It’s getting hard to classify what makes a bar. Part of the reason is that bar licenses are seldom given out in Sydney, so many operators open restaurants with strong bar elements instead. That’s probably a good thing because it's making operators more conceptually creative. And now, when we’re presented with a stellar cocktail, we can also get a delicious meal with it. Whether they’re out-and-out bars or restaurants with strong bar elements, here are our favourites of the year so far.

Bart Jr
When a venue opens and the first night is as happening as some of the best bars in the city, you know there’s either been a ridiculous level of hype or it’s hit a chord with the locals. Bart Jr is certainly the latter. It’s one of those rare venues that so perfectly captures the balance between comfort (a relaxed fit-out, easy snacks and beers) and innovative (dashi pippies, progressive wines, and a different take on prawn toast) it works for pretty much everyone.

“Redfern’s underground Viking-themed bar and carvery” is a description you probably never thought you’d read, but here we are. There’s Viking horns adorning the tables, replica swords and helmets on show, waiters in leather garb, more than 450 whiskies, and impressively un-cliched Nordic-themed cocktails. In the centre of it all there’s an open-air kitchen with a tattooed man wielding a cleaver, slicing hunks of rotisserie meat.

Dear Sainte Eloise
From the owners of Waterman’s Lobster Co comes something completely different: a comprehensive wine and small plates bar. This isn’t a bar that serves a particular wine –it literally has something for every taste, from glasses of pinot noir for $10, to funky vine-fermented mstvane from Georgia. We hope the “roe boats” (sphere-shaped potato rosti with a dollop of mullet roe on top) doesn’t leave the menu.

Johnny Fishbone
What started as a place to send impatient people queuing for Buffalo Dining Club is now worthy of a queue in its own right. The 1920s-inspired space has come up slick and smart, as has its 60-deep wine list and seafood-centred snack menu. Like many progressive new bars now, there’s a strong focus on organic and biodynamic wines, particularly natural wines (minimal intervention processes with no included additives).

When Nola opened a lot of the attention was placed on the flashy New Orleans theme and the barbeque-fired menu. What a lot of people missed was the impressive bar offering. Not only does it serve more than 500 American whiskies but they’ve also got a well-researched and refined range of New Orleans classic cocktails (many great cocktails were invented in the city in the 19th and early 20th century).

Audience pick: Black Bottle
We never expected this cute wine and tapas bar to be one of the most read stories of the year, but we’re certainly not unhappy about it.

Honourable mention: The Lansdowne Hotel
Not a bar (or a bar-restaurant), simply a pub and a very good one at that. Cheers to another live music venue.