The Sydney bar scene is on a roll, so check out our list of the best new, classic or soon-to-open watering holes.
Sweet wine in a sauce bottle. There haven't been this many new bars since Sydney was gearing up to host an Olympic Games and we were knocking back Lemon Ruskis with nam jim oysters. With hospitality operators having been forced to keep their launch plans on ice during lockdown, it now seems like a new small bar or flashy boozer is opening every second day.
We're not completely sure where all the employees are coming from to mix drinks at these brand-spanker venues – the pandemic has only made an existing staff shortage problem much worse – but we do know that Sydneysiders are keen to spend this summer partying at a level last seen in 2000 when Crocodile Dundee rode a giant replica of his hat around Stadium Australia. The Emerald City is back.
Tarty-sweet sour beer slushies at Philter Brewing's new Marrickville Springs rooftop bar. Photo: James Brickwood
So then, what'll it be? One slushie, thanks, hold the scoopy straw. More bars than ever before are taking the frozen drink beyond its service station roots and making booze-spiked slushies to enjoy in the sun. Check the tarty-sweet sour beer slushie at Philter Brewing's new Marrickville Springs rooftop bar, and The Duke of Enmore's frosty "lagerita" starring tequila, triple sec and lime.
Speaking of tequila, there is a lot of agave-based distillate being poured around town. Sydney's new wave of Mexican restaurants led by Redfern's Itacate and the ambitious Milpa Collective group (seven venues at last count) has also fanned the flames for more tequila and mezcal-focused bars. Barangaroo's vermouth-loving Banksii has been relaunched as Tequila Daisy, featuring 100 tequilas and mezcals, and Milpa opened its 100-seat Oaxacan bar and restaurant Santa Catarina in the CBD on Thursday.
On the comparatively lighter side of boozing, Aussie rosé is set to be the humble wine hit of the holidays. Look for new rosé releases made with sangiovese, mataro and dolcetto for top value drops to enjoy in the shade of a stripy umbrella.
About Time is one of the newest bars to open near Wynyard. Photo: Patrick Stevenson
Meanwhile, local whisky is becoming more affordable, which means more highballs made with domestic drams, and a small but growing number of Australian amari offer thrilling new choices to round off the night (love you, Beechworth Bitters Co and Never Never Dark). The competition for best martini service is also getting fierce – Maybe Sammy and Icebergs Dining Room and Bar are neck and neck, but Margaret is making a sprint up the inside.
All these trends and more can be found at the bars below too, now open and ready to quench Sydney's combined thirst.
Three cheers for cocktails inspired by ice-blocks. A Frosty Fruits-riffing slushie features mango nectar, white rum, citrus, passionfruit and Campari at this fun-loving bar, while the mighty Zooper Dooper stars in the Daq Attack – essentially a classic daiquiri bolstered by the frozen treat. "We shake drinks with ice to dilute them," says general manager Jonothan Carr, "so why not use flavoured ice? And growing up, the best flavours of ice came in Zooper Dooper form." About Time is in a building set for Sydney Metro-related demolition in late 2022, so enjoy the sweet nostalgia trip while you can.
Eat: house-made French onion dip and Jatz.
Drink: the Rocky Road-flavoured old-fashioned.
37 Bligh Street, Sydney
More than 100 unique bottles of gin are offered at Frank Mac's. Photo: Steven Woodburn
The team behind The Rocks whisky-focused basement bar Doss House is now having a crack at gin. More than 100 unique bottles of juniper-forward spirit are offered between the sandstone walls of this handsome split-level bar and its courtyard, and staff are super keen to talk you through endless martini variations and flavour-packed cocktails. "The silver lining from the last three months of lockdown is that we've been able to use the time to really refine our cocktails," says beverage manager Daniel Strahand. "I've spent days perfecting syrups, cordials and bitters, infusing spirits and even developing our own clear version of a Worcestershire sauce, which we've used in a light, summery bloody mary called the Mary Magdalene."
Eat: gin-cured salmon with pickled shallots and creme fraiche.
Drink: the Croney Horne, a gimlet made with gin and makrut lime cordial.
83 George Street, The Rocks
Caviar and champagne is all well and good, but can it ever beat beer and pizza on a weekday night? This friendly neighbourhood bar is now rocking the latter for Darlo locals, specifically blistered margheritas and house lager made in collaboration with Sydney brewery Akasha. Hank's is the latest offering from licensee Aaron Edwards, whose Bitter Phew craft beer bar upstairs is a favourite destination of hop heads. Expect lots of independent ales plus refreshing cocktails and natural wine to boot.
Eat: 'nduja and ricotta pizza with kale and honey.
Drink: Hank's First Round Pale Ale.
137 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
Catalan-style snacks and natural Spanish wine at La Salut bar in Redfern. Photo: Nikki To
Gee whiz, The Norfolk has had a fresh coat of paint. The sports bar's sticky carpet has been replaced with terrazzo in a room featuring earthy tones and a grand central bar where vermouth is very much The Thing. La Salut is a Barcelona-inspired outpost from the legends behind Love, Tilly Devine and Ragazzi, and there's no hotter spot for an aperitif, Catalan-style snacks and natural Spanish wine. "This is the most exciting time in all of history to be drinking wine from Spain," says co-owner Matt Swieboda. "A grand old winemaking country has begun to find itself in old vines, altitude, heroic viticulture, and ancient grape varieties not found anywhere else in the world."
Eat: house-made Tathra Place pork butifarra sausage with clams and beans.
Drink: Cillar de Silos "Golfo" Tinto Fino vermouth.
305 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Hospitality trade in The Rocks took a hit when international tourism was banned, but at least COVID inspired the state government to start revitalising the heritage precinct with the right mix of bars and restaurants. Le Foote is the lodestar, brought to us by the team behind Restaurant Hubert and pitching similar European wine bar vibes. Open as a summer pop-up until more permanent renovations of ye olde Phillip's Foote site can begin, this is your place for charcuterie and chilled shiraz before dinner, or a bigger night in the courtyard on pilsners and Pimms cups.
Eat: charcuterie plate of Calabrese salami, LP's saucisson and Quattro Stelle leg ham.
Drink: bright and juicy Beaujolais from young winemaker Justin Dutraive.
101 George Street, The Rocks
Mille Vini is one of the best spots for people-watching on Crown Street. Photo: Kitti Gould
Technically not new, but after a name change, revamped Italian menu and massive interior facelift, we're going to say the site formerly known as MV Bistro & Wine Bar qualifies for this list. The remodelled bar and dining space is all velvet and brass, ideal for fresh orecchiette bookended by a negroni and cheese with pane carasau. One of the best spots for people-watching on Crown Street if you can nab a window seat.
Eat: poached octopus salad with fennel and olives.
Drink: a crisp Suavia Soave Classico with big notes of apple and pear.
397 Crown Street, Surry Hills
The flagship venue of Odd Culture hospitality group, which also counts Woolloomooloo's Old Fitz in its portfolio, has swiftly become a go-to for inner-west catch-ups. Former Baxter Inn talent Sam Paech has created a selection of delicious cocktails, but the beer and biodynamic wine lists have a lot happening too. (Wild ale and lambic fans are particularly well looked after.) Meanwhile, in the kitchen chef James MacDonald is slinging booze-friendly snacks and share plates such as Murray cod with bottarga butter and mustard leaves. It's the hybrid cafe, restaurant and bar that King Street always knew it wanted.
Eat: cucumber, salted chilli and preserved tofu.
Drink: the Miami Vice, starring coconut-washed rum, pineapple soda, strawberry and lime.
266 King Street, Newtown
Caviar and champagne at the newly opened Sky Bar. Photo: Jason Loucas
Sky Bar at Shell House
Corporates haven't been this thrilled about a new venue since Rockpool Bar & Grill started serving burgers with Burgundy more than a decade ago. Shell House's street-level Menzies Bar is already heaving, but the rooftop is the main draw this summer. Nine storeys above ground and furnished with designer lounges that demand another martini, Sky Bar sets a new benchmark casual luxury in Sydney. Spend big on oscietra caviar and vintage fizz, or keep things low-key with spiced school prawns and semillon.
Eat: pickled mussels with green garlic and pork jowl on miche.
Drink: the Dusk Till Dawn featuring white vermouth, calvados, baked pear, Dubonnet, Campari, vanilla, rhubarb and fresh lemon.
37 Margaret Street, Sydney
What's all this about a Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin spritz on tap, then? Two, please. This pub-style bar below Misfits restaurant boasts 26 taps and many comfy corners to share a dozen oysters or get stuck into a hulking burger requiring four napkins. Exposed brick, elegant tiles and indoor ferns make the boozer look more like The Grounds of Alexandria than a public bar, but the brunch temple never had so many tradies sinking Balter XPA.
Eat: lamb ragu pappardelle with salsa verde.
Drink: Young Henrys Newtowner.
106 George Street, Redfern
Tiny Kings Cross veteran venue Piccolo Bar has been transformed into an aperitivo bar. Photo: Supplied
Sadly, the Piccolo Bar Cold Chisel's Don Walker wrote lyrics about – that place of late-night espressos and Kings Cross dilettantes – has left us. In better news, the site has been transformed into a 12-seat aperitivo bar and diner that honours the past while keeping things fresh. Designer Mike Delany has created a timeless space where you can disappear for hours (the old Piccolo photo wall is still there, but now with even more historic pictures of the Cross) with a hot dog in your hand, a few anchovies on bread, and a classic from the straight-shooting cocktail list.
Eat: goat's curd and piquillo pepper toastie.
Drink: the Piccolo negroni using house-made vermouth.
6 Roslyn Street, Potts Point
Coming very soon...
Sydney's first sake bar promises to be a cracker. Black Market Sake importer Matt Young will be pouring all the best junmai with former Pinbone chef Jemma Whiteman on the pans. Opening November. 146 King Street, Newtown
Chiswick head chef Francois Poulard has made the jump from Woollahra to Manly Wharf Hotel to helm the kitchen at this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and cocktail bar. Expect a luxe fit-out, eastern rock lobster frites, and a seafood platter heaving with spanner crab salad, scallop ceviche, tiger prawns and kingfish. Opens November. East Esplanade, Manly
Hickson House Distilling Co
In another win for The Rocks, bar legend Mike Enright will head up a sprawling space opposite Campbell's Stores. Hickson is set to make its own gin and stock more than 600 spirits. Opens December. 6 Hickson Road, Dawes Point
Paski Vineria Popolare
A partnership between chef Enrico Tomelleri and wine importers Giorgio De Maria and Mattia Dicati. Taking over two levels of the site once home to This Must Be The Place, and inspired by the enotecas found Italy-wide, Paski is serious about having fun. Opens November. 239 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
A bistro, really, plus a boulangerie and traiteur, but with former Victor Churchill charcuterie master Cyprien Picard on terrine duties, we're most keen to sit at the bar with pâté en croute and splash out on Bordeaux. Opens December. 61 Lavender Street, Milsons Point
PS40's Burning Man non-alcoholic cocktail. Photo: Supplied
Eight summer favourites from The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine
Open for avo toast in the morning and tagliatelle at night, locals flock to this all-purpose hangout for group catch-ups and bohemian vibes. A courtyard provides the best seat in summer for a Smoking Gun – that's tequila, mezcal, pineapple and a habanero shrub. 6 Belgrave Street, Manly.
The pandemic has made rare mezcals harder to source but the cocktails remain as refreshing as ever. The new menu is inspired by the "trinity of human happiness" – peace, joy and lust – and all those chemicals they promote. Hit us with that dopamine, bartender. Council Place, Sydney.
Just the ticket for post-swim spritzes and cut-above bar food. In the lovely tradition of Pubs That Actually Service Their Community, this is family-friendly, minutes from the beach and has a dedicated dining room serving a heck of a rotisserie chook. 29 Moore Road, Freshwater.
Nick and Nora's
A big, boozy bar buzzing with the same speakeasy energy co-owner Sven Almenning nailed at Darlinghurst's Eau de Vie a decade ago, albeit from an open-air terrace 26 storeys above ground. You won't find a better French 75 or Sazerac in the west. Level 26, 45 Macquarie Street, Parramatta.
P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants
Choose a bottle, choose a courtyard table; drink, snack, repeat. Sydney's leading natural wine and independent liquor trader has set up its Paddo outpost with shaded seats for charcuterie and by-the-glass good times, or any bottle from the shop for $25 corkage. 268 Oxford Street, Paddington.
Thor Bergquist and Michael Chiem's city bar is more than a sum of its cocktails (though they deliver sharp, original drinks in spades), they're also a small-scale soda factory and host restaurant pop-ups featuring some of the brightest chefs in the biz. 40 Skittle Lane, Sydney.
Kanpai! You don't get much closer to feeling like you're in Tokyo than knocking back Asahi tallboys and sake at Crows Nest's tiniest bar. Hyper-coloured bric-a-brac covers every wall, and if it wasn't for all the yuzu highballs, Tachinomi could double as a Japanese thrift shop. Shop 1, 20 Burlington Street, Crows Nest.
With a big focus on sustainable vineyards and organic wine growing practices, this Marrickville wine bar also boasts sommelier Bridget Raffal, previously of Stanmore fine diner Sixpenny. Like what you drank sitting in? They also sell wine to take away. 236 Marrickville Road, Marrickville.
The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine will be published November 30 with presenting partners Citi and Vittoria, and free with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Also on sale from December 7 in newsagents and supermarkets.