On the up and up

Top of the town:   the Glenmore Hotel in the Rocks.
Top of the town: the Glenmore Hotel in the Rocks. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Sydney's burgeoning bar scene, having crept into the atmospheric laneways of the city, is migrating upwards - to the rooftops, with many under-utilised spaces morphing into dynamic night-time hubs. The city of Sydney alone now has about 20 rooftop bars and, according to the OPEN Sydney Strategy and Action Plan 2013-2030, there are plans to identify more potential spaces and throw them open for cocktail lovers to enjoy. Here is our guide to the best bars to bask in autumnal sunshine (or moonlight), from the city centre to Newtown.

The Glenmore @ The Rocks

Never mind the weather at this historic rooftop bar: the recently refurbished pub has a fully retractable roof. Gaze at 180-degree in-your-face views of the harbour and CBD from the three-story pub that has served the city's denizens for almost a century. Amid the bright-red chairs and whitewashed tables you will find clumps of sunburnt backpackers and beer enthusiasts glued to the vista. Take it all in at sunset with a ''schmiddie'' of Fat Yak on tap ($6.80) and chicken skewers with mango and pineapple salsa ($18). 96 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, 9247 4794, theglenmore.com.au.

Sweethearts Rooftop Barbecue bar @ Potts Point

Sweethearts is another new open-air space worth huffing up seven flights of stairs to. The breezy space is fitted with long communal tables that cater to inner-city apartment dwellers who are constrained by space and want to replicate the backyard barbie vibe. The lofty space, which is festooned with colourful lights, is perfect for large groups who assemble on the deck for a 1970s-inspired shandy ($7/$8) while tucking into plates of sweet, sticky salmon skewers ($16). The barbecue-themed bar gets busy, so be sure to book ahead. Open rain, hail or shine. 33-37 Darlinghurst Road, Potts Point, 9368 7333, sweetheartsbbq.com.au.

Open-air space: Sweethearts Bar in Kings Cross.
Open-air space: Sweethearts Bar in Kings Cross. Photo: Steven Siewert

The Rook @ CBD

The Keystone Group's new venue The Rook is a top-shelf nook that is all about lobsters, burgers and liquor. As sexy as the crowd is the graffiti-covered grunge-meets-glam space that feels more like New York than York Street. Here, head chef Freddy Silveira, (ex-Quay and Guillaume at Bennelong) serves up half lobster ($50) and burgers done three ways ($20), while Italian barkeep Cristiano Beretta slings out signature concoctions such as the Bee's Knees ($18) with dry gin, honey and lemon. 56-58 York Street, 9262 2505, therook.com.au.

Zeta Bar @ CBD

The rooftop terrace, while not new, is an airy annex to the proper, plush main bar and an oasis for exhausted corporate types keen to loosen their ties and escape the bustle of the shopping strip below. Lush ottomans, gleaming views of the historic QVB and seriously good tunes elevate Zeta from your average hotel bar. As well as being an ideal spot for romantic liaisons or secret business deals, it's a great place to experiment with contemporary cocktails, such as the bacon and wasabi Mary ($19). The menu includes Sydney's latest bar-snack staple: tacos with chicken, avocado and tomato salsa ($22 for four). Level 4, 488 George Street, Hilton, 9265 8374, zetabar.com.au.

Hotel Sweeney's @ CBD

Ditch the tie to gain entry to this grungy rooftop bar and look the part alongside artfully scruffy punters perched on stools around the pocket-sized space. The flower boxes and shade sails bring an apartment block party vibe to the secluded space, which sits smack-bang in the midst of the twinkling cityscape. Drink in the view with a schooner of James Squire crushed apple cider ($6.90) and chow down on golden curry puffs ($5 for four). Expect to find doof-doof tunes and people dancing, even in the rain. 236 Clarence Street, 9267 1796, hotelsweeneys.com.au.

Rooftop Bar @ Kings Cross

During happy hour (5-7pm, Wed-Sun) at the newly decked-out Rooftop Bar at the Kings X Hotel, the place is mobbed with budget-conscious cool cats. As well as offering an eagle-eye view of the landmark luminescent Coca Cola sign, the bar has a DJ who draws the crowds by spinning under-the-radar hip-hop and house. Curl up in a mod wicker chair and get your buzz on while slurping on the signature Bee Sting cocktail of Jack Daniels, honey, ginger beer and fresh-squeezed granny smith apple juice ($10). Once you've had your alfresco thrill, head downstairs to grab schnitz and bits (slaw and chips, $12). Kings Cross Hotel, Rooftop Bar, 248 William Street, Sydney, 9331 9900, kingscrosshotel.com.au.

Corridor @ Newtown

Live music, flea-market chic, a rabbit warren of nooks and crannies, a thoughtful small plates menu and an outdoor deck offering a quiet place to sit and sip has made this rejigged bar a magnet for the inner-west boho brigade. By the end of the night, the atmosphere here is worth bottling: a jazz band with blaring trombone holds court in the narrow bar that is teeming with tattooed socialists, ruby-haired women in fishnets, men with mutton-chop sideburns and beautiful beguiling bartenders. Get there for happy hour (5-7pm weekdays) and enjoy a $10 Pisco Sour and a mezze antipasto plate ($25) to share. 153A King Street, Newtown, 0422 873 879, corridorbar.com.au.

El Topo @ Bondi Junction

The rooftop of the Eastern Hotel is a haven for those who revere Mexican kitsch and culture: forget sombreros, think skeletons, skulls, a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and cosy pods that are a riot of colour - decked out with ornate tiles and neon-bright fabrics. El Topo (which means ''the mole'') is where art, modern Mexican cuisine and top-quality tequila collide. Escape the Bondi Beach hipster scene and jump aboard the juggernaut that is Sydney's very own Mexican revolution with taco de carne de res ($6, taco with braised beef) and a shot of tequila ($8-$39). Rooftop, Level 3, The Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, 8383 5959, eltopo.com.au.