The Sydney CBD’s Ten Best Small Bars

Sydney's CBD is packed with hidden, intimate small bars. Here's where to find the best of 'em.

Lisa Omagari
Published on February 27, 2013
Updated on February 11, 2015

in partnership with

Remember when the Sydney CBD was the last place you'd want to hang out after work? Perhaps not, if you're the young or short-term-memoried among us. Much has changed in the last few years, and now the CBD is bursting with places that offer good tipples and damn fine atmosphere. It's almost hard to narrow it down to just the ten best, though we managed it in the end.

Whether you're looking to settle in for the night on a first date, talk shop at a post-work debrief, indulge a solo unwind, or finally get around to that long overdue catch-up with friends, you're sure to find one among these to tickle your fancy.

1. Bulletin Place

Bulletin Place is a prodigious example of in-the-know barman strutting their stuff. And let's be honest, it's really Philips' cocktail expertise that makes this place stand out. Scribbled across a sheet of butcher's paper that hangs behind the bar will be any given evening's cocktail selection, inspired by whatever produce is freshest at the time.

First floor, 10 - 14 Bulletin Place, Circular Quay;

2. Grasshopper

Cocktails are the real drawcard at Grasshopper. All the drinks are numbered instead of having names, and they're just about all served in jars. The No.19, which features orange liqueur, cranberry juice, passionfruit and vanilla vodka, tastes like the sort of gelato you would find at Messina or Pompeii's. The No.14 — comprising blackberry juice and Fanta — is also a Butter Menthol-tasting highlight.

389-391 George St, Sydney;

3. Grandma's

There's no place like home. Except Grandma's. Grandma gives you a big hug, sits you down in her best, chintz-covered chair and gives you a treat. The "grandchildren" are a helpful and friendly lot, and shake their cocktails with wide-eyed glee. Start off with one of Grandma's favourite tipples — the Pink Pepper Martini, a mix of strawberries and a wink of gin that's truly delightful. But the drinks list is seemingly endless, with ingredients including Greek yoghurt, chocolate bitters, and elderflower cordial.

Basement 275 Clarence Street, Sydney;

4. Stitch Bar

Stitch might be hard to find and you might have to wait awhile to get in, but once in you won't regret it. Stitch is a tiny, pumping, crowded spot with comfy booths on one side and small, hotly contested tables on the other, where hot dogs and strong cocktails are the bar fare of choice.

61 York Street, Sydney;

5. Assembly

The drinks from mixologist/general manager Ben Taouss make this out-of-the-way cocktail haven one of Sydney's best. Admittedly, Assembly is tucked away in a bit of a strange spot, namely Regent Place, a shopping hub with the feel of a shopping centre. You're really here for the cocktails and after-work good times. One word of advice? Try the Lavender Hill Cappuccino cocktail ($17), a martini with Pop Rocks and an apple foam.

488 Kent Street, Sydney;

6. Shirt Bar

When you step inside Shirt Bar, tucked away on Sussex Lane, the phrase "all shirts and no suits" springs to mind. Unpretentious and a charmingly refreshing spot for a post-work beverage, Shirt Bar is a trifecta of Australian shirts, coffee, and international whisky. Definitely worth a visit.

7 Sussex Lane, Sydney;

7. Uncle Ming's

At Uncle Ming's they have really committed to the Eastern aesthetic and it's the lavish decor that makes this bar. Of a weekday evening, both after-work suits and jean-clad partygoers can be seen dotted around the small floor space. Darkly lit nooks filled with mismatched Oriental chairs and rough-hewn tables are often already filled by 7pm.

Lower Ground, 55 York Street, Sydney;

8. York Lane

After dark York Lane transforms into a trendsetter's bar all set to whet your whistle after a tough day at the office. The wine list is small but varied and the list of craft beers will entice both hipsters and beer snobs alike. If you need something with edge, there's a short cocktail list including the classic Negroni ($16) and the refreshing Dark and Stormy ($12).

York Lane, Sydney;

9. The Fox Hole

Perched on the corner of Kent and Erskine Streets in the CBD, here's what we believe epitomises an unpretentious drinking hole. The front room is cosy with patrons bunked down at hazily candlelit tables sipping their wine as they watch the world go by through large windows. Expect table service delivered by friendly staff, because that’s what’s on offer. And let it be known that these guys are experts in their field, too, so don't shy away from asking for a recommendation.

68A Erskine Street, Sydney;

10. Mojo Record Bar

Tucked away behind Mojo Records on York Street lies this inner-city drinking cave. Descend the stairs past the record store and you'll find yourself transported to '90s New York. Mojo Record Bar has a sumptuous retro feel to it: the walls are lined with vintage records and boast framed concert posters of legends such as Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, and The Black Keys. The drinks menu offers up an extensive selection of Australian craft beers, a few boutique ciders, and a small cocktail list. The cocktails are original and heavy on the gin blends.

Basement level, 73 York Street, Sydney;

By the Concrete Playground team.

Published on February 27, 2013 by Lisa Omagari
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