Is it January in Australia without mangos, beach swims and prawn sandwiches? Is it the holidays without hot chips, hotter seatbelt buckles and barbecues in the park? And can you really say you've spent summer in Sydney without at least one round of drinks, on a rooftop, in the afternoon?
Thankfully, there's no shortage of new and old rooftop bars and restaurants in the Harbour City, many open for hot chips and prawn sandwiches, too. Here are our favourite spots for summer snacking in the open air.
For beach views and blistered-crust pizza
Merivale's finest fine-diner, Mimi's, celebrated its first birthday at the weekend, and while the first-floor restaurant has become the hottest spot at Coogee Pav, there's still a lot to recommend about the hotel's rooftop. Specifically, ocean views for miles and anchovy-topped marinara from the Vinnie's Pizza oven.
Menu highlights include a four formaggi number featuring sage, taleggio, fontina, pecorino and fior di latte, and a seaside-suitable pizza starring grilled cuttlefish, garlic and chilli.
The greenhouse-style bar does a roaring trade in magnums of Provencal rosé, plus jalapeno-spiked margaritas engineered to kick-start lunch.
Not always the best venue for anyone adverse to dance music in the evening, but certainly a top option for relaxed drinks after a midday swim.
169 Dolphin Street, Coogee, merivale.com/venues/coogeepavilionrooftop
Good times in the sun at Mary's on Top. Photo: Supplied
For city views and cheeseburgers
Mary's On Top
For every linen shirt at Coogee Pav there's a trucker cap at The Lansdowne, where Marys' formula of Slayer, natural wine and burgers fits the pub like a black leather glove. It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, but the trek is essential for anyone fond of whisky at sunset and killer fried chicken.
Friday and Saturday nights feature $10 pizzas between 6pm and 9pm, including a Hawaiian riff heavy with red sauce, glazed ham and roast pineapple. It's exactly what you want to enjoy with a cold schooner of Grifter, and kudos to Mary's Group for now only pouring independently-owned breweries at its venues.
The Lansdowne Hotel, 2-6 City Road, Chippendale, thelansdownepub.com.au
For cocktails and, eh, more cocktails
Old Mate's Place
Are we there yet? The hike to Old Mate's entrance is another big climb, but the trip is rewarded with some of Sydney's smartest stirring, mixing and shaking. High above Clarence Street, a Pandan Airways house creation seems like the right idea, starring coconut flesh, wild strawberries, pandan gin and verjuice.
The rooftop can be found past Old Mate's leather booths and bookshelves, but night-cap-seekers should note the outdoor terrace shuts at 11pm. Mercifully, the rest of the venue is open until 2am Tuesday to Sunday, making it easy to hunker down with a negroni or two and check your cares at the door.
Level 4, 199 Clarence Street, Sydney, oldmates.sydney
Oysters with red chilli lime dressing at Betel Leaf. Photo: Edwina Pickles
For papaya salad and riesling
Betel Leaf at Bathers' Pavilion
It's hard to find a better spot to show off Sydney to visitors than the beachside terrace of Balmoral's oldest swimming club.
For too long only available to hire as a function space, Bathers' first-floor patio is now home to Thai restaurant Betel Leaf, helmed by former Sailors head chef Ty Bellingham.
There's Isaan-style beef salad, poached prawns, and more Louis Roederer than you can throw a tea-smoked Thai sausage at.
Actually, to heck with waiting for friends and family to visit. The combination of oysters, blue water and sparkling wine is a winning trifecta for any occasion. Keep the holiday vibes rolling with a lychee spritz after lunch.
4 The Esplanade, Balmoral, batherspavilion.com.au
The rooftop bar atop the Glenmore in the Rocks. Photo: Edwina Pickles
For schooners and House views
A "Sydney's best rooftops" list without the Glenmore is like a pub menu without schnitzel: unfathomable and incomplete. How's that Opera House view across Circular Quay? Bloody spectacular, that's what, especially when Utzon's sails change colour with the sunset.
Every second table is crowned by a jug of Coopers, and on the first Sunday of each month the rooftop plays host to a bottomless long lunch featuring lamb shoulder, roast chook and unlimited rosé for $85 a person.
Without international tourists visiting Australia this summer, The Rocks could do with all the local support it can get. By all means set a day to explore the precinct's historic hotels, such as this stalwart, the Fortune of War and Lord Nelson. (And yes, The Glenmore lists schnitzel on the menu, served with chips and gravy as the pub gods intended.)
96 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, theglenmore.com.au
The wharf-top terrace at Sake Restaurant and Bar, Manly. Photo: Supplied
For sashimi and a spritz
Sake Restaurant and Bar
Harbour views take centrestage at this local favourite offering a seafood selection that doesn't care for the choice-a-phobic. Head chef Shoji Toru slices some of the most delicious sashimi north of the Bridge, and a 24-piece platter bright with kingfish belly, tuna, scallops and snapper is ideal for sharing with friends and fiano.
The wharf-top terrace is highly convenient if you have a ferry to catch, allowing you to know exactly when your boat is on approach and probably missing it anyway. Another round of umeshu with passionfruit and lime instead, please.
Manly Ferry Wharf, Manly, sakerestaurant.com.au
For champagne and caviar
Ivy Pool Club
A party-time oasis of pink flamingos and private cabanas for the past 12 years, Ivy Pool Club underwent a refresh in 2020 to provide more al fresco dining options. Additional booths and poolside tables were installed, and chef Vincenzo Biondini expanded his menu to include Italian-ish salads and antipasto such as mortadella, burrata and giardiniera.
Pool Club now has table service too, and guests really keen to push out the inflatable swan can order caviar and Dom Perignon from Uccello next door. $180 buys 30 grams of royal sterling roe, and gosh darn if it isn't tempting to spoon a dollop on Biondini's wood-fried bread.
320 George Street, Sydney, merivale.com/venues/poolclub
For cheese and whisky
Nick and Nora's
Sure, the pairing doesn't quite scream "summer", but matching real-deal stilton with whisky is one of life's great pleasures and this luxe Parramatta cocktail bar can provide. It also does it from an east-facing terrace 26 storeys in the sky. Moreton Bay bug rolls might be better suited to the season, yours to be scoffed with a textbook French 75 or a brisk martini.
In spite of its soaring location, Nick and Nora's buzzes with the same speakeasy energy co-owner Sven Almenning nailed so well when he opened Eau de Vie in Darlinghurst 10 years ago. There's even a cigar list if that's your jam.
Level 26, 45 Macquarie Street, Parramatta, nickandnoras.com.au/parramatta
For avocado and Aperol
Sitting proud on the rooftop of Hyde Park House, Slims' desert succulents and frilly umbrellas pop against the brown-on-grey rooftops of East Sydney. There's more pink and pastel here than a Degas retrospective, and cocktails involving Aperol and prosecco are very much The Go, especially with the attractive young punters who flock here for poolside vibes without a pool. ("Slim" is Slim Aarons, and the American photographer's images of sunbathing socialites decorate the bar's turquoise walls.)
Meanwhile, the snack-filled menu wouldn't be out of place at a Palm Springs izakaya with its pan-fried dumplings, furikake corn, and raw tuna tacos filled with avocado and green chilli.
47-49 William Street, East Sydney, hydeparkhouse.com/slims-rooftop
For craft beer and a sausage sizzle
With its doors still closed six months after lockdown, the future was looking grim for this grungy CBD favourite. Then, bam! Come November, Sweeneys' taps were flowing again, featuring the city's best range of craft beer. The pub is a lager-lover's paradise, from hand pumps on the ground level pouring proper English bitter, to the third-floor rooftop fitted with 12 taps rotating local ales, sours and stouts.
Twice as many taps can be found at Clarence's Bar on level two, plus a damn fine Bloody Mary. Few things can right the night-before's wrongs like vodka-based cocktail in the shade.
Sweeneys' Thai bistro has a small cult following for its roast duck red curry, and the rooftop is fond of a sausage sizzle too, particularly when there's a tap takeover by local brewers.
236 Clarence Street, Sydney, hotelsweeneys.com.au