SYDNEY'S BEST NEW BARS OF 2019
The city's very best boozy additions of the year.
While it feels like it was only yesterday that we were eating boozy Christmas pud with nan, it's somehow already December (again) — which means, yes, we're almost at the end of 2019. And Sydney's bar scene has continued to grow at an impressive (alarming?) rate. Not only have new drinking holes popped up across the city — opening everywhere from a tiny CBD parking lot to underneath a deli on the northern beaches — these libation stations are multi-faceted, doubling as record stores, disco halls and vegan eateries.
So, here are our favourite ten bars to throw open their doors in 2019. Well, actually 11. There's one more bar we wanted to add to this list but it's closing soon, very soon. Scout Sydney, from award-winning bartender Matt Whiley, shuts up shop this week — so plan a visit ASAP. Then, add the below to your list and start ticking them off. (Just as Santa's doing now.)
Little Felix is a 60-seat cocktail bar and little sister to Ash Street’s hatted French bistro Felix on George Street. The space itself — by lauded design firm Acme and stylist Amanda Talbot — is opulent and designed to transport guests back to 1920s Paris (or at least to the set of Midnight in Paris). For drinks, Group Bar Manager Sam Egerton has created a succinct cocktail list featuring eight old-world classics made with premium French ingredients and liqueurs. Instead of a straightforward French 75 (gin, citrus and champagne), Little Felix serves up the Paris Meridian, which uses Chandon blanc de blancs and Farigoule de Forcalquier (a French thyme liqueur). The wine list is impressive in its own right, too, selected by Merivale’s Master Sommelier Franck Moreau and Head Sommelier Jean-Charles Mahe. Expect by-the-glass wines and champagnes poured from magnums and a custom-built wine fridge behind the bar. To eat, Head Chef Nathan Johnson has created a dedicated menu of simple French dishes for Little Felix, with the focus on charcuterie, cheese and tartines (temptingly spread out on the bar). Order a plate of jambon and melon, creamy duck liver parfait or one of the nine different cheeses.
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Image: Nikki To.
Despite taking its name from a raucous, rundown pub in the Patrick Swayze-starring 80s flick Road House, Double Deuce Lounge isn’t a dive bar. Instead, the newest CBD drinking hole from the Ramblin’ Rascal team is a refined cocktail lounge with a touch of ’70s porn chic’. No, you won’t find find Ron Jeremy lounging in one of the burgundy leather booths. Instead, you can expect loud geometric 70s wallpaper laid with vintage film posters, the likes of Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Curtis Mayfield on heavy rotation and a cocktail list that arrives in a Deep Throat-esque VHS cover. The bar’s owners, Charlie Lehmann, Sebastian Soto and Dardan Shervashidze, will also be suitably on theme, decked out in safari suits and furry vests. Behind the bar, the team is shaking and stirring ten signature cocktails, which travel from the tangy and refreshing yuzu margarita to the cold brew-spiked Discretionary. While the cocktails are proverbially stuck in the 70s, the wines and beers are very much 2019. You can throw back a couple of Garage Project’s Salted White Peach Sour numbers, order a bottle of Blind Unicorn pét-nat for a very reasonable $60 or go big with a milk stout from Marrickville’s Batch and a shot of ‘Deuce Juice’ (Jim Beam).
Words: Samantha Teague. Image: Kimberley Low.
Located inside a historic 1878 cash reserve, Prince of York is split into three distinct areas: the ground floor and mezzanine area, the downstairs cellar and Pamela’s, a nightclub in the basement. As Creative Director Paul Schulte puts it, it’s “upstairs is for eating, downstairs for dancing”. Upstairs, you’ll find the restaurant — with tomatoey crab pasta served in a bag and banoffee pie — but, for now, we’re interested in the venue’s lower two levels. Walk downstairs and you’ll find the cellar. Here, predictably, the focus is wine. Less expected is the 150-year-old safe that’s filled with rare wines and mezcals. Once you’ve finished exploring this level you can descend to Pamela’s. An ode to Schulte’s mum — who loved champagne, tequila and disco — the nightclub is filled with pink suede banquettes, terrazzo tables (made for dancing on) and disco balls. While you’re dancing, you can sip margaritas or the Happy Pammy cocktail — with tequila, tangerine and bubbles — served with ‘cosmic dust’ on an LED coaster. If you’re looking to make a night of it, you could, instead, order one of the giant punchbowls, made with whole bottles of tequila, pét-nat and seasonal fruit.
Words: Samantha Teague. Image: Kimberley Low.
Enmore Road is home to heaps of bars and vintage shops, but none of them have combined booze and retail into a single venue. Until now. Hidden behind black speakeasy-style curtains, Cottonmouth Records is a vinyl store, craft beer haven and whisky bar all neatly wrapped into one. The duo behind the venue is locals Erica McLoughlin and Zach Williams — the latter of which is putting his varied varied personal collection of jazz, soul and funk up for sale. But, unlike other record stores around town, this ones allows you to booze while you browse. Eight regularly changing taps are pouring the likes of Alexandria’s Yulli’s Brews, Canberra’s Capital Brewing and New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys and, behind the bar, is a collection of tinnies and 80 bottles of whisky. For eats, the new Enmore Road outpost of Epic Pizza is delivering 12-inch pies, and patrons are also encouraged to BYO any food they fancy. Plus, the venue’s love for music extends to a weekly DJ offering on Thursday through Sunday nights, and monthly live acoustic gigs on Saturdays.
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Images: Kitti Gould.
An old garage down a service laneway doesn’t sound like an ideal spot for a bar, but that’s exactly where Cantina OK! has taken up residence. The 20-seat mezcal bar is rocking bright pink and purple walls, Mexican vibes and no seating whatsoever. It’s run by the trio behind Sydney’s favourite tequila joint, Tio’s Cerveceria — the three took one helluva road trip around Mexico and returned to Sydney with a whopping 140 bottles that now sit behind the minuscule bar. There are mezcals from regions all across Oaxaca, Michoacán and Jalisco, as well as drops of tequila, raicilla (an agave distilled spirit from Jalisco) and sotol (non-agave distilled spirit from northern Mexico). Some of the more interesting drops include mezcals that have been distilled with likes of rattlesnake and a whole coyote. If all that sounds a bit intimating, turn to the well-trained staff, who are eager to get into the “nitty gritty” of mezcal drinking with you. But you don’t have to go high brow — the place still has the casual, laid-back Tio’s vibe where you can just pop-in for a damn good margarita, too. As well as all that, expect a bright combination of tyrian purple, watermelon pink and safety yellow — Gilmore’s words, not ours — plus plenty of timber. Just not a lot of space.
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Image: Kimberley Low.
Sydney’s 120-year-old Queen Victoria Building has long been a haven of decadence, but it has taken things up a notch with the launch of its luxurious new bar. A vision of marble, brass and musk pink, Reign is a regal sort of spot, taking over the space once home to the level one ABC store. It pours a sprawling selection of over 150 champagnes and sparkling wines, with plenty of bubbly tasting flights on offer, alongside signature cocktails. The snack menu is very broad and covers all bases, from the refined (plates of oysters, duck liver mousse and steak tartare) to the two-handed (meatball and cheese sliders and an okonomiyaki burger) to the straight-up late-night eat variety (dumplings and pork fried rice). Reign opens from 11am each day, surely to cater to post-shopping snacks and business lunches. Best of all, it still kicks on late, open for eats and drinks right up until 2am Thursday through Sunday.
Words: Libby Curran. Images: Damian Flanagan.
Surry Hills’ Maybe Frank has gained quite a following for its pizza and cocktails — the restaurant’s leading barman Andrea Gualdi most recently won the Australian Bartender of the Year at the 2017 Diageo World Class Competition. So we were happy when we heard that Gualdi had joined forces with owners Stefano Catino and Vince Lombardo to launch a new CBD venue, Maybe Sammy. This venture — named after jazz era icon, Sammy Davis Jr — is all about the cocktails, which are theatrical, creative and entertaining. For example, the Circus Circus, made with rye, vermouth, mint and poblano and presented with a magic trick; the vodka- and passionfruit-infused Lady Luck, is served with house-made hand cream (to use, not drink). Designed by Sydney’s LD Studio, the space is opulent, with pink velvet banquettes, gold lamps, brass fittings, marble tiles and lots of indoor plants. And if you’re trying to work out when to pop by, we suggest heading in straight after work (before 5.30pm) to score a mini martini (or two).
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Image: DS Oficina.
Leichhardt’s quiet Norton Street is now home to a small bar and restaurant heroing Aussie ingredients thanks to The Little Guy owner Dynn Smulewicz and its longtime bartender Daniel McBride. They’ve joined forces to bring a much needed new player to the suburb. At first glance, the bar has bit of a Little Guy vibe — the two-storey terrace is squeezed into a commercial strip, the narrow ground level has a long bar to one side and the large bi-fold window overlooking the street is lined with stools. But, as McBride assured us, the Gully is no Little Guy 2.0. The two-storey, 100-seat venue is decked out with tropical green walls and brass accents throughout — and it has a completely vegetarian menu. The bar runs on a ‘something for everyone’ mentality, and the team takes this mantra seriously with a rather extensive drinks list to choose from ex-Alibi chef Emma Evans. Favourite menu items include the almond-based ricotta gnocchi with crispy oyster mushrooms and wattleseed in a wild mushroom broth; tea and pepperberry-smoked potatoes with chives and parsley aioli; and roasted pumpkin wedges, dusted with a native dukkah spice mixture and doused in herb cucumber yoghurt.
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Image: Trent van der Jagt.
Among the beachside bars, boutique stores, surf shops and ice cream parlours of Bondi Beach, there’s a new izakaya. Isabel is located in an intimate space with a long marble bar, high stools, yakitori and highballs served in frosted glasses. Fronted by a group of Sydney hospitality elite — Geraint Coles and Mitchell Slattery of Panama House, Michael Riley of Milk Box Tuckshop and award-winning bartender Kate McGraw — Isabel takes inspiration from the izakayas of Japan. It’s where you can go to enjoy tapas-like snacks with beautifully designed cocktails. Isabel also houses one of Australia’s largest collections of whiskies and at least 40 different sakes. But, it’s the cocktail menu that you’ll want to make friends with. On it, you’ll find six highballs, signature cocktails, non-alcoholic options and ‘danger juice’. Made using ingredients such as burnt miso, toasted sesame, quandong and pickled cabbage, every cocktail is nearly a meal in itself. But, you’ll still have room for snacks, thankfully, which combine Japanese techniques and Aussie ingredients. There’s a whole heap of yakitori and kushiyaki on the menu, too, including teriyaki wings, tsukune (chicken meatballs) and miso eggplant.
Words: Caitlin Morahan. Image: Kimberley Low.
Head through a 1920s-style fridge door and wind down a spiral staircase into the underground drinking den that is The Cumberland. It’s set beneath Cove Deli, a very real, very functional bodega-style delicatessen. The drinks list is split into themes such as Foraged and Found, Pre-Temperance Movement Favourites and 19th-Century County Tipples. Under these headings, expect to find classics like the sazerac and French 75, alongside specialties like the dandelion espresso martini, a cocktails that uses locally foraged fennel and a smoking whisky number. Behind the bar, you’ll also find over 250 whiskies from around the world lining the shelves. For eats, Cove Deli offers antipasto boards packed with cheeses and cured meats, delivered downstairs via a vintage dumbwaiter. A second kitchen within the Cumberland serves up snacks such as melted raclette, Spanish meatballs, duck terrine and empanadas. In the 75-seat bar, expect ornate and vintage furnishings, upcycled timber and marble bench tops. Upstairs, Cove Deli features a white-washed teal facade, penny tiles and a 1920s meat slicer. And both venues are open until midnight on weekends and 1am on weekends, so you can get your deli and cocktail fix until late.
Words: Marissa Ciampi. Image: Dan Gosse.
Top image: Cantina OK! by Kimberley Low.