Within the space of one Sydney city block, you'll find eight of Australia's top bars — everything from whisky to mezcal, to gin, rum and rooftops is on offer.
The Sydney bar scene has never been this vibrant. Despite two years of pandemic restrictions, sudden closures and reopenings, and the ongoing storm of omicron, the city is host to a number of quality bars and some of the country's — if not the world's — best bartenders. You just need to look at the burgeoning bar scene between Town Hall and Wynyard in the CBD. You can easily spend an entire evening bar-hopping along Clarence Street, eating and drinking in some of Australia's best bars. Get a look at the map — and our recommendations — below.
1. The Duke of Clarence
We start our journey with some food — you can easily spend a good eight hours on this street, so some nourishing sustenance is required. That’s where The Duke of Clarence (Laneway, 152-156 Clarence Street; thedukeofclarence.com) comes in.
But The Duke of Clarence is about more than the great pub food put on by chef David Penistone — there’s loads of whisky, cognac, and hand-pulled ales to be had along with a considered collection of cocktails. Our pick? The Clarence House Gibson, a pint of Guinness, and their fish finger sandwich.
2. Old Mate's Place
Had your fill of food? Sydney loves a rooftop bar, and Old Mate’s Place (Level 4, 199 Clarence Street, Sydney; oldmates.sydney) is next on the list. The bar is open from midday on Fridays, and 2pm on Saturday and Sunday, so it's perfect for grabbing a little sun in the middle of the city.
Step off the street and into the elevator and hit level four: you’ll step out and step through another door, into a bar that looks like an overgrown library. You’ll want to then ascend the staircase to the rooftop bar and the hit the cocktail list: their Hidden Pina Colada is equal parts interesting (hence the ‘Hidden’ in the title) and delicious.
3. Cantina OK!
Now, you have to make a tough choice: do you head the half a block back towards Market Street to Cantina OK! (Council Place, Sydney; okokok.com.au) now when they’ve just opened at 4pm — and there’s more chance of grabbing a spot at Sydney’s smallest bar — or do you head there after midnight to close it out (they trade until 2am).
Then again: why not do both. An early visit is well worthwhile; you can take some more of the bar team’s time, asking them to walk you through the hand-bottled mezcals on the back bar.
4. The Lobo
If mezcal isn’t your thing, there’s always rum at The Lobo (209 Clarence St, Sydney; thelobo.com.au — and a lot of it. It’s just a few doors north on Clarence from Council Place, has been named as the country’s best rum bar a number of times, and is a great spot for indulging in some rum cocktails. Daiquiris, anyone?
5. The Barber Shop
It should be dark by now, if you’ve started in the afternoon, and it’s time to hit the gin. Wander back to the same laneway that seats The Duke of Clarence, and step inside its sister bar, The Barber Shop (55 York Street, Sydney; thisisthebarbershop.com).
They’ve been named as Australia’s best gin bar four times, and they stock an encyclopaedic range of gins from around the world. So, if you’re into the juniper stuff, this is your place — you’ll discover many a bottle you’ve never have seen before. You can choose to take a seat inside on the luxe sofas — at the curve of the bar, however, gets the best vantage point — or in the alleyway if smoking is your thing.
6. The Baxter Inn
And right across from The Barber Shop’s outdoor seating is The Baxter Inn (152-156 Clarence St, Sydney; swillhouse.com/venues/the-baxter-inn) — just look for the host on the door if you’re looking for the way in.
Head down the stairs and you’ll open the door onto this basement beauty of a bar; grab a seat at the long bar that runs the length of one side of the room, and marvel athletes the hundreds and hundreds of bottles of whisky adorning the back bar (and ask to check out their whisky room, where they keep some of their most precious and rare whiskies.
Next stop: PS40 (Skittle Lane, Sydney; ps40bar.com). It’s one of Sydney’s more expressive and forward-looking cocktail bars, and owned by one of the country’s best bartenders, Michael Chiem. MC (as he’s known in the industry) and his team have a knack for bringing together interesting ingredients in a flavoursome, delicious way: the Africola (Mr Black Coffee Liqueuer, cola, and coconut foam) is a great example of this, playing with hot and cold temperatures but most of all, coming up delicious.
8. Burrow Bar
The final stop on our Clarence Street shuffle is Burrow Bar (96 Clarence St, Sydney; burrowbar.com.au): well-loved by the Sydney bar community, you’ll find bartenders from around the area stopping in to grab a bite and a beer on their breaks (the Burrow team owns the upstairs restaurant Cash Only Diner); we’d recommend a cocktail at the bar and a serve of their spring rolls (they really are a rather good accompaniment to your drink). Leave the rest up to their warm and friendly team.