Nightclubs are kind of all-or-nothing. Either you’re standing at the bar being jostled, or you’re on the dance floor getting into it. And having a decent conversation? Forget it.

Bars are a little more flexible – when you need it, there’s room to take a break from dancing or have that long-overdue D’n‘M with your best mate. Plus, the drinks are almost guaranteed to be better, whether you’re drinking beer from an actual glass, or sipping on a well-made Negroni.

The Bearded Tit

This is a bar that welcomes everyone. When the bar isn’t hosting a drag show or an exhibition launch, everyone is on the dance floor gyrating and undulating to dancehall, hip-hop and house.

183 Regent Street, Redfern

The Dock

Between 5pm and 8pm, the go is to grab some cheap house reds, listen to some soft tunes and maybe play a game of darts or a board game. After that, anything can happen – a patron on the piano, topless dance floors, a 20-strong crowd singing along to Whitney Houston. It’s scruffy and rowdy pretty much every night of the week.

182 Redfern Street, Redfern

The Lord Gladstone

When this grungy gem was taken over in early 2019, punters feared for its soul, as well as its reputation for late-night raucousness. Luckily, those fears were unfounded. There are still regular DJ sets and the occasional live band. And now, there’s an accessible pub-grub menu to keep you going well into the night.

115 Regent Street, Chippendale

Goros

A restaurant, bar and karaoke venue in one. Combine those three elements with a 3am licence and an evening here can go from zero to 100 faster than you can butcher your rendition of The Horses. Adding to the vibe are 20-person karaoke booths and a hip-hop and pop-fuelled dance floor. If you’re feeling brave, try the bar’s signature sake bomb: a pint of Asahi spiked with 30 millilitres of sake.

84/86 Mary Street, Surry Hills

The George Hotel

This one doesn’t look like a venue that’s going to breakout into dancing – the beer garden is as relaxed as most pub courtyards, and the front bar is laid-back enough. But don’t be misled. Late at night the chairs clear and the counter gains a DJ spinning an eclectic but often nostalgic mix of tunes.

760 Elizabeth Street, Waterloo

Club 77

Club 77 has changed markedly over the years. Most of the grungy, distorted and heavy beats no longer bounce around the walls of the warehouse. Now it looks like a plush lounge, and there’s an Eastern European-inspired menu. The dance floor still heaves, and house music is the weapon of choice.

77 William Street , Darlinghurst

The Imperial Hotel

This pub has maintained its LGBTQIA+ identity for decades. You’ll still find drag queens on the mic and queer parties in the downstairs basement, but there’s also a slick veggie-based menu and hefty selection of biodynamic wines. If you’re looking for something more relaxed than the downstairs party, the front bar plays disco most nights.

35 Erskineville Road, Erskineville

Harpoon Harry

For a great night at Harry’s, start by nabbing a Paloma or a beer at the front bar. Enjoy it with the last rays of sunlight in the tiled courtyard. From there move to the booths and order a taco, burger or fried-chicken sandwich from the Cuban-American-inspired menu. Finish on the dance floor – Friday and Saturday nights are when things are at their best.

Ground floor, Hotel Harry 40-44 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills

Ching-a-lings

Ching-a-lings is a capital “P” party bar. It’s the place to go to for cheap drinks and beats – house, hip-hop, soul, funk or disco, depending on the night. If you do need a timeout, there’s a miniature rooftop bar with timber stools and a canopy of fairy lights.

Level 1 133 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

The Cliff Dive

Since the Tio’s crew converted this old nightclub into a tiki cocktail bar, this has been one of the best spots in Sydney for a night out. It’s brashly kitsch and purposefully silly – and completely unique because. Everyone has fun, whether they’re spinning on the dance floor at 2am, sipping a cocktail served in a pineapple or just devouring a pizza in the midst of it all.

16-18 Oxford Square, Darlinghurst

Freda's

One of Sydney’s few genuinely alternative venues, Freda’s commitment to emerging local artists means the stage is regularly occupied by experimental and genre-busting acts – if it’s not a musician or DJ, it’s often a local artist’s performance piece. Freda’s isn’t strictly a “going-out” venue – there’s lots booth and bar seating, perfect for enjoying a Philly cheesesteak or a natural wine.

107-109 Regent Street, Chippendale

The Soda Factory

The entrance to The Soda Factory is hidden behind a Coke vending machine – and it would actually be a secret were it not for the queues out front every weekend night. The reason people are waiting probably has something to do with the $15 happy-hour cocktails and the affordable American diner fare. Add in regular DJ sets, and this spot can break out into a throbbing dance floor at any moment.

16 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills

Frankie's Pizza

Half of the venue looks like a red-sauce Italian joint from yesteryear. Walk through the diner’s double doors, though, and you’ll find something completely different: a dimly lit old-timey saloon . Dance isn’t a nightly feature here, but when it does break out it’s completely organic and utterly loose.

50 Hunter Street, Sydney
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Big Poppa’s

This doesn’t look like a dance-y bar. It doesn’t even look like a bar. Looking in from the street, it looks like another Oxford Street pasta and vino restaurant. What you can’t see though, is one of Sydney’s most heaving hip-hop basements.

96 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst
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Tokyo Sing Song

A more clubby option than the rest of the venues on this list, but it’s worth coming here if you’d like to kick things up a notch. This is one of the weirdest and most eclectic bars in the inner west. Tunes are varied: depending on the night you might be dancing to house, jazz, grime, future bass or something impossible to categorise.

Basement 145 King Street, Newtown
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