The 20 Best Bars in Sydney Right Now
Whether you're on the hunt for an extensive mezcal collection, an intimate date-night spot or the best bar snacks around, these are our picks for the best bars in Sydney.
March 17, 2023
THE 20 BEST BARS IN SYDNEY RIGHT NOW
Whether you're on the hunt for an extensive mezcal collection, an intimate date-night spot or the best bar snacks around, these are our picks for the best bars in Sydney.
Curating a list of the 20 best bars in Sydney is no easy feat. This city is full of outstanding places to drink, whether they're up on a rooftop, by the water or hidden in a basement down some long-forgotten alley.
But location is just one part of an extensive set of criteria used to create this definitive list. We've spent years drinking around town to find the tastiest and most creative drinks, the best bartenders and servers, places with the friendliest atmosphere and menus that go above and beyond at just about any price point. Great accompanying food doesn't hurt, either.
Read on to see if some of your favourite watering holes have made the list of the best bars in Sydney and, perhaps, discover a few places you haven't tried yet.
This somewhat hidden rooftop is one of Sydney’s best bars for a few reasons. First off, the lush palm-lined outdoor deck is perfect for those seeking a sun-soaked retreat in the city. Alternatively, head back inside to find a series of timber-lined rooms that serve opulent library realness.
Then you’ve got the impressive drinks lists where cocktails reign supreme. Expect a menu that’s broad and oft-changing, spreading plenty of love across a 300-strong back bar selection. Good food isn’t far off either. We’re regularly hit with bouts of craving for Old Mate’s Place’s four variations of a Philly cheesesteak as well as the obligatory cheese and charcuterie boards.
Sydney’s original speakeasy basement bar. The Baxter Inn is somewhat of a magnet for international accolades — most notably making the World’s 50 Best Bars list several times since its opening in 2012. Much of this comes down to its almighty whisk(e)y menu that boasts almost 800 different kinds of the tipple. Any true whisk(e)y lover will fawn over the large cascading wall of backlit bottles which the barmen scale throughout the evening.
But you don’t have to have the whisky straight. The team have curated a list of cocktails for those who want something a little different, making some of Sydney’s best old fashioneds and whisky sours alongside their own original creations. And, while you’re having a few drinks, be sure to light up your palette with the free, salty pretzels on offer.
At Continental Deli Bar and Bistro, the tin is in. The team serves up an elaborate spread of Ortiz anchovies, La Belle-Iloise sardines and mussels escabeche, alongside other European delicacies, straight from the can. Aesthetically, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. But this isn’t done just for looks. These canned goods are absolutely delicious — significantly better than the pineapple rings us Aussies are used to finding in cans.
Barman and hospitality extraordinaire Michael Nicolian and his team created the now-famous Mar-tinny ($19), which is opened and poured from the tin by the bartender. But, it’s not all about the tinned life here. Come for high quality food favourites inspired by the culinary gems of the European continent served alongside good wines and cocktails. Grab a seat out front and do some classic Newtown people-watching with a spritz in hand and no intention to leave any time soon.
At home on the middle floor of Coogee Pavilion, Una Más is the lively, playful sibling to fine diner Mimi’s. While the latter pairs crisp white linen with bumps of caviar and frozen vodka, the former is all about wine and tapas. Fresh, fun and vibing off its coastal location, Una Más offers a menu of small dishes spiked with both Spanish and Australian flavours by Executive Chef Jordan Toft (Bert’s, Bar Topa).
Drinks are given just as much love, too. You’ll find a series of classic cocktails, white and red sangrias, sherry, vermouth, amaro and beer on offer, alongside a wine list that’s both fun and affordable. It’s also ideal for the late-night munchies on Fridays and Saturdays when the 50-seater drinking and dining haunt is open until late. Forgo the end-of-the-night kebab, subbing in a few tapas dishes and a glass of vermouth instead.
An old garage down a service laneway doesn’t sound like your typical spot for a bar, but that’s exactly where this 20-person mezcal bar has taken up residence. Cantina OK! is located down the non-street that is Council Place, rocking an extensive tequila and mezcal collection, a forest green garage door and no seating whatsoever.
“You won’t find another mezcaleria in the southern hemisphere that has the particular collection that we have,” said Manager Alex Gilmour back when the bar first opened in 2019. There’s plenty of rare and wild varieties for you to explore stocked behind the bar. If this deep dive into mezcal drinking sounds a bit intimating, turn to the well-trained staff, who are eager to get into the “nitty gritty” of it with you. Or, you can just opt for a classic and damn-good margarita.
Image: Kimberley Low
Whether you consider Poly a restaurant or a bar, the one thing that’s certain is, it’s a good time. Book a table in advance and come in for a moreish meal of seasonal snacks and woodfired seafood, or drop in and nab a spot at the communal table for a couple of wines. Despite being surrounded by so many fan-favourite venues, Poly has carved out a niche for itself in Surry hills as a go-to for both flashy special occasions and casual catch-ups. Not an easy feat.
Helmed by Ester‘s Mat Lindsay, this Commonwealth Street spot’s food menu is ever-evolving and the wine list will not disappoint, loaded with minimal-intervention, skin-contact drops, sorted under helpful, descriptive headings so you don’t feel like a total vino novice. It’s best to head in with an empty stomach, a taste for wine and a willingness to see where the night takes you.
Image: Kitti Smallbone.
You’d be an absolute fool to pass on Redfern’s The Bearded Tit. Named after a moustachioed song-bird, this is a place where colourful characters flock. The Bearded Tit sits on the quiet side of Regent Street, surrounded by residential buildings, office spaces and convenience stores, as well as a couple of killer cafes and bakeries. That is, until you reach 183. Inside, it’s a museum of oddities, where the weird and wonderful or just plain great come together in a circus of colour and activity.
Each night at The Bearded Tit offers something unique, with a revolving program of music and arts, but it’s also a quality spot for a relaxed drink in the courtyard. Despite the colourful energy of the bar, the drinks list is fairly simple. You’ll find a short selection of time-honoured classics and a few signature cocktails as well as some decent beers and wines. Oh, and the $11 hotdogs are a real treat, too.
Image: Katje Ford
Tucked down in the basement of the four-storey Hinchcliff House is Apollonia, a cocktail bar made for those seeking negronis and romance. The dimly lit bar is named after a character from The Godfather and looks to embody the stricken nature of Apollonia and protagonist Michael in the famous film. It’s a very, very good mood. And we are all for it.
Try one of its beloved negronis or go for some of its own unique creations. We very much dig the Love at First Sight which is made from a dry gin, amaro and strawberry gum syrup as well as the milk gin, citrus and lavender drink called the Hills of Savoca. The Chinoto Manhattan made with rye, pepperberry, vermouth and juniper amaro is also a huge win. Each and every one of these drinks are that extra bit special. What a bar.
In recent years, Sydney has been inundated with small trendy bars that have a particular gimmick or schtick. But Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern has managed to stay ahead of the pack without resorting to such theatrics. Here, it’s all about creating a truly fun and upbeat vibe by playing an eclectic mix of throwback tunes while serving up decently priced drinks.
There’s an $8 tinnie for the battlers (the brand changing to suit the mood of each week). And the cocktail list is just as unpretentious — its six house cocktails ($22 each) champion some great quality spirits with little fuss. Come don’t the right night and the tunes begin to roll, with tables cleared for some time-honoured sing-a-longs. And, you can even get burgers from Surry Hills favourite Butter delivered to your table for when that fired chicken craving strikes.
The team behind Cafe Freda’s has always focused on creating a space for music and art lovers. They ran the much-loved Chippendale nightclub that closed its doors back in 2020. But they didn’t lay low for long. Owner David Abram quickly found a new space in Taylor Square, turning it into this bar, restaurant and hub for local artists.
It’s now the grown-up version of its former self. The food offerings have been refined, with a focus on Italian flavours that pair well with the exciting wine menu. Cocktails are given a little more love as well — think banana negronis and special chinato and tonic concoctions. But despite these changes, we’re glad to see that the dance floor hasn’t totally gone. As it gets late, the DJ plays fun dance tunes and the old spirit of Freda’s comes alive again. Growing up doesn’t mean you can’t still party. And Cafe Freda’s has one of the best happy hours in the city — full stop.
Head through a 1920s-style fridge door and wind down a spiral staircase in order to find Manly’s most secretive bar, an underground drink den named The Cumberland. While the novelty of the hidden speakeasy is a big drawcard for The Cumberland, the welcoming atmosphere and top-notch drinks list are what keep people coming back.
You’ll find more than 250 different whiskies alongside natural wines, craft beers and plenty of cocktails. There’s the dandelion espresso martini, the Wild Fennel Calling which uses locally foraged fennel, and a smoking whisky number simply called the Cumberland. For eats, antipasto boards packed with cheeses and cured meats are delivered from the upstairs Cove Deli. A second kitchen within the Cumberland serves up tapas-style snacks such as Sydney rock oysters, mussels escabeche and even caviar. It’s the experience the Northern Beaches deserves.
Pulling inspiration from Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man and its fictional sleuthing duo Nick and Nora Charles, this sophisticated rooftop bar is an homage to the roaring 20s and the legendary parties thrown by these characters. Among the top features: an opulent fit-out, lavish art deco touches and a whole lot of champagne — in fact, there are over 50 champagnes from the world’s most celebrated houses.
The cocktail offering is also as tight as you’d expect, with a 30-strong list featuring multiple variations of martinis, sours and Champagne-infused sips. Plus, there’s more delicious mischief in store thanks to the bar’s five liquid nitrogen stations. Bring on the theatrics. Round out all this opulence by ordering top-quality oysters and caviar to the table, too. This is clearly a bar you go to for special occasions.
Back in 2018, Sydney lost its beloved dumpling house, Happy Chef, to a fire. But from the ashes came Odd Culture, a natural wine bar with top-notch eats to boot. The Newtown bar comes from the team behind The Old Fitz and The Duke of Enmore, meaning they have dedicated a lot of effort towards creating a fun and laidback atmosphere in additions like the vibrant cocktail list and weekend bottomless brunches.
There’s a few must-try options on a visit to odd Culture — the chicken liver paté and the sour negroni to name one such duo — but it’s the wine list that’s most impressive. Striking at a time when minimal-intervention and skin-contact drops are all the rage, there’s a heap of these on offer here at just about every price point, as well as rare and imported bottles hand-picked by the team. There’s even an Odd Culture bottle shop two doors down so you can take home your favourite drink of the night.
When it looked like Sydney was about to lose the longstanding Piccolo, Bartender Magazine founder Dave Spanton jumped in, saving the beloved Kings Cross space and transforming it into a tiny licensed aperitivo bar. The new venue is not a carbon copy of its nearly 70-year-old former self, but Spanton has successfully managed to give it a makeover without losing its heritage charm.
Try to nab one of the 12 seats inside or one the eight out on the street (this is one of Sydney’s smallest watering holes) and settle in for a fun night of drinking. You’ll find some decent wines and spirits on the long menu, but folks come here for the cocktails, aperitifs and aromatised wines. Pair these tipples with some top-notch hot dogs, toasties and canned sardines as you soak in the vintage allure of this historic spot.
Vermouth is so hot right now. It’s the spirit du jour. And we can think of no better place to delight in the great variety of vermouths than at La Salut in Redfern. The team behind Love, Tilly Devine, Dear Sainte Eloise and Ragazzi have created this Catalan-inspired wine bar for those wanting to celebrate the best parts of this region in Spain.
Sip your way through the Spanish-only wine menu which focuses on bottles from smaller vineyards in Spain, many of which only create natural and biodynamic wines. Then get around pork belly and kimchi croquettes, quail with morcilla crumb and some moreish mussels bathed in hot sauce, served with hot chips. Heaven. Don’t worry if you can’t get to Europe this year. A trip to La Salut will surely cut it for now.
Maybe Sammy is not only on our list of the best bars in Sydney — it’s on just about everyone else’s too, including anyone who gives out bar awards. It was named in the top 50 bars in the world in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 — and named the Best Bar in Australasia at The World’s 50 Best Bars in all four years. The accolades just don’t end.
And it’s clear to see why. The team, led by Creative Director Martin Hudak, has created one of the most spectacular cocktail menus — ranging from mini cocktails to the martini trolleys and extra opulent Premium Pours made from some of the finest spirits in the world. Either come for affordable cocktails before dinner or really treat yourself by trying some of the very best drinks in all of Australia.
Italian wine importers Giorgio De Maria and Mattia Dicati teamed up with chef Enrico Tomelleri (Ragazzi, Alberto’s Lounge, 10 William Street) to bring this brilliant wine bar to Darlinghurst in 2021. Unsurprisingly, Mediterranean (especially Italian) vinos take centre stage here. And while the team aims to challenge and teach Aussies about different grape varieties, this spot is far from stuck-up and unapproachable. Here, everyone is welcome to come enjoy good food and wine and the lovely staff will guide you through the menu.
Grab a seat in the downstairs wine bar to taste your way through different Italian regions while noshing on classic meat and cheese boards as well as a few small plates of food. Or head upstairs to the restaurant where you’ll find heartier food options that celebrate underrepresented Italian ingredients. Enjoy a spectacular Italian food and wine tour without leaving Darlinghurst.
Head to the Newtown end of Enmore Road, following the blue hues streaming out of its neon light sign, to find this somewhat psychedelic space full of gin and vodka lovers. Like its sister bar, Tio’s, you’ll get a complimentary bag of seasoned popcorn as you sip on drinks at Bar Planet. But instead of margaritas, here you’ll find a short but impressive selection of martinis.
The signature Bar Planet Martini is made with a seasonal gin created in collaboration with Poor Toms distillery, served with an olive and citrus from a lemon rind. Simple. But effective. You really shouldn’t mess with the classic martini. But if you will, then let these pro bartenders take the lead. Try the Scorpino, made from a mix of P&V prosecco, vodka and an in-house gelato based around a different seasonal fruit each week. You can even order from Saray next door for Sydney’s best (and possibly only) snack pack and martini combo.
If you’re looking for an intimate wine bar that only serves the good stuff, then Love, Tilly Divine is the place to go. The name of the bar is an ode to east-Sydney’s past, a tribute to a local 1930s brothel madam who performed acts of charity in the area. Its size means its perfect for an intimate occasion. Head in with a date or get in some on-on-one time with a mate.
A Darlinghurst stalwart, the tiny wine bar is equal parts cosey and classy. The wine list is more than extensive, boasting over 300 varieties of great local and international vino with quality glasses of red or orange wine starting from $12. Be sure to add a few bar snacks to your order as well, not missing the fried artichoke hearts and mushroom croquettes.
PS40 was started by the creators of PS Soda, an alternative to sugary, soulless mixers.While it was originally a way to showcase these bright and bubbly sodas, it’s since evolved to become a hotspot for some of this city’s tastiest and most inventive cocktails. Hidden down Skittle Lane you’ll discover a mad scientist’s lab of beverages. Signature cocktails like the Africola are unlike anything you’ve ever tried, mixing Mr Black coffee liqueur with native cola and hot coconut foam, creating an explosion of flavour in your mouth with two distinct textures and temperatures at the same time.
The cocktail list is never stagnant, but you might find a nostalgic favourite like the Mango Weiss Bar, taking you right back to your childhood summers or the one-of-a-kind Breakfast Negroni infused with banana bread and coffee beans. Just head into PS40 and hand over your trust to the bartenders as they take you on the latest alcoholic adventure they’ve thought up.
Top image: La Salut
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