The Best Bars in Sydney’s CBD

Updated 2 months ago

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Not that long ago, you’d sooner hit Kings Cross or Surry Hills if you wanted to drink anything other than house spirits. But in the mid aughts, an explosion of small bars practically redefined the business district, and now there are a stack of options for knock off beers, midnight cocktails and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for a solid pub, a spectacular rooftop or a world-class speakeasy, the CBD has what you're looking for – if you know where to find it.

  • Don't bring a large group to this tiny laneway bar – even if it were empty, you probably wouldn't fit. It's considered one the best tequila and mezcal bars in the world for its peerless selection of rare agave spirits, and the friendly, knowledgeable staff here will help you navigate the list with confidence.

  • Maybe Sammy channels the opulence and excess of Las Vegas in the late '50s, and is officially recognised as one of the 50 best bars in the world. The reason for all the acclaim is simple: Maybe Sammy combines flawless service with singular cocktails.

  • Reign is a posh, light-filled 140-seater with brass detailing, hues of pink blush and gold, plus marble on nearly every surface. Run by an all-women bar team, drinks are garnished with decorations such as origami crowns, paper planes and music sheets, and there’s more than 180 whiskies and 200 wines from around the globe.

  • The first of three stunning venues to arrive at the refurbished Shell House building. This one draws inspiration from the grand eateries of Europe, in the form of a daily Martini hour, lobster rolls and a 2am licence.

  • Sydney’s original speakeasy basement bar is still one of the trickiest to find. Once you do, you'll be rewarded with more than 800 whiskies and highly skilled bartenders who know what to do with them. Plus, bottomless bowls of pretzels and a swinging ’50s soundtrack.

  • Francis Ford Coppola's landmark film *The Godfather* is the inspiration behind Apollonia, a dramatic basement bar beneath Hinchcliff House. A visit here involves Sicilian-style bar snacks, inventive house cocktails and a signature Negroni on tap.

  • The Maybe Sammy crew’s glamorous cocktail bar and diner on the 22nd floor of Adina’s CBD Hotel is a homage to the classic hotel bars of yesteryear. Come for playful, multi-sensory cocktails, lobster rolls and a skyline view that’ll make you feel like a millionaire.

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  • This '70s-inspired cocktail lounge on the 83rd floor of Sydney Tower is the highest bar in town. Cocktails come from an ex-Baxter Inn and Hubert bartender whose drinks will (almost) distract you from the 260-degree views.

  • A dramatic-looking, light-filled bar with its own soda-making plant. While wattle cola and smoked lemonade sound inventive enough, the boozy creations here are truly next-level: salted pina coladas; “breakfast” negronis; and a pitch-perfect homage to Black Star Pastry’s world-famous watermelon and strawberry cake.

  • Whisky, cognac and "shit tinnies" are your reward for finding this rowdy CBD bar. Just look for the three skulls and descend to the basement – you might be down there for a while.

  • Take a subterranean space, add a ’70s sheen and a smooth soul soundtrack and you have one hell of a cocktail bar. The vibe of the space – filled with wood panelling, leather couches and a furry shag feature wall – is cool, easygoing and just the right amount of cheesy.

  • Below pavement level on King Street in the CBD there’s a den of New Orleans-inspired drinks, food and jazz. Pete Fischer is behind this small bar and it is the culmination of all his extensive bar experience to date, delivered with moody vibes and clever simplicity.

  • Little Felix is more than a waiting room for French bistro Felix. Thanks to a Cognac and Cointreau-heavy drinks list and a bar piled high with towers of French cheese cut to order, it's a destination in its own right. It’s all set in an opulent, pale-emerald room replete with comfortable dark-toned leather lounges.

  • One of Sydney’s early shakers in Sydney’s new-wave cocktail movement. The focus here is on rum. It’s got one of the biggest selections of the spirit, and don’t the team behind the bar know how to use it. Add to that a Caribbean theme that never quite crosses over into kitsch, and you’re guaranteed a good night out.

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  • Influenced by the soldiers and machines of the Second World War, Kittyhawk brings rye and rum cocktails to the business end of town. The bar’s concept imagines liberation day in Paris.

  • The drinks list at Burrow Bar switches up every couple of weeks. The barrel-aged cocktails sell out fast, and the shrubs (tangy, refreshing drinks made from vinegar-based fruit syrups) are popular too. The team also makes its own infused liqueurs and rums.

  • Found on the third floor of the Republic Hotel, the bar is accessed from Tank Stream Way and then via a substantial flight of stairs. The climb reveals an open-air space that's admittedly more roofless than rooftop, but the air is cool and Pitt Street's skyscrapers wink down from above.

  • A classic CBD Friday afternoon atmosphere but with a more interesting beer list, and a mix of American and Italian sides such as lamb ribs with garlic and lemon; or smoky fried chicken wings.

  • Grain is decked out with an abundance of timber, a gas fireplace and cosy amber lighting. Settle into the matching Swedish neo-retro furniture and you can peruse a whisky list with more than 240 entries sourced from Scotland, Japan and Australia.

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  • Bar Odessa, the plush basement bar at David Tsireka’s Greek restaurant 1821, was inspired by the history of the Greek Revolution. The bar is at the bottom of a narrow, dimly lit staircase. Once inside, Bar Odessa promises luxury fit for a Tsar with an extravagant suite of caviar alongside other Black Sea indulgences: pates, oysters and smoked fish.

  • The bar, which opened in 2004 with an unassuming door and a notoriously misleading “Psychic” neon sign, was a pioneer of the city’s reinvented cocktail scene. It’s since come to be regarded as one of the best cocktail bars in the world, thanks to its well crafted but evolving cocktail list and switched-on staff.

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  • To get to Bowery Lane, you step inside a set of office-like sliding glass doors. But rather than walking straight into another of Sydney’s sky-high office buildings, a sharp left will take you into what feels like a Manhattan loft.

  • Bar Topa is a pocket-sized contemporary tapas bar. It only accommodates 40 standing diners and a few on stools that are scattered about. It’s a place to pop into for a couple snacks before heading on to the next venue.

  • The 98-capacity venue is filled with brown-leather booths in front of bookcases, and foliage peeping from every nook and cranny. To access the drawcard rooftop bar you’ll need to climb another set of stairs (this space closes at 10pm). There’s more greenery and punters have 360-degree views of the city’s skyscrapers.

  • Matt Moran's extravagant table-service rooftop bar, with waterfront views and plenty of champagne.

  • The Push is an intimate bar beneath the Russell Hotel with a focus on cocktails and down-to-earth pub-food such as burgers and steaks.

  • In the first room you can get a lager or a G& T with your beard trim. But the main draw is room number two. Just behind the sound of buzzers and scissors is a dimly lit bar with a gin selection so wide you need a ladder to traverse it. Order the pepperberry spiced gin with a dirty tonic and pair it with a house-made sausage roll.

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  • Almost everything about this place is authentically English, right down to the imported antique wallpaper.

  • Named after the voodoo spirit of lust and laughter, Papa Gede’s is the kind of bar where the energy is always high and your flaming tiki drink is still burning when it arrives at your table. Live DJs and soul bands are on regular rotation here.

  • Descend the staircase and part the velvet curtains to find this plush cocktail bar by the group behind Rockpool Bar & Grill. It’s also serving considered snacks inspired by its sister restaurants Rockpool and Spice Temple.

  • The sister venue to Charles Brasserie and luxe basement bar Tiva evokes old-world European drinking and dining dens. Visit for bar snacks like kingfish crudo, and full-blown bistro meals such as flat-iron steak. A Martini here is a great idea, too.

  • An all-day laneway eatery and bar bringing the essence of Italian food culture to Sydney’s CBD. Grab an early-morning espresso and pastry on the commute to work before returning for a knock-off aperitivo and traditional slice of pizza.

  • The celebrated Darlinghurst speakeasy has resurfaced in the CBD – with a serious food menu, 37 signature cocktails and more than 500 whiskies. Enter via a discreet entrance on Wynyard Lane for all of the blazing bartending theatrics you remember.

  • This luxe rooftop bar and open-air terrace is the cherry atop Shell House, combining sophisticated drinks and Mediterranean snacks with a statement-making design. Think *Mad Men*-era opulence combined with a 1930s Milanese speakeasy feel.

  • The overhaul of this once notorious late-night dive was a long time coming. And the chic public bar, elegant European bistro and sunny rooftop were all worth the wait. The best part? You’ll actually want to be there during daylight hours, too.

  • Descend to this underground hotspot for pina coladas, vinyl DJs and a live-music program of soul and new wave acts. Plus, one of the city’s best burgers, served until late.

  • Five types of Margarita, two popcorn machines and 100 hand-selected tequilas – the team behind acclaimed Sydney bar Cantina OK has done it again with this psychedelic, underground temple to agave spirits.