has been a fave among that fun breed of Inner Westian who enjoys OG hip hop, cutting-edge art and sinking beers while watching sports. While the petite indoor dance floor gets a workout, especially when DJs like the Honey crew are on deck, it’s the smoking-friendly courtyard out the back that hosts most of the action. A portrait of Biggie Smalls reigns supreme over late-night convos and kick-ons. Oh, and it's also got a sweet upstairs gallery space, and arguably one of the best burger menus in town. Get there.
Best for: Techno, disco and rave-cave weirdness
The CBD’s infamous former home of electroclash has gone through a few changes over the years, notably changing from a rave bunker to a swish underground bar. The rogue spirit lives on in their music programming, with local legends playing bangers well into the evening, encouraging very late dance-offs from Sydney’s guardian tastemakers.
Best for: Partying with your best mates from uni
Unlike many of its ill-fated neighbours, this teapot-slinging Kings Cross institution has weathered the storm of lockouts and remains one of the most pumping venues in town – especially on a weeknight where the uni crowd are jamming the multi-level venue with young, sweaty bodies all the way from the upstairs tearoom to the rave cave out the back. Be warned: anyone over 25 might feel a tad old here among the barely legal midweekers. Just saying.
Best for: Club nights curated by the cool kids
Everyone who's anyone in Sydney's music scene has had a massive night (or 20) in this underground lair back when it was known as Plan B, or before that Goodgod Small Club. Hiding beneath Liverpool Street, it's home of the Player Haters Ball, Slime and Pineapple Republic, and thanks to local legends like Shantan, Levins and Flex Mami, it’s the number one destination for dancehall, Afrobeat and more ’90s hip hop/R’n’B clurrrb nights than you can throw a gold chain at. They also have some pretty sick touring bands, producers and DJs frequently coming through the doors.
Best for: Kicking on after everywhere else has closed
Right at the nexus of Enmore, Stanmore and Marrickville is this late-night venue that rages on very late, four nights a week. Whether you're hitting Enmore’s favourite lesbian night, Birdcage, dropping in to see a live band, or are simply in need of some early-morning untz untz to keep the party rocking, the slyest of all the foxes has got you covered. Did we mention that it's open real late? Suck it, lockouts.
Best for: Weekend party nights to top 40 and classic hits
If you want somewhere that pumps out party vibes even on a Wednesday and is all about cheap fun, then Soda Factory is the place. Mondays they show movies, Tuesdays they have one dollar hot dogs, which has to be one of Sydney’s cheapest dinners, and on weekends this place is extremely popular for anyone who wants to boogie to ’80s and ’90s tunes – the queues are hectic. The cheap and cheerful party vibes suit travellers and the early twenty-somethings to a tee.
Best for: Kicking it with the Newtown locals
With a restaurant up top serving delish Asian fusion eats and the downstairs bar always rocking some creative drink specials, this Inner West local is a great spot for a mid-week tipple and a weekend boogie. The DJs err on the side of hip-hop and house while the bands are as indie as they come. The only downside is that this place shuts at midnight… making it the perfect pre-game destination for a wild night out in Newtown.
Best for: Reinvigorated, all-inclusive dive bar feels
We shed a tear when this late-night dive bar, known for its pickleback shots and secret sets from famous touring artists like Mark Ronson and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, closed its doors in 2015 after being strangled by the-law-that-shall-not-be-named. But dry those eyes, sweethearts, for the Flinders has recently re-opened under new management! Back and gayer than ever, it relaunches as an LGBTQIA venue just in time for Mardi Gras 2017. Gird your loins, strap on your saddles and get ready to wet that whistle with a tasty pickle… or something.
Best for: Grooving in an incongruous setting
It’s impossible to discuss this innocuous-looking lawn bowls club without mentioning Mad Racket, a fixture on the dance community’s radar for well over a decade. These parties, put on by a selection of dusty vinyl enthusiasts, cover everything from soul to funk, breaks, techno and beyond. They start late and go even later, often kicking on until sunrise. Keep your eye on the website.
Best for: Wine time with local selectors
Music lovers and grape bros Cake Wines have been supporting local radio and artists for years, so it only makes sense this was reflected in their recently opened cellar door and live space combo. A huge space with an outdoor courtyard, Cake has been putting on some seriously great shows of late, bringing in top-class talent to throw down alongside residents. There’s plenty of space to shimmy and it’s usually free, too.