Since the Sydney small bar liquor license was relaxed in 2008 to allow more small scale bars, Sydney has seen a rapid proliferation of small bars that aren’t undifferentiated massive hotel pubs.
It’s all about themed bars in Sydney, with most popular drinking holes hidden in alleyways or behind inconspicuous doors without a signboard; it makes one wonder if they even want to be found at all.
‘Speakeasy’, as its called – the harder to find, the better it gets.
Courtesy of Destination NSW, I had the opportunity to go barhopping in the city along with a true Sydneysider guiding me down the nooks and crannies of Sydney’s best.
Here’s a quick list of essential small cocktail bars in Sydney I feel are worth the alcohol-fueled treasure hunt.
5. Since I Left You
Opened in 2011, Since I Left You bar gets its name from Australian electronic music group The Avalanches’ hit single of the same name.
Described as a friendly neighborhood bar, Since I Left You was converted from an old warehouse beside a carriage way for horses to load cargo, and has since been refitted as a art-deco styled bar. At least the logo was pretty large and not as elusive as some other bars in Sydney.
Walking through the alley, the bar opens up into a beautiful courtyard with fairy lights for those seeking an alfresco experience. A live acoustic band plays every thursday night as well as some sundays.
One of the first few small bars in Sydney, Sine I Left You aims to breath life back into the city through its emphasis on personable service.
Don Juan. Muddled pear, Don Julio Resposado & Pear Massenez, shaken over ice with cloudy apple juice.
Many of their cocktails are based off personal friends or popular culture – A Little Grace cocktail was named after one of their oldest customer’s first child, and contains gin and sour apple shaken with elderflower liquer, cloudy apple juice and Seb’s Secret Spiced Syrup.
The Torch Carrier, made with aged pisco, apricot brandy and agave with a dash of bitters along with the scent of burning gum, is based off the large mural on the wall in the courtyard.
Since I Left You is also pretty well-known for their chocolate and cheese fondues, which might be a bit odd for such a bar, really.
Nothing overly complicated in their cocktails but balanced adequately, Since I Left You scores on their genuine warmth in befriending the locals around town.
Since I Left You Bar: 338 Kent St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia | Website
Another pioneer of the small bars revolution in Sydney, Pocket bar opened in 2009 as a small, ‘pocket-sized’ watering hole for Sydneysiders to casually grab a drink.
The hip interiors of Pocket are adorned with street art, most notably murals by Steve Garrow, an Australian artist based in Bali.
Rugged and not quite as rowdy as other bars (although weekends can still get slammed), its a great place for conversations at Pocket.
Besides the lavish variety of liquors, there’s also a small collection of home infused rum which changes seasonally.
The bartenders here are charmingly well-versed in their craft which makes a seating at the bar counter all that more interactive.
My Other Drink Is a Yacht. Infused Rhum of the month, orange, pineapple, coconut, citrus, salt and bitters.
Bless Up. Coconut Hennessy, apricot Brandy, mint and bitters.
New York Sour. Pocket also does off-menu cocktails and classics upon request, like this version of a whisky sour with pinot noir that I simply adored.
Spacious while staying intimate, Pocket has staked its claim as one of the earliest and best small bars in Sydney.
Pocket Bar: 13 Burton St, Sydney NSW 2010, Australia | Website
3. The Baxter Inn
The Baxter Inn is an inconspicuous whisky-focused bar located at the basement of an unassuming commercial building.
The Baxter Inn is a legit concealed underground speakeasy harder to find than ‘where’s wally’. The entrance to The Baxter Inn is in the back alley of Clarence street, and even knowing that, you still might not find it. The unmarked door that leads down to the basement looks like the back entrance of some warehouse, but take that leap of faith and soldier on.
The Baxter Inn is styled as an American Prohibition-era speakeasy, with low ceilings, distressed exposed brick walls, and jazz tunes of old.
There are over a hundred types of whiskies, and of course, whisky-based cocktails are their specialty. We tried the Whisky Sour, made with Ballantine’s blended scotch.
Despite having a concentration in whiskys, The Baxter Inn does have other offerings as well like the Boston Cookbook, which is made with Gin, marshmallow milk foam, lemon, rhubarb and egg whites.
Being a Whisky haven, The Baxter Inn also carries Australian whiskys from around the region. When in Australia, do as the Aussies do, am I right?
Satisfying my curiosity for a taste of local whisky, a rawer and more unpolished Aussie whisky would be the unaged Archie Rose White Rye, while the Nant Sherry cask from Tasmania provides a good contrast of sweet and spiciness.
These guys know everything about whisky and you’ll be in safe hands asking for recommendations to the myriad of stacked bottles. Having numerous awards like the United Kingdom’s The Worlds 50 Best Bars 2014, and Australian Liquor Industry Awards Bar of the Year 2013, The Baxter Inn is a heavy hitter in the Sydney bar scene.
The Baxter Inn: Basement, 152-156 Clarence St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia | Website
2. Bulletin Place
Bulletin Place seems to be collecting accolades one after another despite being quite a new, basic pocket bar. They are 28th in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2016, Time Out Sydney’s Best Cocktail Bar 2015 as well as Australia Bartender Small Bar of the Year for 3 consecutive years up to 2015.
Headed by bar maestro Tim Philips, co-founder of Bulletin Place and Dead Ringer, his experience winning Bartender of the Year isn’t just limited to his personal skill.
The concept of Bulletin Place is based on what the owners themselves liked in a bar- a relaxed, casual sit-down that didn’t need all that much formality. No standing in the bar is allowed, mind you.
The cocktail menu is small and concise, having only 5 mainly fruit-driven cocktails that rotate daily. This allows the bar to churn out cocktails faster without letting customers wait too long.
The owners really identified with the annoyance of waiting too long for their drink and worked out a system to deliver efficient quality – the average waiting time for each cocktail is promised just under 8 minutes.
Celebrating bio-diversity in Australia, fresh seasonal ingredients are used for all of their cocktails. The small menu is brilliant really, allowing creativity and freshness to really gel with operations. Guests won’t get too overwhelmed by a huge list too.
We tried a couple cocktails like the Burnt Honey Old Fashioned, an old fashioned made with bourbon and vanilla-infused unpasteurized local honey. Due to the lack of additives, the honey flavour is slightly different each time due to the seasonal changes.
Another amazingly balanced drink was the She’s so Sour, made with White rum, shiso and grapefruit.
The cocktails of Bulletin Place are amazingly simple, mostly having no more than just four ingredients yet creations are smooth, well-balanced and simply delicious. With being ‘as friendly as they can’ as a motto, Bulletin is definitely my pick for Sydney’s best small casual bar.
Bulletin Place: 10-14 Bulletin Pl, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia | Website
1. Eau de Vie
Located within Kirketon Hotel in Darlinghurst, there are no street signs to Eau de Vie Sydney. But push beyond the hotel’s reception and you’ll find my personal favorite bar in Sydney, and what I feel sits firmly on its throne as ‘the best’.
Upon opening in 2011, Eau de Vie subsequently won World’s Best New Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. Since then, the amazing bar team has accumulated awards like an obsessed hoarder, being known consistently as one of the best bars in the world.
Classy and sophisticated, Eau de Vie is modeled after a 1920s vintage interior with dark wood, steel beams and leather couches.
The bar team at Eau de Vie really offer a total bar experience – from the moment guests enter, the magic begins visually as if being transported to days of future past. After ordering, the presentation of cocktails only hypes it up further.
Espresso Zabaione. Probably the fanciest espresso cocktail, vodka/tequila/rum is stirred down with coffee and maple syrup. It is then layered with a saffron and vanilla mouse, super chilled with liquid nitrogen which makes quite the smokey show.
Zacapa Blazer. Listed as one of the world’s top cocktails by Elite Traveler in 2013, this can be ordered blazed and flaming at the table for a spectacular fire show. Heavy on the palate, with a strong intensity that warms you up instantly.
Smokey Rob Roy. Owner Sven Almenning’s signature drink made with a fierce mix of Talisker and highland whiskies, cigar infused Zacapa rum, vermouth and orange bitters. Served under a cloud of wood smoke torched in the moment.
The flashy cocktail building showmanship connects perfectly to the heavenly-tasting cocktails. From visuals to taste and smell, every sense is stimulated perfectly upon a visit to Eau de Vie. Hands down, Eau de Vie is my pick for best cocktail bar in Sydney. Its just on a whole different level here.
Eau de Vie Sydney: 229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst NSW 2010, Australia | Website
I hope I’ve provided some insight to your drinking needs in Sydney. And of course, if you’re flying to Sydney from Singapore, Singapore Air is a great direct flight option promising warm hospitality for the duration of your flight.