The Best Pubs in Sydney
Looking for a new local? This selection of classic boozers and more contemporary gastropubs will suit all beer and parma enthusiasts.
September 08, 2023
THE BEST PUBS IN SYDNEY
Looking for a new local? This selection of classic boozers and more contemporary gastropubs will suit all beer and parma enthusiasts.
The Sydney pub scene has undergone somewhat of a revolution in the past decade, with countless historic watering holes receiving refurbs to save them from ruin. Some have totally stripped away the old-school pub vibes, opting for sleek and creative design features, while others have only done enough to keep the roof from caving in — lovingly preserving the beer-stained carpets and wood-panelled bar tops.
This list of the 20 best pubs in Sydney includes a little bit of everything: old and new, beer gardens and fireplaces, parmies and caviar, and just about everything in between. Read on to see if your favourite haunt has made the cut and potentially discover a local treasure that's been hiding right under your nose.
The storied corner pub and haven of electronic music reopened at the end of 2022, bringing packed dance floors and its 24-hour license back to Chippendale. The Sydney pub’s main bar and beer garden serves as a friendly neighbourhood haunt with beers and cocktails on tap, pizza by the slice and Italian mains for those that may get peckish. And when the weekend hits, late-night parties take over the space until 5am.
Head up two floors and you’ll discover a sleek cocktail lounge and rooftop bar called Casa Rosa. The food here draws from the Med, and the DJs spin Italo-disco classics until the early hours of the morning. Rounding out the trio of offerings is Lil Sis. Here, you’ll find a cosy wine bar serving up classic drops and new-world, minimal-intervention wines, both of which can be enjoyed on-site or be taken away.
Built in 1921, this heritage listed hotel has had stacks of its features restored to their original state over the past decade or so, including the fireplaces, bars themselves and almighty rooftop space — our favourite part of this city pub that’s long been a go-to in The Rocks.
Birds eye views of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from up on that top level, and the retractable roof is a great addition, making it a top spot to hang no matter what the weather conditions throw your way. Like many popular Sydney pubs, The Glenmore has refined its offerings without losing its old-world charm. It remains an excellent part of the Rocks’ drinking and pub grub scene.
The Watsons Bay Hotel has been an eastern suburbs stalwart for over 190 years. And with that beachfront location and view, is it any wonder? The up-market pub’s major draw cards are its sprawling outdoor seating, an elevated seafood-focused dining menu and a view so palm-tree perfect it could be a postcard (in fact it probably is).
The offering includes a very good cocktail selection, several event spaces and boutique hotel accommodation that take advantage of those dazzling harbour views. But at its heart, this place is a pub. And that’s what works so well. The order-and-pick-up-at-the-bar thing clicks and keeps the atmosphere busy and buzzy, the crowd is laid back and lively, and like all great coastal venues it invites you to settle in and take it slow under the sunshine.
Odd Culture, the team behind The Old Fitz has brought this Inner West pub to life with a program of live music and a top-notch pub menu. The kitchen centres around woodfired and charcoal-grilled eats — including a great lineup of pizzas. Booze-wise, the wine list features predominantly natural and low-intervention drops, if you’re in the market for beer there are plenty of independent local brews of tap, and the picklebacks come with a selection of house brines to choose from.
This Sydney pub boasts an Australian-meets-American dive bar atmosphere with pool and Big Buck Hunter in place of the pokies and a moody al fresco beer garden sitting out back. Not long ago the main bar got an upgrade with the addition of a sleek new two-tonne polished-concrete bar clad in spotted gum — but worry not, that familiar pub feel hasn’t gone anywhere. It is for that reason why The Duke remains one of the best pubs in Sydney.
What was once a daggy bowlo has been transformed into a leafy summertime garden pub with million-dollar Sydney skyline views. Inside The Greens, floor-to-ceiling glass doors allow sunlight to stream into a plant-filled brasserie which is fitted out with curved booths and long communal tables. If it’s a sunny day, head outside to the rustic garden where you’ll find daybeds and picnic settings adjacent to the lawns.
You’ll also be pleased to know that the bowls greens are still fully operational and available to book for social games. The pub also holds yoga sessions, organic markets, live music nights, campfire s’mores events and film screenings on the greens — as well as regular DJ sets on the weekend. The Greens definitely has its game on.
As you might know, The Lansdowne and its sky-high outdoor area have a storied history. The rooftop spanned a few different iterations while the Mary’s team was at the helm. Now, under the guidance of the crew behind the Oxford Art Factory, The Lansdowne has brought back sun-soaked sips two days a week.
Head upstairs on a Friday or Saturday and you’ll find a bright-blue oasis high above City Road that’s perfect for a weekend catch-up with mates. The open-air bar was given a quick-fire revamp during the summer of 2023 and now boasts retro beach umbrellas to shade you from the sun’s rays, as well as the full suite of food and drinks from the pub downstairs. The rooftop offerings, paired with the impressive lineup of live music gigs down in the main bar make this one of Sydney’s best pubs — and one of the city’s most enduring live music venues.
The Oaks is a North Shore institution. One of the most famous Sydney pubs, it’s a mega-barn that got a huge renovation back in 2019. The pokies machines got the boot and in came the sleek new cocktail bar, restaurant with in-house butcher, sports bar featuring games every day of the week and boutique bottle shop.
The glorious beer garden also got some love, now boasting a covered garden pavilion and terrace where you can get all cosy during the colder months. The regular events programme is also stacked. Monday nights are all about schnitty deals. Tuesdays are for trivia. Wednesdays are Playstation Nights. Thursdays are when you can get around local craft beer tastings. Fridays and Saturdays see live music take over the sports bar and beer garden. And Sundays are just Sundays. It’s one of the best Sydney pubs, each day of the week.
This Bondi Beach drinking and dining den has stood the test of time. The North Bondi RSL has held on to its loyal patrons with decent prices, classic meat raffles and honest community engagement while simultaneously gathering a fanbase of other locals and tourists through free live music nights and the recently refurbished bistro. But let’s not mess around: everyone loves those uninterrupted beach views. They never get old.
Either spend a long sunny day out on the terrace or head inside to eat, drink and watch the footy with a bunch of rowdy sports lovers. And if you happen to be here for the sunset, pay your respect to the veterans by standing up and facing westwards with the rest of the staff and patrons.
Le Foote is the newest entry on this list, opening in 2023 from the team over at Swillhouse. The hospo mainstay behind heavy-hitting Sydney spots like Frankie’s (R.I.P), Shady Pines, Restaurant Hubert and Alberto’s Lounge lived out the dream of many Australians and bought a pub, taking over the reins at The Rocks stalwart The Phillip’s Foote.
The charm of this immensely sleek new opening is its versatility, with a Euro wine bar specialising in minimal-intervention drops and a Mediterranean-influenced bistro wrapped in the dressing of a classic George Street haunt. While you’ll find challenging varieties of vino and cuts of meat to rival Sydney’s best steakhouses here, the impressive food and drink offerings are balanced out by a feeling that nothing should be taken too seriously — as with all the best Swillhouse venues. You’re free to have fun, whether you’re swinging past for a two-sip martini or settling in for the grand banquet.
Image: Kristoffer Paulsen
The Dolphin Hotel made a big splash in the Sydney food scene when it reopened in 2016. Its lovely contemporary interiors adorned with eye-popping monochrome Haring-like illustrations and sculptural textures across walls and ceilings, high-flying Italian cuisine and the charming salumeria and wine bar were envied by other local joints.
The interior design by George Livissianis (known for his work on other beloved venues including The Apollo and Cho Cho San) makes The Dolphin stand-out among the more traditional pub fit-out. The food served up in the main ground-floor dining room is also what makes this Sydney pub noteworthy. As with his other ventures, owner and creative director Maurice Terzini has steered an impressive menu of subtly sophisticated modern Italian fare, where top Australian produce is showcased through a selection of share plates, pasta, protein-led mains as well as a lineup of burgers — all at incredibly reasonable prices considering the quality and care on each plate.
A Dowling Street stalwart, Woolloomooloo’s Old Fitz has undergone many a transformation over the past decade, but it’s still an old pub at heart. The one thing that remains consistent is the familiar yet elusive je ne sais quoi of any great pub: You always feel like you’ve made a good choice as soon as you step your feet on that carpet, perch your elbows on the bar and have a tap beer mid-pour.
The old favourite sports 16 taps pouring brews, including a happy hour on selected beers from 4–6pm every day. Rush over after work to take full advantage of this deal. But don’t miss the revamped food options. Head chef John Hockey (under the direction of the Odd Culture Group’s executive chef James MacDonald) has curated a menu that sees classic French bistro and Old English pub influences seamlessly combine.
Merivale added this dog-friendly pub to its collection of venues back in 2018, maintaining what had long made the venue beloved while breathing new life into a classic Marrickville gem. The Vic is a pub for easy-going folks with a strong sense of community, a family-friendly atmosphere, and an appreciation for creative pub fares. Enjoy the drinks and dishes as you listen to live music or challenge your mates or fellow punters to a pick-up basketball game on the outdoor half-court.
When it comes to the food, The Vic has curated a menu featuring both classics and newbies to satisfy whichever cravings you’re submitting to. They’ve even got a stellar late-night menu that’s served on Fridays and Saturdays until 1am. Get around cheeseburgers, chicken wings and toasties before you either call it a night or kick on until morning.
On the edge of Chippendale’s rapidly gentrifying Central Park precinct lies the Lord Gladstone. Now in the hands of the OG crew (Benny Johnson and Mitchell Crum), the pub had a makeover of sorts back in 2019. While its retained its old-school feel and enthusiastically laidback vibe, the boys have amped up the entertainment offering with a constant stream of live gigs and parties, as well as art exhibitions and event pop-ups in the upstairs gallery space, Goodspace.
This joint seems comfortable in its skin, neither trying too hard for design magazine hip nor chasing the food trend of the month. From the graffiti-strewn courtyard to the tartan carpets in the front room, it’s an always approachable Sydney pub set to be a reliable local for years to come.
The Lord Dudley Hotel is a slice of Old Blighty, a mock Tudor-like building situated on Jersey Road. Inside, a rabbit warren of adjoining rooms awaits. The maroon carpeted floors sink in all the right places, historied hollows ploughed by a steady stream of drinkers. A circular bar connects the main room to two smaller service areas, including a separate nook for darts. At the rear, a lamp-lit, timber-panelled lounge is furnished with booth-style tables, each with seating for four.
Australian Modern or English Gastro, the pub food is somewhere in between. A wide range of light snacks are available together with a choice between a few mains. The menu changes regularly although one is mostly guaranteed a sirloin, salmon or pie. It’s all about quality without the fuss — exactly what we’re after when hunting down the best Sydney pub.
The Harbord Hotel, a proper coastal mainstay, returned to the Northern Beaches back in 2021 following a mega makeover. Occupying the new-look ground floor is a sprawling main bar, summery terrace and Balsa — a seafood restaurant and bar serving up a menu starring foraged coastal herbs and sustainably sourced produce with salt, wood and smoke at the forefront.
Located just steps from the beach, The Harbord Hotel also plays into its suburb’s claim as the official birthplace of surfing in Australia — with surfboards and surfing memorabilia strewn about the whole Sydney pub. Grab a few pints on the terrace, breathing in the salty sea air while watching local surfers rock up straight from the beach.
This pokies-free Marrickville pub received a good spit and polish back in 2013, turning it into a fantastic family-friendly pub and boutique bottle shop. Since then, it has received a few small updates but The Henson retains a lot of the historic pub’s heritage charm.
The Sydney pub is home to a billiards table and darts board in the front bar, a vintage arcade room complete with KISS pinball machine, bottle shop and TVs showing rugby, footy and cricket matches year-round. With all these indoor additions, it’s great for winter hangs. Then come summer, the beer garden fills up with locals taking advantage of the sunny days and long balmy evenings.
Image: Alana Dimou.
Those brave enough to mosey down the darkened alleyway that is Clarence Street in search of a stiff drink will be rewarded. The unassuming courtyard you arrive in — that already plays host to tried and true drinking establishments The Baxter Inn and The Barber Shop — belies an impressive venue. The Sydney pub is a particularly ambitious venture: an 1800s-style British tavern, somewhere Charles Dickens might have penned Great Expectations over a couple of ales and a pork pie.
After a few hours spent in a snug nook knocking back brews or sampling the incredibly expansive selection of spirits from across the globe, it’s strangely easy to forget which century you’re in — if it weren’t for the fact that everyone in suits are equipped with smartphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had travelled back in time. Particularly during the winter months, the Duke of Clarence is one of the best pubs in Sydney.
Run by the same folks at Sydney Park Hotel in Newtown, The White Cockatoo is a beloved locals pub in Sydney’s Petersham (that’s also pokies-free). Here, you’ll find a great public bar and dining room as well as a vine-covered beer garden that’s made for summer drinking seshes. Grab a parmy, some cheesy poutine chips, burgers and craft beers or go for some of its fancier menu options or regularly updated specials board.
Alternatively, make all your decisions based on the daily pub deals. Mondays are for ‘pint parties’ when all schooners are automatically supersized to pints. Tuesdays are all about cheap tinnies. Trivia is hosted here every Wednesday. On Thursday nights, pub members go in the draw to win a cash prize. And Fridays see the locals pack in for the free meat raffle.
Popular with students, artists and the battered men who’ve been frequenting it for the past forty years, The Courthouse Hotel — more commonly known as The Courty — is a beloved staple of Newtown’s drinking spots. It is grungy, relaxed and unpretentious with one of Sydney’s finest beer gardens.
Inside you’ll find pool tables, a collection of pinball machines and a couple of vinyl couches with the stuffing falling out of them. But the real drawcard at The Courthouse is the beer garden. From the wooden veranda, you gaze down onto a maze of long wooden benches surrounded by frangipani trees and tropical plants which, bafflingly, still manage to grow amongst the spilled beer and cigarette butts. A true Inner West institution.
The Cricketers Arms, widely known to its hordes of devotees as the Crix, is the kind of local that will make you want to move into the area. It’s a beautiful old pub, boasting wooden floors and wall tiles, a laid back atmosphere, and plenty of character behind the bar.
A reliable local, the Crix works both summer and winter well. The outside courtyard, brimming with plants and wooden tables, is good reason to stake out a spot in the warmer months. In winter, a fireplace is always lit, surrounded by lounges and more tables. Upstairs has the excellent casual bistro Chez Crix with a French-inspired menu, fantastic natural wine list and a dog-friendly ethos. Get in early (to beat the crowds), bring a good attitude for the always entertaining bar staff and settle in for a good long day or night out. For our money, it’s the best pub in Sydney.
Top images: The Lansdowne Hotel.
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