There’s nothing better, especially in the colder winter months than tucking into a cosy bar with a glass of wine on a chilly Sydney evening. Whether you’re visiting Sydney or you’re a local, small bars are a great way to sample Australian beers and spirits, support local businesses, and to explore unique and unusual places of the city, not always found in the guidebooks.
A change in NSW licensing laws in recent years have helped create an explosion in Sydney of small bars- a welcome change for those who prefer an intimate venue over a sprawling pub or hotel. Allow us to present our top 10 small bars in Sydney, with a focus on the CBD and surrounding suburbs.
Remember that nostalgic feeling that you would always get visiting your grandparents as a child? If you ever enjoyed rummaging through grandma’s attic for treasures, you’ll feel right at home in this bar. Think retro glassware, kitsch decor leftover from that family holiday to the South Pacific 20 years ago, and funky cocktails in tiki glasses, served by friendly staff, all tucked into a basement in Sydney’s CBD- but without grandma’s attic mothballs.
If you’re hungry, they can cook up a mean jaffle, although the food menu is pretty limited. (Jaffles are the only thing on the menu…) Great for an after-work drink in the city, but can fill up quickly, especially on Friday nights.
Where: 275 Clarence Street, Sydney
When: 3pm till late Monday to Friday 5pm till late on weekends.
This neighbourhood bar, just a minute’s walk from Redfern station, has a focus on locally produced beers and is the perfect place for an afternoon drink. The exposed brick wall and interior design and welcoming and homely, encouraging you to pull up a chair with friends and stay awhile, and the courtyard in the back offers an intimate space to relax outside, encompassed in greenery.
Arcadia also has a limited food menu, but consider having a drink here before popping over to the nearby restaurants of Redfern Continental or Misfits for a delicious dinner in this eccentric Sydney suburb.
Where: 7 Cope St, Redfern
When: 3 or 4pm to Midnight
A pirate-themed small bar? Yes please! This nautically-inspired small bar in Surry Hills features creative cocktails, ploughman’s boards, and pizzas. Located in the trendy suburb of Surry Hills, there is a huge range of bars and restaurants in this area, but Button Bar is one to add to your list. Another ‘secret’ bar, the entry is through an unmarked door and is known for its classic rock music.
Where: 65 Foveaux St, Surry Hills
When: 4pm till Midnight (1am on weekends) Closed Sundays.
The Dock, located across from Redfern station, is a hole-in-the-wall that really knows how to party. They offer live music, a large beer selection, and karaoke nights featuring old-school hip-hop, 90’s pop, and Disney sing-along nights. For a more relaxed atmosphere, consider visiting on a weeknight.
Where: 182 Redfern St, Redfern
When: 12pm – 12am Monday to Saturday 10pm Sunday
The perfect small bar for foodies, this Newtown eatery and bar occupies the former Newtown Conservatory space. It’s been designed with reclaimed and recycled materials, to create a refined and sleek atmosphere. The share plates are designed with an emphasis on locally sourced produce and meats, and they offer an extensive (and award-winning) beer and wine list.
Bloodwood makes for the perfect date-night spot, or for a special occasion with friends.
Where: 416 King Street, Newtown
When: 5pm – Midnight Mon-Thur, 12pm to Midnight Fri and Sat
This western-themed bar, just near Oxford Street, is one of the original small bars in the city. Invoking the feeling of a wild-west saloon, complete with deer heads on the wall. Drink bourbon, dance to country tunes, and eat peanuts…just like the cowboys used to do?
Where: 4/256 Crown St, Darlinghurst
When: 4pm to Midnight
This rooftop bar, accessed by a lift through the building’s main entrance, attracts a large after-work crowd and offers a fun bar and dining scene. They have a fantastic menu and are known for their lobster, so don’t leave without trying the lobster roll (or lobster mac and cheese). This relaxed bar is the perfect spot for a bite to eat after a day of sightseeing, or a long day in the office.
Where: Level 7, 56-58 York Street
When: noon to Midnight Mon- Fri 4pm till midnight Saturdays. Closed Sunday.
This voodoo themed cocktail bar in the CBD offers unusual cocktails (with names like The Zombie and Voodoo Brew), and also serves absinthe, an uncommon find. A great choice for those looking for something completely different- if the voodoo isn’t enough to entice you, they also offer share platters and monthly comedy shows.
Where: 348 Kent St, Sydney
One of Sydney’s first ‘secret’ bars, the Baxter Inn has firmly earned its place in any listing of top bars in Sydney, thanks to its unbelievable selection of whiskies and bourbons (accessed by bartenders via a sliding ladder), a sophisticated atmosphere, and a dimly-lit, speakeasy feeling that will draw you in.
Look for the entrance off Clarence Street, down a nondescript alleyway- a bouncer at the door is your only sign that you’re in the right place. Baxter is great for cocktails or sampling whisky and attracts a crowd of all ages.
Where: 152-156 Clarence St, Sydney
If you walk past an old butcher shop in Newtown, look twice. The butcher shop is long gone, but the facade remains in place as the entrance to one of Newtown’s best secret bars, named after New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer. This New Orleans themed bar offers nods to classic blues legends through the bar’s decor, a tin roof, and amazing cocktails, sometimes served aflame… If you prefer your drinks less wild, they have a range of beers on tap, or in cans.
This popular spot can get quite crowded and doesn’t serve food, so have a bite to eat elsewhere before settling in for the night.
Where: 407 King St, Newtown
When: 4pm – Midnight
Go it alone or join a tour
There are many great bars and restaurants in Sydney, but the above will give you a great introduction to the Sydney small bar scene. If you are travelling alone or want some guidance while you explore Sydney’s bar and drinks scene consider a tour like this one. These are small group tours with a local guide who will take you to 3 different bars, spending 45 mins in each. Some nibbles and drinks are included in the ticket price. I have done this tour as a guest (for free) and really enjoyed it.
Katie Dundas is a freelance travel writer and blogger, based in Sydney. As an American expat, she loves to explore Australia, especially Sydney. For more on her expat and travel adventures, please visit http://theaccidentalaustralian.com/