With spirits and cocktails influenced by global trends and bar scene is evolving continuously, Sydney is the second party capital in Australia with its, speak easy vibe. We see bars as restaurants, pubs which are cocktail bars and restaurants that serve up some stellar creations. When you think Sydney, you imagine opulence, grandeur and good time. You expect a certain level of class and sassy feel with a hint of luxury and rightfully so, you will not be disappointed. What you are awarded as an unexpected addition to all this, are delightful; stories of conceptualisation, waiting to unfold as each space boasts of a rich vibrant heritage and culture with modern twist attached to adapting to the present day.
The bar scene is vibrant, while Sundays tend to be rather quiet days, the pace picks up from Tuesday & most bars are busy from Wednesday to Saturday. It is a city that loves to drink with happy hour offers in most bars with formally dressed men & women in the evening from 4 pm onwards most days.
Here are a hand-picked few that make the list of must visit watering holes in the city of spirits.
The land down under is known for its craft spirits. They are served up in style at The Grain Bar, Four Seasons which specialises in craft spirits, locally brewed craft beer, modest selection of local and international wines, and their creative twists on classic cocktails at this bar. There is much to choose, from largely organic and biodynamic wines to, classic cocktails like Sloe Gin Fizz or El Diablo which is tequila topped with ginger beer. Also available are exciting range of artisanal beers, including the eponymous GRAIN lager.
With a flourishing small bar scene, to add to this modest list is Sydney’s latest hospitality venue, Old Mates Place, a hidden rooftop bar. Quaint space, littered with early edition antique books, décor in spired to give it a look of an abandoned gentleman’s club. Cocktails are unique and innovative, Retox, a combination of activated charcoal, coconut sugar, dehydrated basil, rye and Amaro; Fog Tai, inspired by Mai Tai and Fog Cutter; and Pistacia, combining rum, Manzanilla sherry, orgeat-like syrup with lemon, grape, rhubarb and pistachio poured over a block of ice and an aromatic lemon thyme garnish.
A special mention for Baxter’s Inn, which is quaint version of a whisky library with the backlit wall of whisky, accessible only by library ladders. The admirers queue up right till the next block to get an entry. The menu board boasts of every Islay, Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands and Campbelltown distillery you can think of along with Japanese and Australian spirits, and blends. When considering Dram nation, whisky is always in demand. Hidden bars are creating their prominent presence, now longer are the discerning city drinkers looking for fancy night out joints. Concealed in a basement is Burrows Bar, an escape from the bustle and chaos of the city. Whether your preference is a cocktail, craft beer, finest collection luxury brands, or a humble glass of wine, every visit is an experience.
Speaking of experience, Websters signature bar is an astounding discovery. What started as a journey with only 128 whiskys, is a proud boast of over 600 in just 2 years ranging from rare to unreleased and exclusive drams. Especially crafted cocktails, internationally renowned Belgian beers, unique wines from the valley region, this bourbon bar & grill is the perfect place for spectacular stories. Entry level is a rustic street bar, a tribute to 1950’s Industrial era, wooden and brick interiors, antique lighting, and a select collection of hand-picked curios from the outback, the bar is a comfortable day space, and come Friday transforms into a thriving evening haunt.
Then there is Uncle Ming’s, an opium den inspired cocktail, Japanese whisky and rice beer bar. As the legend goes, Uncle Ming was one of Shanghai’s most notorious figures – who began a life of crime as a policeman collecting protection money from local opium traders. Having to leave China, he settled in Sydney in the 1920’s and set up this place for the local community to sip and bite. This bar has an extensive mix of classics and Asian inspired innovative cocktails with freshest ingredients, their collection of Whisky has the most rare and unique Japanese Whiskies. From rice lagers to Uncle Ming’s unique brews, the list has been carefully selected to showcase the best of Asian brewing. Their expert bartenders will surely find a taste to suit your palate!
Predominantly being a wine & beer country, spirits, be it dark & white, are popular here. While whisky has always been a preferred choice with growing awareness of New World Whisky, there has been an increasing focus on rums, tequila, mezcals and gins in the recent past. There is a true craving for more, but I have found almost all events need some whisky focus to bridge the gap. An extremely popular format is Whisky to Rum or Whisky to Brandy / Cognac or Boilermaker Whisky and Beer Pairings.
Being in southern hemisphere, with opposite seasons, Sydney never stops enjoying a good drink. However, wine & beer is consumed more than other spirits in spring-summer & autumn-winter is usually considered the best season to drink whisky & other dark spirits. This however, is changing with increase in cocktail culture, global influences, botanical spirits and local tipples.
Sydney is a beautiful mix of sassy as well as most humble. Modest and unassuming haunts such as Bulletin Place first opened its doors to public 2012, structured out of a Japanese noodle joint, renovated by the owner bartenders. The bar is a 45-seater room, one of Australia’s most awarded-ever bars recognised across the world for the quality of drinks, and the vibe. Be it their ever-evolving cocktail recipes, or the freshly brewed local beers and wines, Bullet Place promises to have your palate satiated. This little DIY attic proudly boasts the city’s best fruit inspired, seasonal cocktail menu. Our favourites are The Raspberry Calling which is somewhat a blushing Martini with Gin, dry sherry, lemon juice and bitters with bursting flavours from fresh berries and Rhuby Tuesday that is a perfect melange of rhubarb and Cognac and elevates the flavour lemon and triple sec.
Right in the heart of Sydney, we have The Barber Shop, which offers a range of professional grooming services for the discerning uber men during the day. At nightfall, it is modestly lit to become a parlour entrance to discover a hidden treasure reminiscent of a small, classic European bar that tips the hat to vintage British history. Their first-class Cocktail Bar houses the most extensive range of Gin ‘new and old’, specially crafted cocktails, boutique-bottled beers and artisanal spirits, plus a great selection of Australian and European wines. The cocktails indulge you and the ambience is a perfect balance of style and class, befitting the aura.
Aside from the classy fitouts and the conceptualisation of originality in the cocktails, what catches my interest is the level of detailed attention right from ambience that grabs you the minute you step in these bars. In a city where rum was once the main currency, it is no wonder that drinking plays a big part in the social scene here– whether it’s drinking up their favourite beer at the beach, post work catch-ups with colleagues or warming up for a night on the town with mates. As the journey unfolded, I realised that every place carries its own charm with the crazy concoctions of cocktails that satiate your palate and yet, leave you craving for more.
With a vast variety of local and luxurious spirits to choose from, the city has firmly established itself as a mandatory halt on the travellers list. There are plenty of choices in drinking establishments, one needs to travel here to discover its manifold personality.
Slainte and enjoy responsibly!