If there’s one word that describes Sydney’s bar scene, it’s eclectic. When the sun is shining, you might find yourself standing in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House, Hunter Valley semillon in hand. As dusk approaches, classic pubs, breweries and hidden small bars beckon. Whatever your taste and tipple, Sydney has a drinking solution.
Bars with a view
Sydney has some of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, from the surf of Bondi Beach to Circular Quay’s Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. And many of the city’s bars offer a front-row seat to this cinematic drama. Some, like perennial favourite Opera Bar, have you perched between the latter two icons at Circular Quay. Just where do you look? Over at Bar 83, perched atop Sydney Tower, the retro-futuristic ’70s style is outdone only by the views.
The city’s prime hotels also pair cocktails with outdoor eye-candy. Try Blu Bar on 36 at the Shangri-La, Zephyr at the Hyatt Regency, Zeta Bar the Hilton, Hyde Hacienda at the Pullman Quay Grand, Level 7 at Primus Hotel and the Champagne Bar at Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour. In Parramatta, Nick and Nora’s is a sleek cocktail bar with views over the city and to the Blue Mountains.
You know what they say about good things and small packages. The hidden bar scene in Sydney is booming – but in that oh-so-cool way that hipster bars ‘boom’, perhaps with overgrown beards, tattoos and suspenders part of the mix.
In Surry Hills, Shady Pines Saloon and Love, Tilly Devine were pioneers in the small scene. They’re still trendsetters, and as popular as ever. In the CBD, Baxter Inn is hard to find, tucked down an alley. If you arrive thirsty, order a whiskey cocktail from one of the dapper moustachioed mixologists. While The blush-toned Maybe Sammy in The Rocks was the only Australian bar to make the prestigious World’s Best Bars list, and Cantina OK! Is said to have the best margarita in the city.
Venture north to Manly for cocktails and prohibition-inspired decor behind a hidden door at The Cumberland; settle in for classic (and classy) gin cocktails at Moya’s Juniper Lounge in Redfern; and order a Rhubarb Me Gently at Door Knock in the city, a throwback to speakeasies of yesteryear when the only way to get in was to tap a code on the door.
Breweries & distilleries
If you can make it – in small batches – they will come. And so they do, in droves, to Sydney’s independent breweries and distilleries. The Inner West is a bit of a home-brew mecca: come here for the Philter Public Bar and Brewery, Willie the Boatman, Grifter Brewing Co., Young Henrys Brewery and Distillery, Sauce Brewing Co… and so many more.
Then when it comes time to sample the hard stuff, Archie Rose has you covered – this pioneer was the first independent distilling company to open in Sydney since 1853. Gins, white whiskeys, rums and vodkas are bottled at The Cannery Rosebery – you can stop in for a flight or a cocktail – while Manly Spirits Co infuses its gins and vodkas with Australian botanicals like lemon myrtle and wattle pollen. Book in for a tour or a masterclass.
If The Glenmore in Sydney’s Rocks district could tell a story, you’d be sitting drinking beer til Christmas. This heritage establishment is not only full of character (and characters), but it also enjoys some of the best views over Sydney Harbour that you’ll come across. Head to the rooftop. The historic Lord Nelson is just around the corner, trading for 200-plus years, as well as the heritage-listed Hotel Palisade.
There are plenty of jazzed-up places to enjoy a cool beverage as well, whether the rooftop at the Coogee Pavilion, overlooking the sand and surf, or The Newport, where vistas over Pittwater steal the scene when you’re enjoying live music.