Sydney’s infamous lockout laws have been dubbed a “sledgehammer” – to the city’s nightlife, that is. Across town bars have closed, pubs stand empty and dust settles in thick carpets on ex-dancefloors. You can even watch a video of these ghosts, set to haunting music – that’s how sad the decline of Sydney’s nightlife is.
Or is it? Yes, the city has lost such big names as The Flinders Hotel, Soho and Bar Century and once vibrant Kings Cross is but a shadow of its former self, but there are still plenty of bars pouring the pints and shaking the cocktails into the wee hours. Small bars (with a capacity of less than 60 people) are exempt for a start, as are bars and nightclubs outside the lockout zone, which only runs as far south as Central station from the CBD and therefore does not affect Sydney’s latest nightlife hotspot, Newtown.
But now that many big names have closed and Sydneysiders have resigned themselves to more nights at home or at private parties, it does take a little more local knowledge to find a bar with some life in it.
On my most recent trip to Sydney I spent many a night pounding the pavements and propping up the bars in the name of, erm, research. I found plenty of drinking dens open late and lots of chic small bars with a lively crowd looking to sink a few in spite of the new rules. My pick of the best is below, and you can find more of my recommendations on the Pearlshare app, in my guide to Sydney’s best bars.
Italian-owned and Italian to the core, this tucked away wine bar is the place in Sydney to come for wines from the world’s greatest wine producing country. Bottles are stacked ceiling-high in the so-called “bottle shop” to the left of the bar – where you’ll perch to wait for a seat at the table if there’s a queue. Drinkers sit around on large wooden table beneath a chandelier of bright bulbs and staff will help you choose a glass from the list chalked up on the wall.
This lively Newtown bar likes to think of itself as a shot of New Orleans in Sydney and it doesn’t do a bad job of channelling the Deep South vibe. The décor is all dark wood and exposed brick, the bartenders wear braces and the lighting is down and dirty – plus you’ll enter through a fake butchershop façade that gives the whole place a speakeasy-style vibe. Try the Hobo Julep, a heady concoction of bourbon, sugar syrup and mint bitters – and don’t make too many plans for tomorrow.
The Old Clare might be Sydney’s hippest new hotel but it still has a welcoming pub-style bar on its ground floor. Once a sticky floored pub that could only be called a boozer, the Clare today is a chic spot that blends vintage tiled floors and mid-century modern furniture with a contemporary style and on point drinks list – running the gamut from local craft beers on draft to Aussie wines served by both the bottle and glass.
Lobsters, burgers and liquor, what more could you want? A trendy rooftop spot perhaps, with peekaboo views of the cityscape and knowledgeable bar staff who know not to serve certain gins with tonic for fear of ruining them? Those gins number 80 or so and there are plenty of cocktails too – try Pablo’s Garland, a potent combo of gin, liqueur honey, absinthe and citrus. That’ll get the night started. Hit R in the lift at ground level to get up here – and yes, it is in that nondescript looking office building.
This diminutive wine bar in chi chi Paddington chalks up its wines on a blackboard on the wall. It’s a head-spinning list, with plenty of unusual varieties from the Old World of European wines, so it’s best to ask for help with a recommendation. Staff are the friendly sort who will pull up a chair for a quick chat about what you want to order and really know their stuff.
Download the Pearlshare app for iPhone here.