Your mate calls. He's in town. You haven't seen him in ages. He suggests you meet up over a couple of beers. Maybe with a couple of your other mutual friends. But where?
Sure, you could just say your local. But that's pretty boring. You need a place that's easy, where you can talk, maybe have a meal, and then not really worry about anything else. You need to hit one of the top 5 pubs in town for catching up with your mates.
A great big sprawling palace to drinking, the Doncaster tries to cater to all-comers, but hits its stride when hosting blokes. The downstairs public bar seems to follow HG Nelson's line that too much sport is barely enough and offers an astonishingly large selection of TVs – all tuned to sport. The requisite TAB facilities draw punters – many of whom have wandered in from nearby Randwick Racecourse. Upstairs, the balcony offers plenty of space and cool breezes, while the bistro does a rip-roaring trade in hearty pub fare. After a few ales, cook your steak on the indoor barbie and feel very manly indeed.
A Bondi Junction mainstay, the Nelson is a classic old boozer which has luckily resisted any desire to modernise its facilities. Grungy and slightly faded, the pub houses two bars, a large bistro area and several nooks and crannies. This is a low-key local at its best and ticks all the boxes for a bloke's catch up: sport on TV, a TAB, and a great big circular bar perfect for conversation. Patrons range from bus drivers finishing their shifts to BJ locals stopping by after all manner of engagements. It's a popular haunt for watching big sporting events – rugby union particularly – but if nothing is on sporting-wise, you can shoot some pool, play the jukebox or just sit at the bar and get the lowdown.
The Australian Heritage Hotel 100 Cumberland St, The Rocks
The Australian has been going for 100 years and sits firmly in the tourist/work function/bucks' party triangle that is the country's oldest drinking neighbourhood. Well-known for its pizzas – the crocodile, emu and kangaroos varieties are always talking points – the Australian also offers a stellar list of beers, which unsurprisingly, have a heavy Australian focus. There's KB Lager, Matilda Bay and the excellent and little-known McLaren Vale Ale from South Australia. The tables outside make a great spot to while away a hot evening with your mates.
The Oaks is to pubs what Westfield is to shopping centres: big, brashy and designed to swallow its competitors. In fact, you could probably fit most of Sydney's small bars under The Oaks' roof and still have some space to play with. Five bars operate inside the pub, but ignore them if the weather's fair, because out in the pub's spectacular beer garden is the go. Once out there, you'll realise how the pub got its name - a giant, 70-year old oak tree dominates the courtyard. The pub's food offerings are stock standard, but won't offend anyone either. The indoor barbie is the place to charcoal your steak to within an inch of its life, all while you are busy concentrating on your mate's elaborate (and most likely, factually incorrect) story.
Formerly the Macquarie Hotel, the Schwartz Brewery Hotel is the place to meet if you and your mates want something to drink that's a bit more exciting than New or VB. The pub's microbrewery bona fides are pretty easy to spot – once inside you'll see giant vats where the pub's craft beers are busy fermenting. A number of homemade brews are on offer, ranging from hearty varieties like Belgian Strong Ale and Bavarian Red, to warm-weather favourites such as the Sydney Summertime Ale. Bar staff are super keen and often have had a hand in making some of the beers they're serving. They're happy to explain the subtleties of their beers and let you have a taste before you commit to a whole schooner.