At a great bar, the atmosphere needs to be just right – whether that means quiet and moody or buzzing and booming is up to you – and the drinks have to be top-notch. But the best bars in Sydney all go beyond those two fundamentals, and each offers something unique that separates them from the pack.

Some have food menus that complement and elevate the drinks (bonus points if everything can be eaten one-handed). Others are hidden in plain sight down laneways, or proudly take full advantage of their rooftops and their views out over the city.

These bars are also changing the way we drink. Whether they’re applying restaurant-like rigour to their cocktail crafting or developing lists with just as much emphasis on low- and no-alcohol drinks, each of these places will be setting the agenda for how we drink for years to come.

If you’re wondering why some of your favourites didn’t make the cut, check out our more specialised guides below:

Best Cocktail Bars in Sydney
Best Wine Bars in Sydney
Best Hidden Bars in Sydney

The Baxter Inn

One of the best bars in all of Australia. Part of that is down to the several hundred-strong assembly of local and international whiskies, all alluringly backlit behind the bar. The other big drawcard is the vibe. Despite its CBD location and its focus on whisky, Baxter Inn always feels relaxed and approachable.

Rear Basement 152-156 Clarence St, Sydney

Bulletin Place

If Baxter Inn first set the standard for Sydney whisky bars, Bulletin place did the same for cocktails. The bar opened in an former Japanese noodle house near the harbour in 2012, changing the cocktail game by ditching booze-disguising mixes and euphemistically named sweet drinks in favour of a new philosophy based on seasonality, craft, classics and a short and sharp list of new cocktail ideas that changes roughly every week.

First floor 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney

Earl's Juke Joint

If any Sydney bar deserves the (somewhat) overused/misused title of “speakeasy”, it’s Earl’s. From the street it looks like an old-fashioned and unloved butchery, but that illusion is quickly dispelled by the crowds and the tinny New Orleans-styled tunes coming from the bar with every swing of the front door. Inside Southern American nostalgia hangs from the walls, and craft beers, natural wines and seasonal cocktails come from the bar.

407 King Street, Newtown

Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern

Ask a regular to describe Ramblin’ Rascal and they’ll probably mention $6 “shit tinnies”, Mary’s deliveries and the fact there’s always a party atmosphere here. Ask the owners – three ex-Swillhouse barmen – and they’ll tell you it’s about fun, cognac and whisky, and a staunch “no dickhead” philosophy. It’s what makes the Tavern so essential.

199 Elizabeth Street, Sydney

Mary's Newtown

Before Mary’s opened in 2013 we never thought we’d write the sentence “natural wine, metal, Islay whiskies, Reschs and American cheeseburgers”. But those were all the things Kenny Graham and Jake Smyth wanted in a venue – and nowhere was providing it. Since then American fast food-styled cheeseburgers, minimal-intervention wines and bars with brash personalities have tripled in stock, and we have Graham and Smyth to thank.

6 Mary Street, Newtown

Love, Tilly Devine

Opening a wine bar down a dank alleyway in a former Best Cellars storeroom is an unlikely recipe for success. But these days it’s hard to ever imagine Love Tilly Devine being quiet. A weekend night here means a wait to get in. Once you’re in your seat a 300-plus list of progressive wines and a playful Italian-ish snack menu will keep you there for a long time.

91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst

PS40

With its all white-and-metal fit-out, this cocktail spot resembles what someone in the ’80s imagined a bar from the future would look like. It’s totally different to the traditional idea of a bar; cocktails are injected with the flair of the molecular gastronomy movement, and the menu offers multicultural and non-traditional snacks. Bonus: because its house-made sodas are a feature of this place, PS40 has some of the finest non-alcoholic options in the game.

40 Skittle Lane, Sydney

Continental Deli Bar and Bistro

From the industry legends that brought us Porteno and Bodega, this art deco and pastel-painted CBD oasis is part pasta bistro, bottle store, fine cheese and charcuterie dealer, and cocktail bar. The latter is the domain of Mikey Nicolian, one of Sydney’s best cocktail mixers.

210 Australia Street, Newtown

Frankie's Pizza

Go beyond the cheesy-looking red and white checkerboard Italian diner at the entrance and go through those two doors on the side. In that next room, what you’ll find is less pizza and more party. Loud and live music sets – of all genres – are a regular occurrence. If it all becomes a bit hectic, look for the pinball machines to the side for a few minutes of time out.

50 Hunter Street, Sydney

Cantina Ok!

It’s a pink and purple 20-person standing bar exclusively serving agave-based liquors and cocktails based on them. It’s all in a space about the size of a one-car garage (and that’s a small car). Owners Alex Dowd, Jeremy Blackmore and Alex Gilmour are three superb operators who make it work wonderfully.

Council Place, Sydney

Shady Pines Saloon

When this speakeasy-inspired cocktail bar opened, it was one of the first of its kind. And as the first Swillhouse venue (the powerhouse behind hits Alberto’s Lounge and Restaurant Hubert), the opening of Shady Pines Saloon was a defining moment in the evolution of Sydney’s bar scene. It’s proof that, at its core, a great bar is about good people and drinks, in a space that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Shop 4 256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst

The Dolphin Hotel Dining Room and Wine Room

The Dolphin Hotel houses two great bars, each impeccable in their own way. There’s the Wine Room, a snack- and wine-based bar serving premium Australian, French and Italian drops with a modern Italian food offering. Then there’s Scout, the Sydney outpost of one of the world’s most inventive cocktail bars. It only makes drinks using Australian ingredients. Vodka soda with green ants anyone? What about fermented banana wine?

412 Crown Street, Surry Hills

Tio’s Cerveceria

This was the first foray into Mexican drinking from the team behind Cantina OK! Tecate is the cheap imported cerveza, which comes in its iconic can. Tequilas range from fiery and affordable to aromatic and exclusive. There is a range of mostly agave-based cocktails. Add to that the free popcorn you get with each drink and you have one irresistible spot for a drink.

4 14 Foster Street, Surry Hills

Old Mate's Place

The atmosphere here is in a league of its own. The downstairs lounge is fitted out with leather lounges and walled bookshelves, and plants burst out of every corner. Upstairs is just as relaxed, but it keeps things simpler: a patio, a few tables and panoramic views of the city. Make sure to order the Philly cheesesteak if you’re after a steak, it’s one of the best in town.

Level 4 199 Clarence Street, Sydney

Poly

Poly looks more like a restaurant than a bar. But take one look at the effort put into the drinks list and you’ll know where its true ambitions lie. There’s a dedication to organic and biodynamic wine production that’s near unmatched. It’s a wine list that’s equal parts odd and broad. Pair your vino with any of the small share plates on the menu. It doesn’t matter which. It will be good.

74-76 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

Jacoby's

A Twin Peaks-inspired tiki bar serving some of Sydney’s most theatrical cocktails? Sure, so long as it’s good. Coming from the team behind Earl’s Juke Joint, we needn’t have been worried. It’s definitely a unique concept, but most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.

154 Enmore Road, Enmore

The Barber Shop

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.

89 York Street, Sydney

Arcadia Liquors

This place keeps things simple, to great effect. There’s no spirit specialisation, award-winning cocktail maker behind the bar or any attached kitchen. Arcadia Liquors nails the basics. It’s just a good place to hang out, with affordable beers and cocktails.

7 Cope Street, Redfern

Bar Topa

Although Friday nights can get a bit full on – only 40 people can squeeze into this Basque-style tapas and pinxtos bar – most nights you can nab a seat quite easily. Have a chat with the knowledgeable bar staff about their favourite Spanish wines to pair with the affordable and diverse snacks on offer.

4 Palings Lane, Sydney

Uncle Kurt’s

The only way you’d know it’s there (hidden in a Parramatta car park) is the soft neon glow and the hip-hop beats slowly leaking out. It’s worth the effort to find it, though, because George Makram and his team are making the best cocktails west of Enmore.

22B Hornwood Place, Parramatta

Archie Rose Distilling Co.

A bar befitting the quality and class of the spirits Archie Rose distils. As you’d expect the drinks list is built around Archie Rose’s gin, whisky and vodka. Drink them straight or have them mixed into one of the best Martinis in Sydney.

85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery

Poor Toms Gin Bar

Poor Tom’s is loose. On any given night you’re just as likely to end up sharing a drink with the owners as you are a local artist. It’s a space that encourages intermingling. The killer cocktails help, too.

6 Chalder Avenue, Marrickville

Double Deuce Lounge

Head down the concrete stairs and into a soulful ’70s oasis. The second venue by the Ramblin’ Rascal Crew is everything its first venue was (a fun mix of cheap drinks and classic cocktails) but wrapped up in a far classier package. Order a minimal-intervention wine, one of the 10 rotating cocktails or a “shit tinny” and enjoy the party.

6 Bridge Street, Sydney

The Lobo Plantation

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.

Basement Lot 1 209 Clarence Street, Sydney

The Bearded Tit

This is a glowing example of how to open an authentically inclusive space. Since it opened in 2014 it’s been a beacon for Sydney’s artistic and queer communities. There’s regular LGBTQIA+ gigs and a constant rotation of local artists (who have created a few raunchy front-window displays over the years).

183 Regent Street, Redfern

Dear Sainte Eloise

There are more than 400 wines here, running the gamut from affordable $12 by-the-glass numbers to harder to find vintages by the bottle. To eat, it’s worth trying just about every one of the non-traditional Mediterranean snacks on offer.

Shop 5 29 Orwell Street, Potts Point
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