Whether you like it or not, it doesn’t look like the NSW state government are removing the shackles they first placed on Sydney’s once vibrant hospitality (and hence, tourism) industry in 2014. And while people continue to campaign against the paralysing ‘lockout laws’, it’s looking like adaptation is the best way to go, at least for now.
There’s as least some good news though. The draconian (and nonsense) laws may have seen a noticeable deadening of the energy around the CBD, but the local bar scene is beginning to help rebuild and recapture at least some of that vitality. And Sydney’s cocktail culture is still one of the strongest and most imaginative in the country. This in largely due to fresh new and creative establishments popping up all over the town, some of the best of which have opened within the past few months.
To take stock of some of the top performers in Sydney’s new bar scene, we’ve put together a list of five venues we really think will define 2019 as they settle into their individual grooves, from an extension of New York’s iconic Employees Only, to Chinatown’s first true small bar. Make sure you put these ones on your to-do list as we roll into the new year; with the way the economy is looking, we’re all going to need a good drink or two.
Maybe Sammy (The Rocks)
We’ll kick this list off with the newest entry, and it’s a fine one indeed. As you might be able to tell from its name, Maybe Sammy (Davis Jr) is a new venue from the masterminds behind one of Sydney’s most popular pizza-and-cocktail joints, Maybe Frank (Sinatra). The Surry Hills restaurant has now officially expanded to The Rocks, jumping from one member of the legendary Rat Pack to the next with a bigger focus on the cocktails, led by Australian Bartender of the Year 2017 Andrea Gualdi. You won’t get pizza here though, with the food menu instead opting for bar snacks said to evoke 1950s Hollywood. That certainly works for us, and we’re certain that the team behind some of the best Italian food in the inner-city will be coming through regardless of what’s on the menu.
Address: 111 Harrington Street, The Rocks
Hours: Sunday to Wednesday 4:30pm to 12am; Thursday to Saturday 4:30pm to 2am
Bancho Bar (Chinatown)
Chinatown just got it’s very first laneway small bar: the 100-seater Bancho Bar from the team behind Japanese inspired favourites Osaka Trading Co and Tokyo Bird. And you should already know that it’s quickly become one of Sydney’s best new openings, though that much is unsurprising given the considerable talent behind it, as well as a strong cocktail list making full use of fresh Asian produce from local grocers and markets. It being a Japanese bar, there’s also a big emphasis on quality whiskies, though the stock has moved beyond only drops from Japan and includes expressions from Australia, Scotland, Taiwan as well as a few more spots around the world.
Regulars will be happy to know that there are more than 30 locker spaces on a special mezzanine floor for those who want to purchase a bottle and lock it up for future use. And anyone who wants to splash out on something like Suntory’s ultra rare Hibiki 35 year old will surely appreciate the amenity. Just between all that drinking, don’t forget the substantial bar snacks menu which features plenty of kushikatsu (panko-crumbed skeewers of meat and veggies).
Address: 10 Thomas Ln, Haymarket NSW 2000
Hours: Monday to Saturday 4pm to late; Friday and Saturday 4pm to 2am.
Employees Only (CBD)
Considered one of the world’s best cocktail bars, Employees Only is a New York staple, so its expansion to Sydney – years in the making – has obviously been met with much excitement. It was one of the 2018’s biggest openings, and there’s no doubt that they’ll be making the most of their first year in Sydney’s CBD given their cocktail list is already the talk of the town, complemented by a busy New York vibe and impeccable service. Employees Only in New York got to where it is by being a bar beloved by the hospitality industry, and dutifully respected by its peers. Sydney’s iteration looks to continue that fine reputation, with it’s extended (it’s open until at least 2:30am six nights a week – a god-send for Sydney under this government) opening hours. We think a late-night steak tartare paired up with one of their signature cocktails is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Address: 9a Barrack St, Sydney
Hours: Monday to Saturday 5pm to 3am; Sunday 6pm-12am
Dulcie’s (Potts Point)
The many bars, restaurants and cafes of Kings Cross (and, you know, the small number of clubs) are trying their damn hardest to push through a resurgence of the once notorious nightlife spot. Though it’s a scene that has been absolutely savaged by a state government that really hates tourism dollars and local businesses, there is a sense of recovery permeating the seedy main strips of Bayswater and Darlinghurst Roads, and it’s looking like the sleek and sexy Dulcie’s is going to be a huge part of that moving forward. A bar with one heck of a team behind it, Dulcie’s has an admirable dedication to serving only Australian spirits, wine and produce, framed by a sophisticated reinterpretation of a building that once housed a strip club and (rumoured) heroin dispensary.
Theatrics also play a big part, with a revamped stage reserved for everything from tarot readings and burlesque shows to monologues and other live shows. You can probably credit that to manager Brandon Martignago, who has a background in theatre and is leading a talented crew in turning this stylish multi-level bar into one of the Cross’ major players.
Address: 44B Darlinghurst Rd, Potts Point
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 5pm to 2am; Sunday 12pm-12am
Old Mate’s Place (CBD)
With a crew made up of passionate bartenders who have worked across the likes of The Lobo Plantation, Mojo Record Bar, Black by Ezard, and Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern, plus a rooftop location on Clarence Street, Old Mate’s Place has a lot going for it. Head up top of the heritage listed building to find one of Sydney’s cosiest new bars, with a broad cocktail list and a sweeping spirit collection that’s evidently been built with a discerning taste in mind. Don’t forget to grab one of their interpretations of the classic Philly cheesesteak while working your way through their drinks list. You’ll be a regular in no time.
Address: Level 4/199 Clarence St, Sydney
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 5pm to 2am; Sunday 2pm-2am
Feature image: Employees Only.