In the bustling metropolis of Sydney, where iconic landmarks and lively streets often take centre stage, a parallel world of covert drinking dens quietly thrives. Some of these hidden bars are tucked behind unassuming entrances like a barber shop, others accessible only through inconspicuous routes.
Finding them doesn’t require the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes, but you will need to navigate through a labyrinthine of alleyways and find unmarked doors. Don’t worry; we’ll help you. Here’s where you can find Sydney’s best hidden bars.
Photo: The Barber Shop
Behind a wall-sized steel sliding door at York Street’s Barber Shop is a secret bar serving craft cocktails and Australian beer and wines. Enter via the barber shop, which is a little eery at night, but don’t worry, they leave the doors unlocked for a reason, walk up the steel stairs and slide open the door. It’s heavy, so pull hard. Step into a speakeasy, where tea light candles flicker through dim, warm lighting. Pull up a stool or grab a seat on the lounge and hang out. If you’re a gin lover, they have more than 700 to choose from, along with a page-turning list of other spirits. Although the cocktail list is award-winning and it would be a shame not to try one. If you get hungry, there’s a small menu of bar snacks, including cheeseburgers, sausage rolls, and a charcuterie board.
Bar Messenger is Sydney’s newest secret wine bar. To find it, make your way to the Transport House until you come across a large opening. There’s actually a Bar Messenger sign on the sidewalk, so it’s not that hard to find. Once inside, press the gold button and open the wall-sized painting when it buzzes. Behind the painting is another wall lined with paintings of people with animal heads and an Art-deco-inspired bar. Choose from tables and chairs, high stools, a cosy armchair or banquet seating in the corner. The wine menu is as adventurous as the experience, with tipples from New Zealand, France, and of course, an impressive collection of Australian favourites. No speakeasy is complete without a list of classic cocktails, including a Negroni and a Tom Collins. For something to bite, the bar keeps it simple and casual with gruyere cheese toasties, a selection of salumi, and smaller share plates, including a must-devour house-made taramasalata.
Looking for Sydney’s best margarita? It comes from a literal hole-in-the-wall hidden bar the size of a scooter garage. No, you can’t fit a car inside, but you can fit 20 seats and an impressive collection of mezcal, tequila, and a Nepalese ice-carving machine. Seats are hard to come by, but getting your hands on a margarita is easy. They do a weekly special cocktail, which in the past has been made from fig tequila, topped with vanilla whip, or stuffed with coconut jelly. There’s so much to love about this bar, and on any given night, you can find locals sitting on the ground, enjoying a classic Margarita, OK!
Sydney’s original speakeasy, The Baxter Inn is just as busy as the day it opened. Despite being the city’s first speakeasy, people still find it difficult to find. It’s tucked in the basement of a building behind an unmarked alleyway off Clarence Street. Although if you can find The Barber Shop, make your way through the bar, down the back stairs and into the alley, you will find it easily. There’s usually a line to get in. Once inside, settle into the New York-inspired bar, pouring over 800 whiskies and cocktails. There’s even a concealed Whisky Room in the closed-off cellar for the true connoisseurs who want to tantalise their palate with some rare drams.
When it comes to hidden bars in Sydney, there’s nothing more iconic than a night at Old Mate’s Place. Every Sydneysider has a personal anecdote of trying to find this secret bar, and chances are you will too. The sky-high bar is accessed via a discrete ground-level entrance on Clarence Street. There are four flights of concrete stairs that look like a fire stairs stairwell. Once you’ve reached the top, knock on the big wood door and enter Old Mate’s place. Filled with brown-leather booths, bookcases and foliage, you won’t feel like you’re in Sydney anymore. There’s an outdoor area upstairs with views of the city and even more foliage if you need some fresh air, but it’s a small space, so seats are limited. The cocktail menu is also small, with only a handful of craft cocktails, that are well worth the climb. There’s also a range of cheesesteaks to tuck into, whether it’s Philly or spicy chorizo.
Peek behind the old butcher shop facade on King Street to find a lively cocktail bar promising good times. Earl’s Juke Joint channels the juke joints of the Deep South, with photos in frames and posters adorning the walls. The cocktails are seriously good, but the cider and beers also get a good reputation from punters. There are booths, high tables with stools, and the classic bar seat at the bar.
The team behind Earl’s Juke Joint started as Shady Pines Saloon, a taxidermy-filled drinking den with a touch of Nashville-style honky-tonk. The entrance is via a clandestine alley door. There’s no signage, so look carefully, but enjoy the warm atmosphere, dim lighting and bourbon shots once inside. While straight spirits are the preferred drink, the cocktails also have their own fanbase. Cowboy hats top bartenders who flip cocktail shakers filled with everything from gin to white rum and of course, Tennessee whiskey. Watch out for the large moose head.
As the name suggests, you’ll have to knock on the door, but wait, where’s the door? Door Knock is hidden next to a sandwich shop on Pitt Street. Enter via a fire door and follow a long narrow corridor until you come across a pineapple door knocker. Bang it three times, and someone will welcome you in. The wine list leans on biodynamic and minimal intervention drops and is well worth a try. Although Door Knock is known for its dynamic cocktails, such as the Cantaloupe Island and Chloe Amour. As for the food, think mac and cheese croquettes, spiced rubbed chicken wings, and herb-crusted schnitty.
Get sucked into the soul and sheer magic of New Orleans at The Swinging Cat, a small basement bar on King Street. Once underground, the tunes of saxophones and drums suck you in, but it’s the cocktails that will convince you to stay all night. Grab a seat, listen to live music, and enjoy a NOLA-inspired libation, including a whole section dedicated to Sazerac (cognac cocktail). If you get hungry, the bar food menu has all the comfort classics, including pulled pork sliders, chilli bean empanadas, and southern-style popcorn chicken.