One of the things we love about our favourite city in Australia is the Sydney small bar scene. The abundance of small bars that have flourished since new liquor licensing laws in 2008 have revitalized the city’s drinking scene. With their owners often found behind the bar, each has its own distinct character, atmosphere and style, and an intimacy the old pub bars didn’t have.
The sheer number of watering holes can make selecting a spot to sip overwhelming for visitors to the city, so we consulted Daniel Knight, owner of Hinky Dinks, one of our favourite bars, for a local guide to the Sydney small bar scene.
Q. What makes Sydney’s small bar scene so special?
A. Essentially it is the newness and the fervour with which it has been embraced. Four years ago we didn’t have any small bars. Now they are like mushrooms. It’s a bit like the café boom of the ’90s. But even with all this expansion and jostling for position there is still this surging current of community that keeps carrying the movement forward. Customers, operators and staff all have this feeling that they belong to something more important. And with each new venture striving to make its own mark on the scene there is this incredible concentration on improvement. Drinks have got better, decor has got better, food has got better, service has got better, concepts have got better, unique ideas have got smarter. It’s a great time to drink in Sydney, that’s for sure.
A. Fortunately there aren’t too many places that adhere to a strict dress code in Sydney anymore except those big soulless venues that used to define our city. But I think it’s just like being a stranger in any city with good bars. Treat your bartender with courtesy and respect and they will guide you to where is good and where you need to be.
Q. Best time to hit Sydney’s small bars?
A. It depends on the experience you’re looking for. If you want the hum and buzz of a busy bar go late. But if you want to spend a little time being guided through the menu and sampling the best of the food, drinks and service then go early and get chatting to the bar staff while they have the time.
Q. Your favourite small bars?
A. Love Tilly Devine – the wine list is outstanding, the food is perfect for grazing, and Matt’s knowledge and service are top notch. This is the bar I’d love to own if I didn’t own Hinky Dinks! Buffalo Dining Club – the food is amazing, the wine is outstanding and the vibe in there is so fun. The Wine Library – where else can you talk the bar staff into selling you a glass of DRC?! (EDIT: That’s Domaine de la Romanée Conti).
Q. Best bars for old-fashioned cocktails?
A. Eau de Vie – order anything classic; it will be perfect. That is what they do. Hinky Dinks – I know I should say something else, but… I would just be feigning politeness. The Victoria Room – ask Luke to make you a Last Word. He loves his Chartreuse!
Q. Best bars for new-style cocktails?
A. I only drink classics. Liquid Nitrogen scares me. But I know they love it at The Roosevelt and Zeta Bar. And they know what they are doing too! I would trust them if I wasn’t so set in my ways!
Q. Best bars if you also want to eat?
A. Wine Library – order the black truffle and stracchino quessadilla. Buffalo Dining Club – try the buffalo mozzarella! Barrio Chino — the tuna tostada.
Q. Best bar for a solo traveller who wants to sit at the bar and chat to the bartender or read a book?
A. Hinky Dinks is great for that. I get a lot of solo flyers and I can always make space at the bar, particularly early in the week. We have a lot of locals who call us their office because it’s a great place to escape the distractions of home.
Q. Does Sydney have a quintessential must-try drink?
A. That is the great thing about this burgeoning small bar culture. There are so many must try drinks that it’s hard to keep up!
Q. Best Sydney souvenir for a barfly?
A. A leather coaster from The Corner House in Bondi.
Here’s the details of our favourite bars in the Sydney small bar scene:
185 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst
02 8084 6379
Love Tilly Devine
91 Crown Lane, Darlinghurst
02 9326 9297
Tue-Sat 5pm-12am, Sun 4pm-10am
Buffalo Dining Club
116 Surrey Street, Darlinghurst
02 9332 4052
The Wine Library
18 Oxford Street, Woollahra
02 9360 5686
Mon-Sat 11.30am-11.30pm, Sun 11.30-10pm
Eau de Vie
229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
0422 263 226
The Victoria Room
235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
02 9357 4488
Tue-Thur 6pm-12am, Fri 5pm-2am
Sat 12pm-2am, Sun 12pm-12am
32 Orwell Street, Potts Point
0423 203 119
Mon-Sat 5pm-12am, Sun 5pm-10pm
Hilton Hotel, Level 4
488 George Street, Sydney
28-30 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
02 8021 9750
Tue-Thur & Sun 5pm-12pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-3am