Sydney Bars, Pubs, Clubs & Cafes
Before you head out drinking in Sydney, it is worth taking a brief history lesson, or else you are likely to be in for an evening notable only for being almost entirely dry. A large proportion of pubs in Australia describe themselves as "hotels", since back in days if yore, the authorities decreed that those offering alcohol for sale for consumption on the premises needed to provide their customers with the option of a bed for the evening.
Indeed some of the old "hotels" still have beds above the bar, which is handy considering the extended opening hours in Sydney, with some bars staying open not just until the early hours, but all the way through the night too.
That said there are now a tremendous number of bars in sydney, which describe themselves as "boutique" bars, to the point where the old "hotels" are becoming something of a dying breed. Still, Sydney has something to offer most types, ranging from the earthy to the grand.
Newcomers to the country will probably be unaware of what a "Pokie" is. Far from being the Scottish fire stoker that perhaps the name suggests, this follows the great Australian tradition of adding an "ie" to the end of words in an effort to make them less bother to say. A "Pokie" then is a poker machine, or more accurately, a machine for gambling on - a "One-Armed Bandit", or "Fruit Machine" may mean something to some readers.
Staying on the gambling front, many pubs also offer TAB facilities, Totalizator Agency Board, or betting on the horses and dogs in laymans terms. Both of these forms of betting are big business in Australia, and many pubs appear to almost entirely devoted to these pursuits.
As with most cities in the world, the Irish bar craze is in full swing, with the corporate "Irish" experience (i.e. bad Guinness and Caffreys on tap, along with a tape of Irish artists like "The Pogues" and "U2" repeating over and over again all evening), sharing the scene with bars which have traditionally attracted an Irish crowd.
Highly recommended is THE HERO OF WATERLOO, 81 Lower Fort Street, Millers Point (02) 9252 4553 (in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), which most definitely falls into the latter category. This is the place to go if you want a busy but friendly atmosphere, with occasional impromptu performances from fiddlers and the like who bring their instruments to the pub like a Yorkshireman brings his whippet. They share the stage with pre-booked acts playing traditional Irish folk. If you prefer a more sanitised "Irish" experience, try SCRUFFY MURPHY'S 43-49 Goulburn Street, CBD, (02) 9211 20002, which is a pretty good watering hole as it stands, but expect a similar drinking experience to your own local Scruffy's.
For the more upwardly mobile is the THE SLIP INN (pun doubtless intended) at 111 Sussex Street, CBD (02) 9299 1700 which is a known haunt of the rich and the famous, as well as the more down to earth. The Slip Bar is the main bar, spacious with tables for those who fancy showing Tom Cruise how to play pool, and there are reasonably priced eats too from "Slip Thai". There is also the "Sand Bar", so named because it has a large sandstone wall at one end, an ideal place to kick back and relax, as is the al fresco "Garden Bar" which overlooks Darling Harbour.
JACKSONS ON GEORGE, 176 George Street, CBD, (02) 9247 2727, is another favourite. They offer 110 beers from around the world for those who cannot get to grips with the local fayre, serve food for hungry suits during the day, and 'til 10pm for the evening crowd. You can shoot some stick on the pool tables too, before heading up to the Lunar Lounge Nightclub upstairs. Jacksons sports a 24hr licence.
In fact 24 hour drinking is well established in Sydney, so if you are one of those who just doesn't want to go back to the hotel, ever, try CHEERS, George Street, just by the cinemas. This multi-storeyed affair has a sporting theme running through it, and is the ideal place to catch up with the sporting events back home. The ubiquitous "Pokies" are on offer too as is a TAB facility. They can't guarantee that "everybody knows your name", but then if you are only passing though then that is hardly surprising.
The action is by no means confined to the CBD though, and Sydney's excellent bus and train networks mean that there little excuse for not straying further afield. Try the Surry Hills area, which you can feasibly walk to from the CBD if public transport is just too proletarian for you. BAR CLEVELAND, cnr Bourke and Cleveland Streets, Redfern (02) 9698 1908, is a two roomed wooden floored number with the comfy chairs tucked around the back. Stylish and friendly, the Cleveland (as it is locally known) opens 'til late at the weekends with cocktails and DJs in residence, boasts three pool tables, and has impressive menu by day. The Level One Club is upstairs.
Nearby, FBR CASSATA, 336 Riley Street, Surry Hills, (02) 9211 2095, has pokies and pool tables abound, set in a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. There are plenty of cocktails on offer here, and if it is your birthday then you will be treated to a freebie. The bar menu is pretty good too, with meals clocking in at between $7.50 and $13.00. If your culinary needs are a little bit more demanding, FBR offers the option of a la carte dining through in the restaurant. The Cassata bar is upstairs and offers drinks in a comfortable timber floored, bright walled atmosphere. Open 'til 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.
THE CRICKETERS' ARMS, 106 Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills (02) 9331 3301, is one of those pubs where the music is the main attraction. Focussing on the drum and bass side of things, this pub has a credible underground feel to it on account of the décor taking second place to the entertainment. Well priced steaks and bar meals make this a good option if you are into the scene.
Paddington is the colourful part of town and has a number of notable bars. Try WE3DS BAR at THE ROSE SHAMROCK & THISTLE HOTEL, 27-33 Oxford Street, Paddington, (02) 9360 4662. An old style bar with happy hour from 5 - 6 each evening, WE3DS has a wide selection of (mainly domestic) beers, together with a selection of cocktails and wine. DJs strike up a party on Fri and Sat, with the doors staying open 'til 3am. The lack of cover charge, coupled with the inclusion of pool nights, makes WE3DS a good bet. Speaking of which, it also has a range of gaming machines.
THE ALBURY, 6 Oxford Street, Paddington, (02) 9361 6555 is a bustling bar which, in keeping with the area, boasts lightly dressed bar men, and is reknowned for its impressive drag shows. Not for the inhibited, this bar has been voted Best Decorated Venue at the Mardi Gras Awards
Sydney's Kings Cross is home to numerous bars, some more respectable than others. Try the SOHO BAR & LOUNGE, Victoria Street, Kings X, (02) 9358 6511, another one of those places with an impressive back catalogue of rich and famous patrons. Recent renovations have thankfully been sensitive to the original art-deco interior.
Also THE RHINO BAR, 24 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross (02) 9357-7700, makes for an ideal start to the evening if you are planning on going clubbing in The Cross. Situated next to the Underground, this is a loud but relaxed place, which is larger than it looks upon first inspection.
Bondi is more reknowned for its café culture, but has a couple of places of note in the bar department. Check out HOTEL BONDI, 178 Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach (02) 9130-3271. Located on the world famous sea-front, this is another one of those timber floor and stainless steel places. A relaxed atmosphere in the winter, this place gets pretty packed in the summer months, what with Bondi being one of the city's biggest backpacker areas.
Further up the road, in the slightly more accessible Bondi Junction (no beach, but a railway line), is the rambling COCK AND BULL, 89 Ebley Street, Bondi Junction, (02) 9389 3004, has an unfeasibly numerous five bars, live entertainment and a gaming room. The food is pretty good and there is a bottle shop attached for afters. It pupports to be an Irish bar, but this appears to mainly stem from the fact that it has Guinness and Kilkenny on tap, and a large number of Irish backpackers of a Friday evening. Good fun though, open 'til 2 on Thurs, Fri and Sat.
Finally, THE COOGEE BAY HOTEL, 253 Coogee Bay Rd, Coogee (02) 9665-0000, is a truly vast pub with an impossibly huge outdoor area. Ideal for whiling away a few hours by day, overlooking the popular and attractive Coogee Bay, this place gets going in the evening and is a popular venue for young travellers.