Top picks: Sydney’s best cocktail bars to visit 2021

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Sydney's Top Cocktail Bars
📷 Ash E.

Is it just me or does it feel like summer is starting to slip away just as people are feeling comfortable with the idea of going out on the weekends again? Well, just because the weather may be changing, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be killer places to enjoy a cocktail (or three) at some of the best spots in and around Sydney. We, locals, know that we are spoiled for choice when it comes to world-class venues and beautifully balanced drinks. But, if you need some inspiration on where to try your next delicious creation, perhaps start with the below list!

Note, these are unusual times, so check the venues for updated opening hours.

Charlie Parker’s 
By now you may be familiar with the Merivale farm-to-table restaurant Fred’s, but did you know about the killer cocktail venue nestled directly underneath? Cue Charlie Parker’s, one of the more recent additions to the hospitality powerhouse. Here you will find a team that is all knowledgeable in their own right on all things bartending and a rotating drinks menu driven by produce in season and the availability of ingredients at the time. The result is a tight-knit and efficient bar in a deeply intimate setting. What may surprise you is that there are no cocktail names on the menu, instead, you will find a list of ingredients to emphasize what is being used in season.

380 Oxford Street, Paddington NSW 2021
+61 2 9114 7332
Wed, Thu, Sun: 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat:4pm-12am

Ramblin Rascal Tavern
In the unsuspecting corner of Park and Elizabeth Street, there is a staircase tucked behind a door that you wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed it out to you. Marked by three skulls on the signage, you enter through the door and are welcomed by the house rule of “Don’t be a dick”. Ramblin Rascals somehow manages to combine speakeasy, grungy and high-class cocktail vibes all into one tight package. This place is full of attitude, in all the right ways, slinging whatever drink takes your fancy at the time. Can’t decide? The team here is quick to make a recommendation to help you get the party started.

Nick’s pick: If you can sneak out mid-week, it is worth coming here on a Thursday where live music plays from 8pm onwards. If cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s an odd sense of fun taking a gamble of the “shit tinny” eski behind the bar and seeing whatever gets handed to you.

Basement/60 Park St, Sydney NSW 2000.
bailey@ramblinrascal.com
Mon-Wed: 4pm-12am, Thu: 4pm-2am, Fri: 12pm-2am, Sat: 4pm-2am

Archie Rose
More of a destination and experience rather than a cocktail bar, the flagship venue for the popular Australian Distillery is a Sydney must-see. The rotating drinks list heroes the awarded spirits showing the full journey all the way from the still to the first sip. Here not only can you taste the core Archie products, but also taste world-class spirits from all across the globe. The team here takes hospitality seriously and that is apparent as soon as you step past the welcoming wall of aging whisky casks. It is almost as if you are being welcomed into a friend’s neighbourhood home, but you have a choose your own adventure style of what type of party its going to be.

Nick’s pick: Sometimes we can’t stay out as much as we would like to but one of the unique factors of the Archie Bar and Distillery location is their fully operational cellar door which gives you the option to take home a range of spirits as well as cocktails that are prepped and ready to go. 

Why don’t you make a day of it and book one of the many masterclasses held at the original distillery location?

85 Dunning Ave, Rosebery NSW 2021
+61 2 8405 7420 | info@archierose.com.au
Tue: 4:30pm-10:30pm, Wed-Fri: 4:30pm-11:30pm, Sat: 12pm-11:30pm, Sun: 12pm-10pm.

Surly’s
Are travel restrictions getting you down? Did you know that Sydney had its own piece of Nashville right in the heart of Surry Hills? Putting themselves out there as “everybody’s favourite all-American Tavern”, Surly’s brings the quintessential American bar experience to you which allows you to be transported somewhere else, at least for a little while. Serving everything you could think of for classic USA, you can expect a wide range of bourbons and American spirits. Take your friends to the upper level and challenge them to a game of shuffleboard or any of the other retro games available. Not to mention the barbecue that comes out of the smoker imported directly from Missouri.

Nick’s pick: Having spent a considerable amount of time in the United States, this is the go-to spot to scratch the saucy barbecue itch. The full experience comes in the form of Surly’s Bottomless BBQ.

182 Campbell St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 9331 3705 | info@surleys.com.au
Wed-Thu: 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sun: 12pm-late

Cantina OK!
Why is it that all the best drinks are always found at the end of a dark alley? The ominous glow that emanates from the space tucked between the unassuming corporate buildings almost seems like a portal to a faraway land. As you come closer, you will see the smallest of venues with the largest mezcal choice around. Cantina OK! transports you out of the concrete jungle and directly to the far-reaching corners of Mexico. Considering that the ice comes from a manually operated Nepalese ice machine, here it seems that the cocktail approach shows that fresh is best.

Council Place, Sydney, NSW 2000
more@cantinaok.com.au
Tue-Sat: 5pm-12am, Sun: 5pm-11pm

Maybe Sammy
Most of the spots on this list take you on a journey to faraway places, but what if you were to step into a time machine instead? Maybe Sammy draws its unique flavour from glamourous fifties Hollywood. Here you can clearly see that when classics are done right, the style is timeless. Coming here you will understand quickly why this cocktail lounge has been one of the most recognised venues in Sydney as of late, winning titles such as Number 11 in the list of “World’s 50 Best Bars” and Michter’s Whiskey Art of Hospitality Award for 2020.

Nick’s pick: Sometimes I want to try as many cocktails as possible at a bar, but get a little worried about having to be carried out of the venue by the end of my time. Maybe Sammy has a great option for trying as many drinks as possible in the form of “The Minis”. These are a selection of their classic cocktails in a more consumable scaled-down version, now it seems that making my way through the menu isn’t so daunting.

It would be a lost opportunity not to mention the attention to detail given to the list of coffee cocktails, with everything roasted in-house. These have gained such popularity that the cocktail lounge has a much-anticipated sister venue focussed solely on their approach to the velvety brew and mini cocktails.

115 Harrington Street, The Rocks, NSW 2000
+61 2 9241 4970 | cocktails@maybesammy.com
Wed-Thu: 4:30pm-12am, Fri-Sat: 4:30pm-1am

Bulletin Place
If anything, this list will have you well acquainted with the side streets of Sydney. At least the clue to this venue’s location is in the name itself and is behind yet another non-descript brown door between the hustle of the surrounding restaurants. Bulletin place laid the groundwork for creativity and cocktails in Sydney as one of the first venues to be recognised within “The Worlds 50 Best Bars”  starting in 2012 and still holds spot 39. What makes the space so great is the ever-changing daily cocktail menu which is displayed on brown parchment paper with a different team member taking the lead on the creative influence. Using things that are available and in season, it is worth coming back time and time again.

Nick’s pick: Due to the location proximity to Circular Quay, this is my go-to spot for a pre-dinner cocktail if I am in the city.

L1, 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney 2000
+61 2 8069 5433 | info@polysurryhills.com.au
Tue-Thu: 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sat: 5pm-12am

Old Mate’s Place
This spot was already mentioned in our Top Picks for Sydney’s Best Rooftop Bars and while the skyline atmosphere may be the drawcard, it is the skill of the team and the selection of cocktails that will be the reason you stay. The lively bartenders here are all about a good time and will make sure you know it. Providing anything from the classics to their own extensive list of liquid joy, the whole package is here from the memorable sunsets just as the night starts to the high-class service you receive as soon as you enter.

Level 4, 199 Clarence St, Sydney NSW 2000
| seeyou@oldmates.sydney
Tue-Thu: 4pm-2am, Fri: 12pm-2am, Sat-Sun: 2pm-2am

Duke of Clarence
As far as alley haunts go, Clarence Street has the motherload. The first of which is the recreated mid-1800’s English tavern. The Duke welcomes you with a homely warmth as you take in the detailed wooden accents of the settings around you. Easily you can find yourself lost in conversation by the fireplace while sipping a carefully crafted tipple.

Nick’s pick: More than drinks, there is a major recognition of the food menu here at The Duke. Sundays, in particular, are sought after for the famous Sunday Roasts.

Laneway, 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8999 3850 | contact@thedukeofclarence.com
Tue-Wed: 12pm-11pm, Thurs: 12pm-12am, Fri-Sat: 12pm-2am, Sun: 12pm-8pm.

The Barbershop
The second stop in the Clarence St. alley treasure chest just happens to be the sibling of the Duke of Clarence next door. Though the full experience comes through the entrance on York St. as you shuffle past the entrance through the Barbers on display, casually tending to the needs of the everyday gentleman. Once you slide open the metal door you will be welcomed with a selection of over 700 gins that can be used in any way you see fit.

89 York St, Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9299 9699
Thu-Fri: 5pm-12am, Sat: 3pm-12am, Sun: 3pm-10pm

The Baxter Inn 
We would be amiss to not mention a venue that has now become synonymous with the Sydney cocktail scene. It just so happens that Baxter’s completes the trifecta of the Clarence St. hidden gems. Having recently been granted the license to be open late every day, this famed whisky watering hole can now suit your cocktail needs any time of the week.

Basement 152-156 Clarence St, Sydney NSW 2000
pretzels@thebaxterinn.com
Mon-Sun: 4pm-3am

Papa Gede’s  
By now you can see that Sydney’s cocktails can take you across the sea, to another time and now, to the supernatural. This comes in the form of the voodoo-inspired tiki lounge. Serving up signature spirits in a fun and laid-back fashion, the eclectic atmosphere creates an environment that is both inviting and mysterious. Choosing from the many pages of the cocktail menu, the in-house bitters and signature recipes display tiki in a way that is uniquely Sydney.

Nick’s pick: This is one of the few places in the city to explore the world of absinthe. The crew here will be more than happy to show you many different serving styles to explore.

Rear 348 Kent St, Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9299 5671 | drink@papagedes.com
Mon-Thu: 4pm-12am, Fri: 4pm-2am, Sat: 5pm-2am

ps40
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, one of the biggest innovators to the recent wave of Sydney’s cocktail venues comes in the form of a soda factory. With the co-founder’s history of established pedigree (including the involvement of more than one bar on this list), if you keep your eyes peeled around the city you will more than likely run into some PS Soda. That being said, the real fun starts when you see the taps in action, each one playing a prominent role in the hard-hitting cocktail list. Working on pushing flavour boundaries, everyone here understands just how fun collaboration and experimentation can be.

Shop 2, 40 King St, Sydney NSW 2000
whatsup@ps40bar.com
Tue-Sat: 4pm-12am

Double Deuce Lounge 
The last stop on the cocktail tour transports us back in time again, though to a seemingly surprising era that you wouldn’t think to visit, but will be glad you did. The gents behind Ramblin Rascal’s have seemingly bottled up their attitude from their first venue and have turned that energy to a ’70s Porn Chic’ style lounge complete with a “kissing booth”. What may seem to be an out-of-place theme, quickly becomes more intoxicating and inviting the longer you stay. It really is about the stand-out drinks menu and the not-so-serious demeanor the team provides without forgetting what service is all about.

6 Bridge St, Sydney NSW 2000
Tue-Wed: 4pm-12am, Thu-Sat:4pm-2am

Peg Leg Tavern
The bar’s design and guiding inspiration begins with the first European explorers and spice traders to venture here to Australia. The Dutch, who introduced Europe to sugarcane from Indonesia and commercialized cinnamon from Sri Lanka, nutmeg from Indonesia, who also explored the north, west and south coast of our (not so little) island in 1616 and called it New Holland. 

The British, who arrived in 1770, introduced Australia (as it was later renamed) to Gin, Rum, Port, Sherry, Champagne, IPA’s and Vegemite, all by the happy historical accidents of their extensive nautical adventures.

There is one rule when you arrive at Peg Leg, don’t forget to say greet El Capitán and crew with a solid “arr me matey”. Maybe that’s just me, every time I enter the Pirate Tavern. From blue-hued tropical cocktail, a tiki drink served in a skull, or just a tin of craft beer. You’ll be sure to have a great time here.

11A Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont NSW 2009
info@pegleg.com.au
Mon-Sun: 5pm – 12am

If you know of a great cocktail bar in Sydney, let us know. Would love to check it out and make the list.

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