If you can find their entrances, the best hidden bars in Sydney beg you to let your hair down.
Quirky decor, legendary cocktails and an air of exclusivity the bigger hitters couldn’t possibly replicate. The hidden bars of Sydney offer sexy sanctuaries, and half the fun comes in trying to spot them. Playing home to a truly local crowd of after-dark revellers, our favourite secret spots are worth your efforts. Presenting your access-all-areas ticket to every one of them.
1. Employees Only, Sydney’s CBD
Best for: Cutting loose at after-work drinks.
From the owners of the legendary New York bar of the same name, the attention to detail at Employees Only is incredible. From top-notch staff and ultra-swish interior design to the fabulous drinks, snacks and dinner menu, it’s all outstanding. There are even lockers to recharge your devices. To find its entrance, look for the red neon ‘Psychic’ sign and head down the opulent black and golden staircase to the tarot card reader before turning right.
Settle in among the cool crowd, get pampered by the staff, visit the resident psychic and jump up for spontaneous boogies when burlesque dancers hit the bar top. The cocktails are all excellent including a traditional Manhattan and sweet tooths can’t go past the Amelia – Wyborowa vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur shaken with fresh lemon and puréed blackberries.
Drink up at Employees Only after a long day at work.
Address: 9A Barrack Street, Sydney
2. Mjølner, Redfern
Best for: A get-together with friends.
Push through the hefty wooden door and head down a darkened staircase. From Norwegian-born Sven Almenning and The Speakeasy Group behind some of the country’s chicest small bars, this Viking-inspired bar is like a decadent, secret cave. Mjølner references the hammer of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, and the decorations include replica Viking swords and weapons. If you look carefully, a skeletal hand of a victim may even pop out of a corner.
Candles, wooden seating and brick walls merge classy contemporary with a Nordic niche. And while there’s a restaurant, the speakeasy bar entirely satisfies alone with over 400 whiskies and bar snacks including a delicious cured salmon and an intense roast bone marrow. Ask one of the bartenders to mix you up a Battle Axe V3 with woodchip-infused Dewars scotch, maple and shiraz reduction and bitters.
Address: 267 Cleveland Street, Redfern
3. Shady Pines Saloon, Darlinghurst
Best for: Date night drinks before dinner.
Welcome to the Wild West. At Shady Pines Saloon, you can bump into all types of locals and internationals. A security guard is the only marker to the entrance on the Woolloomooloo side of Crown Street, behind Oxford Street.
Perch at the bar to chat with the delightful staff and other clientele or grab a table with friends to celebrate the evening, chomping on an endless supply of peanuts under a moose head. Go for one of the very many exceptional beers and wine or pick a freshly squeezed apple juice and whisky (or whatever your poison of choice may be). Swing by on Sunday to catch live music.
Squeeze in Shady Pines Saloon for a celebratory toast.
Address: 4/256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
4. Uncle Ming’s Bar
Best for: Lively drinks over great dumplings.
It’s a seductive scene of red lanterns, tea-light candles, low lighting and steam rising from fresh dumplings on tables in various corners of this hidden space. Enter the stairwell, as if you’re heading to the suit shop, and follow the scent of incense downstairs. It’s date night meets suits and random nightlife adventurers at Uncle Ming’s Bar. Find an intimate table or perch at the bar and chat with the creative cocktail crew. Drink-wise, a Sunday Szech is a standout shaken with Szechuan Mezcal (great name, huh?), Ancho Reyes Verde, pineapple and lime.
Dress up for a Friday night out at Uncle Ming’s Bar.
Address: Lower Ground, 55 York Street, Sydney
5. Stich Bar
Best for: Inventive cocktail catchups with pals.
A classy cocktail bar meets a classic American diner at this hidden bar in Sydney, just up from a seamstress shopfront. Head past the sewing machines and downstairs to find it. There are tables, booths with old newspaper clippings as wallpaper, candles and also a private room. Stitch Bar is good to either get cosy in one of the many darkened corners or banter with locals and staff at the bar. Try their delicious Barry B Bitterman, a concoction of whiskey, Oscar 697 rosso, Campari and honey aged in beeswax-lined bottles.
Address: 61 York Street, Sydney
6. Door Knock
Best for: Crafty takes on classic cocktails.
It’s cosy and cute without being in any way claustrophobic, rather like being in a chic holiday house of a friend’s complete with a fireplace, rugs, couches and lamps. Door Knock‘s mojitos are dang tasty and there’s also a good selection of natural wines.
Walk down the stairs at number 70 and along the long, dark corridor. At the end, you’ll find a door. Knock three times on the brass pineapple…
Address: B2, 70 Pitt Street, Sydney.
7. Palmer & Co
Best for: Meeting somebody new — the vibe is flirty and fun.
You may try to pop into Palmer & Co for ‘one drink’ but you’ll probably end up partying till late. Meet lawyers, locals and tourists at this hidden bar in Sydney. Follow the small black and white P & Co sign with an arrow down the laneway and you’ll find a door with an old fashion lamp lit up outside.
Inside, there are often live swing bands and dancers – watch as you sip and schmooze or join them on the dance floor. For something sweet and smooth try the Sunday Morning which shakes together gin, elderflower, sauvignon blanc, lime, vanilla, orange blossom and prosecco. There’s also excellent charcuterie and yummy black truffle mac and cheese.
Let loose and drink up ’til the wee hours of the morning at Palmer & Co.
Address: Abercrombie Lane, Sydney
8. The Doss House
Best for: Whiskey lovers stinging for the good stuff.
At this sexy old-world whisky and cocktail bar from Irish ex-pats Colm O’Neill and Eoin Daniels, suits and tourists coolly collide. But first, you’ve got to find it. There’s a sign out the front of The Doss House but it looks like it’s for a clothing boutique. Trust us and walk through the building and out the back then turn right and head down the outdoor stairs.
Once you’re there, you’ll see leather couches, candles, old books to browse and a Chinese opium room (sans opium) inspired by the history of the 1844 building. On the weekends, there’s even live music. Once thirst sets in, it’s hard to go past the house speciality. Whiskey even gets its own menu, grouped by regions of origin and also arriving in the shape of beautiful whiskey flights.
The Doss House offers whiskey with a way of stirring your senses. (Image: Destination NSW)
Address: 77/79 George Street, The Rocks
9. The Swinging Cat
Best for: Great tunes and great get-togethers.
Inspired by New Orleans’ French Quarter, The Swinging Cat is decked out with wooden floors, low couches, cushions and some greenery. To find it isn’t easy though. At ankle height, the windows go either unnoticed or seem to reveal a tiny venue not worth investigating but head towards the Subway fast food joint and turn left down the stairs.
Blues music provides a killer backing for inspired conversations with dates or friends. All it misses for total transportation is a live Dixieland or blues band. Don’t miss The Royale for a hit of sweetness. Vodka, white chocolate liquor, passionfruit, vanilla, egg white and lemon.
Grab a drink with your mates at The Swinging Cat.
Address: 44 King Street, Sydney
10. Old Mate’s Place
Best for: A first date.
Take the lift to the fourth floor at 199 Clarence Street, smile at the security guy and say ‘old mate’ to him. He’ll appreciate the effort and it will get you through the front doors of Old Mate’s Place. Inside, you’ll spy a large room with dramatically high ceilings, old books and memorabilia, hanging plants, chandeliers and candles.
More often than not, it’s going to be in full swing. If you’re early, head up to the small rooftop to grab a table to enjoy the city skyline. On a quieter hour of the night, get cosy on a couch and browse the bookshelf. The cocktail list is ever-evolving however a rum and coconut is never a bad idea.
See the city from the rooftop, or get cosy inside Old Mate’s.
Address: Level 4/199 Clarence Street, Sydney
11. The Cumberland, Manly
Best for: An exceptional change of scenery on the other side of the Harbour Bridge.
Don’t you love the hidden bars of Sydney that really make you work for them? The Cumberland is one of them. Shielded by a fridge door inside a gorgeous duck egg blue painted bodega-style deli, this place is the northern beaches’ best covert watering hole by far.
Head downstairs to the underground drinking den. (Image: The Cumberland)
Walk down the stairs and step inside an incredible fit-out of rich timbers, antique furnishings and touches of marble. There are more than 250 whiskeys to select from, great beers and wines, excellent Champagnes and delicious classic and contemporary cocktails. Explore the ‘Foraged & Found’ portion of the cocktail list for ingredients sourced directly from Manly and its surrounds.
Choose from a wide range of cocktails at The Cumberland.
Address: 17-19 Central Avenue, Manly
12. Earl’s Juke Joint, Newtown
Best for: Party vibes and superb thirst-quenchers.
Talk about good vibes. When we visit Earl’s Juke Joint late on a Friday night, the tables are full and there’s barely any space to stand, even away from the bar. It’s pumping and exactly what a night out in the inner west should look like. Step inside the ‘Betta Meats’ butcher on King Street and brace yourself for expertly shaken concoctions, beers and ciders everyone should be drinking and solid wines. But it’s all about those cocktails and the Bam Bam is a goodie. Blending rum, Brazilian banana liqueur, the deeply complex Amaro Montenegro Liqueur, citrus, coconut-banana foam and other wizardry, it’s dead-set a holiday in your mouth.
Head to Earl’s Juke Joint early to make sure you will get a seat. (Image: Christopher Pearce)
Address: 407 King Street, Newtown
13. Charlie Parker’s, Paddington
Best for: Drinks to keep the good times rolling after dinner.
It’s tempting to stay upstairs and attempt to wrangle a table at Fred’s but heading down the stairs one level below the Paddington restaurant will take you into a very cosy basement bar with serious indulgences of its own. Charlie Parker’s is filled with small tables and housed in exposed sandstone, creating a mysterious den perfect for settling into. Tapping into the best seasonal produce, the cocktails are magic including all your classics plus jazzy masterstrokes including a Watermelon & Cinnamon which blends Hennessy VS, Goldielocks Gin and Choc Mint.
Let the resident bartender mix your choice of cocktail at Charlie Parker’s.
Address: 380 Oxford Street, Paddington
14. Papa Gedes Bar
Best for: An after-work drink before you run for the train.
If the pirate’s life is for you, head straight to Papa Gedes Bar, a cocktail bar specialising in rum and inspired by its namesake voodoo spirit of lust and laughter. What more could you want from a night on the tiles? Find the rocky stoned laneway and look for a candlelit darkened room.
Inside, cocktails are worth exploring in detail if only to marvel at their labels (Sloe News Day is particularly clever). Rest assured, they taste plenty good, too. Food-wise, there are cheap and cheerful spreads and snacks including a traditional ploughman’s platter and spicy pork crackling.
Spice up your night with some rum at Papa Gede’s Bar. (Image: Destination NSW0
Address: 348 Kent Street, Sydney
15. Alice, The Rocks
Best for: Pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks somewhere fancy.
With the slickest of street cred in its corner, Alice, from the team behind Rockpool Bar & Grill and Spice Temple, is a sophisticated hidden bar in Sydney, unlike the rest. Enter through the unmarked gates of the former bond stores on the cobblestoned bit of Argyle Street and head down the dramatic stairs.
Sit back on the velvety couch at Alice, The Rocks. (Image: TFPhoto)
Velvet booths and other plush fabrics, marble and gold accents, rich timber beams and its own VIP area ooze old Hollywood glamour. However, the drinks are fresh and the food is from the guys working with those aforementioned restaurants so expect seriously spectacular spoils. An Alice Spritz, shaking aromatised wine, prosecco and blackberry shrub together, leads a stellar list of boozy creations while Japanese-inspired snacks and pizzas roll out of the kitchen.
Relax with a drink in hand. (Image: TFPhoto)
Address: 16 Argyle Street, The Rocks