An afternoon-into-evening session over a reliably-good meal and a beer from the tap at a comfy pub is a pastime Sydney takes seriously. We love a beer garden and an unfussy place to appreciate the simple things with dogs and mates, food and drinks. Sometimes kids.
Most of the pubs on this list have been refurbished and reborn. But this is not (only) a case of gentrification – at least not in the sense of homogenising old boozers that used to have charm and turning them into beer barns. These pubs have been given new life, new taps and new menus. And you should spend your next weekend session testing them out.
The Marrickville Hotel
By now, Sydney’s well acquainted with “small bars”. But The Marrickville Hotel has introduced the “small-bar pub”. The idea becomes less strange and pretentious when you realise who’s behind it: some of the people responsible for Redfern’s Arcadia Liquors, Redfern Continental and Ron’s Upstairs. It means pub in spirit but bar in approach; big enough that you know you’ll get a seat, and small enough to feel intimate and have approachable drinks. Four-legged friends are welcome to hang with their humans at the bar, and there’s a courtyard. The window seats at the counter look over Marrickville Road.
The drinks list has a focus on beers (that’s the pub side talking). There are six taps pouring locals including Grifter Brewing’s Pale Ale, and Wayward’s Berliner Weisse. Tinnies are also from around those parts: Willie the Boatman and Yulli’s. The wine list is small and mainly local, and for cocktails expect the usual. There’s just a bit of food: cheese and meat platters and toasties.
The Glebe Hotel
The Glebe Hotel has been around since 1862, but in this guise only since last month (before the refurb it was called the Australian Youth Hotel). Considering its history, and as is the case for many refurbishments of old and storied drinking spots, the reno was a balancing act between retaining the old charm and quirks and bringing The Glebe Hotel into the present.
The upshot is a tired old terrace transformed into an upscale pub with a working fireplace, chesterfield sofas and portraits of Glebe locals in the public bar, and a jacaranda mural in the dining room. The space is cosy and far from too polished to have a good time in. And the food suits that perfectly: beef and Guinness pie with mash and onion gravy, seared scallops, handmade gnocchi with roast butternut pumpkin and goat’s curd, and a steak list. For vegans there’s eggplant schnitzel, and for vegos a number of bar snacks. On Sundays, come for a roast will all the trimmings.
The Oxford Tavern
If you can keep up with all the different iterations this Petersham pub has gone through over the past few years, good for you. If not, all you need to know is that it now has an outdoor smoker that does 200 kilos of meat on the weekend and a beer list that’s indies only.
The brothers behind The Taphouse in Darlinghurst are in charge here, and third on their list of priorities – after the meat and the beer – is the jungle-like courtyard they got a horticulturalist in to set up. It’s a beautiful spot in which to sit and enjoy the Thursday night vegan menu – also done in the smoker – that involves pulled jackfruit and tempeh. (There are also two vegan burgers on the regular menu and substantial salads such as the compressed-watermelon salad with watercress, mint and toasted almonds.)
Inside, The Oxford has a gritty ’70s charm, which is not only great on Friday nights when bands play, but generally, when you’re smashing a burger and beer with your mates. If you want to dance it out – and you should – DJs are on Saturdays from 8pm till 3am.
This is another old-pub-refurb story with a happy ending. But this time publican Jaime Wirth (also behind the above-mentioned Oxford Tavern and The Duke in Enmore) has avoided traditional pub grub and gone with a menu of tacos and other Mexican dishes by working with Ghostboy Cantina’s Toby Wilson. The George also has a not-your-average-bottle-o situation care of DRNKS founder Joel Amos.
So this pub has reliable-drinking-hole charm with easy-to-love Mexican food (quesadillas; tostadas; tortas; corncobs with mayo, chilli, cheese and lime) and a natural-wine-focused bottle-shop. Tap beers include Young Henrys, Grifter and a range of craft beers. But those after something more mainstream needn’t stress: the Carlton Draught, VB and Resch’s haven’t gone anywhere.
Inside there's pool tables, neon, loud carpets and relaxed, bare-bones furnishings. Easy to feel at home in.
Rose Bay Hotel
The Rose Bay Hotel has been around for 90 years. Anyone who has visited over the past 20 will remember the model train that used to chug on a track suspended over patrons’ heads. For better or worse that’s now gone and the whole space has been updated. According to the person who advised on the update, Toby Chick, “You can come with your mates for a schnitzel, some wings and beers, or you can bring your partner for more of a romantic set-up.”
There’s a sports bar where you can gather with a crowd for Sunday footy, and a chic public bar with very on-trend terrazzo tiling, spotted gum timber, rose-gold finishes and emerald granite countertops.
The 70-person dining room serves modern Australian food with a hint of Asian flavours: one entree is salmon tartare with tomato ponzu and wonton crisp; one main is pork spare ribs with soy and sriracha mayo. In the pub you’ll find classics such as oysters dressed with eschalot and vinegar, crumbed veal schnitzel and a bacon cheeseburger.
Looking for more new places to visit? Here are five recently opened Italian restaurants.