The 7 Best Hidden Bars In Sydney
Because who doesn't enjoy a tucked-away tipple?
Melbourne has traditionally been Australia’s Mecca for out-of-the-way, hidden small bars, but ever since Sydney’s liquor licence laws were relaxed the city’s quickly been playing catch-up, with niche bars popping up all over, from taxidermy-filled dens like Shady Pines Saloon to the near-24-hour rock-star afterparty catered by Frankie’s. On the advice of some of Sydney’s best bartenders and managers, AWOL explored seven bars that are either out of the way, hard to find, or that you may not have heard of. Yet.
#1 The Backbar at Frankie’s
Where: 50 Hunter Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Even if you’ve had many a late night at Frankie’s, it’s almost certain you didn’t know that there’s a meta-as-hell bar-within-a-bar tucked away inside 50 Hunter Street. The Backbar was originally set up as a space for bands to hang out after their sets and for staff to enjoy a sneaky beverage, but it’s now been opened up to punters – if you know how to find it. When you’re in the main room, head past the bar to the fire door to the right of the stage – yes, chill out, it will open and you won’t set an alarm off. Then walk down the flight of stairs and open the door at the bottom, where you’ll find a tiny bar with three booths, bluegrass on the stereo, tinnies on ice and some significantly more secluded inner-sanctum vibes.
#2 The Gretz
Where: 125 Enmore Road, Enmore 2042
Brought to you by the folks behind drool-worthy “dude-food” fine-dining restaurant Hartsyard, this tiny inner-West addition is the namesake of owner Gregory’s great-great-grandfather. The Gretz is an out-of-the-way bar tucked next to a wig shop on Enmore Road. It’s a cocktail bar with a seafood-driven snack menu (think casino clams, house-made salmon jerky and Merimbula rock oysters with Young Henry’s cider and pickled apple and sorrel granita). It’s a first-in-first-served deal, so you may have to wait a while to score a denim covered stool but – like its big brother Hartsyard – it’s worth the wait.
#3 Yulli’s Screening Room
Where: 417 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Sydney food aficionados will likely have been the Crown Street’s uber-popular vegetarian restaurant Yulli’s, but there’s a good chance they’ll have missed the dark, moody cavern hidden on the second floor. To get there you need to basically walk behind the bar and up the narrow stairs to get to the Screening Room, where you’ll often find private short-film and web series screenings or the one a month bluegrass night, along with ever-changing art installations, a menu with a few “upstairs only” food items – mostly steamed or deep-fried – and an extra drinks menu. It’s a bottleless bar so expect your wine, spirits and soft drinks to come from a tap, along with a finely curated selection of craft beers on tap – the non-alcoholic Happy Goblin chilli ginger beer comes highly recommended.
#4 Papa Gede’s Bar
Where: 348 Kent Street, CBD
Part of Sydney’s gradual move to transform the CBD’s laneways from dank, dark trash repositories into vibrant Melbourne-style party hubs, Papa Gede’s is hidden in a laneway around the back of 348 Kent Street. It’s a voodoo-themed tiki bar haunt with occasional comedy shows, and cocktails are their raison d’etre – the list is four pages long, with most of the specialty “herbal elixirs” made onsite. They’ve also got a selection of absinthes served with the traditional sugar-spoon and water fountain set-up, including Marilyn Manson’s absinthe ‘Mansinthe’ which is apparently “actually pretty good”.
#5 Mojo Record Bar
Where: 73 York Street, CBD
Not a huge secret, but if you didn’t know there was a bar hidden behind the door at the back of York Street’s Mojo Record Store, you’d never find it. And you’d be missing out massively, because Mojo’s is one of the best bars in the city. The décor is all art deco red leather banquettes with walls plastered with old vinyl and Bob Dylan and Sonic Youth posters, and the soundtrack is always A-grade. It’s open until 1am from Thursday through Saturday so you might get time to browse for records in the shop before setting up at the bar to knock back whiskey with the bartender (who shouted AWOL a free Sazerac last time we were, so thumbs up to that guy).
#6 Randi Wix
Where: 123 Avoca St, Randwick 2031
Part bar, part disco and part enigma, Randi Wix is a legit dive bar that’s been around forever and yet many people still haven’t heard of it. The Randwick venue experienced a revival in the wake of last year’s lockout laws, with punters flocking there from the city to get in some post-3am drinking. You can’t go past the dodgy carpet and $3 champagne and red cordials; it’s a bar rivalled only by Neutral Bay’s Pickled Possum karaoke dive bar for guaranteeing one of the weirdest nights of your life.
Where: 32 Burton St, Darlinghurst
Inside Darlinghurst’s Commons Local Eating House is one of the city’s absolute finest bars – if you know how to find it. Head down the stairs at the back of the street-level restaurant and you’ll find a tiny speakeasy-style bar that has just enough space for a piano, an occasional jazz two-piece and space for maybe 20 drinkers. The bartenders will make you a damn fine martini or whiskey-based cocktail, and because it’s so small and closes at 2am, it’s one of the only places you get one last nightcap if you’re caught on the wrong side of the dreaded 1.30am Sydney lockout.
(Lead image: Downtown/Facebook)