It’s hard to know where to start in a city that sparkles with entertainment options after dark. There’s no shortage of clubs, pubs, big bars and, these days, small bars in Sydney. But if you’re looking for something a little niche, here is our pick of the best. All are conveniently located in the inner city.
Best for cocktails: Eau-de-Vie
If sophisticated, award-winning cocktails are on your radar, then look no further. Eau-de-Vie (www.eaudevie.com.au/Sydney) boasts a stellar line-up of hotshot mixologists working the bar, serving impressive creations in relaxed yet sumptuous surroundings. Grab a spot on a black leather banquette and soak up the jazz soundtrack. Try the unusual Connect Four, a quirky mix of Don Julio Blanco and Campari with mandarin, coconut and a dash of yuzu, or any number of seriously delicious concoctions served in crystal tumblers and Art Deco coupettes.
Best for absinthe: Absinthesalon
Feels a little naughty, doesn’t it? But it’s above board, and hallucination-free. Press the bell to enter a faux Belle Epoque Parisian Absinthesalon (www.absinthesalon.com.au), hidden behind black curtains and hosting 29 different kinds of absinthe, most from Switzerland and France. Waiters deliver a spiel about the potent 45-66% alcohol and guide you through the chemical process of preparation, which is half the fun. The legendary drink of Montmartre artists is indeed very aniseedy, but can have hints of chocolate, coffee and caramel. Sip slowly. Maximum three drinks per person. Reservations recommended.
Best for Italian natural wine: 121 BC
This stylish, dimly lit, corridor-like enoteca specialises in biodynamic Italian wines and really knows its stuff. Prop yourself up at the long communal table at 121 BC (www.121bc.com.au) and peruse the ever-changing blackboard menu, featuring by-the-glass drops from a range of Italian regions. Perhaps you have a thing for Montepulciano reds, or fancy exploring less-renowned wine-growing areas Lazio or Trentino-Alto Aldige? Whether you like your wine with a mineral aspect or full of fruit, you’re sure to find a top drop. If you fancy something to take home, pop next door to the cantina.
Best for tequila: Tio’s Cerveceria
Long and short of it: Tio’s (www.tioscerveceria.com) knows tequila, and with tequila comes a whole lot of fun. Choose your poison from the handwritten drinks menus penned on the back of postcards. There are more than 70 styles of quality tequila, so ask for a recommendation from the amenable staff. If you like it mixed, how about the Herchata Fuerte, with our friend tequila, rice milk, orgeat syrup and cinnamon? Or a fiery jalapeno margarita? Kick back at this chilled cantina-style bar, surrounded by glowing chilli lights, sombreros, kitsch Virgin Mary statuettes and paper lanterns.
Best for whisky: Baxter Inn
Shoot the breeze at lively Baxter Inn (thebaxterinn.com), an underground bar with decor lifted straight from the prohibition era, located through an unmarked door in a hard-to-find back alley in the CBD. Don’t worry, the bouncer is a giveaway. Yes, there’s a big list of craft beer, but the drink that takes centre stage is whisky. You’ll find more than 500 bottles of golden liquid gleaming behind the bar, around 350 of them single malts, the majority of which are imported from the UK. Chatty staff will happily recommend a tipple – perhaps a Scapa single malt from Orkney? Divine.
Best for seasonal drinks: Bulletin Place
In a tiny upstairs bar boasting a shabby-chic layout, a cocktail revolution is underway. Bulletin Place (www.bulletinplace.com) takes a kind of locavore approach to its cocktails, creating recipes based on whatever fresh fruits are available at the market on the day. You’ll find just five cocktails penned on to the butcher’s paper menu behind the bar, but won’t lack for choice: perhaps a nectarine sour with tequila, lime and agave or a Fig Friendly Giant of scotch, lemon, ginger and fresh figs? The cherry on the top is the incredibly friendly, expert and passionate staff.
Best for craft beer: The Local Taphouse
This cool, old-school tavern (www.thelocal.com.au/SYD) has an impressive selection of beers that changes every day or two, and hosts spotlights on different regions and breweries. Most are small, niche microbreweries, and range from local Aussie to Scandinavian. Go for the taster paddle of five 90ml glasses. The hard part will be narrowing your choice. Never tried a quadrupel? Here’s your chance. Why not mix it up with a porter, a dark India saison, a red ale, a pils or a hefeweizen… the list goes on.
Best for wine: Love, Tilly Devine
Tucked down an obscure laneway, this wine bar (lovetillydevine.com) is an industrial-style delight, fused by candlelight and the enthusiasm of its knowledgeable staff. Reading Tilly Devine’s menu is akin to reading a love poem, a narrative tribute to wine in its many splendid colours, textures and varieties. Ever thought chenin blanc was the unpopular kid without a date at the school dance? Or that oft maligned riesling is one of the ‘greatest joys in the known world’? Want to try some funky jura, orange wines, or hear your choice described as ‘vegetably’? Revel in an extensive array of outstanding local and international players.