Your guide to some of Sydney’s best kept boozy secrets…
Sydney is jam-packed full of funky little bars, hiding down deceptively “empty” alleyways or slyly disguised as something else. In fact, they play such an impressive game of hide and seek that most people don’t know they exist. But don’t worry, here at The Newsroom, we’ve got your back. We went out hunting to bring you the best that Sydney has to offer, and we delivered.
The secret entrance to Baxter’s Inn
Head down a dark, damp alleyway, through a rusty metal door, and descend into a grimy spiralling stairwell, and you will find something unexpected – a retro underground whiskey bar, with so many bottles they are stacked all the way to the ceiling, making the top shelf accessible via an old school moving library ladder perched in the centre of the shelf.
If you’re not a whiskey fan, it’s OK – one of their specialty drinks is a mix of vodka and freshly juiced apples, which is both incredibly tasty and healthy, if you don’t ask questions. Since this counts as your daily fruit intake, it can be justifiably paired with a lovely little bowl of pretzels, which you’ll find in the centre of every table. Once you have one of these salty snacks there is no going back, because nothing can beat a place that feeds you for free. To get a seat (and avoid a queue), I recommend getting there no later than 8pm.
Price: Mid range – expensive
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 4pm-1am
Location: Basement 152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000
The hidden stairwell to Grandma’s Bar
This sneaky little bar, hiding below a guitar lounge, took a lot of determination and patience to find, but trust me it’s worth it. Heading down into this basement bar the nostalgia strikes, as your 8-year-old self passes the crotchet decorating the walls of your grandmother’s house.
Onwards to the bar. The memory erasing effects of the oversized and high strength rum-based cocktails keep this sentimental feeling evergreen, to the point where you’re essentially just a goldfish, perpetually happy to take another loop round the bowl.
Soft candlelight illuminates the bar, creating an almost sensual ambience, which (mixed with a bit of liquid courage) makes for the perfect first date. However, intoxicated people and loud music combined in such a small area can make small talk a bit of a challenge.
Price: Mid range
Opening hours: 3pm till late Monday-Friday, 5pm till late Saturday
Location: Basement 275 Clarence Street, Sydney NSW 2000
The Barber Shop
This Sydney bar takes the saying ‘work hard and play hard’ very seriously. By day, The Barber Shop is a fully functioning barber, offering grooming services inspired by the classic early 1900’s gentleman. This is achieved through the use of vintage tools, designed to trim your whiskers with absolute precision.
By night, the Gatsby-style montage continues as the lights are dimmed and gin is served. The Barber Shop by night offers an extensive range of gin, cocktails and, as printed on the menu, a broad range of base spirits “just incase and God forbid you don’t like gin”. Regardless of what you choose, I can guarantee that it will go down just fine with one of The Barber Shop’s famous cheese plates by its side.
Price: Mid range – expensive
Opening hours: Mon-Tue 4pm-midnight, Wed-Fri 2pm-midnight, and Sat 5pm-midnight
Location: 89 York St, Sydney NSW 2000
As you walk down the small wooden staircase to this Caribbean-themed rum bar, what you will see is a room fit for fine dining. Candles burn in the centre of a small polished table, surrounded by decorative cushioned chairs. With an amazing selection of rum to choose from, the cocktail list is constantly being updated.
One to try now is the “Castro’s Sour”, a twist on the classic rum sour with hints of almond and chocolate for a unique blend. If you’re a bit of a health nut, the “squashed for thyme” cocktail is designed specifically for you, made with pumpkin lemonade and fresh lemon juice to taste.
As the rum starts to go to your head, it might be time to order some of the delicious food to soak it up… wouldn’t want to burn out too soon. I recommend trying the crispy, flaky empanadas, which you can fill with beef, chicken or corn.
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 4pm-midnight, Fri 2pm-midnight, Sat 4pm-midnight
Location: Basement Lot 1, 209 Clarence St, Sydney NSW 2000
The alleyway entrance to Papa Gedes Bar
Inspired by the voodoo practices of Haiti and New Orleans, Papa Gedes is one of Sydney’s most unique hidden gems.
If the name Papa Gedes does not sound familiar, you may know it by another name: the absinthe bar (queue the menacing music). The staff will present you with your shot, and place it underneath a miniature tap and a wire mat, with a sugar cube on top. Water is dripped through the sugar cube, which gradually melts into the drink and makes it tolerable, maybe even tasty for some.
The friendly staff will guide you through the extensive list of Tiki style cocktails… but be wary of their recommendations, they are often absinthe-based and are likely to leave your head swimming in a sea of disorientation and trust issues.
A must try is the Hemingway daiquiri, which is sweet yet strong, and is presented to you in a funky Tiki head cup, topped with a flaming half lime.
Price: Moderate to expensive
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 4pm-midnight, Sat 5pm-midnight
Location: Laneway, 346-348 Kent St, Sydney, NSW 2000 – Photos by Ben Atkinson-James, story by Holly Cormack
Top photo by Ben Atkinson-James.