Best small bars in Sydney's CBD

Best small bars in Sydney's CBD

Small bars have gotten bigger than pubs, so let's explore 5 of the city's best
The interior of Grandma's Bar
Astroturf, deer-head wallpaper and Havana Club rum are the hallmarks of Grandma's Bar on Clarence Street

Melbourne might have long worn the crown when it comes to laneway small bars, but those days are numbered, if not gone.

Sydney is making tight squeezes sexy in previously unused alleyways.

Next time you’re pacing the CBD looking for a stool to occupy, keep these backstreet secrets in mind.

Grandma’s Bar

There are no signs pointing the way to this basement boozer, but any bar that leads you downstairs via a carpet of Astroturf is worth the search.

You could even make friends with the deer heads and cockatoos on the wallpaper.

Grandma’s Barcalls itself “a retro-sexual haven of cosmopolitan kitsch and faded granny glamour.” Wines are simply labelled French, Red or White. Beers are few, but cocktails plenty.

The Hemingway Daiquiri is a specialty -- Havana Club rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and fresh lime. It goes well with curried cashews.

With a 50-person capacity, Grandma's is better for dates rather than large gatherings.

Basement 275, Clarence St., Sydney, 2000; tel +61 (0)2 9264 3004

Specialties: Hemingway Daiquiri, Raspberry Moscow Mule ($15-$18)

Small Bar

Warning to ladies in big shoes: swap the heels for thongs, or the steep steps of the entry could prove disastrous.

Make it inside in one piece, though, and you’ll never look at another laneway without wanting to take a mop to it. This is one of the cleanest bars in the city.

Multi-leveled and narrow enough that your wardrobe starts looking rentable, Small Bar is a CBD hole-in-the-wall off Erskine Street considered to be Sydney’s first small bar.

Order a main meal and they’ll chuck in a free Bogan Shiraz, which is surprisingly decent.

There's live music every Thursday.

48 Erskine St., Sydney, 2000; tel. +61 (2) 9279 0782

Specialty: Bogan Shiraz ($6.50, or free with a main meal on Thursdays)

Ash St. Cellar

Ash St Cellars in the CBDAsh St. Cellars has been hailed as one of the city's best bars by "TimeOut" and "Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine Guide." In a laneway just off George Street next to Ivy, Ash St. Cellar could get away with acting snooty. But the wine list is affordable -- carafes start at $30 -- and the mood is unpretentious.

Inside, a marble bar, hefty chandelier and a wall covered top to bottom with wine bottles create ambience. But the outdoor tables are the score: you'll need to arrive early on weeknights to avoid fighting the suits for seats.

Lauren Murdoch’s kitchen serves all afternoon, so late lunches and early dinners are on the menu.

Ash St. Cellar, Sydney, 2000; tel. +61 (2) 9240 3000

Specialty: carafes of wine from AU$30


The fact that this impossible to find bar is located in a place called Temperance Lane is amusing. You’ll need to exhibit self-control when you walk around in circles looking for Grasshopper.

It’s situated just off George Street, between RM Williams and Oakley.

Once inside, you can sample a Number 20 cocktail, made with tequila and artichoke.

The surroundings are retro-slick: black and white photos serve as wallpaper; armchairs and lamps are from the 1970s; old vinyl records double as coasters.

In the upstairs restaurant, the steak poivre and pork and parsley terrine are worthy mouthfuls. You won’t have been this excited about anything since you were knee high to a … well, you know.

Temperance Lane, Sydney, 2000; tel. +61 (2) 9947 9025

Specialty: Number 20, made with tequila, brandy, cherry, and artichoke

Absinthe Salon

Small bar Absinthe in Surry HillsAt the Absinthe Salon in Surry Hills the doses are heavy, if few.

Not technically in the CBD, but not far away, Absinthe Salon is a short cab ride into Surry Hills.

Hosts Gaye Valttila and Joop van Heusden dress like circus folk mixed with Parisian Goths. After you’ve rung the doorbell to their small bar on Albion Street, they’ll explain your options.

Eighteen different absinthes are on offer, many from Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain.

Drinkers are allowed a maximum of three. This is strong stuff.

87 Albion St., Surry Hills, 2010; tel. +61 (2) 9211 6632

Specialty: Durrrr…

Becky Wicks is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer, an author and an itchy-footed dreamer who likes pies and wine a little too much.

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