Sydney's top 50 bars 2016

Callan Boys
Coffee & Cigarettes at The Gretz in Enmore.
Coffee & Cigarettes at The Gretz in Enmore. Photo: Cole Bennetts

The lockout laws are the pits, it's true. Well, not just the pits. They're tearing apart Sydney's cultural and economic fabric and stopping good, hard-working people like you and me from scoring a schooner and dance-floor pash at three in the morning.

But enough about that.

Petitions (especially hardcopy ones) and park rallies need to happen to show The Man we're not taking this claptrap lying down; however, we shouldn't retire to backyards with casks of cooking wine and wait for the laws to be overturned in the process. Sydney still has the best bars, pubs and clubs in Australia and the No 1 way to get behind your local boozer during these tough times is to get in there, spend your dollars and have a ripper time.  

Get in there pals, support your local hospitality workers, musicians, cab drivers, convenience-store workers and late-night shame pizza providers, and tell your mates and social media how amazing Sydney is. It's had to work bloody hard for it.


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Good Food: Continental Deli in Newtown. Tinned Martini. All hands on deck to get the shop ready for the opening the next day (Mon 28 Sept). September 27, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Michele Mossop/Fairfax Media)

All round good guys. Can bat. Can bowl. Can pour.

Continental Deli

Instagram the Martinnie once if you will, drink it, forget about it, and put yourself in the hands of mixmaster Mikey Nicolian​ whose skills extend way beyond making tins of gin. The room (Katz's Deli meets Margaret Fulton's mind palace) exists in its own space-time continuum, and sure, it gets cramped, and that delicious house-canned seafood can be darn expensive, but where there's Wilco and wurst, we're happy campers.

210 Australia Street, Newtown; 02 8624 3131

Bar Brosé

The old Passage site has been reborn via the ACME crew in partnership with Analiese Gregory (Quay, Bras, Mugaritz) leading the kitchen and Katrina Birchmeier​ (Garagistes​) in charge of a wine list full of fresh and fleshy drops. The long room buzzes in royal blue and white and a supremely snackable menu features poulet au vin given an inner-west spin by way of cooking the chook in Marrickville-made wine. Ask for cream in your carbonara and see what happens.

231aVictoria Street, Darlinghurst;

Restaurant Hubert

IT'S FINALLY OPEN. The Swillhouse crew (Baxter Inn, Frankie's, Shady Pines) have unlocked the doors to their steroid-sized makeover over of the Celestial Chinese site and it's everything we were hoping. Knock-out roast duck from Dan Pepperell​ (ex-10 William Street), whisky sours for miles and a 1920s vibe for days. If there's ever a show on in the 100-seat theatre with Newcastle's famous whippet-framed magician, Super Hubert, it could be the pinnacle of anything to ever exist; ever.

15 Bligh Street, Sydney;


Winner of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 Bar of the Year, Monopole, Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt's black-on-black celebration of wine, cheese and grown-up good times is every bit as slick as the day it opened. Set yourself up with a terroir-focused wine, switch your mobile to airplane mode, and tastebuds to ready. The bar team's skills match the crew in the kitchen.

71a Macleay Street, Potts Point; 02 9360 4410;

Rockpool Bar and Grill

Everyone, at least once a year, needs to skive off work and hit Neil Perry's monument to marbled beef for lunch. Once you're there "a minute steak and martini please" is the only line you need to utter as you peacock at the bar and pretend to be an advertising executive in 1950s Gotham City. Of course, you should probably get stuck into the behemoth wine list too, but don't call in sick: call your boss and tell "em to come down and join you. They're probably sitting at the next table anyway.

66 Hunter Street, Sydney; 02 8078 1900;

The Gretz

Gregory Llewellyn and Naomi Hart provide honest food and drink to a community that loves them as much as they love it back. The nautical-by-nature Gretz is way more than a holding pen for big sis Hartsyard​ down the road, and perfect for knocking back oysters and Young Henrys while telling tales of when The Stones played The Enmore. Extra props to Llewellyn for assembling a seafood platter that for once you want to eat.

125 Enmore Road, Enmore;

The Baxter Inn

Every time you walk down the stairwell of no importance into Sydney's, hell, one of the world's, greatest whisky bars, a little voice whispers inside your head and says: "Guess what, buddy? We're going to have a good time". Whether that's through drams of golden nectar, pints of beer, or textbook sazeracs​ is up to you. Pretzels are the only thing that aren't an option.

Basement 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney;

Lobo Plantation

If you think rum is only consumed by Queensland cowboys and mac-daddy polar bears, you should probably head to this Cuban picture postcard and invest time exploring the 250 varieties of it on offer. Order the brown stuff straight up, on ice or in an Old Grogram cocktail - it's a whole lot of hoot any which way. Booths the size of a backyard swimming pool are ideal for large groups.  

209 Clarence Street, Sydney;


"Sir? Madam? Your table downstairs at Porteno​ is ready if you would like to follow me."
"Oh, really? But we're having such a swell time up here, do we have to?"
You'll have the best session at Cleveland Street's gaucho gin joint if you treat it as a destination in its own right, so order another banana Old Fashioned and settle in for a night of house-made smallgoods and occasional Justin Townes Earle sets.  

358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills; 02 8399 1440;


Semi-hidden out the back of Redfern Continental, Gunther's Dining Room will have your heart with green velvet booths and RSL wood panelling. There's no connection to the outside world: without windows most light comes from a rogue disco-ball and the type of crystal pendants found in Polish community club foyers. But, there are Manhattans and meatballs, so what more do you need?

180 Redfern Street, Redfern; 02 9319 7446;

The offending wine list (left).

Grape expectations

10 William Street

Australia's most famous by-the-glass wine list thanks to a couple of Keystone Cops, also happens to be one of its best. Cleo Bachelor of the Year 2010 nominee and former Garagistes chef Luke Burgess finished his stint on the pans in February, but lucky Paddington locals now have Pinbone​ peeps Jemma Whiteman and Mike Eggert on pappardelle, pickling and pan duties. Never dull. Always excellent. "Free wine!"

10 William Street, Paddington; 02 9360 3310;


Giorgio de Maria may have left the floor of Surry Hills' sexiest enoteca-cantina double-header to focus on his Fun Wines imports and other sulphur-free adventures, but the staff still know how to untangle the vines of Italy. It doesn't matter if you don't know your vespaiolo​ from a verdicchio: the 121BC team does and is happy to explain. Yes, you would like some formaggi​.

Shop 4, 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills; 02 9699 1582;

Love Tilly Devine

A summer seat by the window with a glass of young grape juice and a new-season peach dessert from chef Aren Edye​ is one way to do LTD. Or you could grab a bottle of red from Gabrielle Webster and Matt Swieboda's rabbit-hole drinks list in winter and take it to a corner with someone you fancy and something slow-cooked. The place is a national treasure all year round.

91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst; 02 9326 9297;


Look, kids! There's a wine bar on this list that isn't loaded with natural drops of no-sulphur funksters. While there's still a few pet nats and skin-contact bottles, head sommelier Louella Mathews (ex-Rockpool) has a crafted an elegant list of more traditional drops to suit the kitchen's Portuguese flavours. It's very good. Drop in for one of chef Jose Silva's Sweet Belem tarts and a glass of madeira and you'll have a very nice time indeed.

7 Bay Street, Double Bay; 02 9362 4680;

Bennelong fills a void at the Sydney Opera House, presenting Australia's finest produce.

Dressed to impress


Well, it's not cheap but it is the most inexpensive way to spend time in the country's greatest dining room. Head there at sunset when The Opera House sails turn gold and order big on oysters and champagne to kick the evening off in style.

Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney; 02 9240 8000;

Bentley Restaurant & Bar

Like the luxury automobile it shares a name with, Bentley is a highly polished machine with an almighty motor working hard under the bonnet. It's a place consecrated to the church of the vine and Nick Hildebrandt​ has sourced more than 1000 wines for your drinking pleasure - many of limited release. Or you could just have a vermouth and a snack and be very happy with life.

Corner Pitt and Hunter Streets, Sydney; 02 8214 0505;

Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

Don't wait until you have mates visiting from overseas to visit Icebergs for its Pacific Ocean views and Monty Koludrovic's whizbang Italian cooking. Head there any given Sunday, starting with brunch and ending with negronis, linguine and sunset tunes seven hours later. Easy on the bottomless prosecco, turbo.

1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach; 02 9365 9000;

Archie Rose Distilling Co

Instead of resting on the weighty laurels of its own gin, vodka and white rye, Archie Rose enlisted James Audas (Silvereye​, Noma) to create a helluva local and globetrotting drinks list. A team of young-gun bartenders and the steampunky copper and oak-clad room make this a top place to imbibe. Support your local distiller today.

85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery; 02 8458 2300;

Bar.Redfern.March 28th, 2013.Photo.Sahlan Hayes.TSM.Arcadia Liquors in Redfern.

Everybody needs good neighbourhood bars

Arcadia Liquors

Remember when you were 18 years old and you would hang out at the share-house of older, cooler friends with killer taste in music, drinks, Salvos-sourced paintings and the art of hanging fairy lights? And even if you weren't drinking, it was just a nice place to sit and talk about Ghost World comics and Jackson Browne records? This is that place.

7 Cope Street, Redfern; 02 8068 4470;

Titus Jones

A 10 out of 10 example of a neighbourhood bar where Tinder dates, best mates and Marrickville greats get together and shoot the breeze over hip-hop, Albo Corn Ale, pickles and cheese. The pint-sized bar's love of local manifests itself in art, beer, spirits and produce, and any Powers That Be wanting examples of how bars enrich a community instead of menacing one need to experience the party.

337 Illawarra Road, Marrickville; 02 8068 4955

Earl's Juke Joint

Newtown's No 1 boozer for hip-hop, swamp rock and fun-lovin', almost criminal cocktails. Pasan Wijesena​, Hawaiian shirt-sporting Bobby Carey and the rest of the Earl's all-stars make every punter feel warm and welcome through a deep knowledge of liquor and fondness for high fives. Arrive early. Stay late.

407 King Street, Newtown

Dead Ringer

A well-dressed joint with green tiles, Boston ferns and a pine-fresh blond wood bar. You've also got key Bulletin Place blokes making delicious elixirs and treating customers like honest-to-goodness adults. Worth everyone's time for properly seasonal food and sun-dappled streetside tables that turn quick drinks into long lunches.

413 Bourke Street, Surry Hills; 02 9331 3560;

Jangling Jack's Bar and Grill

Well done to Jangling Jack's for harnessing the bohemian vibes of The Cross often found only in old photos and The Piccolo Bar. Give thanks to a Let it Be-era Beatles soundtrack, fortune-teller green lamp shades, blues posters, quality whisky, andouille​ sausages, Reschs​ on tap and Nick Cave vinyl on the wall. Another round of Boulevardiers and fried chicken, please.

175 Victoria Street, Potts Point; 0417 020 071

Waterman's Lobster Co

Oh yeah. Finally a legit Maine-style lobsteria in Sydney. Sure it's in a Potts Point laneway and not a thong-friendly seaside location, but we're going along with the flow in any case. Partly because its seafood snacks are terrific, but mainly because Love Tilly Devine's Matt Swieboda​ brings serious cred to the wine and cocktails. The house chardonnay from Harkham​ in the Hunter is exceptional value and kosher to boot.

5/29 Orwell Street, Potts Point; 02 9380 2558;

Maybe Frank

Surry Hills' newest margherita-twirling restaurant and bar occupies the old Pizza Mario site and it's a smart little place with soft lighting, black tables and top-value Italian wine. Head shaker and strainer is Andrea Gualdi (who took out the bottled cocktail category at Diageo World Class this year), a well-coiffed champion with a penchant for Campari and making customers happy.

417-421 Bourke Street, Surry Hills; 02 9358 3560;

Under30.Newtown.May 14th, 2013.Photo.Sahlan Hayes.SMH Good Food.Mary's in Newtown.The Maryburger

For a good time, call ...


The more quadruple-stacker burgers with doughnuts for buns and sauced with grease-trap run-off that hit the market, the more Kenny Graham and Jake Smyth's straight-up versions keep their title of the best in town. Best ordered by platter with mates while clinking pints of Slayer Juice and Aussie wine to a bruising playlist. Sydney's raddest former Masonic hall.

6 Mary Street, Newtown

Young Henrys

If you had to pin the beating heart of Newtown on a Google map, Young Henrys brewery would be a fine place to do it. It pumps on weekend afternoons with young families, old blokes, girls in plaid, guys in denim, usually one half of You Am I and anyone who ever taped Rage on VHS. Rotating food trucks are on hand to serve the people, and the music is cranked as close to 11 as zoning laws permit.

76 Wilford Street, Newtown; 02 9519 0048;

The Anchor

"Steadfast, boys. There's wild times ahead." The only thing saltier than the rims of lagerita legend Andy Penney's tequila-based cocktails are the old and young surf dogs who let their tousled hair down at this rollicking hangout each night. The timber-heavy room looks like  the belly of a ship, and a cracking food and bev selection put The Anchor notches above Bondi's bevy of backpacker-bait bars. Home of the best damn South Side on the east side.

8 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach; 02 8084 3145;

Grandma's Bar

If you like Peanut Butter Coladas and spirits made from sugar cane. If you're not into yoga in the mornings when you only have half a brain; this is the basement bar you. The colourful grandkids that pack it out on weekends love to get amongst it as they throw back Tom Selleck toby jugs and scoff down jaffles. Yes - jaffles. With sealed edges and spaghetti filling. None of this flash-in-the-fry-pan "toastie" nonsense.

Basement 275 Clarence Street, Sydney; 02 9264 3004;

Shady Pines Saloon

The original back-slapping honky tonk, no good sumbitch, ramblin' man, travellin' band, hootenanny, booze-a-plenty, Dixie-driving, denim-clad, country lad, big smoking, not joking, finger-pickin', chicken lickin', line walking, trash talking best little knees-up in Darlinghurst. It also has peanuts.

Shop 4, 256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst;

Frankie's Pizza by the Slice

"Welcome to the jungle, we got fun 'n' games." And by games we mean pinball. And by fun we mean a truckload of local and imported beer, big New Yorky slices of pizza pie, gig posters from Wesley Willis to The Who, and Frankie's World Famous House Band shredding up a storm. Exit stage left to the not-so-secret Fun Room for wood panels, Jack Daniels and Brocky worship. "You're in the jungle baby!"

50 Hunter Street, Sydney;

Ramblin' Rascal Tavern

Ever had a cognac and VB boilermaker? No? Such awesomeness isn't legitimately listed here, but given the Rascal's love of brandy and Aussie tins, it seems like the correct thing to order. Looking and feeling way more like the actual Cheers bar than Cheers Bar on George Street, it's the perfect inner-city spot to hunker down and say goodbye to the working week's woes.

Basement, 60 Park Street, Sydney

The Bearded Tit

There's more to the Tit than crocheted phalluses and taxidermy deer behinds. Look past the kitsch and you've got a thumping little community hub for artists, musicians and general creatives to showcase their fruits and get jolly on Bloody Marys in the process. Wah Fung BBQ from across the road is sadly no longer with us to deliver char siu, but there's still fair dinkum pies and "jacuzzerie" boards to see you waxing about John Waters way into the night.

183 Regent Street, Redfern; 02 8283 4082;


Former Drink'N'Dine Group maestros Jamie Wirth and Mike Delany have done a bang-up job on the old late-night dance-music paradise by dropping the "Club" prefix, sorting out the loo situation and installing a kitchen to serve pretzels and polenta chips. The party vibe has remained intact now with an Eastern European theme and accompanying slivovitz. Prost!

Yurong Lane, Darlinghurst; 02 8094 9616

Rockpool est. 1989 in Sydney. Pics supplied by publicist.

Not just a pretty holding bay


For when you need that sweet, sweet hit of "rich and noble" congee but find yourself too time and/or cash poor for the full Rockpool experience. This is some bar menu. Riffs on Rockpool classics, Cape Grim rib-eye, smoked Sydney rock oysters, Moreton Bay bug finger sandwiches, and, oh, to hell with it, honey, the room and wine are just so nice, let's order the caviar blinis too.

11 Bridge Street, Sydney; 02 9252 1888;

Momofuku Seiobo

It's goodbye pork bun and a big Sydney welcome to a jerked kurobuta pork chop that's all char and zest and juicy wonder. While Barbadian chef Paul Carmichael has put his stamp on Seiobo's bar with big, limy flavours that pow right in the kisser, the music still cranks, the no-bookings policy still applies and the endless professionalism and knowledge of the staff continue to impress.

The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont; 02 9777 9000;

Grocery and Grog, The Henson, Marrickville

Rub-a-dub pubs and clubs

The Henson

There needs to be more pubs using Newtown Jets trading cards as table numbers for your counter lunch. And there needs to be more counter lunches using free-range and organic produce while rocking kids menus that go beyond fried fish and chips. Well done, The Henson, not only for all this, but also for installing a deli in a bottleshop, Daytona in the games room and maintaining the front bar's old-mate integrity in the face of all this hoo-ha.

91 Illawarra Road, Marrickville; 02 9569 5858;

The Unicorn

There's no TAB, zero Keno and, thank Cleopatra's tears, not a pokie in sight. This is a template for hotel revival that every other pub in the country could do well to take inspiration from; proud of Australian heritage without tipping into cheesy nostalgia. Plus it has the greatest counter meals and house wine of any pub in town. And beer. Plenty of beer. Very important.

106 Oxford Street, Paddington; 02 9360 7994

The Newport

Justin Hemmes​ has taken the Coogee Pavilion formula of a multi-level, waterside Disneyland of a pub and applied it to his first dip in the northern beaches. Smartly, the old boys public bar has been left untouched, but outside is textbook Merivale marble, sunset lounges, striped umbrellas and enough food options to keep the whole family sated. By all reports, the community is loving every inch of it. Just don't call it The Newport Arms anymore.

2 Kalinya Street, Newport; 02 9254 8088;

The Old Fitzroy Hotel

A century before the relaunched Unicorn, there was the Old Fitz with its pub theatre and a fireplace for roasting marshmallows. No contracts with the beer world's big boys mean this back-street diamond is free to pour whatever local brews it likes from 22 taps, although VB stands firm between the Waywards and Nomads. "A real pub with real atmosphere" reads the hotel's website and for once it's not marketing codswallop.

129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo; 02 9356 3848;

Hotel Palisade

Praise be to the pub gods, this Millers Point drinking obelisk is back pouring Guinness and making martinis. Now, if the Paul Ryan ocean paintings and industrial styles of the ground floor, with all its copper, leather, timber and steel, could do a switcheroo with the pastels and cane of the rooftop bar, that would really be something. The view upstairs is only matched by the ground level's design job.

35 Bettington Street, Millers Point; 02 9018 0123;

The Paddington

Merivale knows how to design a nice hotel, you've got to give them that. More Paul Ryan art, deliberately distressed walls, soft natural light, and a fleet of handsome French rotisseries at its heart. Ben Greeno's chicken causes a great deal of frothing and blogging, but the former Momofuku Seiobo chef really shines in dishes like his crab on toast and XO squid. A pub in license only.

380 Oxford Street, Paddington; 02 9254 8088;

Hotel Harry

Morgan McGlone is cooking at the former home of Schwartz Brewery and this is excellent news. The Belles Hot Chicken owner doesn't open a finer diner at the hotel until April 20, but he's already deviling eggs and frying apple pie in the public bar. Adequate sustenance for a night of schooners, mojitos and house music. Go. Drink. Eat. Dance. Repeat.

40-44 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills; 02 8262 8800;

The CTA Business Club

Please don't tell anyone about this gem two stories beneath Martin Place. Seriously, don't. Keep the plush banquettes, carpeted walls and $5 schooners to yourself. And hush up about the mint condition late-'60s dining room, the unused cocktail bar straight from Breakfast at Tiffany's and reciprocal membership at the Bangladesh Chittagong Club. Maybe just forget you read this altogether, come to think of it.

MLC Centre, Martin Place, Sydney; 02 9232 7344

Beer can chicken at the local taphouse, darlinghurst.

For a crafty session

The Local Taphouse

Beer-centric boozers continue to open all over Sydney and The Local Taphouse continues to rule them all. The transformed corner pub is a temple of artisan brews with three bars featuring unique and rotating taps, and a tightly curated selection of bottles with rarities you'll be pressed to find anywhere else. There's a rooftop for saisons in summer and chesterfields warmth via stout in winter.

122 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst; 9360 0088;

Petersham Bowling Club

Settle down, beer geeks. Yes, there are places in Sydney with a load more unique taps, but do you really want to drink Batch and Badlands at another cookie-cutter joint with cut-price taxidermy? Or at this community hub where families turn the retired green into a soccer oval, country music plays softly (turning to loudly of an evening) and afternoon sun lights the place up like Paul Kelly on a road-tripping radio station?

77 Brighton Street, Petersham; 02 9569 4639;

The Grifter Brewing Co

The blokes made a beer for Noma when the restaurant was serving schnitzel out here, so you can probably trust 'em to know what they're doing. Grifter has made part of its taproom look like a regional watering hole, complete with pool table, Australiana​ prints and classic pub carpet. The dog-and-child-friendly venue might be the only brewery around with Aesop​ handwash in the bathroom.

1/391 Enmore Road, Marrickville; 02 9550 5742;

SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES - MARCH 19:  The side room at Eau-de-vie in Darlinghurst on March 19, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Fairfax Media)

Cocktails and dreams


EDV set new cocktail standards when Sven Almenning opened it more than six years ago, and it has since spawned more drink-making talent in Australia than it has bonkers flavour combinations on its booze list. The speakeasy-style venue is still pushing boundaries and the anticipation between ordering a cocktail and receiving it is as exciting as it's ever been.

229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst; 0422 263 226;

Bulletin Place

While other bars occasionally misfire with their single-plum-floating-in-perfume creations, BP knocks everything out of the park with its limited, daily changing selection of fresh ingredient-driven cocktails. The staff can whip up anything you care to mention off-menu too. Shoebox-sized but never cramped thanks to its limited occupancy, there's never been a better example of quality over quantity.

Level 1, 10-14 Bulletin Place, Circular Quay;

This Must Be The Place

Co-owner Charlie Ainsbury​ took out Australian Bartender of the Year at Diageo World Class in April for the second time in his career, so give the man a handshake next time you're in. He and co-conspirator Luke Ashton can be trusted with any request you want to throw at them but the pair's skills really shine with TMBTP's house creations. The white walled, Scando-style room suits summer spritzing to a tee, and geewhiz that motorcycle print is spectacular.

239 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst; 02 9331 8063