32 Bayswater Road
Tel: 61 2 9357 2177
This Kings Cross institution never seems to lose its luster, thanks to a Parisian bistro vibe and a fast and furious staff who mix up killer cocktails—like the Shizco, made with Peruvian pisco and spiced ginger syrup—from the zinc-topped bar. It's a great place to meet for pre- or post-dinner drinks, regardless of whether you're eating in the excellent adjoining restaurant, which features a raw bar and bistro classics such as soufflés, foie gras terrine, and grilled sirloin.
Open Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays at 5 pm, Fridays at noon, and Sundays 5 to 10 pm.
25 Bennetts Lane
Tel: 61 3 9663 2856
With little more than a gaggle of smokers to give away its dark-alley location in City Centre, this barely lit club is a haunt for serious jazz buffs. Every night, a different live lineup gets grooving at 8:30 pm, with edgier outfits and up-and-comers earlier in the week, and established artists and international names on weekends. Many regard this as Australia's finest jazz venue, and you'll often spot big-name musicians in the crowd. Prince did a "secret" gig here on his last Aussie tour, and visiting jazz masters sometimes hook up with local luminaries for electrifying jams. It's best to book ahead of time for big-name acts and weekend sessions.
176 Cumberland Street
Central Business District
Tel: 61 2 9250 6013
If you get vertigo easily, you'll want to avoid this 36th-floor place; the views, through 16-foot glass walls, will buzz you even more than the drinks. That's not to say the bartenders are slouches, though—the team here mixes up some pretty distinctive cocktails. The "Showgirl"—a concoction of Absolut and lychee liqueur with fresh strawberries and lychees—is sure to help you get your happy on; you can also try the equally deadly sounding "Carnival in Rio" —Bacardi, cachaca, and blackberry liqueur with lime, mint, and sugar.
Open Sundays 5 pm to midnight, Mondays through Thursdays 5 pm to 1 am, Fridays and Saturdays 5 pm to 2 am.
134 Greville Street
Tel: 61 3 9525 2322
Elegant ambience, beautiful people, and the requisite sprinkling of VIPs make Boutique the place to be seen, especially on Fridays, when DJs spin '80s classics to a dressy, upbeat crowd (and lines can stretch halfway down the street). If you can make it past the doormen's stringent style test, you'll ascend the stairs to the club, with its animal-print upholstered sofas, mod lamps, and sprung-wood dance floor. Boogie with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and then head to nearby Revolver to keep the party going.
Closed Sundays through Wednesdays.
8 the Promenade
King Street Wharf
Tel: 61 2 9299 4660
Forget everything you know about the Manhattan nightspot of the same name; this completely unrelated bar, with its rattan furniture, cane lanterns, and bamboo ceilings, is definitively Australian. First, there are the views across Darling Harbour, which make a fabulous backdrop for summer drinks; cocktails aren't mixed here, but there's plenty of cold Aussie beer, crisp white wine, and about 35 vodkas to choose from. And though weekends bring trendy crowds vying to charm their way past the doorman, weeknights are more relaxed, with specials like all-you-can-eat mussel feasts.
Open Sundays and Mondays through Thursdays noon to 1 am, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 3 am.
21 Liverpool Street
Tel: 61 3 9650 4488
Double Happiness, an auspicious mini watering hole in Chinatown with fab feng shui, takes its name from the Chinese character for good fortune—and indeed, happiness comes easily after a few Communist regime–inspired cocktails. Try a Dictatorship of the Proletariat (fennel vodka with paprika and Chinese spices), or take a Great Leap Forward (sake with Cointreau, coriander, and lemon) while you peruse the retro-Maoist decor. Or, climb the neighboring stairs to the bar's sister space, New Gold Mountain. The look here is part opium den, part Austin Powers set—a riot of textured wallpaper, beaded curtains, and paper lanterns—and the drink list rivals its downstairs neighbor in both quirkiness and flavor (61-3-9650-8859; www.newgoldmountain.org).
233 Lonsdale Street
Tel: 61 3 9654 8680
The après-office crowdfashionably casual and none too suityflock to the Emerald Peacock to display their plumage. The moniker theme is carried throughout the bar. An impressive avian mural greets patrons before they enter the lounge area, which has peacock-adorned wallpaper above the cozy booth spaces, but it's the rooftop area where most head at day's end. Roosting up here, guests enjoy an impressive city skyline view and drinks aplenty. The list will have you crowing with its Big Cocks page, featuring jugs of mixed drinks such as the Taj Iced TeaBombay Sapphire, crème de pêche, lemon juice, sugar, and tea.
While Sydney's gay scene isn't quite the powerhouse it once was (many same-sex couples are opting to settle down in further-flung suburbs), the town is still a major destination for gay travelers looking to party. Most of the clubs and bars are clustered around Oxford Street, especially in Taylor Square. You can dance until the wee hours (most opt to do so sans shirt) at ARQ, which also runs a drag talent show on Thursday nights. The dance music is the big draw at Home, a funky club in a futuristic glass building on Darling Harbour, but the views are just as good. Nightly entertainment at the Stonewall Hotel runs the gamut from DJs to male dancers to ribald drag acts Tess Tickle, Candy Box, and Shelly Legs Diamond. The hard-bodied boy crowd goes to the Midnight Shift for the anthemic music and campy atmosphere. Expect pumping dance tunes and unabashed homages to female gay icons (hello, Britney!). No matter what time of the day or night you pass by, the Colombian is always jumping, whether it's with hard-core clubbers dancing on the second level at 1 am or partyers winding down with Bloody Marys on a Sunday afternoon. The ground-level bar has French doors open to the street for prime people-watching, especially during the Mardi Gras parade. A major renovation has turned the iconic Beauchamp Hotel bar into a cool little cocktail spot, with an oasis of moodily lit corners on the second-floor terrace plus a sexy subterranean bar, Velvet.
242 George Street
Central Business District
Tel: 61 2 9420 3040
This soignée, Moroccan-themed bar is the swankiest at the Establishment property (which includes a fine-dining restaurant, boutique hotel, and several drinking holes). Well-heeled types and celebs (Sting and Robbie Williams have been spotted here) come to listen to DJs spinning soul, funk, and bossa nova, and the live jazz band that plays on Friday nights. Every imaginable libation is available here, including absinthe; the "applesinthe," one of the most popular concoctions, is a blend of Green Fairy absinthe, apple Schnapps, passion fruit purée, apple juice, and a touch of lime over crushed ice.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays 5:30 pm to 1 am, Thursdays 5:30 pm to 1:30 am, Fridays 3 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 6 pm to 2 am.
33 Bayswater Road
Tel: 61 2 9332 1227
Yes, there's pizza—but what really draws the almost-too-gorgeous types here is the glamorous backlit bar, the great cocktails, and the other hotties that come to bump elbows with one another. There's also a sunken lounge and fireplace, which keeps things cozy. The only drawback here is the attitude: Some staff can be curt and dismissive if you don't seem sufficiently fabulous.
Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 pm, Sundays from 3 pm.
3 Lime Street
King Street Wharf
Central Business District
Tel: 61 2 9299 4770
Massive, loud, and with floor-to-ceiling views of Sydney Harbour, this place is a magnet for the young and trendy. Expect lines on the weekends for the privilege of slouching in the comfy living-room-style chairs and talking above the blasting rock 'n' roll. Drinks here can be inconsistent, but no one seems to mind.
Open Sundays noon to 1 am, Mondays through Wednesdays 4 pm to 1 am, Thursdays 4 pm to 3 am, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 3 am.
161 Spring Street
Tel: 61 3 9654 6300
A perpetually closed, unmarked door hides what could be the country's best wine bar. The 94-page drink list leaves little room for criticism, though rival barmen snipe that the club doesn't stock enough of the pricier vintages. The menu is subdivided by grape type and blend, with an array of special vintages, plus boutique beers and spirits. The best plan is to throw some plastic on the bar, settle into one of the worn chesterfields, and prepare for a long night in. That Grange Hermitage might set you back a few thousand, but hey, who's counting? Lounge-y music underscores a steady hum of conversation that rarely abates before dawn. The lines on weekends may look daunting, but they move fast.
401 Brunswick Street
Tel: 61 3 9417 0880
This is boho luxe at its best, a Moulin Rouge world of burgundy velvet chaise longues, gilt-edged mirrors, and crystal chandeliers. Wicked little cocktails with names like Dominatrix (Kahlúa, Havana Adjo, crème de cacao, fresh chocolate, and milk) and French Harlot (Drambuie, Mandarin Napoleon, Kahlúa, and orange) complement a menu of aphrodisiac bar snacks. Intimate seating arrangements encourage tête-à-têtes, jazz and lounge music underscore the sexy salon ambience, and rose-tinged lighting makes everyone look fabulous. On weekends, the cavernous interior is crowded with flirty young things downing shots named after the seven deadly sins. During the week, it's low-key sophisticated.
229 Chapel Street
Tel: 61 3 9521 5985
A 24-hour weekend license and a hugely eclectic crowd keep this long-running, pretension-free club in everyone's little black book, despite its slightly faded decor. But the roughed-up, retro rock feel complements the live funk, electro, and hip-hop acts; fashion shows; and art events in the cavernous band room. Or play pool and get your groove on with everyone from touring celebs to arty teens in the main bar. Here, aisles double as dance floors, and dozens of '70s-style lounge settings fill the space between. The place is generally jumping from 10 p.m. till well after daybreak on weekends (post-dawn, the bar serves a decent espresso). By day, the volume's turned down and a Thai restaurant opens.
231 Oxford Street
Tel: 61 2 9332 3179
The downstairs bar is cool enough, with its kitschy wallpaper and flowering, tufted bar, but the real action is upstairs, in the Baroque grandeur of the second floor, where ornate gilt mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and wall sconces lend a sense of being transported to Marie Antoinette's court. On the same floor, the Arabian Nights–style bar, draped in heavy curtains, serves pricey drinks to a hip crowd that comes to watch a changing array of live performers. Despite the grandiose setting, the crowd skews towards young arty/fashion types.
Opens Tuesdays through Saturdays at 9 pm.
590 Little Bourke Street
Tel: 61 3 9670 7493
Melbourne nightlife vets still mourn the 2006 demise of Honkytonks, one of the city's landmark laneway venues. Hence the collective sigh of relief when the man behind the legend, Michael Delany, opened Sorry Grandma! with DJ Andee Frost. The weekends-only club has quirky styling (retro furnishings in private nooks, Tiffany lamps that flash to the dance floor beat), excellent cocktails, and a roster of the best local and international DJs. It attracts models and music industry typesGood Charlotte's Joel Madden has dropped in; the Presets and Ksubi designer Dan Single are regularsbut you'll have to get through the door to join in. It's all about attitude, so do your hip, devil-may-care best.
2 Convention Centre Place
Tel: 61 3 9027 2000
The seats at the bar surrounding the cheese and charcuterie "tower" (in reality, a 13-foot-tall glass cabinet) are the most sought-after at Sotano, a stylish new bodega gracing the Hilton South Wharf. The large, lofty room, with warm natural timber and terra-cotta tones, is a far cry from your average hotel lobby lounge. The name is Spanish for cellar, which gives you an indication of its intentions: More than 2,000 bottles of wine are housed in a climate-controlled cage over the bar, and the Catalan snackssalted cod fritters and meatballs with cuttlefish, from Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramon Frexiaare highly recommended.
488 George Street
Central Business District
Tel: 61 2 9265 6070
It's hard to believe that the hottest bar in town is in a Hilton—but on weekend nights, the proprietors here practically have to beat the crowds back. The space is long and expansive, but the candlelit groups of comfortable chairs mean you can still have intimate conversations, and all the space means you'll never feel claustrophobic, even when the crowds are thick. In good weather, take your drinks out to the deck; it overlooks the beautiful Queen Victoria Building across the street.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays from 5 pm, Thursdays and Fridays from 3 pm, Saturdays from 4 pm.