Cheers to the Years: Sydney Small Bars That Have Become Mainstays in the CBD Nightlife

From hidden speakeasies to wine bars, these are the establishments we keep going back to time and time again.
Orlaith Costello
Published on May 28, 2024

Cheers to the Years: Sydney Small Bars That Have Become Mainstays in the CBD Nightlife

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From hidden speakeasies to wine bars, these are the establishments we keep going back to time and time again.

Amidst Sydney's ever-changing hospitality landscape, there's a collection of establishments that has stood the test of time. The independent venues that make up YCK Laneways, tucked away down alleyways and occupying unassuming corners around York, Clarence and Kent streets, have weathered economic fluctuations, shifting trends and a global pandemic to remain pillars of consistency in the Harbour City.

Read on to be reminded of some of your ol' faithful CBD haunts — you may even discover a few places you (somehow) haven't tried yet.

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    You’ll find this watering hole behind a (fake) tailor’s shopfront on York Street. For 13 years, it has been serving patrons in its intimately low-lit space adorned with comfy booths and vintage sewing machines.

    Offering an extensive drink menu, with inventive cocktails, its unique old fashioned blend and its solera system — a selection of six oak barrels infused with specific flavours ageing on the bar — Stitch satisfies even the most discerning drinkers. Plus, if you’re a scotch fan, it’s the only Ardbeg embassy in NSW.

    Plus, its American diner-inspired food menu, featuring mac ‘n’ cheese balls, gourmet hot dogs, hot wing burgers and waffle fries, will keep you coming back for more.

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  • 7

    Tucked between three heritage-listed buildings, Since I Left You (SILY) has been serving cocktails, sandos and epic nights out for 13 years. Just a short walk from Wynyard Station, the small bar boasts a lively urban courtyard filled with murals and twinkling lights.

    Alongside a diverse selection of wines, beers, ciders and inventive cocktails, SILY serves up delectable bar snacks, including cheeseburger and kimchi toasties, baked camembert and nachos. While it’s popular with the post-work crowd during the week, SILY also draws in punters on weekends with live music and is available for private functions, including bottomless brunches for up to 35 guests.

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  • 6

    Tucked away on York Street, The Barber Shop has been a staple for 10 years, and its exceptional cocktails endure. The old-school styling also remains, blending retro barber aesthetics with industrial warehouse vibes.

    There are over 700 global gins in The Barber Shop’s collection, so expect the spirit to dominate the menu. Start with a signature tipple, like the saltbush-infused gimlet, or opt for one of the flights heroing spirits from the UK, the US and even local distillery Hickson House. If hunger strikes, there are small plates like cheese boards or homemade sausage rolls.

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  • 5

    Papa Gede’s, a CBD staple for ten years, stands out with its voodoo-inspired, jungle-walled decor. Enjoy whimsically named drinks such as Devil’s Letters and Mental Clarity, craft brews and an extensive absinthe offering — one of few venues in the city where you’ll find such a selection of Australian and European absinthes nowadays.

    Swing by on Wednesdays from 7pm to catch live tunes from local blues, jazz, reggae, soul and R&B artists. Plus, from 4-6pm every day, the bar offers 25 percent off tinnies, sambos and wines if you’re in need of some good, cheap fun (who isn’t?).

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  • 4

    For over a decade, underground bar Uncle Ming’s has been transporting patrons to 1920s China with its vintage decor and incense-laden ambience. Asian-inspired cocktails dominate the menu, featuring inventive twists on classics like the flaming Shanghai Roller and the bubble tea-inspired Moshi Moshi, served with mango-popping pearls. Embracing kitsch, patrons can opt for cocktails served in traditional teapots for sharing. There’s also a selection of sake and Japanese liqueurs on offer, including whisky umeshu.

    Uncle Ming’s doesn’t skimp on food either, slinging seven styles of dumplings alongside barbecue pork buns, spring rolls and takoyaki octopus balls.

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  • 3

    Burrow Bar has been a solace for CBD punters for nine years, first in a moody basement under De Mestre Place before moving in late 2021 to another subterranean space behind a nondescript Clarence Street door.

    The cocktail menu changes regularly and utilises boutique spirits, seasonal ingredients and house-made liqueurs. If the drinks spur on hunger, you’re in luck. The Vietnamese restaurant upstairs, Cash Only Diner, offers a select menu to bar patrons.

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  • 2

    The Swinging Cat is a sophisticated underground jazz bar that has been paying homage to New Orleans’ classic cocktails for nine years. The venue’s signature drink is the sazerac, a rose-hued delight with an aniseed scent that exemplifies the bar’s dedication to NOLA’s drinking culture. But it isn’t the only cocktail on the menu. Alongside old fashioneds and other classic cocktails made famous in The Big Easy (like the legendary Hurricane), the menu includes wine, beer, and house specials.

    Happy Hour offers unbeatable deals from Wednesday to Saturday, while live jazz music and a menu of contemporary New Orleans fare, from pulled pork sliders to Cajun-style popcorn chicken, complete the experience.

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    For eight years, PS40 has been a pioneer in Sydney’s cocktail scene, originally launched to showcase PS Soda’s vibrant mixers before evolving into a hub for inventive cocktails.

    Sequestered down Skittle Lane, it’s a laboratory of mixed-drink creations. Its signature is the Africola, which blends Mr Black’s coffee liqueur with native cola and hot coconut foam to create a concoction with contrasting textures and temperatures. Snacks like Catalan-style flatbread and mortadella sliders complement the drinks perfectly.

    PS40’s collaboration nights, Takeover Tuesdays, showcase rotating menus crafted by renowned Sydney eateries and bars. It’s a testament to PS40’s innovative spirit and dedication to pushing the boundaries of mixology and culinary creativity.

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Explore the stories, sights and sounds of Sydney’s bustling laneway nightlife. Between the lanes of York, Clarence and King streets, you’ll find a plethora of hidden laneways and basement bars and restaurants waiting to be discovered. Check them out on the map and sign up to Laneway Loyalty to score exclusive member benefits. 

Top Image: Since I Left You (SILY), Cassandra Hannagan

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