Unless you're at a car park station, it's hard to have a bad time on a rooftop. Harder, yet if that rooftop has a bar and harder again if it happens to be summer. Whether you're after an open-air late-night dance floor, sanctuary from the CBD street-level bustle, a place to crack open champagne with a partner, or a casual boozer to cheers pints with mates, Sydney's rooftop bar scene has you covered.
Coogee Pavilion Rooftop
This Mediterranean oasis of char-grilled chicken, Coopers and Chandon is the best part of Merivale's Coogee super-pub. The rooftop is over-18s only and with four indoor and outdoor bars, the party vibe is strong when locals let their beach hair down on weekend evenings. Shoreline views and a rainforest of ferns provide the ideal setting for chef Jordan Toft's terrific eastern Mediterranean menu that includes grilled haloumi in vine leaves and za'atar lamb rump with pickled cucumbers and smoked aioli.
169 Dolphin Street, Coogee, 02 9240 3000, merivale.com.au/coogeerooftop
The Old Clare Hotel
Best time your visit to the rooftop pool bar of Chippendale's most deliberately hip hotel after 5pm in summer or risk Central Park's vertical garden building blocking most of the sun. Still, even in the shadows, rooftop pools are a lot of fun, and the Old Clare's is worth a visit if not for a swim, then for a Jamsheed riesling and views over Broadway. And since January, there's been more reason to catch the lobby lift to Level 4 with Jason Atherton's Kensington Street Social supplying the pool bar with food.
1 Kensington Street, Chippendale, 02 8277 8277, theoldclarehotel.com.au
Henry Deane at Hotel Palisade
"Rooftop bar" is a bit of a stretch for the Palisade's top level, Bahamas-style space as most of it is enclosed (although there is a fair-sized balcony attached if you want fresh air). No matter as floor-to-ceiling windows still showcase more than 270 degrees of the harbour, and at sunset you'll see colours you never knew existed. The cocktail game is strong, so don't wait until you have tourist mates in town to visit. Head there at the next opportunity, order a martini and take in one of Sydney's best views.
35 Bettington Street, Millers Point, 02 9018 0123, hotelpalisade.com/henry-deane
Intercontinental Sydney Supper Club
Henry Deane will kick you out around midnight, but that's OK because Supper Club at the Intercontinental is open much later from Wednesday to Saturday. Its views, stretching from western Sydney to the Pacific Ocean and overlooking the Opera House, are nothing short of spectacular and, as a bonus, there's food until 1am. The wine list is all-Australian, except for the sparkling section where big-ticket French champagne houses rule. Bookings essential and totally worth it.
Level 31, 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney, 02 9240 1396, icsydney.com.au/dine-drink/supperclub
The Ivanhoe, Manly
Any venue rocking oysters on ice and beer on tap is already halfway towards summer perfection. Throw in a sun-dappled rooftop canopied in wicker crab pots and fresh Kinkawooka mussels with chilli and basil and you've made it. The Ivanhoe also has a quality fish-and-chip offering available to take away, so roll up in boardshorts, order a battered flathead fillet, and enjoy a cheeky rooftop schooner while your lunch fries downstairs.
27 The Corso, Manly, 02 9976 3955, ivanhoehotelmanly.com.au
The Glenmore Hotel
It is understood that when this Rocks pub was built in 1921, the City of Sydney council decreed it must feature in all future "best rooftop bars" articles. Why? Because its view of the Opera House and Circular Quay is for all time. Surrounding hotel bars are positioned higher for better vistas, but the Glenmore's appeal springs from being flanked by heritage buildings and soaking in the history of The Rocks as well as the sparkling harbour. Get in early to nab a seat.
96 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, 02 9247 4794, theglenmore.com.au
The Local Taphouse
Still the best bar in Sydney for beer, perhaps even Australia. A lot of craft beer joints are prone to installing as many taps as possible and employing a "quantity not quality" approach but the Taphouse always has a carefully curated selection of harder-to-find kegs and for that we give thanks. Because of its high walls, the rooftop isn't big on views, but it is big on pint-clinking good times with mates in the sun. Groups are strongly advised to book a table in advance.
122 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst, 02 9360 0088, thelocal.com.au
The Royal Hotel
With room for only 40 people, the Royal's rooftop is one of the smaller places for an al fresco aperitif. It's also one of the best places to watch the sun set over the city skyline, so target your arrival for late in the afternoon. The staff at the Royal's Elephant Bar on the floor below are serious about their craft but given the rooftop's penchant for white furniture and green hedges, you've kind of got to order the Pimms punch with prosecco and lemon juice, right?
237 Glenmore Road, Paddington, 02 9331 2604, royalhotel.com.au
An afternoon summer session in Newtown is one of Sydney's great pleasures when you can kick back and let the inner west's all-good attitude do its magic. This modest little bar's rooftop of timber and Christmas lights doesn't have water views or a pool but it does have an easy-going vibe that prompts another round of Young Henrys or one of the excellent, boozy cocktails. (And stop thinking about ordering those cheesy bacon potato skins and just do it already.)
153A King Street, Newtown, 0405 671 002, corridorbar.com.au
While Sweeneys' CBD skyscraper views remain unchanged, its beer offering has evolved with the rooftop bar giving local brews a red hot go. This means that after you burn a burger's worth of carbs on the hike to the pub's summit, you can regain them by ordering a tasting paddle that might feature beers from Batch, Bridge Road, or Illawarra Brewing Co. Tap takeovers are common on the rooftop as are sausage sizzles on a Saturday when you can score a snag sanger for $2.50.
236 Clarence Street, Sydney, 02 9267 1796, hotelsweeneys.com.au