One of the best things about moving to a new city is having a whole new suite of drinking dens to discover.
However, re-habitating to Sydney from Melbourne, I must admit that I thought this mission was going to require a Tin Tin-esque effort, given all you read about is how Sydney’s night life has been exterminated by the lock-out laws and, you know, Melbourne’s bar scene is pretty legit.
Wrong! When it comes to small bar discovery, Sydney is a playground. Lace up your drinking boots because here’s the best of the bars within the 2000 postcode, and you don’t need Snowy and Captain Haddock’s help to find them:
1. Lobo Plantation
Named after Cuba’s last sugar baron, Julio Lobo, this bar prides itself on being as extravagant as the pre-revolutionary figure himself.
Descend a set of spiral stairs into the depths of Clarence Street and you’ll find yourself somewhere in the Caribbean. There’s plenty of potted plants, oodles of plantation feels, cane light fittings and a shit load of rum, imported from all corners of the globe. Lobo Plantation has a reputation for serving up some of the best cocktails in the land and if the pyrotechnics behind the bar are anything to go by, this place is on fire.
I will admit, I’m not the biggest rum drinker. Something my pirate of a husband guffawed at when we were here. Yet, despite the fact that this rum bar has few wines to choose from (yes, I appreciate how stupid that sentence sounds), I absolutely love this place. Purely for the fact that you can fool yourself into thinking that you’re on holiday.
Lobo Plantation | 209 Clarence Street, Sydney, New South Wales
2. The Kittyhawk
Through some heavy doors in Sydney’s business district is a bar that recreates an era of liberation and celebration – post-war Paris. And the 900 spirits behind the 12-metre long bar is definitely reason to celebrate. In addition to the central bar space, this auditorium-sized watering hole also has an elegant restaurant and a front conservatory that’s soaked in city views.
By the team behind Lobo Plantation, it’s no surprise that The Kittyhawk is a military might, with plenty of winks to World War II (including a large painting of Kittyhawk fighter aircrafts embellishing the walls), a perfectly paired-back Parisian menu and cocktails that are pieces of art.
What I loved about The Kittyhawk when I first uncovered this place was that the barmen were all suave in black tie above the waist but a couple of glimpses revealed they had on Billabong board shorts below the waist (it was a hot night ok). The 1950s bathrooms are also pretty cute, in a very pink kind of way.
The Kittyhawk | 16 Phillip Lane, Sydney, New South Wales
3. The Rook
You might need Snowy and Captain Haddock’s help to find this one. Walking into the drab office building located at 56 York Street, don’t expect to find any clues that you’re in the right place. We just followed a group of nicely dressed people into the lift hoping they weren’t Bradley Murdochs in disguise. After asking the lift to take us to level ‘R’, which was as good a guess as any, we shot into the sky and walked out (alive) onto a rooftop space that is all wood cladding and wall art.
Part bar, part eatery, The Rook serves cocktails of the fancy kind, along with diner food (burgers, fries and lobster rolls). They also proclaim to be gin wizards. I don’t drink gin either, so can’t verify this claim.
The Rook | 56–58 York Street, Sydney, New South Wales
4. Restaurant Hubert
If you’re wearing anything less than an evening dress you’ll likely feel underdressed in this new (also) post-war Europe-style fine dining and drinking establishment. You enter Restaurant Hubert off the unassuming Bligh Place, walking through a heavy (also) unassuming wooden door and descending some long spiral stairs. When you finally get to the basement level of this heavily wood-panelled speakeasy enclave in the ground, the old world opulence will make you feel like Grace Kelly.
The new toddler on the block, this place seems to be universally loved by Sydney, and I only have one small reason why I’m a little undecided. From my experience, it’s a magnet for wanker bankers. “No, I do not care that you own a house in Mosman and make more money than an African country.”
Restaurant Hubert | 15 Bligh Place, Sydney, New South Wales
Recently I turned 29 and how do you celebrate the last birthday in your 20s? You organise a bar crawl to end all bar crawls. Six bars, a top group of frands and too many cocktails to count.
Hacienda kicked off this booze-laced tour de jour, and with its knock-out views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, reasonable drink prices given the location and all-round classy vibe the crew never quite recovered. They were left in a Hacienda-induced slump because nowhere we visited afterwards quite compared to this cotton candy-coloured bar that’s not yet a year old. This has to be one of the best bars in Sydney.
Perched high above Circular Quay, this bar at the Pullman Quay Grand is about as far from a stuffy hotel bar as you can get. Inspired by the grand plantation architecture of Cuba, it’s got charisma, floor to ceiling windows that let in a luscious harbour breeze and a roof that’s embellished with serious plant action. The flavours of Cuba come to life through the drinks list, along with the food menu. The Pina Princessa with plantation pineapple rum is essential drinking.
Hacienda | 61 Macquarie Street, Sydney, New South Wales
6. Palmer & Co
There’s something sexy about a speakeasy and Palmer & Co is seriously seductive. When the light is on in the laneway above, head downstairs and be greeted by a word of debauchery and bootlegging. All timber, exposed brick and 1920s touches, the space is a study in Art Deco design, as well as prohibition era.
This rum-runner is the prohibition-themed bar that puts all prohibition-themed bars to shame. Everything is just on-point, from the flapper-dressed waitresses and dapper as fuck barmen to the vintage glassware your vermouth cocktail is served in.
Deep underground, phone coverage is questionable. What is not is the cheese and charcuterie platters. They’re the best the city has ever seen. And the kranski hotdog with carmelised onion, mustard and tomato relish is pretty bloody good too.
Be warned: Friday nights get hectic.
Palmer & Co | Abercrombie Lane, Sydney, New South Wales
7. The Barber Shop
This bar is cool AF. You can’t help but love a speakeasy gin den that masquerades as a barber shop. First it’s all beard cutting and moustache shaping, then walk through the heavy metal door at the back of the barber shop and boom you’re in an elegant, dimly-lit bar that serves beautifully-crafted drinks (cocktails, whiskies, wines, you name it) and plays an eclectic mix of music (all good). There’s also some laneway seating outside.
So come in for some facial hair trimming and then stay for a gin – you can kill two beards with one stone. Boom!
The Barber Shop | 89 York Street, Sydney, New South Wales
8. The Baxter Inn
Found via a laneway that’s shared with The Barber Shop it’s easy to be fooled and find yourself in the wrong bar. Or it least I’ve been fooled before. Be careful.
Another basement bar that you find by navigating a stairwell lined with beer kegs, the difference with this one is that it’s number 12 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list of 2016 (and has been on the list consistently since it opened five years ago). That makes it legitimately Australia’s best bar.
The vibe is dark and moody, the 10-metre long bar is filled with hundreds of whiskies accessed via library ladders and there’s free pretzels.
There’s also always a line. Despite the fact that it doesn’t open until 4pm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a line at 9am. There’s no bookings, door lists, it’s just roll up and try your luck. This is where we ended my birthday bar crawl to end all bar crawls and it took 10 minutes to get a crew of 13 through the line and then another 30 minutes to snag a table. Not bad considered this is Australia’s best bar.
The Baxter Inn | Basement, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney, New South Wales
9. Bulletin Place
Much ink has been spilled over the merits of this tiny, tiny cocktail bar off Circular Quay (you go UP the stairs for once to get to this one). They have awards flying around like confetti and all deserved because they’re legit cocktail superstars.
The whole premise of Bulletin Place is about letting the cocktail-making take centre stage. There’s no pretention or fancy styling. In fact, when they opened five years ago more $$ were spent on the ice machines than the furniture.
So serious about the art of cocktail-creating, they use market-fresh produce, so the cocktail menu changes daily – refer to the butcher’s paper for what’s on offer. There’s a choice of five cocktails and they’re different every day.
Bulletin Place | Level 1, 10–14 Bulletin Place, Circular Quay, Sydney, New South Wales
10. Assembly Bar
Located within the bowels of Regent Place, hidden among the restaurants and shops, you may not expect to find one of the city’s most awarded cocktail bars. But here it is.
With the mixologists speaking fluent cocktail, assemble for some of the best concoctions of your life. There’s all our standard favourites, along with the award-winning Linda Russian and nitrogen-flaming brews in skull-shaped vessels (the wine list isn’t so bad either). When I first visited, the bartender was keen to flex his cocktail-making muscle, making an off-menu cocktail for the husband – a chocolate-laced old-fashioned. It was quite good.
Cocktails aside, the decor is recycled industrial, the music is banging and there’s a spiral staircase that leads to a mezzanine level where cocktails are delivered by dumbwaiter.
Assembly Bar | 488 Kent Street, Sydney, New South Wales
It may have only been open a few short weeks but Zephyr has already impressed the cocktail slinging masses. The Hyatt Regency Sydney’s resident boozer is also the antithesis of a stereotypical hotel bar.
Open to the sky, the rooftop bar is named after the Greek word for ‘mild breeze’, and with luxury dripping from the walls and plenty of light winds, you could fool yourself into thinking you’re on a lavish yacht in the Mediterranean. The nautical-themed Zephyr bar rivals its cross-city counterpart Hacienda. However, this time you get views of Darling Harbour. (I know Anzac Bridge is not ‘The Bridge’ but as a second choice it’s not bad).
The drinks list is also not bad. Vermouth and rum star, plus there’s a healthy selection of wine, aperitifs, digestives and frozen cocktails.
Zephyr | 161 Sussex Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney, New South Wales