Sydney has turned its basement spaces, heritage courtyards and old butcher shops into a range of hard-to-find speakeasies. You'll be glad you made the effort to seek them out.
By Paul Chai
No matter what your poison is – tiki drinks served by waiters in Hawaiian shirts, hundreds of different whiskies to choose from or tap beers in a jiving juke joint – Sydney has the hidden bar for you. The city has embraced the old-fashioned speakeasy style of bar, off the beaten track and packed with drinkers who love a good time.
The best hidden bars in Sydney
This recent addition to Sydney's speakeasies likes to stay off the radar, with no website and no menu online (just a limited Instagram presence). Jack’s is a well kept secret, with a dark interior covered in vintage band posters, private booths and a long bar illuminated by retro Victorian light shades. They are big fans of classic drinks, and you'll get a perfectly made margarita. Food runs to fried chicken with a hint of honey and classic steak frites.
THE EASY EIGHT DINER & BAR
This is the second hidden joint from the team behind Mojo Record Bar (which also gets an honourable mention on this list). Cosy booths and low-swinging lamps give Easy Eight a louche, speakeasy vibe and the music theme is echoed in black and white portraits on the wall of rock legends you’d like to share a drink with. Food is upmarket Americana – shrimp po' boys and buckets of wings – and cocktails are seasonal. You'll find craft brews such as Grifter, from the Inner West suburb of Marrickville, on tap.
THE BAXTER INN
Just across the road from Easy Eight is one of the longest-running speakeasies in town, headed by Sydney bartenders Anton Forte and Jason Scott, who were also behind Shady Pines Saloon. Unmarked from outside, low lit within, and with a wall of whisky that requires a tall ladder to get to the top shelf stuff, The Baxter Inn is the perfect spot for a whisky sour and some free pretzels (the only bar snacks on offer). There is even a speakeasy-within-a-speakeasy here in the form of the concealed Whisky Room, where the really good stuff lives.
EARL'S JUKE JOINT
Earl's hides behind the facade of the old Betta Meats butchery that used to operate here. Now when you push through the front door, rather than smallgoods and quality meat you get big flavours in the quality cocktails slung from behind the raucous bar. Framed photos, exposed brick and a dark wood bar form the simple decor, but you come to Earl’s for the company. This loud and fun joint models itself on a down-home American bar but with upmarket drinks. Pick something with bourbon in it and you can't go wrong.
This kitsch basement bar has a tropical vibe. The star drinks are a range of exotic tiki concoctions, just like Grandma used to make (well, you can dream). There are candlelit tables, a well trained cocktail crew often decked out in loud Hawaiian shirts, and an intimate bar space that is so cramped you will have no choice but to make new friends. Grab a signature mai tai, a hot jaffle (toasted sandwich) and get in on the joke at Grandma's.
One of the more high-concept modern speakeasy entries – you squeeze past the faux sweat shop on street level, down a dark staircase to the bar below – Stitch is packed full of old Singer sewing machines, spools of thread and ornate metal dividers in booths that echo the old machine's design. It's a whisky joint, so grab an old fashioned. If you are in need of a bite, the food is American-inspired heart-cloggers such as posh hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese balls.
EAU DE VIE
Whether you are in the Melbourne operation or the Sydney offshoot, Eau De Vie is like stepping back in time to prohibition days with its vintage glassware, retro drinks list and sharply tailored bar staff. Drinks go even further back in time with the Versailles Experience (gin, absinthe, lemon juice, pear puree and mint served in a silver and glass absinthe fountain) and the Aviator (gin, fresh lemon and dash of rhubarb served with a teeny paper plane as garnish). The surrounds are as classy as the drinks list, with wooden barstools, oil paintings and glass cabinets of paraphernalia.
SINCE I LEFT YOU
Even the font that Since I Left You uses speaks to the time of prohibition and the Cotton Club, and this early adopter of Sydney's small bar laws has been a firm favourite among the city drinking crowd for the past six years. The big drawcard is the courtyard with original 19th century architecture, strings of festive fairy lights and live bands. Cocktails are cheeky twists on favourites, such as the Benedict Cucumberbatch (mezcal, cucumber, rosemary and lime). Food is crostini and toasties.
LOVE, TILLY DEVINE
Tilly Devine, infamous Sydney brothel madam and organised crime boss, would have been running speakeasies back in her day, but her modern namesake is an altogether more sophisticated, and less scary, proposition. Down a Darlinghurst laneway the Love, Tilly Devine set-up is simple: white-washed brick, top-end charcuterie and lovingly selected wines. Grab the prime spot at the window and tour the world via the 300-strong wine list, none of which you can go wrong with.
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