Sydney has really upped its small bar game in the past few years. We’ve embraced creativity, luxury, and the best ideas from abroad to create a cosmopolitan scene that feels a bit more mature than the days of yore. We’re now home to some of the most exciting hospitality staff and venues in the entire world—with a few placements on the World's 50 Best list to prove it.
From garage bars dedicated to ancient spirits to hidden wine bars with Midnight in Paris vibes, and hotel lobby bars guaranteed to take your breath away at sunset—if you're thirsty, Sydney's bar scene is here for you.
Without further ado, here’s our pick of the best bars in Sydney right now—and what to drink when you’re there.
Taking the top spot on our list is Apollonia. Hidden in the basement beneath Hinchcliff House, the four-storey Italian-inspired mega restaurant, this moody underground bar is inspired by Michael Corleone's Sicilian wife in Mario Puzo's book The Godfather. In fact, nearly every aspect pays homage to the romantic but tragic love story between him and Apollonia, from each menu chapter to the bar's decor. There's even a nightly midnight toast to Michael's love at first sight "thunderbolt" or "colpo di fulmine". You'll find Italian and Australian Amari, bitters, whiskies, and gins, with plenty of cocktails on offer. And don't worry if you're hungry late, with the bar serving rotating Sicilian-style late-night snacks available every night until 2.30am.
Signature drink: Hands-down the Apollonia Negroni. It's one of Sydney's best, is made with house vermouth, features fresh stamped ice with Apollonia "A", and glows neon red like the rest of the bar. Perfection.
In the year Sydney discovered mezcal, tequila's smokier, sexier sibling, Cantina OK! led the charge. The self-described “micro mezcal mecca” is tucked away at the end of an otherwise suspicious-looking laneway—as many good bars are these days. And, while it used to be a standing-room-only type affair, in the post-lockdown half of 2020 Cantina OK! intro'd laneway seating. Cantina OK! is one of only two Sydney bars currently on the World's 50 Best Bars list—so yeah, you need to visit.
If you’re not into mezcal yet, go to Cantina Ok! with a goal to learn from the highly knowledgeable staff. This is a space for drinking and learning about a spirit that is still fairly underappreciated in this country.
Signature drink: Mezcal! If it’s your first foray into the spirit, chat to the staff who can help you figure out the right flavour profile. It should be enjoyed straight and sipped slowly but if it’s too strong for your taste, the Margarita Ok! with pink salt is a great entry point and, just quietly, is one of the best Margaritas in town.
If you've done some research about bars in Sydney—chances are you've already heard about Maybe Sammy. Well, before you turn up your nose, let's just say this bar deserves all the hype. The interiors are inspired by the glamour of a 1950s Rat Pack-era hotel bar, arguably the best era of cocktails. Maybe Sammy’s greatest claims to fame are the award-winning cocktail shakers behind the bar: co-owner Martin Hudak and bar manager Paolo Maffietti . These guys whip up a string of signature cocktails that are a little left of centre (in the best way possible).
As of April 2022, they've reinvented the menu—so if you've been before, yep it's time to head in again. They've moved on from the Rat Pack inspo for the drinks list now, this time creating cocktails inspired by artistic doyennes and leading ladies. Try the "It's Only A Paper Moon", inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, a smokey cocktail with a little flame, made with Patrón Silver tequila, Empirical Spirits Charlene McGee, smoked, paprika, aloe vera, and lime.
If you needed any further reason to visit, Maybe Sammy holds the number 11 spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, and, in 2020, took home the World's 50 Best Michter’s Art of Hospitality award, which is handed down for—you guessed it—hospitality, guest service, and general good vibes in any bar experience. Maybe Sammy has proved so popular with Sydneysiders, the team has since opened Sammy Junior and Dean and Nancy on 22 (see below).
Signature drink: Irish coffee cocktail. “It’s a cold version of an Irish coffee—an Australian version!” co-owner Stefano Catino says. Ingredients include Redbreast 12 Irish whisky, house-made cold brew, and cream to finish.
Perched on top of the stunning heritage building at Wynyard, Sky Bar is one offering of the three-part dining experience on the top floor of Shell House, a new project from The Point Group (The Dolphin, Bondi Beach Public Bar). Floor-to-ceiling glass doors help give this rooftop bar a desirable inside-outside vibe. The small and considered cocktail menu features a few classics with a twist, including a tongue-in-cheek investment banker-inspired "Negative Gearing", made with clarified ice cream bourbon, Bulleit Rye, Fernet Branca, hazelnut, and smoked coconut. Finally, bar snacks from culinary director Joel Bickford and head chef Aaron Ward will set the mood and keep you satisfied, with options like raw tuna, rock oysters, pickled mussels, and coal-roasted quail.
Honourable mention goes to Shell House's downstairs bar, The Menzies. An excellent spot to sink a few martinis after a long work week, if you ask us.
Signature drink: Negative Gearing feels appropriate, given the bar is situated above the NAB trading floors. You'll also find The Point Group's signature Sicilian Margarita, which features Limoncello and Sichuan pepper.
"Re" made an immediate impression as the world's only permanent establishment to operate almost entirely off of waste products and recycled materials. From award-winning bartender Matt Whiley and restauranteur Maurice Terzini, the bar's focus on sustainability is one of the many reasons it landed at number 46 on the prestigious list of The World's 50 Best Bars for 2021 (one of only four Australian bars alongside Sydney's Maybe Sammy and Cantina OK! and Melbourne's Above Board) in just its first year. With uncompromising quality, everything is considered for the absolute least amount of waste from glassware and garnishes to the recycled bottle and Tupperware-made table and food menu from restaurant food waste.
Signature drink: Re's current menu is a collaboration with Sydney restaurants and producers, turning waste into some of the most delicious and inventive cocktails around. Try the Brickfields "Sourdough" cocktail, made with Don Julio Tequila, cucumber, green chilli, and banh mi herbs.
If you thought martinis were having a little renaissance post lockdown, you'd be absolutely right. Proving the point is a brand-new dedicated martini bar from the Mucho Aloha hospitality group, the award-winning team behind Cantina OK! and Tio's (also on this list). Called Bar Planet, here the team is shifting its focus from margaritas to martinis, expanding out from their original city and Surry Hills haunts into the beating heart of the Inner West. At Bar Planet, you can expect your martinis to be nothing short of intergalactic.
Signature drink: To craft their signature Bar Planet martini, the team collaborated with Marrickville distillery Poor Tom's to create an ever-evolving "living" base spirit that Blackmore has called "Infinite Spirit". The resulting house martini is smooth, theatrical, and stylish—served with lemon and olive, giving this timeless cocktail the sort of ethereal treatment it deserves.
Ready for a drink at Sydney's highest bar? Housed within the iconic Sydney Tower, Bar 83 feels like a lavish spaceship—a sort of Star Wars, Jetsons vibe, without at all being kitsch. With award-winning bartender Jenna Hemsworth behind the bar, Bar 83 isn't just a stylish spot to take in the city skyline. Hemsworth was Bartender of the Year in 2018 and has spent three years curating cocktail lists at Swillhouse staples The Baxter Inn and Restaurant Hubert. Cocktails hero Australian native ingredients in a modern, minimalistic format, and your drinks will be matched with a neat bar food menu by chef Mike Dierlinger (The Bridge Room).
Signature drink: Long day at work? Go for Hemsworth's Second Wind. Made with bourbon, cassis, coffee amaro, and bitter orange, its tagline reads, "Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second." Cocktail truths.
Hickson House Distilling Co.
Hickson House Distilling Co. is the latest player to join the busy drinking and dining scene in The Rocks. From Mikey Enright and Julian Train (The Duke of Clarence and The Barber Shop) and Tim Stones (Manly Spirits), the distillery and bar has taken over the old Saatchi & Saatchi garage to shake up The Rocks drinking scene. Sit insight of the distillery's custom-made shiny copper pot stills and order from the page full martini menu or the range of rare whiskies. Or head upstairs to the more intimate mezzanine High & Dry Bar and grab a bite from the locally-sourced, botanically-inspired menu. With share plates like kangaroo tartare, salt-roasted split prawns, and steaks, which you can enjoy with smoked bone marrow butter and jus or Davidson plum and fig chutney.
Signature drink: From the five-part martini menu, you have to try the "Pearl", made with oyster pearl-infused Hickson Rd. Harbour Strength Gin, nori vermouth, Acqua Bianca, and samphire.
Paski Vineria Popolare
Behind this multi-storey restaurant, bar, and bottleshop is Sydney's godfather of natural wine, Giorgio De Maria (121 BC Enoteca), as well as Mattia Dicati (Vino Mito Wine Imports) and chef Enrico Tomelleri (Ragazzi, Alberto’s Lounge, 10 William Street). Paski Vineria Popolare is housed within the former This Must Be The Place cocktail bar, though the space has been reimagined by Jad Silvester of Silvester Fuller architects. At the downstairs bar, it's all about artisanal vino from small-scale producers with a backlit library of over 400 bottles to discover. Choose something by the glass, or pick a bottle and drink it on the spot for a small corkage fee.
For De Maria, Paski is a space "where customers can learn about and buy something from the person who sourced the wines themselves, and who knows each producer well. We’re offering a direct link to these winemakers, which will make for a really special experience.”
Signature drink: Something Italian, of course.
Little Felix is the moody cocktail bar bringing a sophisticated flair to your evening. “Our aim at Little Felix was to take the opulent hotel bars of early 20th century Paris and bring them into the modern-day,” Bar Manager Joseph Stephens explains. “We’ve based our cocktails, food, and spirit offering on what would not feel out of place if served at the Ritz bar during that legendary era.” As the little sister of Felix restaurant, you’ll recognise that elegance runs in the genes.
Signature drink: Paris Meridian. “With its roots in the Paris cocktail scene circa 1915, this champagne cocktail with gin, lemon, and a hint of French thyme liqueur makes for a great start to the evening,” Stephens says.
Old Mate’s Place
This Clarence Street establishment puts hospitality first, and the result is a friendly vibe that welcomes anyone and everyone. “Our philosophy is pretty much making sure that the person in front of us, and anyone that comes in, feels welcome and has a great time,” co-owner Dre Walters says. “Bars are meant to be fun and a place to go to relax so if we can facilitate that then we go home at the end of the day happy.”
However, for an establishment that lacks pretension, it boasts a pretty impressive pedigree, with Dre hailing from Kittyhawk and Lobo Plantation, and fellow cocktail connoisseur Daniel Noble grooving in from Ramblin’ Rascal. These guys also do a mean Mi Goreng Bloody Mary, if it's a hangover cure you're after. Oh, and did we mention it has a rooftop?
Signature drink: Future Thinking. Green Ant Gin, Lillet, snow peas, shiso, green apple, verjuice, bitters, and whites.
PS40 is a remarkably niche idea that somehow works, most likely due to the quality and creativity of what is being served. If you haven’t yet heard of it, this is a bar that's dedicated to bottling, selling, and serving a variety of homemade sodas.
“PS40 is dedicated to just being a good bar at its core, offering the best hospitality every day while also pushing the boundaries of contemporary drinks and experience,” Bar Manager Peter Seabrook said. The team has a soda bottling area on-site and is focused on concoctions crafted from Australian native ingredients. They’re also free of preservatives and refined sugars!
Signature drink: Burning Man—a concoction of gin, Seedlip garden, rosemary smoked pea, and citrus.
This New York City icon was originally intended as a bar for those with a vested interest in the hospitality industry. “Employees Only was founded on the philosophy that there's no better clientele for your bar than those who work in service in the hospitality industry,” Bar Manager Robert Kreuger says. “So, our hours of operation and offerings have reflected that from the start.”
As it turns out, it’s not just hospo folks that appreciate quality food and drinks. Those who stay long enough will witness the casual evolution of the venue throughout the evening: the after-work crowd will drop in for a Manhattan, then maybe a dinner with a bottle (or three) of wine, followed by more fun and festive drinks well into the night. “We want to be constantly at the top of your mind as one of the best options in Sydney to spend your time any night, any time,” Krueger adds.
Signature drink: Amelía. Made with vodka, St. Germain, blackberry purée, and fresh lemon juice, garnished with a sprig of mint. Fresh!
While we can’t always tell you where Nick is, we definitely know where to find one of Sydney’s best wine bars. Opening in 2017 on Marrickville’s main strip, Where’s Nick is run by brothers Julian and Dominic Abouzeid, who named the joint after third brother, Nick. Before opening the natural wine bar, Julian was the buyer of fine drops at one of Sydney’s most acclaimed bottle shops: The Oak Barrel (so, we trust his tastes). After gaining popularity for their offerings over the past couple of years, the Abouzeid bros decided to open a takeaway wine shop next door. Pop in for a glass accompanied by a light tasting menu or a cheeseboard. This year, the Where's Nick crew also opened a wine shop, meaning you can take the experience (and the wine) home with you too.
Signature drink: Wine, obviously. Just place your trust in the hands of experts here.
Officially a "cerveceria" with an extensive beer selection, Tio’s from the Swillhouse group began life as a rough-and-ready, anything-goes-type place. No drinks list, no food, and free popcorn for all. It really is a legend on the Sydney bar scene—being the place of many a tequila-soaked evening (and subsequent sore head the next day). These days, they’ve refined things a little and now offer Latin fried pizza, which is great for soaking up their highly moreish classic Margaritas.
Signature drink: Head in for fun vibes and the $10 margarita specials—flavours switch up weekly, and this is easily one of Sydney's best happy hours.
Shady Pines Saloon
Also from the Swillhouse family, Shady Pines a bar that doesn’t need to do much in terms of self-promotion. Just off Oxford Street, you’ll have to search for a door with no sign. But once you’ve found it, you’ll descend into a wonderful whirlwind of country music, antique furniture, peanut bowls, and taxidermy animals. The subterranean joint doesn’t concern itself with time; it’s always packed and vibing. Make sure you get around one of Sydney’s best happy hours with $4.50 house spirits, house lager tinnies and house wines.
Signature drink: House-spiced whisky and fresh apple. Don’t go asking for Fireball because you won’t find it here. But the signature spiced whisky is infinitely better anyhow and a delight with fresh juice or as a shot.
The Baxter Inn
Yet another entry from the Swillhouse crew, The Baxter Inn changed Sydney's drinks scene for the better when it opened back in 2010. This intimate, hard-to-find whisky bar also signalled the early beginnings of a new era for the Sydney CBD, as a more exciting drinking and dining destination. Over a decade later, this is still one of Sydney's greatest bars—and one of the city's best whisky detinations too. It's dark and moody, just like a whisky bar should be, and the collection of amber spirits on offer here is second to none—ticking off the Highland, the Lowland, Speyside, the islands, and everything in between.
Alongside all the whisky, there are complimentary pretzels, live jazz bands, and an epic list of whisky cocktails to try too, shaken and stirred by some of Sydney's best bartenders.
Signature drink: This might sound obvious—but whisky. Let the bar staff take you on a journey and step outside your comfort zone.
Naming your bar after that Credence Clearwater Revival song is definitely a good start. At Fortunate Son, you can expect a similar Southern-style Mississippi River rock vibe. Just a stone’s throw from the Enmore Theatre, owners and bar legends Jason Crawley and Dylan Howarth have built a neighbourhood bar concept based on the romance of great music. Under a neon red glow, you’re in for a 300 strong collection of mezcal (hell yes), tequila, and whisky, as well as proper champagne and a lengthy cocktail menu.
The cocktail menu is divided into three parts, including a first section titled "Fortunate Ones" that features Crawley and Howarth's renditions of classics, like a Tommy's Margarita (made with Herradura Blanco, lime, and agave), a gin fizz (Fords gin, lemon, lime, cream, simple syrup, orange flower water, and sprinkles). "Fortunate Sons" is the signatures section, where you'll find the "Insomnia", which is a tequila espresso martini, made with Herradura Blanco, cold drip coffee, ristretto liqueur, and agave. It is, in a word, delicious. Finally, there's a selection of spiked fresh juice highballs.
Signature drink: Go for the "Smoke and a Pancake". It's made with Gentleman Jack, Tempus Fugit Banana, maple syrup, and Ardbeg and chocolate bitters and served short on big ice.
Dean And Nancy On 22
From the award-winning Maybe Sammy team, Dean and Nancy is a sleek hotel lobby bar in the heart of the city. From the upstairs lobby of the new luxury apartment hotel on Hunter Street in the CBD, a gleaming brass staircase ascends to the 120-seater bar, which has been designed by George Livissianis (Sammy Junior, Chin Chin, The Apollo). Expect a black and gold palette, a baby grand piano, low leather banquettes, intimate lamplit tables for two, and a view of the twinkling city skyline that, come nighttime, feels a little Lost in Translation.
To drink, it's the same fun-meets-polished antics we've come to expect from Maybe Sammy's creative director Andrea Gualdi. There are 15 signature concoctions written into a journey of a menu, including some high roller cocktails made with super-premium spirits and non-alcoholic cocktails too. To eat, a menu of divine bar snacks has been pieced together by chef Jane Strode.
Signature drink: Try the Coffee Champagne cocktail, where—magically—your hands become the garnish. The cocktail comes with a personal pot of house-made vanilla and coffee-infused hand cream. "Apply the cream to your hands and every time you sip the cocktail, you’ll be treated to a waft of the scent,” says Gualdi. “After we take the glass away the essence will remain and every time you use the cream, we hope you’ll remember your time at Dean & Nancy and smile.”
From the Milpa Collective (the team behind some of Sydney's best Mexican-inspired spots like Carbon, Taqiza, Calita, and Sonora) comes Santa Catarina for fans of all things mezcal. This Clarence Street bar pays homage to the Mexican city of Oaxaca, where the majority of the world's mezcal is sourced. The 100-seat venue showcases rare and authentic varieties of the ancient spirit, showing off Milpa's connection to Oaxacan producers, some of which still use ancestral techniques like distilling in clay pots. If you want to expand on your appreciation Mezcal, this is one of Sydney's best spots to do it. The food is also top-notch too—try the signature Mole Madre, made using more than fifty original ingredients and ancient techniques passed down from indigenous communities in Oaxaca.
Nick And Nora’s
Nick and Nora’s takes you 26 floors up for a rooftop bar experience flowing with champagne and the decadent post-prohibition era. The glitzy joint’s name and menus are inspired by Nick and Nora Charles, a fictional murder-solving duo from the novel The Thin Man. But the only mystery you’ll have to solve is what cocktail to order first while looking over Sydney’s West CBD. And believe us, there are some choices–from twists on classics to a range of shared punch options that’ll really get the party started.
Signature drink: You really can’t go past Nick and Nora’s dedicated champagne menu here, with some of the finest drops from France’s famously exclusive winemaking region. Go on—treat yourself and order a bottle.
Jacoby's Tiki Bar
A bar inspired by David Lynch's iconic and mysterious Twin Peaks? Sign us up. An urban oasis of sorts, this Enmore Road establishment delivers fun vibes and funky cocktails often served out of coconuts and retro fish vases with proper cocktail umbrellas. Guests will find the warmth and joy (with a dash of rum and lime) that fits right into this corner of the city. “We are most proud of how we’ve become a part of this wonderful and eclectic community,” Director Adrian Sanchez says of Jacoby's. “I love walking around the suburb and seeing all of our regulars going about their lives and then seeing them later in the evening for their nightcap. The best compliment we can ever hear is the one where people think we’ve been here longer than we actually have.”
Signature drink: a Pina Colada, of course! “I chose this drink as it’s our most popular but also because it captures what we do best here. Whether rain or shine, you can come to our bar and escape from the city slog and enjoy a bit of paradise or at the very least, dream of one,” Sanchez says.
Double Deuce Lounge
Double Deuce Lounge is the retro-themed watering hole that is self-declared “70s porno chic”. The décor alone is worth a visit. With timber-panelled walls and bulb-framed mirrors, elements of the design are destined to return to homes in no time. Double Deuce also has a great cocktail menu to back it up, serving modern-Australian spins on the classics.
Signature drink: the "Cozmo". Double Deuce’s take on the classic Cosmopolitan has vodka, Rosella, fresh citrus, and apricot.
Earl’s Juke Joint
If you walk past what looks on the outside to be a closed butcher shop, but you hear a roaring good time inside, you’re probably on South King Street, strolling past one of the Inner West’s most beloved bars. Since 2013, New Orleans-inspired Earl’s Juke Joint has been offering Newtown locals a seat at the bar and a bloody good cocktail for their troubles. Here, it’s all about candlelight, a beautiful wooden bar nearly stretching the length of the places, a spirit-stacked back bar, and old school photos framed on the wall. Drinks range from Resch’s on tap and natty wines to some out-of-this-world cocktail concoctions. Just remember, walk-ins only.
Signature drink: These legends love a good Negroni, and so do we. Sometimes it’s best not to overthink the classics.
The Cumberland ticks a few boxes when it comes to our favourite bars in Sydney. It’s underground, has plenty of vintage furniture, it’s prohibition-themed, its named nods to the area’s history, and its entrance is actually concealed behind a fridge door in a small Manly deli. Descend the stone spiral staircase into the 75-seat venue for craft beers, natural wines, cocktails made from local Manly botanicals, and over 250 whiskeys behind the bar. For food, a custom dumbwaiter will drop down a range of plates from the Mediterranean-inspired menu–think Spanish-cured meats and cheeses.
Signature drink: “Lilly Pilly Sour”, made with lilly pilly, lemon myrtle tea, gin, lemon, and aquafaba.
The Blind Bear
Opening in 2013, The Blind Bear is a speakeasy bar that transports you away from nearby Cronulla Beach and into an American-style whisky saloon. The atmosphere is set with dim lighting, the sound of a shaking Boston glass, the smell of pouring craft beer taps, and the feel of bespoke antique wooden furniture. For food, order up some classic American eats from hot wings to t-shirt ruining burgers.
Signature drink: It’s a bit of a "pick your poison" situation here, but why go past the list of 100+ whiskeys for a nip from around the globe.
The Doss House
Sydney has its share of fabulous whisky bars and The Doss House brings this suave drink to its natural home in the city: The Rocks. Hidden in a sandstone basement (and former opium den) within Sydney’s historic dockside settlement, The Doss House is ideal for a cosy evening underground or a sunset chat on the patio.
Signature drink: A whisky flight hailing from Scotland, Ireland, or Japan.
In the heart of Parramatta sits Heritage Lounge, a 1920’s inspired cocktail bar offering some pretty unique menus setting it apart. You’ll find plenty of food-sharing options from gourmet pizzas to cheese boards, matching nicely with an extensive list of signature cocktails inspired by the golden years of the 20s. But if you have a taste for the finer things—there are a couple of other menus you must check out. "The Vault" offers patrons a range of high-end international spirits, ready with full tasting notes for experts and novices alike. Try a 50-year-old Glenfiddich or a Glen Grant 1953 vintage. And what better way to pair a fancy late-night tipple than with an extensive cigar menu.
Signature drink: If you need a middle-of-the-night pick-me-up, try the “Counterfeit Espresso”, with Ratu Signature rum, cold brew coffee, and a nitro-charged spiced pineapple and almond foam.
Still thirsty? Check out Sydney's best wine bars here.
Image credit: Jiwon Kim, Jiwon Kim, Cantina OK!, DS Oficina, Maclay Heriot, Re, Nikki To, Bar 83, Steven Woodburn, Paski Vineria Popolare, Merivale, Rocket Weijers, Dominique Berns-Blackwell, Where's Nick, Swillhouse, Swillhouse, Swillhouse, Fortunate Son, Steven Woodburn, Milpa Collective, Destination NSW, Jacoby's Tiki Bar, Double Deuce Lounge, Earl's Juke Joint, The Cumberland, The Blind Bear, The Doss House, Heritage Lounge