A new crew of cocktail-makers has raised the bar in Sydney over the past few months. The arrival of highly stylised, themed bars, common in London and New York, has tapped into Sydneysiders’ desire for escapism. Revellers want to go out for a drink and end up someplace else, whether that’s post-war Paris, or a chocolate factory from a bygone era. We’ve also seen a spike in specialised bars that focus on one ingredient. Some peerless drinking dens have been revived with innovative concepts; other bars are new to the scene.

We sat down over a drink and handpicked new places in Sydney that make us want to settle in.

Big Poppa’s
Mates Lewis Jaffrey (ex-Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn) and Jared Merlino (Lobo Plantation) were spending too much money on cheese. It was out of this the dream to ply a crowd with affordable cheese, Italian food, cocktails and hip-hop until 3am was realised. More than half the menu is dominated by the smelly stuff. Upstairs there’s a more-refined Italian restaurant. Downstairs, things get dirty and deep with a cocktail-bar vibe created with loud hip-hop, dim lighting, leather booths and velvety carpet. Gnocchi is made with semolina, cut into giant mountains (an old-school Roman technique) and served with beef cheeks; vongole comes with crispy pig-jowl bacon; and hand-cut pappardelle is flavoured with a lamb ragu.

The guys behind One Penny Red in Summer Hill have transformed the first-floor space above it. “The space was previously a mirror image of downstairs,” says co-owner Nina Alidenes. “But we wanted it to have its own identity; make it more appealing to people who just want to pop in and have a glass of wine or a pint of beer,” she says. The highlight is the expansive sandstone balcony, where you can drink beer from Batch, Modus Operandi and 4 Pines, and snack on brisket bagels. The wine list, selected by co-owner David Murphy, represents the top-50 bottles from One Penny Red's cellar, with eight reds and eight whites available by the glass. Chef RJ Lines's food menu offers quick and casual takes on what's served downstairs. There's a falafel board, a smoked-beef-brisket bagel, and salt-cod fritters.

After running Kansas City Shuffle, Joe Black and Two Wolves Community Cantina, it’s no surprise a bar specialising in Espresso Martinis came next. “I wanted to capitalise on something we’re already really passionate about, espresso, and fill a niche in the market for a cool place to drink some really good Espresso Martinis in the city after work and play a game of pool or table tennis,” says Sweeten. It’s located in the former Cadbury Chocolate factory in The Rocks, and retains all the classic elements of its former identity. There are seven different Martini options, from an Espresso Martini on tap, to a rum-based version with Frangelico and chocolate liqueur.

The newest venture from Peter Conistis is an elegant, Greek-inspired cocktail bar tucked away above Alpha restaurant. Climb the staircase and step into ancient Greece; the cavernous area is marked with ceiling-high windows; arched walkways with rustic brick architraves; and marble-pillar-like candleabras. The cocktail menu includes options such as the Bothos, a marriage of Dark Matter spiced rum, maple syrup and Cointreau, topped with whipped Cointreau foam. The Pisco Sour is shaken with Pisco Cannon and it’s served in a marble-bottomed martini glass. There’s a deconstructed Greek Salad with chunks of feta pudding; olive-oil and bread-crumb dressing; and a mound of iced horitaki (tastes like tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, but looks and feels like a snow cone.)

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Kitty Hawk
From the moment you step inside Kitty Hawk, there’s no going back – other than in time, to the 19th century. The team behind Lobo Plantation is responsible for this post-war-Paris-themed cocktail bar. Inspired by the soldiers and machines of the World War Two, it brings rye and rum cocktails to the CBD. “The idea for the bar came from Liberation Day – the day American and French soldiers reclaimed Paris during World War Two,” says co-owner and director Jared Merlino. “We tried to think about what the night would have been like in Paris. It would have been amazing,” he says. It’s packed with a lively crowd drinking cocktails in a space that feels like a refined drawing room: dim lighting, war-time-inspired posters, plush leather booths, wood-panelled walls, taxidermy and walls of curios.