First published in Live4 June 2013
From lo-fi dive bars to glamorous drinking dens, Sydney’s best types of hedonism are almost small enough to fit in your pocket.
Until recently, Sydney owed its “Sin City” moniker more to sprawling beer barns and heaving nightclubs than the kind of intimate, considered watering holes that make you want to linger. But since the relaxing of the state’s once notoriously tough licensing act a few years back, Sydney’s small bar scene has undergone something of a revolution.
In the last year, the city has given rise to a new wave of drinkeries that couple pocket-sized interiors with oversized thrills – from moody cocktail dens staffed by tuxedoed waiters to back-alley dive bars where the jukebox runs overtime. These are the five small bars you need to know about.
First floor, 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney
If you were putting together a bartending dream team, chances are it would include Tim Philips, Adi Ruiz and Robb Sloan. Between them, the trio has amassed some serious credentials including stints at London’s high-wattage Milk & Honey and Melbourne’s Black Pearl, as well as a World Class Bartender of the Year title. However, Bulletin Place – an understated upstairs bar featuring industrial touches, flawless service and classic cocktails spun out of fresh, seasonal ingredients – is proof of what’s possible when professionalism meets passion.
Rooftop at 56-58 York St, Sydney
Where do you for go for market lobster, dizzying city views and a fitout that’s equal parts glamour and grunge? The latest venture from the minds behind the Newtown Hotel and Sweethearts Rooftop BBQ might have tapped into an unlikely trifecta, but it’s one that somehow works. If you’re a traditionalist, The Rook’s drinks menu is heavy on craft beer, European aperitifs and a classy wine list that includes an Alain Brumont Chateau Montus Madiran and a Stonier 2008 from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
The Midnight Special
44 Enmore Rd, Newtown
This Enmore dive bar is a hit with the locals, thanks to candlelit booths, an endless supply of tinnies and its addictive “not dog” – a vegan-friendly version of comfort food featuring tofu sausage and sauerkraut. It also owes its rock ‘n’ roll vibe to checkerboard tiling and a vinyl habit that spans everything from Johnny Cash to The Smiths. If you’re a control freak when it comes to your Saturday night soundtrack, there’s no need to worry – The Midnight Special welcomes regulars who bring in their own records.
1 Temperance Lane, Sydney
One of the first fixtures on the Sydney small bar circuit, The Grasshopper proves that the original is sometimes still the best. Tucked away at the end of Temperance Lane, this pint-sized basement bar serves up plush seating, vintage-inspired decor and cures to offbeat thirsts – think vodka-and-pomegranate concoctions served up in jam jars and beakers filled with rice wine, port and aperol. If romance wins out over adventure, The Grasshopper is also home to a hidden dining lair dishing out Parisian dinner staples, wine and ambience in spades.
Selby Road Bar
Corner of Elizabeth Street and Redfern Street, Redfern
It’s no secret that bars such as Arcadia Liquors, The Dock and The Fern have made gritty Redfern one of Sydney’s most inspired places to drink. And Selby Road – a low-lit enclave sporting concrete floors, chilli fries and Little Creatures on tap – is an interesting new addition. The space also features a wide balcony made for sipping a Cuba Libre and surveying the foot traffic crossing Redfern Park.