In Food + Drink

Sydney’s Secret Speakeasies That Are (Nearly) Impossible To Find

An insider's guide to some of the best underground, hidden and secret bars of Sydney.

Ah, a secret bar list. You’re expecting  the granddaddy speakeasies of Sydney, the ones that helped start it all – Eau De Vie and The Baxter Inn, right?

These may be rightly rated as two of the best bars in Australia, but extensive press coverage have made them much easier to uncover. Still stuck? EDV is through the lobby and past the toilets at the Kirketon Hotel in Darlinghurst while Baxter is past some empty kegs and down what seems to be an abandoned staircase off Clarence St in the city.

There’s the other usual suspects; The Barber Shop (hidden behind an actual fully functioning men’s barber shop), Uncle Ming’s (a mysterious but lavish subterranean dumpling and whisky bar), Shady Pines (an unsigned and lovable whiskey saloon) and Since I Left You (a secret courtyard down a concealed alley off Kent St). But half the fun is discovering them all for yourself.

These clandestine watering holes are next level harder, secreted away through unassuming hotel lobbies and restaurant kitchens, or with all the theatre of age-old speakeasies – where entry is only gained by walking through something as nondescript as a fridge (very Narnia-esque).

They may be hard to find, some you might even walk past all the time and not even know they’re there – but once inside, these drinking dens will have you coming back time and again (if you can remember how to find them). Here are a handful of bars to add to your list.

Door Knock

sydney secret bars speakeasies

Door Knock Photo: Facebook

On one of the busiest thoroughfares in Sydney’s CBD, lies an unremarkable silver door. You’ll no doubt walk past it three times if you are trying to find it and if you’re not – you won’t even know it’s there. But through the door of 70 Pitt St, down some stairs (to the faint and unnerving sound of canned applause), and along a cavernous hallway – suddenly you’ll be at another door with a pineapple doorknocker. Knock three times and brace yourself.

Inside is one of Sydney’s newest (and hardest to find) cocktail and wine bars. Run by Natalie Ng (she also has the delightful Mojo Record Bar to her name – which is similarly hard to find on York St) and Justin Best, this is just the spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city above and be transported to a cosy place that takes pride in serving top notch food and drink. The barbecued pork belly burnt ends are to die for and you’ll definitely think about ordering a second serve of the fried chicken wings. Add in a craft beer or some catching cocktails and this might just become your favourite place for a post-work tipple.

Door Knock, 70 Pitt St, Sydney CBD

The Soda Factory

sydney secret bars speakeasies

The Soda Factory Photo: Facebook

The secret might be out on the Soda Factory, but that doesn’t make it any less hard to find. On Wentworth Avenue in Surry Hills you’ll find Bobby’s Boss Dogs – a place that seems like it should be a fun and fluoro American hot dog joint. But don’t be fooled, this is just a facade.

Through the vintage coke vending machine in the corner is a doorway into a whole other dimension of cheap beer, live music and – as expected – hot dogs! Come for the ‘movie Mondays’, the ‘$1 dog Tuesdays’ or even the swinging ‘Soda soul nights’ and just get amongst the general good times and bouncing vibe of the place.

16 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills

Burrow Bar

sydney secret bars speakeasies

Burrow Bar Photo: Facebook

Up for going on an adventurous treasure hunt to find your next drinking spot? That’s what it will feel like trying to find the notoriously well hidden Burrow Bar. Buried deep down De Mestre Place, which is a tiny little laneway off George Street, you’ll think you’re heading into a carpark and then a garbage alley and then a dead end…before you notice the dimly lit B.

In this narrow little space (which used to be an inner-city office), the mood is friendly and experiential. The staff love a chat, the drinks list changes every couple of weeks and the dish du jour is the Baby Reuben Double. Never too busy (maybe that’s thanks to its obscure, underground location), never too pretentious – Burrow is great place to get deep over some delicious cocktails.

De Mestre Pl, Sydney

Jacoby’s Tiki Bar

While obscure, nondescript bar fronts are one way of hiding some of the secret drinking dens this city has to offer, plain in-your-face misleading facades are another way of going about it (and of which, Sydney has a few!). Take Anna’s Thai in Enmore for example. From the outside this seems like just another thai restaurant in an area saturated with the glorious cuisine.

But step inside and you’ll be delighted to discover a full blown tiki bar, replete with Hawaiian shirts and tropical cocktails. Welcome to Jacoby’s (or should that be ‘aloha’?). Brought to you by the same crew that gave you Earl’s Juke Joint (hidden inside an old butcher shop just around the corner), this is heavy on rum, tiki and party. Enjoy!

154 Enmore Rd, Enmore

Moya’s Juniper Lounge

sydney secret bars speakeasies

Moya’s Juniper Lounge Photo: Facebook

The gentrification of Redfern as a suburb is starting to gain some significant speed and nowhere is this more evident than the undiscovered gem of a gin bar that is Moya’s Juniper Lounge. Hidden from the street by an unremarkable facade (just some old and fading gin posters positioned in the window alongside some dusty curtains), once you step inside Moya’s it’s like being transferred back to 19th century London, where comfort was king and gin reigned supreme.

Owned and operated by Charles Casben – a fountain of knowledge for all things you’ve ever wanted to know about the juniper-based spirit – the cocktail list in this secret Redfern institution is worth a visit in itself. Plus, they love to showcase and experiment with local gins, so as well as finding yourself a brand new bar – you might just find a few new Aussie gin brand or two you never knew existed.

101 Regent Street, Redfern

Zebra Bar

sydney secret bars speakeasies While we’re in the neighbourhood, it would be rude to miss another stunning Enmore spot hidden inside the nearby Queens Hotel. While Merivale (who own this recently renovated pub) are known for their other buried bars like Palmer & Co in the city and Charlie Parker’s in Paddington, Zebra Bar is something different altogether.

Only open on Friday and Saturday nights (although it can be booked at other times during the week for group functions), this cosy nook is secreted away behind the upstairs bar called Smelly Goat. Walk through the kitchen (as if you own the joint) and into a moody, safari-themed creation that delights in quirky cocktails and addictive dumplings.

Queens Hotel, 167 Enmore Road, Enmore

Downtown Bar

So you’ve just finished a resplendent meal at The Commons in Darlinghurst and you can’t help but hear some soft jazz creeping up through the cracks. You tell yourself that your mind is playing tricks on you and it must be drifting in from some pumping pub along the adjacent Oxford St. But the nagging grows stronger and your curiosity piques.

Suddenly you’re walking through the restaurant and down a flight of stairs to a little known bar called Downtown. What this place lacks in size, it makes up for in character, in cocktails and in some sumptuous blues boogie on certain nights of the week.

The Commons, 32 Burton St, Darlinghurst

Published 11 December, 2017