Like a Local: Sydney’s 7 Best Speakeasies

by Sian Marsh  |  Published June 20, 2018

Speakeasies have become increasingly popular around the world but unlike other cities, Sydney has long been home to prohibition style bars. Secret doorways lead to unusually themed décor in bars that serve spirits aplenty in any shape or form.

Hole in the wall at Palmer and Co. (Photo: Merivale)

Hole in the wall at Palmer and Co. (Photo: Merivale)

There is nothing like walking into a hidden bar and feeling like you have stepped back in time to an era when alcohol was illegal. Here are some of the best places in Sydney to lose yourself in the atmospheres created by bars stuck in time.

Palmer & Co.

Walking down Abercrombie Lane just of George Street you would be forgiven for walking past the entrance to Palmer & co. A brick building with a backdoor fire exit and a small sign with the name of the bar create the main entrance to this underground speakeasy. On entrance it feels as though you have stepped into the 1920’s with pearled waitresses in long gowns and barmen wearing bowties, braces and garters. Brick painted walls divide the room into smaller, secretive sections with painted signs, unframed pictures and cages of cured meat for decoration. This is one of the more traditional speakeasies in Sydney where signatures are created seasonally and old time classics are available on request. Traditional food such as Mac and Cheese and charcuterie are available from a hole in the wall.

Abercrombie Lane

Sydney NSW 200

Eau de Vie  

Like all prohibition bars the entrance to Eau De Vie is hidden; you will find it behind the Kirketon Hotel. The smell of popcorn hits you as soon as you walk through the door, in front of you is a small space, well laid out, making it feel spacious. Leather booth seats surround the edges, with low tables and small square stools. Locked cabinets on the walls above the seating hold bottled treasure. There is a large central table with tall wood and leather studded stools that match the ones by the bar. Popcorn is made fresh and served in bowls with your libations. Snack foods and sharing platters are also available. Eau de Vie is the French word for spirits and that is exactly what you get here, cocktails made with any base you ask for.

229 Darlinghurst Road

Sydney NSW 2010

The Barbour Shop

Entrance to the bar through The Barbour Shop (Photo: The Barbour Shop)

Entrance to the bar through The Barbour Shop (Photo: The Barbour Shop)

As the name suggests this bar is linked to a Barbour shop. To enter you walk through the male grooming parlour, to a partition at the back which leads into the cocktail bar. The space is small with green painted walls and a white tiled bar that has a dark wood top and bear light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. There are some good old fashioned bar stools but seating is limited. The back wall of the bar is made up of windows that look out onto a small courtyard; this is the back entrance to the bar which is off Clarence Street, where punters can stand in the fresh air to enjoy their drinks. The Barbour shop offers various services until 8pm most nights, serving a Little Creatures Pilsner beer as standard with all services after 2pm.

89 York Street

Sydney NSW 2000

Shady Pines Saloon  

Shady Pines is not a traditional speakeasy, other than it is very difficult to find the entrance: there isn’t even a name on the blacked-out door. Décor consists of stuffed animal heads of all kinds, country and western music, played too loud to talk over, with monkey nuts in bowls on the bar and swinging saloon doors which all give the distinct feeling of a western saloon. Shady Pines is a great place to start off with a cocktail loosener before you move on to shots, losing your inhibitions all together and getting lost in this western world. Shady Pines is best to visit on Shirts off Sundays when the slick-haired bar tenders, normally in casual T’s, serve you topless.

Shop 4, 256 Crown Street

Darlinghurst 2010

The Baxter Inn

The bar at The Baxter Inn (Photo: The Baxter Inn)

The bar at The Baxter Inn (Photo: The Baxter Inn)

Opened by the same owners of Shady Pines, in Sydney’s CBD, The Baxter Inn is famous for its Old Fashioned on tap – so there will be no waiting for this classic cocktail. In true prohibition style this bar is located in a refurbished basement with arched brick walls, low ceilings and dark wood furniture. The bar is packed with a display of whiskies up to the wood beamed ceiling, too high to reach: the bartenders have a sliding ladder to climb up and find the whisky of your choice. The Baxter Inn is predominately a whisky bar but beers, wine and other cocktails are all still available to enjoy with the endless bowls of salty pretzels.

Basement 152-156 Clarence Street

Sydney 2000

Grandma’s Bar

Walk down the stairs inside the entrance next to Guitar Lounge and you will be greeted by a stuffed deer head on the wall in front of you; continue down the stairs into a narrow hallway that has coupled rocking chairs and side tables with knitting needles and rolls of wool placed on top. The narrow corridor opens up to a large bar at the end of the basement. The menu provides bespoke cocktails and twists on old classics like Sex on the Peach. Beer, cider, wine and toasted sandwiches are also available. Once you have the drink of your choice find a comfy seat on one of the sofas or arm chairs, upholstered in true grandma style, in an atmosphere created by lamps and hanging wall lights.

275 Clarence Street

Sydney NSW 2000

Soda Factory

The entrance to the Soda Factory, through a fake fifties coke machine, sets the scene of the large, dark room you are about to enter. The central bar is surrounded by scattered, white plastic dining tables and red leather and metal-framed seats; the décor is a fifties American diner. There is a stage for live performers to play to the revelling crowd who can sip on alcoholic ice-cream floats, signature and classic cocktails and wine and beers. Various American dishes are available with a large choice of burgers and hot dogs. On Tuesday nights they sell a selection of hotdogs from $1.

16 Wentworth Avenue

Surrey Hills NSW 2010