It’s not the size of the bar that matters, but what you say in it. Here’s our hitlist of 10 Sydney bars you can actually talk in.
The unquestionable winner of small, intimate bars is Surry Hills joint, Bar Baretto. Once graced with the presence of Geoffrey Rush (one of the few ‘Aussie’ actors we didn’t steal from New Zealand), this itty bitty hangout is perfect for a quiet, dignified sip of Italian wine or distinguished nightcap. Alternatively, visitors can bathe in ambient lighting and dig into homemade gnocchi, tiramisù, and more Italian wine and cheese than you could whack with a cannoli.
The Smoking Panda
We’re pretty sure we’ve stumbled into just about the coolest fusion bar around. Prepare to jibber jabber the night away in Danny Russo and Roy Nair’s The Smoking Panda. Show off to your mate/date with a Smoking Hot Mexican Jerk made of smoked silver tequila, chipotle, lime, and crispy bacon or try one of the bar’s 400 spirits between bites of traditional Chinese cuisine. Smoking Panda also offer a Dunkin Doughnut Martini with dark rum and butterscotch liquor served in a martini glass and topped with mini crispy crème. You’ll be up all night discussing the distinction between food and drink—and how damn delicious it is when those lines cross.
Push aside overwhelming angst at the cancellation of Joss Whedon’s Firefly (one day we’ll get it back on air guys) and seek solace in Neutral Bay’s Firefly. Small, cosy, and with zucchini fries to die for; Sydney bar, Firefly is perfect on its own or as a pit stop. The folks at Firefly pride themselves on a selection of boutique beers, ciders, and, if you’re so inclined, they also serve pork sliders and Gelato Messina every Tuesday. The mere mention of their pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi with sage, burnt butter, and walnuts has us in a head spin and we’ve forgotten more about their goats cheese and hazelnut stuffed peppers than even the fanciest of McDonald’s new hipster cafes could ever hope to learn.
Hole-in-the-wall Sydney bar, Pocket Bar is the epitome of snug with a warm brick backdrop and velvet armchairs to boot. Winky, and with plenty of cheek, Pocket Bar’s menu includes KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) and Morning Glory, ‘we want it a little stiff’ cocktails. There’s plenty of comfy, living-room style furniture for you and your buds so prepare to sprawl as you munch on street eats and bar snacks like crispy mac n’ cheese balls (with homemade bourbon and bacon jam) and a variety of gyros and steamed buns. Pocket Bar also offer $10 crepes every Monday and are a quick stroll from Oxford Art Factory, making this sociable little bar a clear winner.
Eau de Vie
If we could rate a bar based on atmosphere alone, ‘coolest cucumber’ would go to Darlinghurst speakeasy, Eau de Vie. Tucked behind The Kirketon Hotel, Eau de Vie is loaded with ingenuity and hails to the days of prohibition, sleeve garters, and non-hipster moustaches. Cocktail highlights include the Absinthe Frappe with La Fee absinthe, maraschino liqueur, honey, and lemon, and Edv Bellini cocktail with vodka, pear, wild peach liqueur and sparkling wine. If none of those tickle your fancy, there’s always fan fave, Noble Experiment. This bad boy requires gloves and goggles before handling vermouth, bitters, gin, and, oh yeah, liquid nitrogen. Eau de Vie may sound fancy enough to be jam-packed but between the ‘oohs and ahhs’ of cocktail theatre, there’s room for chit chats and chinwags.
Golden Age Cinema & Bar
Serving up a mix of cult classics and indie flicks is Surry Hills’ Golden Age Cinema & Bar. With movies such as Groundhog Day, and a grazing menu of cheese and charcuterie plus Messina’s sundae of the month, there’s nowhere we’d rather be. No ticket? No problem. Just rock up and chill at what amounts to a decent local Sydney bar. Golden Age also know the way to our hearts (melted cheese) and offer a variety of Golden Toasties including The Spielberger with pastrami, Swiss, pickles, sauerkraut, and mustard. So, raise your Golden Toastie, thank mum and dad, and get ready to recreate Sally Field’s 1985 acceptance speech.
Lauded as local eating house extraordinaire, Sydney bar, The Commons was dreamed into reality in 2010 when a group of friends decided enough was enough, and Sydney needed another option for drinking and dining. The resulting dining room and underground bar are calm, cool, and raise a well-chilled glass to the wonders of friendship. The Commons takes ‘catch-up with an old friend’ to the next level with seasonal, local produce, wine and beer, and share plates of charcuterie and Aussie cheese. This small Sydney bar is ideal for mates and dates eager to get back to the days of good drinks, music, and conversation.
Step aside, Bunnings sausage sizzle, Bondi Hardware have the kind of ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ vibes we’re after—and without the pain of failed DIY. An emphasis on group dining permeates, covering everything from the menu (tapas, sliders, and pizza) to drinks (sangria, Pimms, and punch) and quirky savory pancakes and thoughtfully designed cocktails tip the scale to Bondi dining gold. Groups can also select from food and beverage packages to avoid table-side tantrums. Relaxing and inviting, BH is the perfect place for a wind-down, chill, or group chat.
It’s time to get downright neighbourly at Surry Hills bar, 121BC. Dignified diners can nibble on seasonal morsels like roast cauliflower and ossobucco as they sip—with pinky raised—on only the best Italian wines. Purchased at the cantina or bar, 121BC’s wines are light on preservatives and heavy on sustainability and regional Italian flavour. Their current lineup includes a pinot grigio from Rosato and a muscat de chambave from Valle d'Aosta. A tiny Sydney bar, 121BC is perfect for dates (footsies are a distinct possibility thanks to a 24-seat bench) or general catch-ups, but a word of warning; it fills up fast and bookings are off the menu. We recommended rocking up early or for an off-peak visit.
If the phrase ‘concept gin bar’ has you Cheshire cat grinning, then keep smilin’, sugar ‘cause the Intercontinental Hotel Double Bay have opened their doors to just that. Stillery oozes sophistication in both its furnishings—dark wood, soft silvers, and grand piano—and libations with more than 60 local and international gins on the menu. Flying leagues beyond the perfunctory Sydney hotel bar, Stillery is the juniper-flavoured partner to sister restaurant, Stockroom and the perfect addition to any cocktail fanatic’s crawl.
Image credit: Firefly