Discover some famous cocktail bars and hidden gems in the Australian city
By Emma Stokes
The gin scene in Australia is firmly in growth mode, with new distilleries and brands launching at pace. This provides Aussie bartenders with a wealth of choices and opportunities to enhance and embrace the use of native botanicals in many local gins.
I’m lucky to have visited Sydney many times now (my partner is from there) and it has been amazing to see the bar scene grow, develop and evolve since my first
trip back in 2018. From just a handful of high-end cocktail bars to a scene where you’re now spoiled for choice, there are some incredible venues with excellent gin cocktails on offer.
The Barber Shop has a back bar that boasts a collection of more than 700 gins, making it a destination for gin lovers. Voted Bar of the Year in the 2020 Icons of Gin, it is perfect for those looking to explore global gins and/or what’s being made within Australia. As the name suggests, the venue is not just a cocktail bar but a barber shop too, so any gents looking for a tidy up can enjoy a fresh haircut along with an equally fresh gin cocktail. Gin tasting flights available consist of four different gins, allowing customers to explore drams from around the world, grouped by location. Classic cocktails are listed on the menu, but I was drawn to the signature cocktails – the gimlet featuring saltbush-infused Hickson Road London Dry Gin, finger lime cordial and coriander is well worth a try.
Another favourite is Continental Deli. It has expanded from its original site in Newtown, and you’ll find its new site in the CBD (Central Business District). Across both Continental Deli venues, its canned cocktails remain the big draw, alongside cheese and charcuterie. Gin-wise, you have the Mar-tinny – that’s right, it’s gin in a tin. As it’s served straight from the freezer, you can be guaranteed perfect dilution, a super-frosty serve and delicious taste. Fans of the dirty martini will be in heaven, as Continental’s martini is spiked with brine from Perello picante, the iconic Spanish olive brand.
Maybe Sammy opened to critical acclaim, winning Best New International Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail and Cocktail Bar of the Year at the Australian Bar Awards. It currently sits at number 22 in the World’s 50 Best Bars, having started at 11 in its debut year, 2020. Located in The Rocks, right by the harbour, the bar is as good as the acclaim suggests, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Sections of the menu are dedicated to the aperitivo, martinis and coffee cocktails (co-owner Martin Hudak is somewhat of an aficionado), but it’s the selection of miniature riffs on classic cocktails that catch my eye: Maybe Sammy’s minis concept allows you to try cocktails from across the menu without falling off your barstool in the process. The Mini Chamomile Martini with Hendrick’s Gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, chamomile, cedarwood and pepper was not only adorable in its size but gorgeous and delicate in its nature.
If, like me, you love a good martini, you have to check out the martini cart at Dean & Nancy on 22. A sister venue to Maybe Sammy and one of the newer bars in town, it is an homage to classic hotel bars of golden eras past; its glamorous black and gold décor is matched by its gorgeous views of the city. Don’t forget that martini cart, though, where you’ll be served tableside by one of the venue’s skilled bartenders. Though both vodka and gin are offered, we all know there is only one choice – mine was a Roku gin martini expertly made and chilled at the table. The Lookout in the Blackout cocktail is a standout concoction of gin, sherry, carrot shrub, peach, bitters and Aperol.
A couple of streets away, swap the bourgeois for a slice of soul and funk at the Double Deuce Lounge. With a short but sweet rotating cocktail menu featuring a couple of gin choices, it was the Never Never Gibson on special that caught my eye. Who can resist a pickled onion in a martini? If you’ve not tried a Gibson yet, I highly recommend you do, and Double Deuce is the perfect place to do so – if you’re quick. However, even once the specials change, there is a ‘Dealer’s Choice’ on the menu, where you put your drink choice in the hands of the bartender. I suspect that, if you mentioned pickled onions, they’d know what to do.
Hidden down an alley on King Street you’ll find PS40, a bar that combines an experimental edge, harnessing the flavours of native, locally sourced ingredients, with a relaxed setting. PS40’s menu is a mix of its takes on classics and its own creations, like the Glady’s Gimlet (Tanqueray, makrut lime, lime oils, fresh lime juice). The cocktail that keeps me coming back is the Breakfast Negroni, combining gin with Campari and sweet vermouth as usual, but then adding flavours of banana bread, coffee bean and tonka bean. It’s a stunning combination of flavours, and if you love it quite as much as I do, it’s also available in T-shirt form!
The recently opened Hickson House Distilling Co is a distillery and bar helmed by the team from The Barber Shop, along with Tim Stones, former head distiller of Manly Spirits. Located in The Rocks, in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour bridge, and in the former Saatchi & Saatchi garage, it’s got quite the setting. Start off with a tour of the distillery – the perfect aperitif to a cocktail. Then sit back and explore the selection of curated gin and tonics and cocktails, flights that allow you to taste the gins being made behind the glass, and an incredible food menu. This is a destination for a long afternoon rather than a brief visit. It’s perfect for cocktail enthusiasts, with more than 600 bottles from all around the globe behind the bar and a strong focus on Australian-made spirits, including an impressive collection of hard-to-find whiskies.
Speaking of distilleries, Four Pillars from Melbourne has opened an outpost in Sydney, and the team have brought one of their Carl stills with them. The public Maker Sessions allow groups to book an experience where they get to decide on the botanical recipe and distil their own bespoke gin, just like the pros do. But it’s Eileen’s Bar, the centrepiece of the Four Pillars Gin Laboratory, which is serving up some of the best cocktails in the city. With crystal-clear ice and real attention to detail, the serves are elegant and simple to look at when they arrive, but gorgeously complex in the way they utilise flavours. The Southside 2.0 and the Tanlines (which is available bottled to take away) were ridiculously sinkable, but it was the Frat House Fizz that stole my heart, mixing Four Pillars Modern Australian Gin with whole mango, peach leaf amaretto and fizz, and arriving clarified and therefore crystal clear.
Lastly, I couldn’t visit Sydney without taking a trip to RE, a new bar focused on sustainability and zero waste that’s been opened by Matt Whiley of the (now closed) London bar Scout. It’s bang on trend, chic and highly conceptual. Cocktail highlights include the Dryden, a fizzy gin highball using surplus whole fruits, and the Bella Bruta with Tanqueray, white chocolate, pecorino and truffle.
With borders opening up and global travel restarting, any gin fan will find Australia bursting at the seams with interesting distilleries and brands. The country’s natural flora means that there is an incredible wealth of flavours to embrace in the botanical line-up for a gin, many of which will be totally new to visitors. And if you find yourself in Sydney, get yourself to these incredible bars to see what some of the country’s best bartenders are doing with those flavours.