Thursday 28 March 2013

Top Sydney bars: The (sort of but not entirely) definitive list (of good ones)

Updated: 6th January 2017

Full disclosure - this post isn't entirely about whisky. It is about places you can drink whisky though, so close enough.

Seriously though - I used to keep a list on my phone of Sydney bars I liked, and often got requests to pass it on to friends, colleagues etc.. Recently a colleague asked why I don't just add it to my blog and share the link? Made sense to me...

The list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, just a list of Sydney bars I enjoy and would (and do) happily re-visit. No detailed reviews here - just a sentence or two to give you an idea of what they're about, plus an address.

For ease of use, I've split the list into regions (though heavily skewed towards CBD/East). Feel free to add your own via the comments box below! Anyway, on with the list....

Sydney CBD
Bulletin Place (10-14 Bulletin Pl, Sydney) - Love this place. Owned by 3 bartenders (including Tim Phillips, current World's Best Bartender). It's tiny (seating for 50) but has a great vibe. Cocktail menu changes daily, and they have a small but well-chosen beer selection. Get in early each night to decide what wines they pour that night. See review here.

Ramblin' Rascal Tavern (Basement, 60 Park St, Sydney) - Great bar, this one. A slight contradiction perhaps, but all the better for it. See, you walk in and see elegant leather booths, dim lighting, dark plush carpet, candles and a great backbar (with more cognac than you can poke a stick at), and you think "OK, this is a quiet, elegant, hopefully not too stuffy bar". Then you see the staff, in dungarees or overalls, often with tatts, epic beards, standing in front of a sign advertising "Shit Tinnies $6", asking if you'd "like a f*cken drink?" (in the friendliest of manners). Then you realise, this place is seriously cool, and the staff just want to have a bloody awesome time (while mixing you a fantastic cocktail, or handing you an icy cold $6 shit tinnie). Go there, now.

Baxter Inn (Basement/152-156 Clarence St, Sydney) - 505 whiskies, hidden underground location, bit of a prohibition-era vibe. Great place, but get there early on a Friday afternoon as it fills up quickly.

Kittyhawk (16 Philip Ln, Sydney) - From the guys and girls behind Lobo Plantation (see further down). A large (yet cosy) space with incredible design - think Paris circa early 1940s (err, yes, during WW2). Great staff, cocktails, central location and easy to find.

PS40 (2/40 King St, Sydney) - A simple, muted space which looks unlike any other bar in Sydney (a nice refreshing change). Speaking of refreshing, their house-made Sodas are out of this world - try them with a suggested spirit pairing, in a cocktail, or even on their own. It's hard to go wrong. Michael Chiem is one of the driving forces behind this bar, and trust us, that's a good thing.

Papa Gedes Bar (346-348 Kent St, Sydney) - Voodoo vibe channelling the "mascot of good times" and "Voodoo spirit of lust & humour". Oh, and great cocktails and absinthe too! Another win for Sydney's CBD bar crowd.

Barrio Cellar (Basement Level, 58 Elizabeth St, Martin Place) - A laid-back basement-level Tequila-focused bar with plenty of seating and a small but decent list of Tequila-based cocktails, coupled with quality Mexican fare.

The Smoking Panda (5-7 Park St, Sydney) A large, second-floor bar above the Hotel Coronation. Casual, oriental decor mixed with crafts beers and cheap dumplings, with plenty of seating and good acoustics thrown in? A winner for the after-work crowd.

Parke Davis (125 York St, Sydney) - what was once known as "that underused space under La Bodeguita del Medio aka The Cuban Place" (phew), is now a fully-fledged little cocktail bar...and it's a beauty. The cocktail list could do with a few stronger/bitters-heavy drinks, but the music is spot on, the space is big (but not unfriendly) and the crowd size was just right on a Saturday night. We wouldn't rush back, but we'd happily re-visit if in the vicinity (and thisty).

The Lobo Plantation (Basement, 209 Clarence St, Sydney) - I remember seeing the D.A on this site a few months ago and wondering what was going to pop up. Turns out it was The Lobo Plantation, and it was WELL worth the wait. Jared Merlino (ex-Pool Club) is one of the co-owners here together with his team, have done an absolutely amazing job turning this basement into a Caribbean hide-away. No expense has been spared on the fitout here, nor anywhere else in the bar. From the few we've tried, the cocktail menu is fantastic (especially the "Short & Stout"), and the food options are all very fitting too. Expect this one to get VERY popular, especially on Thursday and Friday nights.

The Barber Shop (89 York St, Sydney) - Mikey Enright (ex-Merivale Group Bar Manager) has gone out on his own (well, with a few others) and what a debut. With a working barber shop up front, a well-stocked bar at the back, a courtyard and even a gin tap(!) what's not to love?

The Rook (Level 7, 56-58 York St, Sydney) - The latest from Keystone Group (Cargo, Kit&Kaboodle, The Loft etc..) - rooftop location in a non-descript office block in York St. Busier on a Friday than a Saturday. They serve food too, but the menu is pretty limited (burgers and lobster).

Gilt Lounge (49 Market St, Sydney) - Above Gowings Bar & Grill in QT Hotel. These guys take cocktails seriously (they even barrel-age their own). Plenty to choose from in the way of beer/wine too.

Frankie's Pizza (50 Hunter St, Sydney) - Another winner from Antone Forte and Jason Scott (Baxter, Shady Pines). It's the old Hunter Bar, but it's nothing like the old Hunter Bar. Looking like a half suburban Italian-restaurant / half dive bar, and featuring a 4 am licence, fantastic pizza, big hospo crowd (especially after midnight), jukebox, pinball machines, and vintage rock'n'roll concert posters (£2.50 for a Led Zep concert ticket? Sign me up!)...what's not to love? It's hard not to have fun here.

Grandma's (Basement/275 Clarence St, Sydney) - Cocktails and rum in a relaxed setting. Busier on a Friday than a Saturday.

Stitch (61 York St, Sydney) - Another great underground bar, with a nice vibe. Good food and cocktail lists,and a great selection of Ardbeg whiskies (they're the official Sydney bar for Ardbeg).

Mejico (105 Pitt St, Sydney) - More of a restaurant than a bar, but with one of (if not the) most enviable Tequila selections in Sydney. Try a Tres Generaciones, and whatever you do, don't shot it...

Rabbit Hole (82 Elizabeth St, Sydney) - Experimental cocktails in the old Bar Europa site. Do you know what a calcium bath or magnetic agitator is? No? Intrigued? Then check out what these guys can do with alcohol...

Bar Eleven (161 Sussex St, Sydney) - Pretty quiet when we visited on a Friday evening, but it started to get busier. Not sure if this is a seasonal bar, but it's another option for those in the Sussex St / Darling Harbour area. Don't go if raining.

York Ln (YoLa) (56 York Ln, Sydney) - Big enough for about 15 people, just behind Wynyard. Not the sort of place you'd stay all night, but a nice spot for a quiet cider or glass of wine.

The Cuban Place (was "La Bodeguita del Medio") (125 York St, Sydney) - big Cuban bar opposite QVB. Famous for their mojitos, and a decent rum selection too. Grab a texta and write on the wall (everyone else has!)

Assembly (488 Kent St, Sydney) - In Chinatown, great little small bar with a loft area (great for groups), top cocktail list and great rum selection. Try the "Problem Solver".

Shirt Bar (7 Sussex Lane, Sydney) - Coffee in the morning, shirts during the day, whisky at night. One of my favourite Sydney bars. Great whisky selection, fantastic (and cheap!) coffee. Ask for Adam or Louka.

Mojo Music (73 York St, Sydney) - Right next to the record store, opposite Bavarian Bier Cafe in York St. Nice cosy booths, decent drinks selection and GREAT tunes cranking all night.

ivy (320-330 George St, Sydney) - Metropolis with more bars and restaurants than you can poke a stick at. Pool Club is nice in summer, Pailings is nice for a bite to eat, and The Lounge/Den are nice for a quiet cocktail, but the whole place is packed on Saturdays now as it turns into Pacha nightclub every Saturday. Best for mid-week or Friday evenings.

Spooning Goats (32 York St, Sydney) - Imagine you're drinking in the lounge room from "That 70s Show" - that's Spooning Goats (officially called "The S.G"). Pretty budget, but a decent rotating local beer selection.

The Morrison (225 George St, Sydney) - Popular with the Friday after-work crowd. It's the old Brooklyn Bar, but much nicer.

Uncle Ming's (55 York St, Sydney) - A large (for a "small bar") bar in York St - very Chinese-influenced menu. Popular Friday evening spot.

Grain Bar (199 George St, Sydney) - A hotel bar that doesn't suck, in the Four Seasons.

Tapavino (6 Bulletin Pl, Sydney) - Sherry bar in Bulletin Place. Nice staff, and a HUGE sherry list if that's your thing. Pop in for some food before cocktails next door at Bulletin Place.

The Bar at the End of the Wharf (Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay) - A little removed from the centre of the city, but a great succinct drinks menu, plenty of space, and a great place to catch up before/after a play.

Small Bar (48 Erskine St, Sydney) - The original Sydney small bar.

Level 6 (Level 6, 330 George St, Sydney) - Not easy to get into (you usually have to be with a member, and membership is $5,000/yr...) but the two times I've been it's been fantastic. Great drinks, great atmosphere, plenty of space. Good chance you'll end up drinking with a celebrity (usually of the Hollywood, or Australian sporting variety).

Darlinghurst / Surry Hills
Eau de Vie (229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst) - World's best cocktail bar in my opinion (internationally recognised as such too). Huge spirits selection, nice atmosphere, fantastic bartenders (one remembered my name 6 months after I visited). Owned by Sven Almenning - one of the nicest guys in the industry. My favourite bar, anywhere (the Melbourne twin is also pretty fantastic).

Dead Ringer (413 Bourke St, Surry Hills) - Occupying the old Emmilou Tapas Bar site, the boys from Bulletin Place (one of our favourite bars anywhere in the world) have opened a larger cocktail bar / restaurant in Surry Hills. The drinks are just as delicious, the food is fantastic (and good value), and the banter is as good as ever. The menus even tell you tomorrow's weather! What more could you want?

This Must be the Place (239 Oxford St, Darlinghurst) - Think of small bars and you think of small, dimly lit venues with dark furniture, in a basement down an alley, serving heady, booze-forward concoctions right? Nope, not with TMBTP. Think the opposite - light, airy, street-level, almost Scandinavian in design, with a focus on (amazing) spritz cocktails. Oh, and did we mention it's run by Luke Ashton and Charlie Ainsbury (both of Eau de Vie fame)? No? Go, now.

Magazin (113 William Street, Darlinghurst) - An underground, member's-only bar, but don't call it a speakeasy. Modern, futuristic, with exposed concrete, smart, quality finishings and very comfortable furniture, not to mention great drinks. From the Grasshopper team.

Tokyo Bird (Commonwealth St & Belmore Lane, Surry Hills) - Japanese inspired small neighbourhood bar serving up Japanese cocktails, yakitori and whisky (with a great selection of the latter). Warm and welcoming from the get-go, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Hello Sailor (96 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, entry through Foley Ln) - It's on Oxford St, it's called "Hello Sailor", but it's not a gay bar (not that there's anything wrong with that). The latest from Luke Reddington (of Eau de Vie fame) is this nautical-themed basement bar, with seafood shack upstairs. Come here for tasty rum cocktails, great bartenders, tasty seafood snacks, or just to sit in boat (seriously). Cool spot.

The Wild Rover (75 Campbell Street, Surry Hills) - Opened early April 2013, the new one from the Grandma's boys (who are genuinely nice dudes). Right across the road from Bar H. Two stories, laid back friendly atmosphere with ~100 whiskies (mostly Irish but some great, less well-known Scotches), ~20 beers and ~60 wines. Expect it to be very popular, very soon. See review here.

Button (65 Foveaux St, Surry Hills) - A pirate themed bar that isn't tacky? Surprising but it's true. Decent cocktails, cool vibe. From the guys who own Pocket and Stitch.

The Commons (32 Burton St, Darlinghurst) - Started life as a Pure Blonde popup bar, now much cooler. Outside in the courtyard, downstairs in the cocktail bar - great good, great drinks.

Vasco (421 Cleveland St, Surry Hills)- New Italian rock-n-roll bar in Surry Hills. Loud, busy, good fun.

Shady Pines Saloon (4/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst) - Before Baxter Inn and Frankie's came Shady Pines Saloon. Kitsch wild west vibe (including swing doors) that actually works pretty well. Famous for their boilermakers.

Old Growler (218 William St, Woolloomooloo) - Young Henry's (exclusively) on tap and European share plates. Not an area replete with small bars, but that's all the more reason to visit.

Black Penny (648 Bourke St, Redfern) - Casual, cheap, good value, fun.

Tio's Cerveceria (4-14 Foster St, Surry Hills) - Easily the loosest bar in Sydney. By 11pm bartenders are pouring shots into people's mouths and people are standing on the tables. It's kitsch, it's tacky, it's loud, and a whole lot of fun.

The Hazy Rose (/83 Stanley St, Darlinghurst) - Cocktail bar in Surry Hills, known for having some of the best bartenders in the business. Only a year old and already an institution.

Hinky Dinks (185 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst) - Cute little cocktail bar just down the road from Eau de Vie. Probably not the place you'd go with a group of mates, but nice for a quiet one.

El Loco (64 Foveaux St, Surry Hills) - Super low-budget Mexican joint from Merivale. Great tacos from Dan Hong, tasty frozen margheritas.

Shortgrain (Hunt St, Surry Hills) - Under Longrain restaurant. A bit sterile but nice enough for a quick drink if in the area.

Victoria Room (1/235 Victoria St, Darlinghurst) - An institution. Think British India, with great cocktails.

Pocket Bar (13 Burton St, Sydney) - Pretty casual, garage-with-mismatched-furniture vibe in Surry Hills/Darlo. Good for late night crepes. Same group as Stitch and Button (geddit, Stitch, Pocket, Button?)

Bar H (80 Campbell St, Surry Hills) - Half restaurant (modern Asian) half-bar. Nice spot for a quiet glass of wine.

The Local Taphouse (122 Flinders St, Darlinghurst) - Best place in Sydney for beer, with plenty on tap and even more in bottles.

The Winery (285A Crown St, Surry Hills) - Open, airy, full of greenery and with great decor. Great for a meal (though get there early) or a glass of vino.

Low 302 (302 Crown St, Darlinghurst) - Cosy intimate cocktail bar and restaurant. Popular with the hospo crowd.

Kaya (96 Oxford St, Darlinghurst) - New Japanese restaurant and bar on Oxford St.

Aquaviva's (77 Stanley St, Darlinghurst) - Grab a table on the footpath or terrace and enjoy a Portugese beer while you watch Darlinghurst go by.

Ching-a-lings (33 Oxford St, Darlinghurst) - Funky semi-hidden rooftop bar with outdoor terrace.

Lil' Darlin (420 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills -AND- 235 Victoria St, Darlinghurst) - Tapas, wine, cocktails, funky casual atmosphere. The Surry Hills spot is more of a restaurant (the pizzas are fantastic), while the Darlo location is easier to drop in for a casual drink. I wouldn't call it solely a cocktail bar, but the cocktails are decent (if more on the fruity side). A great all-rounder.

Kubrick's (79 Stanley St, Darlinghurst) - A little odd, this one, but nice enough. White, bright, arty, but with a decent wine list, friendly staff and an inviting garage/courtyard area out the back.

Potts Point / Kings Cross
The Roosevelt Bar & Diner (32 Orwell St, Potts Point) - Another of Sven Almenning's bars (Eau de Vie, Bottleneck Bar & Eatery). On the site of the old 50s gangster club by the same name - they specialise in Americana tapas and fantastic (but quirky) cocktails, often made with liquid nitrogen.

Sugarmill Hotel, Kit & Kaboodle & Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ (Level 2, 33-37 Darlinghurst Rd, Potts Point) - Easy pub downstairs, two levels of nightclubs in the middle, and a great rooftop BBQ joint on the roof. Something for everyone.

Beach Haus (1/5 Roslyn St, Kings Cross) - Popular on a Saturday night (think of it as more of a "small club", and more of a bar on other nights). Nice decor, crowd can be a bit...y'know.

Lower North Shore
SoCal (1 Young St, Neutral Bay) - Fantastic place for dinner or drinks, just get there early (or even better, make a booking) as it fills up quickly. Think Melbourne's Mamasita, with an outdoor terrace, and equally good drinks and food.

The White Hart (19-21 Grosvenor St, Neutral Bay) - My favourite bar in the lower North Shore. Great back bar, great cocktails (from classic to "out there"), great staff and free popcorn.

Treehouse (60 Miller St, North Sydney) - Cafe, bar, great at both. An oasis in an otherwise pretty dead part of town.

The Botanist (17 Willoughby St, Kirribilli) - Kirribili - great share plates and a well-selected wine and beer list.

The Local (6/19-25 Grosvenor St, Neutral Bay) - Neutral Bay, very (very) small, but with an impressive sherry selection.

Easy Tiger (106 Oxford Street, Paddington) - Remember Fringe? Who doesn't. Well now it's "The Unicorn". And if you head downstairs, you'll find yourself at Easy Tiger. If Spooning Goats is the CBD's answer to a 70s basement, this is Paddington's (I swear the furniture came straight from my grandma's old place). Great tunes, looping 70s movies and Zacapa for $12? It's a bit (lot) cheesy, a bit tacky, and a lot of fun.

The Print Room (9-11 Glenmore Rd, Paddington) - Continuing the theme of "cool bars in otherwise pretty standard hotels/pubs", The Print Room has recently opened up upstairs at Durty Nelly's. With wait staff dressed to the nines, waiting to serve you any one of their interesting cocktail list, and plenty of seating (inside and out) on the Saturday night we visited, this is more of a quiet place to take a date, or maybe a double date, than a big group of mates (save that for downstairs). Nice decor.

The Cottage (342 Darling St, Sydney) - Feels like a nice old house. Great food and plenty of spots to sit with a drink afterwards.

Miss Peaches (201 Missenden Rd, Newtown) - Large and spacious, Miss Peaches specialises in Soul Food, great cocktails, home-made sodas and good times. It's Newtown, so you know the staff are going to have epic beards, tattoo sleeves, massive coifs (or all of the above), but the staff are friendly, attentive and fast. The menu is pretty much all southern (so think sliders, grits, po'boys etc..), tasty enough and well-priced. Definitely one of the best venues in Newtown.

Mary's (6 Mary St, Newtown) - ...and you thought Miss Peaches was full of Hipsters! Ha, we kid. Everyone comes for the burgers (which are pretty good), and when I say "everyone", I mean practically all of Newtown, judging by the queue that went waaay down Mary St when we left. The beers are good (though you should just order Young Henry's all night), the food decent (though slow), and whilst nothing really stood out for me to make this place "special", it was enjoyable enough. I'd go back, but I wouldn't queue for it.

Midnight Special (44 Enmore Rd, Newtown) - tiny and cosy (room for maybe 30 people), but with a well thought-out cocktail list (including a responsible one-shot, $10 cocktail menu), this place wasn't overly packed on the Saturday night we visited, which was just fine by us. A good vibe, fast service, and a bangin' tune selection (any bar that plays Creedence is OK by me!) means you should add this to your Newtown list.

Corridor (153a King St, Newtown) - There are plenty of bars in Newtown but this would have to be one of the best. It's not large, or fancy, but they have a well-selected back bar and the bartenders are excellent at what they do (and always happy for a chat).

Bondi / Bondi Junction
El Topo (Rooftop, Level 3, The Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction) - Hola! Continuing the trend of good, authentic Mexican food in Sydney, El Topo combines a great casual Mexican restaurant (with a focus on Oaxaca) and a serious bar, with bartender heavyweights like Luke Redington (ex Eau-de-Vie) and Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year 2012 Tim Philips (also of the excellent Bulletin Place - see review here).

Donny's (7 Market Lane, Manly) - Two story relaxed joint with a small but tasty cocktail list and decent beers. Slightly industrial feeling, with plenty of seating for groups or couples. Happy hour until 7pm on Saturdays too. Not sure about the draught beer served in jam jars though...

Harlem on Central (Shop 4, 9-15 Central Ave, Manly) - Not super easy to find, except for the fact that it looks like it couldn't be anything but a small bar from the outside. Look for dark wooden panelling, darkened windows and a small copper plaque on the ground. Or just look a few doors down from Insitu. Probably as close as you'll get to an Eau de Vie vibe in Manly - leather chairs, plush seating, a decent back bar, and staff who know cocktails. Well worth stopping for a drink or 3.

Insitu (1/18 Sydney Rd, Manly) - Fun, casual small bar and restaurant also with Happy Hour on a range of decent cocktails before 7pm.

Closed bars
Once they were great, now they're no more...

The Premise (all over) - Sadly closed now as both iterations were only open for a limited time. The first was a rooftop in Surry Hills, the second was a floating boat (now continuing as "The Island"). The Island is a Sunday sessions sort of place - great on a hot day.

Hunky Dory Social Club (Darlinghurst) - 3 levels of arty, fun, an outdoor terrace and pizza downstairs.

Madame Fling Flongs (Newtown) - Odd name, laid back spot.

The Park (Centennial Parklands) - Open from 13th April to 2nd June, "The Park" is a pop-up from the masters of pop-up behind The Island and 2009's Absolut Summer Series at Bondi's Swiss Grand. Cleverly scheduled to finish before it gets too chilly, the park will be open from 7am offering quality food and drinks. Get in while you can.

One Moncur (1 Moncur St, Woollahra) - Less than a year old (opened in mid 2012) and already well-established, One Moncur has an impressive decor, an extensive champagne list (it would be nice to see a few more options by the glass, but I guess practicalities have to come into play) and a number of "grower" champagnes. Conveniently less than 1km from Chiswick, the two make an excellent duo for a decadent lunch or dinner.

Moe's Tavern (2 Bourke St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011) - Only open for a week, as pop-up to help launch Woolies' Duff Beer (the official one, unlike that one from 18 odd years ago). The queues were huge (even on a Tuesday), and whilst it was kinda cool, the gimmick wore off after 10 minutes, and the beer was pretty average.

No Vacancy (12 Kellet St, Kings Cross) - A nightclub, but one of the nicer ones in Sydney. Small, intimate with plenty of large leather booths. (Used to be "21").

Bottleneck Bar & Eatery (229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst) - Just in front of Eau de Vie - a small little bar specialising in meatballs, bourbon and bloody marys. Great for a bite to eat and a beer or two. Cool little "booths" for couples too.

The Island (Sydney Harbour) - Not to be confused with The Island Bar (Cocktaoo Island), the Island is a floating bar (previously The Premise for a short time - see "closed bars" below) designed for Sunday sessions, as a competitor to the likes of ivy's Marco Polo. Sunbeds, bottle service, bikini's, and (if you're lucky) speedboat transfers. Good times.

White Revolver (Cnr Curlewis & Campbell Pde, Bondi) - Truth be told, I liked this place a lot more when it was smaller, more hidden, and a little more polished. Don't get me wrong - it's still one of my favourite spots in the area (right on Bondi Beach), but back in the early days it just had something special. Hidden behind a revolving hidden door, you stepped into an eclectic world of mish-mash furniture (including a wooden boat!), fun bartenders and really, really bloody good tunes. I'm not usually one for dancing or nightclubs, but it was hard not to dance at White Revolver. Every night was a top night. It's still fun, but it's expanded into the restaurant in front, feels a little old nowadays, and just doesn't have the same spark it once did. Still a solid choice in the area, and they do hold some bloody good parties.

Pachamama House (200 Goulburn St, Surry Hills) - Small wine bar just a block from Oxford St.

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Enjoy, and feel free to add bars in the comments field below! I'll keep this post up to date as new bars open up around Sydney.

 - Martin.

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