Local Sauce Secret Bar Crawl: Circular Quay and The Rocks

Looking for a fun night out in Sydney? We recently send writer Joanne Karcz along to road test a local bar tour. Sydney has a few to choose from but we settled on Local’s Sauce’s tour of Circular Quay and The Rocks. Let’s see what she thought.

Jack, our guide for tonight’s Sydney Secret Bar Crawl, has a challenge. That is, to introduce me to Sydney bars that I don’t know. As a local who knows Sydney’s bar scene quite well, I’m hoping that this Local Sauce Secret Bar Tour will take me somewhere new.  

Our group of eleven have come together from across the world. I’m the only Sydney local. There’s a German, an Indian living in Austria, a Turkish woman, a Texan and a woman from the UK.

Besides two young Korean women, and a couple from San Francisco, all are single, and hoping to meet people to hang out with while visiting Sydney. This Local Sauce Secret Bar Crawl is a great way for people to make new friends and get to know a bit about Sydney.

Local Sauce offers three different Sydney Bar Tours and tonight we’ll visit bars in Circular Quay and The Rocks. Tuesdays’ tour takes guests to bars in Sydney’s CBD and on Saturdays there’s a bar tour in Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. 

“Lots of guests do more than one bar tour,” says Justin Steele, who started Local Sauce Tours, adding that one in our group “is doing all three this week.” 

Customs House is the perfect meeting place for a bar tour. For 150 years, people and goods arriving in Sydney passed through the doors of this imposing sandstone building. Like them, we too pass through Customs house, first stopping to inspect the underfloor scale model of Sydney’s CBD. Jack points out significant landmarks and our route tonight. 

En route to our first bar, we walk through Quay Quarter Lanes passing sculptures by Jonathan Jones. Jack explains how the bronze clumps of oysters embedded in a sandstone wall represent a food source for the original inhabitants of this area. 

Quay Quarter Lanes Oysters by Jonathan Jones

A “dive bar,” our first stop has reserved a long table outside for us. Before sitting down, I look inside. The lighting is subdued and large panels of scribbled graffiti cover the walls. A large sign in lights reads “RATPISS.” Jack explains that it’s an anagram for “UPSTAIRS.” Not quite. The ‘U’ is missing!

Our first bar on the secret bar crawl sydney
Almost an anagram for “UPSTAIRS”, without the ‘U’.

When the drinks arrive, glasses clink to a chorus of “cheers.” Conversation flows as people relax. I sit next to the Korean girls. They are open and friendly, enjoying the company and practicing their English. 

This bar crawl is a great way for solo travellers to meet new people

I’ve hardly finished my G&T when a waiter arrives at our table laden with a tray of tumblers, their rims salted rims. These mini-margarita are a nice surprise. We drink up and move on. There are still three bars to visit. 

With ferries pulling in to Circular Quay, and trains rushing overhead, Jack hops up onto a raised circular platform. He’s standing in the centre of a map of the Quay. Pointing to a stream flowing from the city into the harbour, Jack explains that this fresh water stream was the reason for Sydney being settled here.  

Our host shares facts about Sydney as we walk between bars

We’re lucky. While we were enjoying fine cocktails, the expected rain shower came and went, leaving the road damp and gleaming in the streetlight. Old Sandstone buildings surround us. These early colonial buildings gave rise to the name “The Rocks.” As Jack explains, the buildings were saved by Jack Mundey. A trade unionist, he led a campaign in the 1970s to preserve the built environment of the area. 

As the sun sets on a pleasant Sydney evening, we walk to a bar described as “A Bar with a Purpose.” It donates half its profits to rewilding the Daintree, a rainforest in far north Queensland. “So, the more you drink, the more you give back,” quips Jack as he hands out the menus. Although the bar is known for its rum, I choose a Native Pine Cocktail. It has a few native ingredients, including quandong, but no rum!

My Native Pine cocktail at our second stop

Walking through a sparsely lit narrow passage we enter an area of seemingly higgledy-piggledy arranged sandstone-walled ‘rooms’, reminiscent of housing in The Rocks in the early days of settlement. A short wooden staircase leads us down into the underground Doss House. 

The Doss House

We walk through a number of intimate low-roofed sandstone-walled spaces to a back room. Settling into a booth, I notice a large picture on the wall. A group of Asian men are sitting around a table playing mahjong.

Artwork at Doss House

What’s that doing in a Sydney bar? All becomes clear when Jack tells us that the Doss House was once home to an opium dealer. It was also a boarding house, a doctor’s surgery and a bootmaker’s premises in years gone by. 

Two of our group know their whiskey. They roll their glass around in their palms sniffing the aroma before sipping appreciatively. They’d like to order a second round, but Jack gives a three-minute warning. There’s one more bar to visit. 

Comfy seating and a great range of whiskey make it hard for some to leave

On the way we stop to view the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In the darkness, twinkling lights outline the distinctive features of the iconic bridge.  Floodlights highlight the sandstone pylons against the darkness of the night.  

The bar at our final stop

Our group of new friends settles in at the last bar, a gin distillery. A few order gin flights. With an early start in the morning, I leave them to it. Jack rose to the challenge tonight. He did introduce me to four new Sydney bars, and gave me a fun night out too. 

A gin flight at our final bar

While a Local Sauce Sydney Bar Crawl goes ahead with just one booking, there are usually around eight guests. Venues may change slightly. 

“Sometimes with a smaller group, we’ll mix a ‘wildcard’ bar in there or a surprise mini-stop,” Justin says. He never knows how many are coming as people often “quite close to the event, sometimes even only an hour before!”  

In 2024, two new “Small Bars and Street Art” tours in Newtown, Chippendale and Redfern will join the Local Sauce Bar Tour stable. Guests will be able to discover a range of bars throughout inner-Sydney from Tuesday through to Saturday. 

Need to Know
When: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays
Where: Secret bar tours operate in Circular Quay & the Rocks, Surry Hills & Darlinghurst and the CBD.
Who: Anyone over 18 years, most guests are aged 20-40 but all are welcome.
What: Your secret bar crawl experience includes one free drink and some snacks. There are no additional entry fees at any of the venues. Book directly via Local Sauce.

Joanne Karcz was a guest of Local Sauce Tours.

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