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Top Ten Small Bars in Sydney

Home > Sydney > Food and Wine | Bars | Nightlife
by Sarah Han (subscribe)
Lover of carbs, traveling, art & naps. Food & travel blog at
Published May 5th 2011
Darlinghurst arguably nurtures the best small bars in Sydney. And since they're all congested in one area, it's ideal for bar hopping, or more specifically small bar hopping. Here's a list of ten small bars in an order that imitates a doable bar hopping route. Of course popping into ten bars in one night is rather ambitious, so I wouldn't fault you for only visiting a few at a time.

1. Low 302

Let's start at Low 302 (which is technically located in Surry Hills, but it's very close to Oxford Street, so it's almost Darlinghurst anyway). The bar is named according to its address - it's located at number 302 on Crown Street.

This brick-walled bar is dark and small, but cosy. And it's often very packed, so be prepared to squeeze into small spaces. There's a cute outside area, looking out onto Crown Street, where there are communal tables and high stools.

Give the cocktail list a go. Low 302 also has a tapas menu if you want to munch on something. Otherwise, just chill out on one of the lounges inside (if you're lucky enough to find a seat in the crowd, that is) and drink away the night.

Visit the bar's website to peruse menus and drink lists. Low 302 is open Wednesday to Sunday nights until 2am.

2. The Commons
From Low 302 make your way down across Oxford Street to Burton Street, where you can find The Commons, an adorable little restaurant and bar. The decor is simple and rustic, where the sandstone walls are complemented by the light-coloured wood concept of the furnishings.

There's also a little outside area which is perfect for summer days and nights. The Commons offers breakfast (on weekends), lunch, and dinner. If you're there for drinks, try some of the dishes on the tapas-style menu. It's all about the wine at The Commons, which of course accompanies the food well, but ciders, spirits, and beers are also available.

In fact, there's also a bar underneath the restaurant which The Commons calls Downtown. But you're welcome to have some drinks in the restaurant area too. For more information visit The Commons website here. This charming restaurant and bar is open daily for your eating and drinking needs.

3. Doctor Pong
Cross the road on Burton Street, and you'll find Doctor Pong. It's one of the bigger small bars, and accordingly not as dainty. And this is because the ambiance here is quite different from other small bars. Loud music emanates from the speakers at the DJ stand, and there's a ping pong table in the centre of the venue.

Yes, playing ping pong at a bar is borderline ridiculous, but I assure you it's fun. I've tried it. The atmosphere is playful and the music eclectic. I warn you though, this is not the best place to just hang around to have deep and meaningful conversations - it's way too loud for that.

Playing ping pong while drinking cocktails? What more could you want? Come on down and try your hand at ping pong on Tuesdays to Sundays.

4. Shady Pines Saloon
Walk on over to Shady Pines Saloon after Doctor Pong. It's located in a small alley off Oxford Street and Crown Street. There's no sign out the front, so just look out for a line of people, and you've probably found it. When I first went with my girlfriends we had to stand in the queue for a while because the bar was at capacity. But I urge you to stick it out.

Shady Pines sports an intriguing Western concept - the venue is decorated with animal heads, Marlboro signs and Native American statues. If you can find a table to sit at, you'll be happy to know that you get complimentary shelled peanuts to snack on. Save your seat, but get someone to order cocktails. We tried the Bloody Mary which came in a little tomato sippy cup with a straw. Loved it. I also had a vodka with fresh green apple juice. Also loved it.

When the theme song from True Blood (Jace Everett's 'Bad Things') came on, our experience was complete. It truly felt like a locale you'd find in a Western. Come and see for yourself - it's open everyday.

5. Lo-Fi
Meander up Oxford Street until you reach Taylor Square, and you've reached Lo-Fi. Up the stairs, above Kinselas, this artsy bar is a must-see. The decor is always changing, and consistently remains artistic. It's almost like an art gallery in itself. But there's also a real art gallery above the bar.

The best spot at Lo-Fi is probably the balcony which commands a lovely view of Taylor Square and Oxford Street. The colourful lights and lamps give the balcony a quirk factor. I'd say the second best spot is near the DJ.

Lo-Fi has a great sound system, which blasts some awesome tunes, but there's no assigned dance floor. Usually there's a combination of Hip Hop, R&B, and electro being played. On many occasions I was excited to hear TLC's 'Waterfalls' fill the room.

The bar has a long cocktail list, which makes it hard to choose. And on top of that, the bartenders seem to get a bit irked if you order a cocktail. Get yourself a a drink other than a cocktail (if you want to avoid the weird bartender's glare) and listen to the eclectic music from Thursdays through to Sundays.

6. Name This Bar
From Lo-Fi, cross Anzac Parade, and you'll hit Name This Bar. I like this bar just for its name (or namelessness for that matter). Name This Bar, or just '?' as the sign suggests, is elusive. I remember one of my friends used to called it No Name Bar. It's funny that the actual website is - because that technically means it does have a name. But let's not get into the technicalities.

Name This Bar is yet another artsy venue on Oxford Street. What a shocker. It joins the artistic list along with Oxford Art Factory and Lo-Fi. But Name This Bar is much more laid-back and casual. The walls are painted, written, and drawn on. So leave your mark on the walls when you visit.

The venue also hosts art battles and has a dumpling bar. Delightful ideas. Tip: happy hour is from 4-7pm for $6 mojitos, $4 beers, and $3 wines. But don't come on a Monday or Tuesday - it'll be closed.

7. Love, Tilly Devine
From Name This Bar to Love, Tilly Devine it's a bit of a trek, I must warn you. You have to walk down Crown Street until you almost hit William Street and you'll find the bar on Crown Lane.

Love, Tilly Devine is one of the tiniest bars I've seen in Sydney - it only seats 40 people. Accordingly, it's intimate and snug, but it also has a minimalistic and industrial feel. It's exclusively a wine bar with its 300 wines on the menu. The menu is not only extensive but also biased. It declares that 'Riesling is the best drink in any bar'. When I went to this bar with six other people, none of us had a Riesling.

Ask the wait staff if you don't know much about wines. I asked our waitress for help and she brought me the loveliest glass of Gewurztraminer. I was very pleased with her choice. The wine menu is categorised according to taste not wine or grape, such as 'Sleek, Vibrant, Exhilarating'.

The food is also worth a mention. There's only a small selection available because, as our waitress explains to us, the wine is meant to be the main event. So the food is designed to be the accompaniment. I enjoyed the little morsels of tapas-style dishes very much though, so definitely give the food a go.

Love, Tilly Devine is open from Tuesdays to Sundays.

8. Eau De Vie
Now, work your way up William Street, all the way to where the Coke sign is and turn right onto Darlinghurst Rd. There you'll come across the Kirketon Hotel, in which Eau De Vie is nestled. You need to pass through to the back to get to Eau De Vie.

Upon entering Eau De Vie, you're faced with a grand high table, which at closer inspection, turns out to be a wooden door. This little venue is dark, luxe, and comfortable. And it's arguably the best cocktail bar in Sydney. Many would agree. My favourite cocktails here are the Mesha and Crusta Reserve. A few of the cocktails are served in crystal glasses.

The service here is faultless every time I make a visit. The bar staff are attentive and very friendly. And of course they make some classy cocktails.

I recommend you go on a Sunday - you'll have the place almost to yourself. Eau De Vie is open every night, so do yourself a favour and head on down there.

9. The Passage
From Eau De Vie, get onto Victoria Street, which is parallel to Darlinghurst Road. There you will stumble upon The Passage. This bar and restaurant looks minuscule from the outside, but in fact it extends much further inside than expected. The venue is in the shape of a narrow and long corridor.

There are a few tables outside if you want to breathe in the evening air or do some people watching. But inside the first section features a long high table, then the next area is lined by a lounge and mirrors. Even further inside you'll unearth the bar. I like that there are so many sections, each of which has a different decor and theme.

Both the cocktails and the food are delicious. I tried The Passage Martini, which I thoroughly appreciated. The food menu boasts a Modern Australian take on tapas. We ordered at least five dishes, all of which I relished. I'd come back just for the food - in fact i'm getting hungry just thinking about the stuffed zucchini flowers and chicken liver parfait.

Lounge out with some cocktails and tapas at The Passage on any night of the week.

10. Velluto
We end in Potts Point at Velluto - yes, it's a little bit further away from Darlinghurst. You have to navigate through Kings Cross to get there, but I assure you it's worth the walk. I traversed there on foot (from Oxford Street to make matters worse) in the pelting rain when I made my first visit.

Velluto is a champagne and wine bar, and accordingly the venue has a luxurious feel about it. The small room is adorned with black velvet, ambient candles, dark lounges, and flowered cushions.

We have a glass of Pommery Brut Royale, which goes down smoothly and tingly. To accompany the champagne, we have a cheese plate. I then move onto a double shot Bloody Mary - it's spicy and it hits the spot.

This is not a budget-friendly bar by any means. So be forewarned that it's on the dear side. House spirits cost $10 (but keep in mind that the house vodka is Belvedere). I don't care that it's expensive - it's a champagne bar. Why would you expect any different?

Sit yourself down in this lavish ambiance and sip on some champagne on Saturdays to Wednesdays.
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Why? Small bars are the new cool thing
When: Most days
Where: Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Potts Point
Cost: Free if you're not drinking
Dr Pong closed on the 30th of April!
By Ashleigh - senior reviewer
Monday, 30th of May @ 02:15 am
not everyone wants to go out in the eastern suburbs, what about city or other locations?
By timin - reader
Tuesday, 31st of May @ 11:12 am
@timin: You call this the Eastern Suburbs?

By ticke - reader
Wednesday, 1st of June @ 03:17 am
Some wonderful small bars in the city: Grandma's, Stitch, Grasshopper, Goodgod Bar, Small Bar, and Since I Left You. Hope that helps!
By Sarah Han - senior reviewer
Wednesday, 1st of June @ 03:20 am
Pretty sure I wouldn't head from Name this bar, all the way back down to East Sydney for Love Tilly Devine!!
And, Name This Bar is a later dancier location, where you would definitely want to go later on.
By Kirst73 - reader
Wednesday, 1st of June @ 11:57 pm
Please give us a list of bars this side of the city....are there any out west; Parramatta?
By lizzie - reader
Thursday, 2nd of June @ 07:42 pm
Kirst73 - Yes, that's why I said you don't have to follow the route I suggested. Obviously the Oxford Street bars are much closer to each other compared to the ones near Kings Cross.
By Sarah Han - senior reviewer
Friday, 3rd of June @ 12:15 am
ewadlow - The small bar phenomenon hasn't really developed anywhere else in Sydney. So you'll really just find them in the Inner City, with the exception of a few small bars around the North and East.
By Sarah Han - senior reviewer
Friday, 3rd of June @ 05:42 am
Yes, darlinghurst, east Sydney and Potts point are the eastern suburbs..maybe surrey hills is classified as inner west..
I think you could expand to true inner west if you wanted a few original places.. Just because a bar plays a theme song to a tv show (albeit a brilliant one), that doesn't make it a good bar. It means the proprietor is probably lacking a little originality..
By sonia56 - reader
Wednesday, 15th of June @ 10:07 pm
Yes looking for small bars like the ones I visited in Melbourne but how about a list of them for the inner west like newtown , Glebe balmain leichhart enmore ......ect
By hwill - reader
Tuesday, 12th of July @ 05:50 am
Will use your reference to check it out for myself
By graha - reader
Wednesday, 13th of July @ 02:25 am
Miss Marleys in manly. Just nominated for small bar of the year. Amazing Pan American food & Over 90 tequilas
By Anonymous
Saturday, 16th of July @ 11:56 pm
Inner Westies: I recently moved to Newtown and I've already discovered a few nice small bars here: Bloodwood, Bench, Madame Fling Flong, Funky Bar. Bloodwood is my favourite for drinks in the neighbourhood so far.

I'm surprised that Pocket Bar didn't make the list for Darlinghurst!
By tmoor - reader
Sunday, 24th of July @ 01:17 am
The Little Guy in Glebe is great!
By amand - reader
Tuesday, 2nd of October @ 04:58 am
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