Sampling Sydney’s Cocktail Culture in the CBD

Next time your cruise ship docks in Sydney Harbour and you’d like to visit some of the city’s most unique cocktail lounges, here are three in the Central Business District that we highly recommend.

Our American daughter, Ashley, lives and works in Sydney and we recently visited her to celebrate one of our milestone birthdays. Ashley has come to know the town like a local and knows what her Dad’s celebratory preferences are, so it was time to hit Sydney’s bar scene! She showed us three of Sydney’s inside secrets.

Drink Like a Local

Ashley showed us where Sydneysiders go to drink. After a short “Uber” ride from the Rocks, where the cruise ships dock, we found three of Sydney’s exceptional cocktail lounges and bars, located within a few steps of each other, in the Central Business District’s Clarence Street.

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Gary and Ashley at The Baxter Inn | Photo: Pam and Gary Baker

Descending into the Baxter Inn through a back door practically hidden from public view, we found exposed brick, basement mahogany furnishings. And an entire wall of bourbon and aged single malt whiskeys labeled, libraried, and stacked on shelves behind the bar. We immediately felt like we’d entered an American speakeasy from the prohibition era, albeit amidst a well-turned-out crowd of Australians.

Resembling a 19th century hardware store, the Baxter Inn features wheeled ladders suspended from railings in the ceiling. The bartender slides the ladders to the bottle shelves and then climbs up to fetch your order. We sampled the 1998 Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, Single malt whisky, one of many from a unique and extensive menu, and realized Ashley had shown us one of Sydney’s best inside secrets.

Gin and Great Company

Next—just a stumble down the back alley from the Baxter—we headed to the Barber Shop. Gin drinkers will love this place. The distinctive smell of juniper hit our noses the minute we stepped inside the door. A barber shop by day and a gin joint by night, the vibe here is totally different from the Baxter. On a wall of glass shelves lighted from behind with a cool blue hue, the Barber Shop stocks an impressive array of specialty gins. Tonic is optional!


Menu at Lobo Plantation | Photo: Pam and Gary Baker

Across Clarence Street, the Lobo Plantation is another cool basement bar, influenced by old school Caribbean styling. Named after the legendary Cuban sugar baron, Julio Lobo, the Plantation features an impressive selection of rum-based cocktails and well-seasoned bar bites. This place is also a favorite with the after-work crowd.

But our birthday celebration did not end here. Hungry for something to eat after our birthday libations, Ashley steered us to the Café Sydney. Acknowledged as one of Australia’s best-known restaurants, and much frequented by residents, the Café Sydney is in the Customs House at Circular Quay. “You have to go there once,” Ashley implored.

The Café offers dazzling window-framed views of Sydney Harbour and the international maritime dock. Oh yes, the hand-crafted cocktails and exquisite seafood dishes match the views! And the birthday cake was delightful. A happier birthday celebration I can’t remember!

If you go:


Nothing Beats Cocktail Hour

The Baxter Inn, in the basement at 152-156 Clarence Street, specializes in whisky drinks. The Barber Shop, at 89 York Street, is known for its vast collection of gin. Lobo Plantation, at 209 Clarence Street, serves rum drinks in a Caribbean setting.

Located on the rooftop of the Customs House at 31 Alfred Street, overlooking Circular Quay, Café Sydney is a favorite with locals celebrating special occasions. Open 7 days a week.

Pamela and Gary Baker are freelance writers based in Northern California. They have written for regional, national and international magazines, newspapers and websites including Via Magazine, Destinations, and Australia and New Zealand Magazine.

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