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Bar hopping in Sydney

Updated: Mar 27

Business brought me to Sydney in the early fall, I mean spring.

Taken way out of context, and inappropriately applied to me, a dude... we're past that right... Alan C. Martin, wrote “I've been to Australia. I've met the devil, drank beer and snogged kangaroos.” I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting, but I’ve definitely done two of those things – so, you know, yay me.

Business brought me to Sydney in the early fall, I mean spring. I arrived with a colleague by way of Bangkok, so we arrived in the morning, prior to check-in time at the Shangri-la. So, as is our custom when we are homeless, we took to the streets. Fortunately, the Rocks are home to a number of food venues, so we set off down Harrington Street and stopped in at Creperie Suzette (34 Harrington St, The Rocks) for a very nice breakfast experience. With a bit of time left before check-in, we did a full circle to and from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and doubled back for a beer at the Munich Brauhaus (Playfair St & Argyle Street, The Rocks).

My Sydney experience was shared with excellent company and very nice meals at venues like the Sydney Studio Tower (Pitt St & Castlereagh Streets) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (140 George St., The Rocks). But what I found particularly enjoyable were drinks with friends in some of Sydney’s excellent speakeasy bars – which were uncovered one bar at a time, one bartender’s recommendation at a time.

We started our bar crawl at Harts Pub on a Wednesday and ended up drinking a bottle of Ballantine’s with friends at the Shangri-la just behind Harts Pub on Saturday – but it’s the discoveries along the way that are the focus of this blog. Listed in bullet points, for ease of reference, I will retrace my four evenings of discovery:

  • Harts Pub (Corner of Essex St & Gloucester Street, The Rocks) – this cozy bar is located in a two-story, heritage-listed structure in The Rocks, adjacent to the Shangri-la Hotel. It has lots of spaces to relax (like drinking in someone's house really) and enjoy some very nice craft beers.

  • Grandma’s Bar (Basement level, 275 Clarence Street). There is almost no signage to alert you to your arrival at this bar, other than a ground-level window with a view into the bar, and a paper sign taped to the top of a stairwell directing visitors to the basement. It’s a small, bring-a-date kind of bar, with excellent mixologist bartenders. This was one of my favorite bars of my trip and I managed to stop in on more than one occasion.

  • The Barbershop (89 York Street), had a truly impressive gin selection. The staff was professional and the clientele were mostly businessmen.

  • Baxter Inn (Basement level, 156 Clarence Street), was a bit difficult to find. It is in the back alley of the building, down some industrial stairs – a bit down the rabbit hole-esque. I thought I was going to the building’s boiler room, but when the door opened up I entered a sophisticated, wood-adorned, prohibition-style bar with one of the most extensive selection of whiskeys I have ever seen. The clientele ranged from young casually dressed people to older suits, and everyone seemed to be enjoying their time. If you only have a limited time to bar hop in Sydney I’d suggest making time for Baxter Inn (and Grandma’s and, if you can push on a little bit more, Lobo Plantation).

  • The Lobo Plantation (Basement level, 209 Clarence St) – a Cuban rum bar, with rattan furniture and soft Caribbean colors located in a basement (there seems to be a theme here), but down much nicer stairs than at previously mentioned establishments. Lobo Plantation is a well-known mixology bar, and they do signatures well, but you don’t go to a boulangerie for sushi. If you’re paying a visit to this bar, try their excellent rum and tequila concoctions. And, while you’re at it, bring a date – this bar is perfect for that. I really enjoyed this bar, and suspect Ernest Hemingway would too.

  • Stitch Bar (Basement level, 61 York St) – The design and ambiance of Stitch Bar are intriguing, with sewing machines and components of a dressmaker’s shop prominently, and subtly, populating the bar. After passing the intimidating but pleasant bouncer, we traversed down, yet another set of stairs, to reach a very nice, albeit slightly dark, room. We sat at a table that still had sewing machine components attached and enjoyed our drinks in the ambient light. It was nice and would be a nice place for a date.

I ended my journey around Sydney with one more stop; not at a bar, but at the Shangri-la Hotel patio, adjacent to the alley behind Harts Pub (try that in your navigation system). Some business colleagues joined the outdoor tables and invited me to enjoy their company, with cigars and a bottle of Ballantine’s whiskey. It was a superb way to conclude a productive trip - one of exploration - and more importantly, to appreciate the warmth of old friends I had visited, and new friends I had made, in Sydney. It really is an engaging place.

Here are some photos I took. (All photos, such as they are, were taken by me; all copyrights are reserved).

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