More insider guides for planning a trip to Sydney
Whether your tipple of choice is a classic Negroni or something festooned with an umbrella, Sydney has some of the best bars – and bartenders – in the world. From speakeasies hidden behind unmarked doors, to rooftop bars with harbour views, to urban distilleries, one thing is consistent: these bars are the go-to for seriously good drinks.
Love Tilly Devine
Darlinghurst is known for its colourful past, so it’s little wonder this small bar is named after an infamous razor-wielding madam who used to rule the streets. Despite Love Tilly Devine’s location down a nondescript laneway, there’s nothing untoward about this little (and we mean little) gem. Housed in an old cellar, it has 40 seats and over 300 wines; that’s a ratio we approve of. The wine list is almost exclusively Australian and features many from the LoFi movement — made organically or bio-dynamically. Try a glass of Manon ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ — an organic Pinot Noir from a small vineyard in the Adelaide Hills.
Contact: 00 61 2 9326 9297; lovetillydevine.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 5pm-12am
Getting in: Come early. It’s a small space and the tables fill up with patrons ready to snuggle in for a long, cosy evening
Inside the urban distillery of the award-winning Archie Rose is one wall of ageing whiskey barrels. You can smell them from the leather booths. The mezzanine provides a bird’s eye view of the bartenders honing their craft behind the sleek copper bar. Here, you can sample the many different spirits made on site before choosing something from the extensive menu. The Stranger Things cocktail, made with Archie Rose Signature Dry Gin, fresh grapefruit and lemon juice, lavender syrup and soda is as compelling as the series it’s named after. Note that Rosebery is a little out of the way. Time your visit to include a tour of the Archie Rose distillery next door.
Contact: 00 61 2 8458 2300; archierose.com.au
Opening times: Sun-Mon, 12pm-10pm; Tue-Sat, 12pm-12am
Eau de Vie
Located at the back of the lobby of the Kirketon hotel, it’s a moody spot with velvet booths, rare spirits displayed in glass lockers and vintage cocktail-making paraphernalia on show. The menu is segmented into key periods of history and the flavours that shaped them. 1950s Hollywood is always a favourite and, with a nod to Marlon Brando, try the Contender: strawberry-infused gin mixed with rosemary and mandarin syrup, fresh lemon juice and pepper. If exclusivity is your style, purchase a bottle of your favourite spirit and ask the bar to store it in your own personal drinks cabinet for you to enjoy each time you visit.
Contact: 00 61 422 263 226; eaudevie.com.au
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 6pm-1am; Sun, 6pm-12am
Getting in: Book ahead if you are coming on a Friday or Saturday night (weekdays are less busy)
Shady Pines Saloon
Don’t be fooled by the nondescript exterior; there is no signage outside Shady Pines Saloon and the only clues you will get as you wander down this lane behind busy Oxford Street will be the tell-tale security guard and the congregating smokers. Once you push past the frosted glass door, be prepared for a visual feast of taxidermy, cowhide rugs and 'Wanted Dead or Alive' posters. Try The Old Pal made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and Campari poured from a crystal jug by one of the nimble, skilled bartenders, or order from their extensive list of American craft beers.
Contact:0061 405 624 944; shadypinessaloon.com
Opening times: Daily, 4pm-12am
You may be forgiven for thinking The Norfolk suffers from split-personality syndrome. Head one-way and you’re in a typical Australian pub, right down to the dartboard and sports bar. Walk in the opposite direction and you’ll find yourself surrounded by taco-eating, craft beer-swilling hipsters. Be sure to get here early to grab a striped banquette seat at an outside table and order yourself one of their four versions of a Bloody Mary, served whimsically out of a recycled tomato tin. This is a local favourite that will suit whatever mood you’re in, and with AUD $5 (£2.80) tequila shots and AUD $10 (£5.60) margaritas on a Friday night, a visit here won’t break the bank either.
Contact: 00 61 2 9699 3177; thenorfolk.co
Opening times: Mon–Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-10pm
Named after the Spanish word for ‘dude’, this dark den is reminiscent of a Mexican cantina, with ceramic religious artefacts decorating the room, melted candles and neon lights adding to the ambience. There's also a particularly eye-catching decorative line of brassieres hanging behind the bar. With over 120 different types of tequila and spirits to choose from, try the Paloma to make you feel like you’re on a Mexican beach. If you’re feeling peckish, snack on their complimentary spicy popcorn or pay a visit to the in-house taco stand.
Contact: 00 61 29999 9999 tioscerveceria.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 4pm-12am
The Baxter Inn
The Baxter Inn is so well-concealed you could end up sipping cocktails in the wrong bar. When you do find the unmarked door and go down the grungy stairs into the candelabra-lit den, you'll find a 10-metre-long bar with 800-plus whiskies, many accessible only by library ladder. Behind the rollicking good-time vibe here is a team that ensures every drink is made with precision and served with panache. The Tennessee whiskey with fresh Granny Smith apple is a refreshing house special.
Address: Basement 152-156, Clarence Street, Sydney 2000
Opening times: Daily, 4pm-1am
Named after the engineer who built the Hotel Palisade, Henry Deane is a split-level cocktail bar and restaurant that takes over the two top floors of the heritage hotel. The top floor, with its expansive harbour and bridge views through floor-to-ceiling glass windows, parquetry floors, pink leather lounges and marble tables, is a winner even before the drinks arrive. The Negroni has a clarified orange ice sphere that intravenously leaks more flavour the longer you sip it. Sunset drinks on the terrace are non-negotiable.
Contact: 00 61 2 9018 0123; hotelpalisade.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun, 12pm-10pm
Getting in: Arrive early to secure a spot on the terrace
Blu Bar on 36
On the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, Blu Bar is the best drink-with-a-view spot in Sydney. The wraparound views of the harbour and the city encase the space through dramatic, five-metre floor-to-ceiling windows. Some things to note: arrive early; every person with a corporate job will be bringing his or her date there by 7pm; the music is loud and, unfortunately, thumping. For a twist on the pre-dinner drink, Blu Bar offers an hour-long Liquid Physics demonstration, showcasing the behind-the-bar talent with liquid nitrogen, blowtorches and exotic ingredients. The Smoking Mistress — bourbon, chocolate, walnut and smoked rosemary — is modern-day alchemy.
Contact: 00 61 2 9250 6000; 36levelsabove.com
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 5pm-12am; Fri-Sat, 4pm-1am; Sun, 3pm-11pm
Getting in: Dress to impress
Get your kitsch on at this 1960s-inspired bar, filled with all the knick-knacks you know your grandma would have loved. Astroturf-covered stairs lead to a cosy space where crochet is king and granny glamour rules the roost. Settle into a comfy vintage chair in one of the dimly lit corners and peruse the extensive drinks menu. Cocktails are a house specialty; the Earl Grey Martini is an ode to the oldies via a concoction of Earl Grey-infused gin, lemon juice, sugar and egg whites. It’s a friendly atmosphere and bar staff will make you feel right at home.
Contact: 00 61 2 9264 3004; grandmasbarsydney.com
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 3pm-12am; Fri, 3pm-1am; Sat, 5pm-1am
Getting in: It’s a small spot that fills up quickly during the week with corporate types unwinding after work
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar
Frequented by the eastern suburbs fashion set, prepare to rub shoulders with up-and-coming actors, models and designers — it’s quite a scene. Perched atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, the view from Icebergs is unparalleled. The menu features a selection of Ciroc Vodka cocktails; arrive at sunset and select No.15 with Campari and blood orange for your drink to match the sky. A seat in one of the swinging cane chairs is highly coveted; if you miss out, find a spot on the small terrace and watch the surfers catch one last wave before the sun sets over the north end of Bondi.
Contact: 00 61 2 9365 9000; idrb.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm–12am; Sun, 12pm-10pm
Getting in: Change out of your beach attire; this is Bondi’s most stylish spot
The Shop and Wine Bar
A much-loved spot for a glass of Riesling in summer, an Aperol Spritz of a weekend afternoon, or a warming bottle of Shiraz on winter nights. It’s an intimate spot (tiny!), mainly frequented by locals who, considering this is Bondi, consist of young families, aspiring actors, tourists, fashion designers and everything in between. Husband and wife duo, Mikey and Lucy, are here every day, often with their two young children too. This is what sets The Shop apart from the other fashionable spots in Bondi. It’s definitely hip, but it’s also homely.
Contact:00 61 2 9365 2600;theshopandwinebar.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 6am-10pm; Sun, 7am-10pm
Getting in: The tiny space can mean a wait for a table
Spring Street Social
Bondi Junction is generally the place to go for appliances not aperitifs, but Spring Street Social is changing this neighbourhood’s reputation one drink at a time. Located in the middle of the bustling shopping district is this dimly lit underground bar with an ‘apothecary’ edge. The owner was a pharmacist in his former life and the décor pays homage to this, from the medicinal bottles to the lab-inspired glassware. They make all their bitters on site and the wine list is exclusively from Australia and New Zealand. Find a seat near the gramophone so you can really enjoy the jazz-inspired tunes —it’s the best way to make the memories of the shopping frenzy happening above you slowly disappear.
Contact: 00 61 2 9389 2485;springstreetsocial.com.au
Opening times: Tue-Sat, 5pm-3am
The Lord Dudley
At The Lord Dudley, everything Britannia rules the day. This ivy-covered pub in the sophisticated eastern suburb of Woollahra is a home away from home for Sydney’s expat British community, with royal portraits and framed maps recreating the atmosphere of an old English pub. People come as much for the cider and 20 beers on tap as they do for the roast dinners and homemade Guinness pies on offer. In the colder months, you can grab a spot by an open fire and settle in for a spot of backgammon or a game of darts out the back. The games continue until well into the night.
Contact: 00 61 2 9327 5399; lorddudley.com.au
Opening times: Mon-Wed, 11am-11pm; Thu-Sat, 11am-12am; Sun, 12pm-10pm
Getting in: If you’re intending to dine, book ahead
Watsons Bay Beach Club
The former beer garden of Watsons Bay Hotel is fresh from an AUD $2 million (£1.1 million) facelift, and is as sparkly as the harbour it overlooks. As far as views go, this one is a killer. A sunny Saturday or Sunday afternoon spent sipping wasabi-infused Bloody Marys or catching up over a bottle of Satellite Sauv Blanc is a quintessentially Sydney afternoon. This is also a family-friendly space, with a great children’s menu, drawing paper and buckets of pencils. Expect to see a real mix of people soaking up the harbourside sun, from tourists to young families and Eastern Suburbs socialites. Plan your visit to coincide with sunset drinks after a trip to nearby Camp Cove.
Contact: 00 61 2 9337 5444; watsonsbayhotel.com.au
Opening times: Daily, 7am-12am
Head to the Inner West suburb of Newtown and follow the crowds as they head down Mary Street. Why? Because they know that hidden behind an unmarked door is where you’ll find Sydney’s best burgers and a rocking drinking spot too. From the lampshades made from old Jack Daniels bottles to the extremely loud heavy metal playlist reverberating off the recycled timber bar and graffiti-covered walls, Mary seeks to subvert... and she succeeds. What may surprise you in this American-centric atmosphere is the French bent of the wine list, with bio-dynamic and organic options available too.
Address: 6 Mary Street, Newtown, 2042
Contact: 00 61 2 9550 4995;
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 4pm-12am; Fri-Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun, 12pm-10pm