Throw a stone in many areas of Sydney and chances are you’ll hit upon a good bar. But there’s a difference between settling in for a lone-ranger beer and a night spent walking the delicate line of romance. Is the music too loud? Or is it pin-drop quiet? Is it too bright? Or does the lighting lean towards the blindness end of the moody spectrum? Whether it’s the first date or the hundred-and-ninth, these are the best bars in Sydney to nail down that balance of intimacy and ambience.
Misfits is the kind of place that feels like a come-as-you-are local as much as it feels like a special treat. Walk up the relatively obscured stairs from the street and find yourself immediately feeling ten points cooler thanks to a delicate neon glow and a glamorous portrait of 1960s supermodel icon Twiggy looking down at you. Despite this glam aesthetic, a cooler-than-thou attitude is decidedly absent from the bar. Whether you’re leaning towards cocktails or a tinnie, a cheeseburger or smoked duck breast, the menu is a choose-your-own-adventure. And if conversation hits a lull, you can always resort to a game of chess. Just request your pieces from the bar and sit down to the long table, into which boards are integrated.
106 George Street, Redfern.
If nothing but the best will do for your night of romance, Scout is the obvious choice. This bar-within-a-bar, located on the upper level of The Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills (another great date bar in its own right), Scout is the brainchild of Matt Whiley, one of the world’s most celebrated bartenders and owner of award-winning London bar Scout. Appealing to a sense of exclusivity, a code is needed to enter the bar, which can either be obtained on the night from the staff at The Dolphin Hotel or sent to you beforehand if you pre-book. Behind the scenes, Scout is a bit of a nerd’s laboratory, with Whiley fermenting fruit to make his own wine, distilling his own gin, and sourcing native ingredients to add perfume to house-infused spirits such as strawberry gum vodka. From the visitors’ perspective, however, it’s a seamless experience—one with plenty of dark nooks and crannies in which to enjoy the cocktails and the company.
2/412 Crown Street, Surry Hills.
Huge glass windows with city views? Check. An extensive whisky list? Check. Convenient for a post-tipple walk by Sydney Harbour? Check. Grain Bar, located below the Four Seasons Hotel in The Rocks, is busy on most nights of the week for good reason. The whisky selection here is one of the largest in Australia, but while that is the focus, the menu is well-rounded. You’ll be just as at home ordering a cocktail from one of the suited bartenders or a craft beer from their extensive collection. The food menu comprises those kinds of smaller sharing items that are ideal for simultaneously holding down a conversation.
199 George Street, Sydney.
The French know how to do romance, and so does Kittyhawk in Sydney CBD. The venue is themed around the Liberation of Paris, the day the city was reclaimed by French and American soldiers during World War II, and the various intimate seating arrangements are organised around walls filled with nostalgic paraphernalia. No two ways about it, the food here is excellent. The menu is filled with Parisian-inspired items designed to share, such as duck liver paté, tuna tartare and steak frites, while the bar is biased towards rum-based cocktails. There is also a lengthy wine list featuring drops from France, Italy and Australia, and a substantial choice of craft beers on offer.
16 Phillip Lane, Sydney.
Whether you’re grabbing a martini in the stately cocktail bar or settling in for a full foodie journey led by celebrity chef Neil Perry, Rockpool is a must-do Sydney experience. Architecturally, it is one of the city’s most impressive venues, situated within the City Mutual Building, an art deco masterpiece designed in 1936 by Emil Sodersteen. The interiors are dripping in green marble and illuminated by the glow of hundreds of perfectly polished wine glasses hanging upside-down above the bartop. Everything from the wine list to the up-market steakhouse menu is meticulously executed. Nothing here comes cheap, but it will hit the mark for an indulgent night on the town.
66 Hunter Street, Sydney.