A Bartender’s Guide to the Best Bars in Sydney

Coogee Pavilion is a family-friendly bar just a bus ride from the centre of Sydney
Coogee Pavilion is a family-friendly bar just a bus ride from the centre of Sydney | Courtesy of Coogee Pavilion
Photo of Angharad Jones
29 November 2019

With beachside haunts, historic pubs and hard-to-find local favourites, Australia’s harbour city has got it all. Evan Stroeve of Bulletin Place and Stefano Catino of Maybe Frank and Maybe Sammy narrow down the best bars in Sydney for Culture Trip.

“There’s no better time to be a bartender in Sydney. There are hundreds of incredible small bars all doing their own thing,” says Evan Stroeve, general manager at cocktail bar Bulletin Place. Despite lock-out laws restricting how many hours the party can go on for, Sydney’s bars are bringing individuality to the city. Bartenders and owners are experimenting with flavours, getting inventive with venues and making the most of what the city has to offer: local, native produce and an unbeatable landscape. The result? According to Stefano Catino, co-owner of Maybe Frank and Maybe Sammy, Sydney has “some of the best food, cocktails and coffee any city can offer”.

Cantina OK!

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Cocktails, $$$
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Cantina OK! serves mezcal specially selected by its team
Cantina OK! serves mezcal specially selected by its team | Courtesy of Cantina OK!

“Small, smart agave heaven” is how Catino describes Cantina OK! Opened in 2019, this tiny bar is already packing a punch in Sydney. Afrobeats pump out of the pink-hued former garage in a central business district (CBD) alleyway, with guests trying the many mezcals the team picked up when road-tripping around Mexico. Cantina OK! has room for just 20 people, so expect to get up close and personal with your drinking buddies. Drinks-wise, you’ll be spoilt for choice – Stroeve recommends trying “a weird mezcal distilled with snakes or the best margarita in the city”.

Bulletin Place

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Contemporary, $$$
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Bulletin Place cocktail bar © Bulletin Place
Courtesy of Bulletin Place

“We want visitors to feel like guests in our home,” says Stroeve of Bulletin Place, the small cocktail bar he manages in Sydney’s CBD. With a pared-back industrial-style interior and casual vibe, Bulletin Place has created a welcoming atmosphere and racked up multiple awards in the process. The menu changes daily, depending on what ingredients the team picks up at the local market, meaning you’ll get something creative and unique at every visit.

The Baxter Inn

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Contemporary, $$$
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The Baxter Inn bar © The Baxter Inn
Courtesy of The Baxter Inn

In a basement in an unmarked alleyway off Clarence Street is The Baxter Inn, a whisky lover’s paradise in the middle of the CBD. With almost 800 whiskies on hand, plus an impressive cocktail list, it can be difficult to know where to start, but these bartenders know their stuff – let them be your guide. For Stroeve, it’s “Australia’s most iconic bar. A must if you’re in Sydney for the first time. Chat to a bartender, let them choose for you. They’re the most knowledgeable whisky heads in the country.”

Maybe Sammy

Bar, Cocktails
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Maybe Sammy’s interior is inspired by 1950s Hollywood
Maybe Sammy’s interior is inspired by 1950s Hollywood | Courtesy of Maybe Sammy

Inspired by glamorous hotel bars and the 1950s Rat Pack, Maybe Sammy brings style, luxury and a little bit of opulence to The Rocks – one of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhoods. Pink-velvet banquette seating, a stylish bar and jacket-and-tie-wearing bartenders create a feeling of old Hollywood, with classic and signature cocktails gracing the menu. Co-owner Catino describes it as “a hotel bar, minus the hotel. We wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the classic hotel bar while breaking all the rules, creating a space that’s fun, interactive and where anyone would feel welcome.”

10 William St

Wine Bar, Italian, $$$
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A tiny, energetic bar on one of Sydney’s most stylish streets, Paddington’s 10 William St is a must for anyone looking for a wine list that goes beyond the usual suspects. Natural, orange and hard-to-come-by reds and whites are written on the chalkboard daily, and the staff will happily let you try a drop before committing to a glass. Catino calls it the best place for “wine and small bites”, and he’s not the only one. This bar is very popular, so get here early (or late) if you want to grab a seat.

Coogee Pavilion

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Contemporary, $$$
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Coogee Pavilion (or ‘the Pav’ as it’s affectionately known) is beachside Sydney at its best – the large white building with a blue-and-white striped domed roof is always a hub of activity. It’s the place to go for “a nice aperitivo on the balcony after the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk”, according to Catino. Grab a wood-fired pizza and a beer downstairs during the early-evening happy hour, or head up to the rooftop bar where you’ll enjoy views across the ocean.

The Lord Dudley Hotel

Bar, Pub, Beer, Pub Grub, $$$
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Taking pride of place on a street corner in the residential neighbourhood of Woollahra is The Lord Dudley, an English-style pub that’s been supplying British immigrants with a taste of home since the late 19th century. An ivy-covered red-brick exterior leads the way to a small warren of rooms filled with dark wooden bars, local and British beers and evidence of the pub’s long history hung up on the walls. Stroeve calls it “the best pub in Sydney, hands down. Old regulars out the front drinking beers, a solid gastropub menu and a warm fireplace.” What more could you want?
These recommendations were updated on November 29, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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