Half the fun of Sydney’s small bar scene is finding your venue of choice, often tucked down an alley, accessible via a raft of stairs, located behind a hidden door… you will have worked up quite the thirst by the time you arrive. So it’s a good thing that killer craft beers, hand-picked wines and bespoke whisky cocktails await.
Spanning York, Clarence and Kent streets between Town Hall and Wynyard in Sydney’s central business district, YCK Laneways delivers close to 20 atmospheric drinking venues – that’s in addition to the restaurants and hotels, should you wish to linger.
Drop in on Since I Left You for a hard lemonade or passionfruit spritz; order a tarot-themed cocktail at Papa Gede's; enjoy a cask ale among the bookshelves of the Duke of Clarence; watch live jazz at the New Orleans-inspired Swinging Cat; get your beard trimmed while you sip a dirty martini at The Barber Shop; and travel to Cuba at The Lobo, where cocktails starring rum rule – there are 250-plus varieties of the spirit on the menu. Look out for the annual block parties, uniting all YCK establishments.
You don’t have to stumble far from YCK to find other small bars with plenty of personality. Head underground to discover Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern, where you can order everything from French brandy to Australian gin, and $6 tins of booze. Then sashay over to The Doss House, set beneath a heritage building and replete with vintage interiors to sip your whisky in. Speaking of whisky… there are more than 360 varieties to choose from at The Baxter Inn, where dapper bartenders chisel ice and pour beverages hailing from Japan to Scotland, Australia to America.
To find Old Mate’s Place, be prepared to climb some stairs – 102 to be precise. But the burn you’ll feel in your quads is more than made up for by the character-filled interiors and lush rooftop setting. Door Knock, meanwhile, sits down the end of a long corridor beside a sandwich shop on Pitt Street – knock three times on the brass pineapple to be permitted access.
When it’s time to travel the world without leaving Sydney, venture to tapas venue Bar Topafor a taste of Barcelona (there’s room for just 40 patrons) or Mexican-themed Cantina OK! for tequila cocktails in the company of just 20 other drinkers. If you can’t squeeze in, meander to Barrio Cellar to learn the difference between blanco and aeñejo tequila instead.
Darlinghurst is home to some of the city’s most popular small bars, like wine lounge Love, Tilly Devine, where you can order a funky pet nat to go with your oysters and charcuterie. A few steps away is honkytonk Shady Pines Saloon, replete with an antique bar sagging under the weight of good rye, among other beverages.
Redfern is an urban, laid-back locale of cool, so the list of small bars is long. The line-up includes dive bar The Dock – yes, you can drink beer from a can – and Arcadia Liquors, with its western saloon vibes. Then there’s Misfits, which also serves tasty pastas and burgers; The Noble Hops, with a jaw-dropping craft beer menu; and The Bearded Tit. Because the name is everything. As a bonus, they're all within a few hundred metres of each other. Bar hopping, anyone?
In Enmore, drink tiki-inspired cocktails at Jacoby’s. Or venture to Newtown for the rock 'n' roll vibes of The Midnight Special, the dive-bar atmosphere at Mary's, the saloon styling of Fortunate Son, and the cool cocktails of Earl’s Juke Joint, hidden behind the façade of an old butcher’s shop. Around the corner in Marrickville, it’s all about the tunes at Camelot Lounge, where live jazz sets a groovy scene for your night out.
Across the harbour in Manly, Donny’s channels the vibes of New York, the loft-style space all exposed brick and polished brass. Western Sydney is embracing the small bar movement as well. Dimly-lit Heritage Lounge in Parramattais all about whisky flights and petite canapes, while Mr Watkins is Penrith’s most stylish spot for a nightcap.
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