18 best bars in Sydney’s CBD 2020
Thought city drinking was all suits shaking hands over business deals? Think again. Here are the best bars in the city to work your way through their cocktail lists this weekend.
The best bars are usually not the ones on the corner with suits spilling out of them like confetti. They're often the ones you walked past a thousand times and didn't even notice.
That's where we come in.
The bar scene in Sydney’s CBD has exploded in recent years, with more speakeasies, dive bars and hidden drinkeries than you could hope to reach in a single night. But we've been around a city block or two. Now we're bringing that knowledge to you, with the best bars to drag your work mates to this Friday night. Visiting Sydney? Check out our complete guide to Sydney for where to stay and what to do when in town
1. The Baxter Inn
A back bar with so many whiskeys it requires a ladder, bearded bartenders that look like they belong in another century, bowls of pretzels on every table… you’ve just stumbled into one of Sydney’s best kept secrets. This (literally) underground bar can be found down an alleyway off Clarence St. Don’t let the line deter you; there will always be one and it’s always worth the wait. And once inside, you’re never more than a few minutes away from a Whiskey Sour.
- Address: Basement 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney
- Open: Monday to Saturday 4pm-1am
- Facebook: The Baxter Inn
2. Dead Ringer
One of the newest bars on the scene that's getting a lot of attention is Dead Ringer.
In 2016 it hosted a In-and-Out Burger pop-up and ever since it's been going big guns. That's not just because Dead Ringer has contacts, although it does. It was brought to us by the guys behind Bulletin Place (see below) and offers high quality eats in a casual setting. Don't expect a dingy bar when you arrive, it's all glam here. With a few little quirks.
- Address: 413 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
- Open: Monday-Thursday (5pm-12am), Friday-Sunday (12pm-12am)
- Facebook: Dead Ringer
3. Shady Pines Saloon
Shady is the name of the game at Shady Pines. It was one of the first hidden bars in Sydney and remains one of the best despite its lack of social media activity.
That's right. It has no Facebook, no promotion, no signage and no guest lists. It does have a website but it reveals little to nothing about the venture aside from its address and opening hours. Intrigued? You should be.
Worth it? Most definitely.
- Address: Shop 4, 256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
- Open: Daily, 4pm-midnight
- Website: Shady Pines Saloon
4. Harpoon Harry
Dead Ringer may have hosted the In-and-Out Burger pop-up, but Harpoon Harry made it a local affair, hosting a Huxtaburger pop-up in 2015 with much success.
Attached to Hotel Harry this bar has since come of age, drawing in a youthful crowd to dine on its high quality eats (brought to us by master Culinary Curator Morgan McGlone) and dance the weekends away.
Sail in today.
- Address: 40-44 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills
- Open: Daily,11:30am-3am
- Facebook: Harpoon Harry
5. Love, Tilly Devine
If wine is your tipple of choice then you'll love Tilly Devine. She's all about the glamorous things in life without being pretentious about it.
That's why she's named after a brothel Madame and militia boss. Sounds fun, right?
Packing over 300 wines, you'll be hard pressed not to sample them all, but that's why we implore you return into her warm and loving arms time and time again.
- Address: 91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst
- Open: Monday-Saturday 5pm-midnight, Sunday 4pm-10pm
- Facebook: Love, Tilly Devine
6. The Rook
Hidden in Sydney is a rooftop with comfy couches, graffitied walls and a steady stream of rock anthems. That place is the outdoor area of The Rook, one of Sydney's best little-known bars.
Head down a non-descript corridor, punch in "rooftop" in the elevator and emerge a little baffled and a whole lot intrigued. Inside is a bar and dining area (burgers and lobsters are the name of the game here) but outside is where you'll lose hours working your way through the cleverly named cocktail list.
- Address: Rooftop at 56-58 York St
- Open: Wednesday-Friday (lunch), Weeknights from 4pm, Saturdays from 6pm (dinner)
- Facebook: The Rook
7. Frankie's Pizza By The Slice
Every review of Frankie's mentions that it's from the guys behind Shady Pines and The Baxter Inn, which should be enough of a reason to pay it a visit. It's a grungy ode to Midwest America, complete with pinball machines (for 20c a play) and slices of pizza with cheese oozing onto paper plates.
Raising the bar is its capacity as a live music venue, plenty of craft beers and a sleazy vibe that works as an antidote to every sleek and polished city bar. Another favourite place to get your whiskey-and-fresh-apple-juice fix.
- Address: 50 Hunter St, Sydney
- Open: Monday to Sunday 4pm - 4am
- Facebook: Frankie's Pizza By The Slice
8. Baker Bros. Espresso Bar
Don't let the name fool you. Come Thursday and Friday nights, this hole-in-the-wall cafe (have you tried their $1 espresso?) leaves its doors open a little longer, providing a mix of Australian and Italian wines to please thirsty city types.
If you're a fan of Espresso Martinis, this is the place to get it; they know a thing or two about good coffee.
- Address: Shop 1, 56-58 York St
- Open: Monday to Wednesday 7am - 4pm, Thursday to Friday 7am - late
- Facebook: Baker Bros.
9. Mojo Record Bar
Come for the tunes, stay for the drinks. That's the ethos of Mojo Record Bar, a basement bar off York St with shelves heaving with spirits and musical paraphernalia.
It's one of the few places left in Sydney where you can pick up a decent record, which is made infinitely more fun if you have a drink in your hand while you do it.
- Address: Basement Level, 73 York St
- Open | Bar: Monday to Friday 4pm - 12am, Saturday 5pm - 12am.
- Open | Record Store: Monday to Wednesday 10am - 5:30pm, Thursday to Friday 10am - 12am, Saturday 10am - 5pm
- Facebook: Mojo Record Bar
10. This Must Be The Place
Or TMBTP for short.
It's the place to chill, hang out, knock a couple of cold ones back and be awestruck by the beautiful presented cocktails available.
Winner of the Time Out Bar Awards 2016 New Bar of the Year, TMBTP spices up the Sydney bar scene with its sincere and professional approach. It doesn't scream hipster or hidden bar. With a minimal food and drinks list and inviting frontage, trendsetting snobbery is nowhere to be found here.
- Address: 239 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
- Open: 3pm-midnight
- Facebook: This Must Be The Place
11. Maybe Frank
Pizza and cocktails are what Maybe Frank specialises in. That's drinks to start your night off and nibbles to chow down on when the munchies hit, no? We've been there, we don't judge.
For those of you who'd before to dine than wine, expect only the freshest pizzas made from the most well-rested (36-hours) dough. Topics are traditional, cocktails are not. Enjoy.
- Address: 417-421 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
- Open: Tuesday-Saturday 5:30pm-late, Sunday 4pm-10pm
- Facebook: Maybe Frank
These guys possess two things in spades: a filthy sense of humour and your grandma's ability to make you feel safe and welcome. Contradiction? Not in the slightest.
Work your way through a dangerously good cocktail list in the 60s kitsch basement and wonder why all family reunions can't be this entertaining.
- Address: Basement 275 Clarence St
- Open: Monday to Friday 3pm - late, Saturday 5pm - late
- Facebook: Grandma's
13. Lobo Plantation
Lobo Plantation is oozing with rum-soaked Caribbean hospitality and old world charm.
Light, gold, dark, spiced and aged rums are all on the menu (straight, mixed or in cocktail form), as is sugarcane-cured beef and baked cheese balls.
We think the underground bar's namesake and Cuba's last sugar baron, Julio Lobo, would be proud.
- Address: Basement Lot 1, 209 Clarence St
- Opening Times: Monday to Thursday 4pm - 12am, Friday 2pm - 12am, Saturday 4pm - 12am
- Facebook: The Lobo Plantation
14. Bulletin Place
Every morning the boys at Bulletin Place pick up several kilos of fruit at the markets and every evening turn them into sought-after cocktails that change on a daily basis and will leave your dignity intact even when you order a daiquiri.
The décor is as bare as they come - stools, butcher's paper, industrial tables; but in spite of, or perhaps because of this, this place is winning awards and loyal customers alike.
- Address: 1st floor, 10-14 Bulletin Place
- Opening Times: Monday to Wednesday 4pm - 12am, Thursday to Friday 4pm - 1am, Saturday 5pm - 1am
- Facebook: Bulletin Place
These guys might just be serving more cocktails than anyone else in Sydney. The extensive list is a smorgasbord of entertaining names - Beetlejuice and Grandma's Addiction rate a mention - combining lashings of spirits with fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients that might confuse you into thinking you won't have a hangover in the morning.
If you stay for more than one (strongly advised), this won't be the case, but it'll be worth it.
- Address: 61 York St
- Opening Times: Monday to Tuesday 4pm - 12am, Wednesday to Saturday 4pm - 2am
- Facebook: Stitch Bar
16. Ramblin' Rascal Tavern
Brought to you by the boys who worked the bar at Frankies comes Ramblin' Rascal Tavern. In true small-bar style, there's is a cocktail of fresh apple juice inspired drinks as well as some "shit tinnies"- for that time in the evening when anything will do for the handful of coins you've collected over the course of your booze-filled evening.
The best bit? There are more seats in the venue than the licensed capacity, so you're more than guaranteed to find a seat with your name on it.
- Address: 199 Elizabeth St, Sydney
- Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 4pm–midnight
- Facebook: Ramblin Rascal Tavern
17. Papa Gedes
With a bespoke menu that demands you should "try before you die", this hidden tiki bar will put a spell on you from the moment you enter its warm voodoo sanctum.
Don't be afraid to follow the laneway behind 348 Kent St because you'll be pleasantly surprised at the warmth emanating from this nook of a bar. Its cocktails are not one to shake a fist at either. Let the good times roll.
- Address: Laneway at the rear of 348 Kent St
- Opening Times: Monday to Saturday, 5pm-12am
- Facebook: Papa Gedes Bar
18. Palmer & Co
If the suave suits in the whiskey room aren't enough to tempt you into this speakeasy, then maybe the flapper girls serving you cocktails will.
Palmer & Co goes all out with 1920s flair with low-slung tables, exposed brick walls and scattered top hats, while the bartenders perform with a level of expertise high enough to make you rethink scoffing at the term 'mixologist'.
- Address: Abercrombie Lane
- Opening Times: Monday to Wednesday 5pm - late, Thursday to Friday 3pm - late, Saturday to Sunday 5pm - late.
- Facebook: Palmer & Co
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