Sydney loves to party – we'll party on the roof, in the basement, by the pool, even once every few months in a suburban bowling club. Despite restrictions, Sydney is still up for a good boogie, the trick is knowing where to look and not relinquishing a night out because you think it can't be done. It can – here's where to start.
We've collected our city's best clubs and nightlife hotspots. If you're more of a one-nice-drink kind of party person, check out our guide to Sydney's best underground bars. Or if you'd like to start your hedonistic descent into clubbing with a fabulous performance (recommended), then have a browse of the best places to see drag shows in Sydney.
Sydney's best nightclubs
Best for: Outrageously fun queer nights in the Inner West
Remember when Guy Pearce christened a giant silver 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 Honcho Disko all call this magical place home. Head downstairs to the 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 for nightly drag shows and sing your heart out to some classic party tunes.
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
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 has an eclectic mix of events and a weekly firing of the glitter-cannon at Homemade. It’s got three levels, eight rooms, and a roster of DJs spinning house, techno, trance, EDM and more. Hectic.
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: 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 Marco Polo 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: 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 even a set from Paris Hilton. 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 the Junction (formerly the Jam Gallery) is a 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 in an iconic queer club
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: open-toe shoes will get you turned away.
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: 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 disco loving communities. 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. Check out an exhibition or a poetry reading and stay for the suddenly packed and pumping dancefloor until late.
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: 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.
Best for: Getting jiggy to flashback pop hits and golden oldies
Just behind the delightfully daggy glamour of Darling Harbour is the neon-tinged, two-floor dance arena of the Retro. Here you are certainly safe from judgement, swaddled by super-sloshed hens parties and able to indulge in a spot of the nutbush, or exercise your interpretive moves to the chorus of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’. The DJs churns through all the pop hits at warp speed. The crowd is all ages and ready for a good time.
Best for: Grinding to trap music in a tropical oasis
Sydney’s only under-the-sea-themed, tiki nightclub has been slinging tropical themed cocktails and wrangling huge crowds for a while now. There's a lot to take in visually, it's a sensory explosion of lighting and shipwrecked decor, but once you settle in to the sunken dancefloor, pineapple in hand, you'll never want to leave. Cliff Dive's vibe lately is hip hop, trap, grime, and R'n'B focussed, so gear up for an aquatic grind time.
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.
Go for: An industrial rave experience with a touch of luxury
This nightclub on the lockout-skimming Paddington end of Oxford street is all raw concrete and neon. Taking cues from Berlin nightlife and industrial (but oh so chic) warehouse raves, Goodbar is a mainstay with dance music enthusiasts and minimal aesthetes. There's two levels to explore, a sophisticated lounge bar with laid back dancefloor at the top, and serious party bunker at the bottom. The focus here is on international house and techno DJs with rotating rosters of local talent to boot.
Best for: Partying with exceptional sides
This Japanese booze and snack palace turns into a neon-bathed rager after hours. With free karaoke booths, fluro arcade games and regular early '00s and '90s nostalgia nights it's a party playground. What's better than scarfing a delicious plate of yakitori and then dancing to Nelly until late? Nothing.
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 queer 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, real late?
Best for: Weekend party nights to soul and disco 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 soul tunes, golden oldies, and disco from the '70s to now – the queues can be hectic.
Best for: Mischief on a super dark dancefloor
Super offbeat entertainment is the order of the day at this late-night basement bar on King Street. The venue itself is a mishmash of Japanese Pachinko Parlour (you know, those joints with the endless rows of pokies), Lower East Side speakeasy and the diviest bar your filthy mind could imagine. There's a tiny stage that hosts delightfully weird performances and lots of extremely dark corners to dance to the eclectic tunes in.
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. Come here for long sprawling guest DJ sets and the odd flashback night all mostly incorporating house music.
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: Munching burgers then durries until the early hours
Since its 2015 revival, the faithful Gladdy has been a fave among that fun breed of Inner Westian who enjoys old hip hop, cheeky street art and sinking beers while watching sports. While the petite indoor dance floor gets a workout, 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: Twisting to Bowie like you're in a teen movie
Up on the first floor of the heaving Bank Hotel in Newtown you’ll find Waywards, a bar and music venue open Thursday through Saturday until late and with sporadic gigs during the week. A night out here starts with live jangly guitar music and ends with some classic indie toe-tapping. Vinyl DJs play a double digit amount of Bowie tracks and there's a joyous teen-movie-party-scene atmosphere as a result.
Best for: 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 also be a raging classic rock venue, 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 weeknight going-out options.