10 of Sydney’s best hidden bars
Seek out some of Sydney’s best hidden bars and discover the thrill of the unknown.
It may appear to be just an average shopfront. Maybe it’s an unmarked door down a dark alleyway. But for curious drinkers, these nondescript facades are an entrance to another world. From a dimly lit whisky bar behind a fridge door to carefully crafted cocktails inside a butcher shop, Sydney’s speakeasies offer some of the city’s coolest sips... if you can find them.
The best speakeasies are the ones that tell a story, and The Doss House, an intimate whisky bar housed in a 170-year-old stone building in The Rocks, has plenty. Before it became the upscale cocktail haven it is today, this historic underground lair lived many lives: a former convict hospital, bootmaker’s, opium den and boarding house. Now, the heritage-listed bar features intimate rooms, an original fireplace, and a 150-strong collection of whiskies.
Don’t be fooled by the cheese and charcuterie, Cove Deli in Manly is a portal to one of the most stylish bars on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. A 1920s-era refrigerator leads to a descending spiral staircase into The Cumberland, an underground drinking den where reclaimed timber and antique brass mix with original convict-laid brickwork. There are more than 250 whiskies to choose from along with craft beers, natural wines and cocktails. And, if you’re peckish, meat and cheese boards from the deli above can be sent down by dumbwaiter.
It’s easy to lose yourself in Sydney’s laneways, but getting lost in the CBD’s small bar precinct, YCK Laneways, can only end in high spirits. Down an alley off Clarence Street, basement bar The Baxter Inn resembles a vintage sports bar with a penchant for high-class whisky. From the team behind Shady Pines, the bartenders here have a story for every amber bottle. Considering there are more than 800 of them, that’s saying something.
Walking into this CBD bar off Abercrombie Lane is like a step back in time – Palmer & Co’s Prohibition-Era bar sports black-and-white photos on the wall and antique shelves filled with apothecary bottles. But the real artistry comes on the drinks menu, with a long list of new, classic and forgotten cocktails (try the Widow's Kiss – Laird's Applejack, Yellow Chartreuse, DOM Benedictine and bitters). If you’re bringing your dancing shoes, Wednesdays are Swing Nights, featuring Sydney’s best jazz, swing, jump blues and boogie bands.
Finding Shady Pines Saloon involves walking down a dark Darlinghurst alleyway and looking for an unmarked white door. Another door leads to a staircase and then – welcome to the wild wild West. Leaving may be more difficult, however, because at this cowboy saloon-themed bar you can drink whisky and apple juice under the gaze of a vintage stuffed buffalo before joining a country singalong while peanut shells crunch underfoot. It’s honky-tonk fun you’ll want to stick around for.
Near the corner of Park and Elizabeth Streets in the city centre, a black sign with three skulls lets you know you’ve found the staircase to the basement to join the Ramblin Rascal Tavern crew. Down here the drink of choice is a good cognac, but if you’re not ready to join that revolution you can rest assured that their cocktail game is on point and their bar banter is strong. Pull up a seat and be entertained.
It may look like a seamstress’s shop with sewing machines and spools of thread, but once you step through the doors on York Street in central Sydney and make your way down the grand staircase you’ll find a bar named Stitch. Take a seat in a leather booth where the vintage lights are low, sip a tropical tequila concoction in a peach can, and try to decide between a classic hotdog and one made with duck sausage, truffle and garlic mayo and foie gras from the American diner-inspired menu.
On the outside, Earl’s Juke Joint, in the Inner West suburb of Newtown, looks like a 1950s butcher shop. On the inside you’ll find dark timber floorboards, a tin-covered ceiling, posters of blues legends and an inviting, 11-metre-long bar. Southern US-inspired cocktails, craft beers and natural wines are the stars of the drinks list.
A lone security guard on Bridge Street signals the entrance to this underground bar, a love letter to the ‘70s with wood panelling and red leather banquettes. The Double Deuce Lounge was named after the dive bar in the Patrick Swayze movie Road House, but feels more like it’s tapping into Boogie Nights with its adults-only VHS menu covers and fur-covered walls. As you may have guessed, it’s all about cocktails and flirty fun here.
When the original Employees Only opened in New York City it was located behind a clairvoyant’s salon on Hudson Street. These days a neon ‘Psychic’ sign is also found above the speakeasy-style bar in Singapore, Los Angeles and central Sydney, where you can walk down the stairs off Barrack Street to find a tarot reader in a heritage-listed basement. The cocktail list at Sydney’s Employees Only includes nods to New York with the West Side and EO Manhattan, while the menu goes full luxe, with truffle lobster, Tomahawk steak and more.