Sydney’s Best Bar Openings of 2023

We're celebrating the boozy openings that made this year great, from party-powered mezcal houses to vibrant drink-in gin distilleries, retro cocktail bars and a staff favourite where the food is as good as the wine.

Published on 29 November 2023

It’s been a spectacularly well-rounded year for Sydney drinkers, with the hottest new spots taking you from warm and homely spaces to party-powered dives and relaxed Euro-leaning neighbourhood joints.

The right bar – one that begs you to linger a little longer – has a personality all of its own. These 10 are the year's very best new examples, presented in no particular order. So, let’s get into it.

Bar Copains, Surry Hills | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Bar Copains, Surry Hills

Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant? It’s a hotly debated issue in the Broadsheet Sydney office. Whatever you call it, Bar Copains is a knockout – and was one of the hottest stops for Jamie Oliver when he was in town recently. The Albion Street newbie from hospitality heavyweights Morgan McGlone (of Sunday Potts Point and formerly Belle’s Hot Chicken) and Nathan Sasi (Nomad founding chef, ex-Leigh Street Wine Room) is devoted to their shared love of and respect for wine. Bottles from both emerging and legacy producers are joined by those from the duo’s thousands-strong personal collections – like back-vintage natural drops. The food menu dances close to restaurant expectations – a good thing when you inevitably stay for another glass. Brown-butter leeks cooked in a bag are outstanding, as are pig’s head fritti and baked-to-order madeleines with zesty citrus curd.

Amuro, Darlinghurst | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Amuro, Darlinghurst

At the tiny, glass-walled Amuro, owner Kei Tokiwa stands behind a huge blackwood bar, spilling details on each of the 20-ish boutique sakes he’s imported from Japan. As you sip along, snacking on raw octopus spiked with wasabi, grilled saltwater fish and ochazuke (green tea poured over rice), you’ll feel like you’re living in the pages of Midnight Diner. With the exception of Newtown’s Ante, there aren’t many places in Sydney doing it like this.

Ester Spirits, Marrickville | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Ester Spirits, Marrickville

Down a back alley in Marrickville sits a working distillery and on-site bar with plenty of pizzazz. Ester Spirits is a red-neon-lit warehouse gin bar from husband-and-wife duo, master distiller Felix Clark and Corinna Kovner. The first bottle of navy-strength Strong Gin was launched in 2020 to immediate acclaim, winning Best in Show at the Australian Gin Awards. Now you can drink-in in a buzzy carnival-inspired room, where a tight list of cocktails heroes the bottled beauties – The Strong, The Dry, the Bees Knees cocktail and Old Tom. At the central marble bar, sip Clark’s “perfect Negroni”, a mix of The Dry, Campari and the hard-to-find vermouth Cocchi Di Torino; the honeyed Bees Knees, topped with a skewered Violet Crumble; and a zingy house-made mandarin seltzer. A snacky menu spotlights tomatoes on charred AP Bread, to dress up with olives, anchovies and the pair’s eggplant kasundi.

One of the city’s best bars made its long-awaited return this year after a hiatus of more than two years. We’re glad it’s back – and the dramatic changes make it worthy of a “new bar” designation. The world-renowned speakeasy has resurfaced near Wynyard Station with a serious food menu, 37 signature cocktails and more than 500 whiskies. Slide into a caramel-coloured velvet banquette for hall-of-famers such as the Smokey Rob Roy or the Old Fashioned, made with all the blazing bartending theatrics you remember. Eau De Vie 2.0 isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of its predecessor – it’s a little older and wiser, but still as much fun as ever.

La Prima, Paddington | Photography: Declan Blackall

El Primo Sanchez and La Prima, Paddington

The cocktail crew behind CBD bar Maybe Sammy is known for tuxedos, old-Hollywood glam and world-renowned cocktails, but El Primo Sanchez, the Public Hospitality venue, is a stark departure from previous venues. There’s a pint-sized karaoke room (with a tantalisingly tempting “push for tequila” button), disco balls and technicolour lights, and stellar drinks like the coconut-y Horchata Colada and Charro Negro, an inventive twist on a Batanga. But its best asset is hidden behind an inconspicuous shelf of Mexican pantry items: La Prima. The sultry 10-person mezcal den plays old-school Mexican records, is captained by one female bartender, and delivers an expertly executed quartet of cocktails.

Vermuteria, Potts Point | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Vermuteria, Kings Cross

It might have a Kings Cross address, but an evening spent among the timber-clad, photo-covered walls of Vermuteria will momentarily whisk you away to Europe. Paying homage to the former resident of the space, Cafe Hernandez, Spain is the focus here: it’s all about vermouth. Try one of two house blends – each batched in 100-litre barrels – over ice or sample the goods in a cocktail. Spanish sherries, Estrella Damm on tap and an offering of Australian and European wines bolster the list. Food-wise, you’ll find snacks involving produce from Penny’s Cheese Shop (the four-cheese toastie deserves a special mention) and LP’s Quality Meats.

Famelia, Newtown | Photography: Yusuke Oba

Famelia, Newtown

Sommelier Amelia Birch knows good wine. Famelia is her Enmore Road wine bar and bottle shop that's pouring drops from outstanding female winemakers from across Australia and the planet. Spy the weekly-rotating, 12-bottle wine list in the grand street-facing window, where Birch’s chosen bottles sit in a line, inviting you in for a sip. It might be a silky shiraz from Gippsland and a pink semillon pét-nat from the Adelaide Hills, available to drink by the bottle, glass or in a three-, six- or nine-glass tasting flight. Along one wall, exposed bricks are the backdrop for the bottle shop’s stacked floating shelves, while burnt orange and aquamarine pop across the furnishings. The food is ripe for wine drinking, though the must-order is Alvia’s Egg Dip, a secret recipe from Birch’s grandmother.

Huelo, Newtown

European wine bar up front, Miami glam cocktail bar out the back. That’s the brief at this two-part venue from the team behind Old Mate’s Place. Meaning “sunshine” in Tongan – a nod to co-owner Swan Kanongataa’s heritage – Huelo is designed to be the ultimate bookend to a night on King Street. Go for freshly shucked oysters and Lallier before dinner at neighbouring Bella Brutta, or catch a second wind on “champagne air” cocktails and a plate of cheese for the road. And, since opening, the team has launched a NYC-inspired dining room upstairs, which is open till late.

Busby's, Paddington | Photography: Busby's / Parker Blain

Busby’s, Paddington

This is a natural-wine-focused hotel bar from an all-star cast: Mike Bennie on the drops, Maybe Sammy on the cocktails and Clayton Wells on the food. The street-level Busby’s runs the full length of Oxford House and has a ripper collection of vinyl spinning full-time (think live recordings of classic artists and Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing). The wine comes from Australia, France and Italy and the five cocktails champion grape-based liquors. The Abbey Road is Broadsheet’s pick, a short citrusy mix of gin, white vermouth, champagne and Davidson plum. As is customary for Wells, the menu is inventive (and includes a zesty tomato salad). Oysters are topped with roasted kelp oil and blackberry vinegar, and fingers of crisp potato pave get dolled up with herby cream cheese and pearls of trout roe. Word is, a weekly BYOR (that’s bring-your-own-records) night is on the cards, too.

Maraschino cherries galore and iridescent throwbacks to Midori Illusions – the drinks at this divey Australian “country club” ensure good times abound. Dan McBride and Dynn Szmulewicz (Sunshine Inn and The Little Guy) are behind this little spot, where a short and sharp cocktail list adorns the back of coasters and centres Aussie spirits. The fit-out harks back to the ’70s, with wood cladding and floral wallpaper, and the menu features, naturally, club sandwiches.

Enmore Country Club, Enmore | Photography: Chad Konik

Honourable mentions

These four watering holes deserve your drinking hours, too. Kicks is a breezy Marrickville taproom with an ever-changing line-up of limited-release brews, like coffee-infused sours and tropical IPAs. Stay in the neighbourhood and you’ll find Unexpected Guest, a tangerine dream of a gin house pouring juniper drops that were once only available from a roving gin-Kombi named Gertrude. Surry Hills spot Beau Bar, the 40-seat sibling to Nomad, nails the “moody wine bar” brief with Jacqui Challinor’s Middle Eastern dishes along for the ride, too. And at Bar Lucia in Potts Point, it’s tapas and a 50-strong wine list focusing on growers from New South Wales.

Additional reporting: Lucy Bell Bird, Callum McDermott, Jasmine Crittenden and Che-Marie Trigg.