May 26, 2023
8 mins Read
Here’s a selection of secret Sydney establishments that take pride in their decor, staff and cocktail menus and are great places to let your hair down – once you’ve found the entrance!
From the owners of the legendary New York bar of the same name, with the delicate touch of local Anna Fang, the attention to detail at Employees Only is incredible: from the top-notch staff, to the ultra-swish interior design (Tim Leveson) to the fabulous drinks, snacks and dinner menu. There are even lockers to recharge your devices. Settle in among the cool (but not snobbish) crowd, get pampered by the staff, visit the resident psychic and jump up for spontaneous boogies (live DJ on Friday nights). If you’re there until closing at 3am, a cup of chicken soup is served and a ‘family’ photo taken upstairs.
A Manhattan. Or for those with a sweet tooth, you can’t go past the Amelia – Wyborowa vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur shaken with fresh lemon and puréed blackberries. Divine!
9a Barrack Street, Sydney
Look out for the red neon ‘Psychic’ sign and head down the opulent black and golden staircase to the tarot card reader. Then turn right…
From Norwegian-born Sven Almenning and his Speakeasy Group (Eau de Vie, the Roosevelt), this Viking-inspired bar is like a decadent, secret cave. Mjølner is the hammer of Thor, the Norse god of thunder and the decorations include replica Viking swords and weapons, and if you look carefully a skeletal hand of a victim may pop out of a corner. Candles, wooden seating and brick walls merge classy contemporary with Nordic niche. And while there’s a restaurant, the speakeasy bar is a fine destination in itself.
Ask one of the other expert bartenders to mix you up a Battle Axe V3 with chicory root and walnut-leaf infused bourbon, shiraz, pepper and maple reduction, bitters and beeswax!
There are also over 400 whiskies. Peckish? Bar snacks include delicious cured salmon and an intense roast bone marrow.
267 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Just over 10 minutes walk from Central Station, close to Elizabeth Street… Push through the hefty wooden door and head down the dark staircase…
Welcome to the Wild West. At Shady Pines Saloon, you can bump into all types of locals and internationals. 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…
Freshly squeezed apple juice and whisky (or your spirit of preference).
4/256 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
A security guard is the only marker to the entrance on the Woolloomooloo side of Crown Street, behind Oxford Street.
It’s a seductive scene of red lanterns, tea-light candles, low lighting and steam rising from fresh dumplings on tables in various corners. It’s date night meets suits and random nightlife adventurers. Find an intimate table or perch at the bar and chat with James and the creative cocktail crew. A visit to the toilet delightfully doubles as a Chinese/English lesson with a translation soundtrack.
Taketsuru’s Secret Garden seems appropriate – Taketsuru Japanese whisky, Bulleit Rye whisky, Grand Marnier, Cynar, fresh rosemary, cardamom and bitters.
LG, 49 York Street, Sydney
Need to buy a new shirt? Or to seem like you are? Enter the stairwell at 55 York Street – as if you’re heading for the suit shop – and follow the scent of incense downstairs towards Uncle Mings…
A classy cocktail bar meets American diner. There are tables, booths with old newspaper clippings as wallpaper, candles and also a private room. Stitch is good to either get cosy in a corner or banter at the bar.
Try its tasty version of the rum Manhattan – the Smoke Signal. Flor de Cana 7 rum, sweet vermouth, toasted pecans Pedro Ximenez and dashes of mezcal and hellfire bitters.
61 York Street, Sydney
Just up from Uncle Mings is a seamstress shopfront. Head past the sewing machines and downstairs for a stitch in time!
It’s cosy and cute without being in any way claustrophobic. Rather like being in a chic holiday house of a friend with fireplace, rugs, couches and lamps.
Door Knock‘s mojitos are pretty tasty, and there’s also a good selection of natural wines.
B2, 70 Pitt Street, Sydney
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…
You may try to pop into Palmer & Co for ‘one drink’ but you’ll probably end up partying till late. Meet lawyers, locals and internationals. 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 Bloomsday – Absolut Elyx vodka, sake, elderflower, cucumber, grapefruit, lemon sherbet and egg whites. Or Champagne may be in order.
Abercrombie Lane, Sydney
Follow the small black and white P & Co sign with an arrow down the laneway to the door with an old fashion lamp lit up outside…
At this sexy old-world whisky and cocktail bar from Irish ex-pats Colm O’Neill and Eoin Daniels, suits and tourists coolly collide. There are leather couches, candles, old books to browse and a Chinese opium room (sans opium) inspired by the history of the 1844 building. On Sundays, it hosts live Irish music jams from 6pm for a whole different vibe.
My Name Is Earl is a tasty refreshing original with Earl Grey-infused gin, peach aperitif, orange marmalade, fresh lemon, basil and egg white. This is also an appropriate place to brood over a Japanese whisky then confide your secrets to a stranger…
77/79 George Street, the Rocks
There’s a sign out the front but it looks like it’s for a clothing boutique. Walk through the building and out the back then turn right and head down the outdoor stairs.
Inspired by New Orleans’ French Quarter, the Swinging Cat is decked out with wooden floors, low couches, cushions and some greenery. Blues music provides a nice backing for inspired conversations with dates or friends. All it misses for total transportation is a live Dixieland or blues band.
How about a refreshing Rue Royale? Vodka, passionfruit, salted caramel, vanilla, apple and lemon.
44 King Street, Sydney
At ankle height, the windows go either unnoticed or seem to reveal a tiny venue not worth investigating. However head towards the Subway fast food joint and turn left down the stairs.
Level 4/199 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Take the lift to the fourth floor. Smile at the security guy and say ‘Old Mate’: he’ll open the door…
A beautiful large room with dramatically high ceilings, old books and memorabilia, hanging plants, chandeliers and candles is likely to be in full swing. If you’re early, head up to the small rooftop to grab a table to enjoy the city skyline, or just dive into the crowd. On a quieter hour of the night, get cosy on a couch and browse the bookshelf.
Ooh, there are many – and the Old Mate’s Place cocktail list is ever evolving – but a rum and coconut could be in order here.
Sydney's dining scene is world-class and picking the best restaurants is no easy feat. The dining landscape in Sydney is vast, varied and constantly ...
There’s no shortage of things to do in Australia. If anyone knows that, it’s us… As the holiday season comes to a close, it can be a little har...
With Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, there sure is no shortage of things to do in Australia during the festive season. With such a...
There’s no shortage of things to do in Australia. If anyone knows that, it’s us… However with such a breadth of things going on around the coun...
For the best travel inspiration delivered straight to your door.$29.95
Love it… Awesome to read about these bars, hope to visit a few asap, when the borders open again. It takes toooo long, miss you Sydney