Sydney’s themed bars are exciting not only the Sydney socialites but event planners, too. Forget the themeing and step into another world.


Sydney has a fickle heart – it jumps onto new trends, loving them intensely before the next big thing comes along, and the last quickly burns down to the distant memory of an old flame. This is because the city is a lover of ideas and innovation. While Melbourne is loyal to its style and favourite speakeasies, Sydney is captivated by the lights and inspiration of the next lead star. The latest trend to hit the scene is themed bars – and we’re loving them. When you step inside, you’re walking into a different world, whether that be of a bygone era or a style on steroids. They take concepts to a whole new level, running through everything from the décor and menu to the music and waiters’ uniforms. Here are a few that are jazzing up Sydney – great for wooing clients or events free of the themeing stress.

baxter inn

Sitting at the top of Sydney’s mythical Coolest Bars List is Baxter Inn. And it won’t be budging any time soon, with the constant line down the street standing as proof. Baxter Inn reaches from the American Prohibition era of the 1900s when alcohol was illegal, and edgy, underground bars opened up for the city’s lost souls. It possesses all the coolness of a word-of-mouth den. The dodgy laneway it hides behind adds even more attitude. Within, the precarious candlelit basement bar grooves to jazz tunes and is reminiscent of an old-American sports bar, with black and white shots of Muhammad Ali on the walls. The barmen here are dressed accordingly in high-waisted pants, bowties and braces. The admirable wall of whisky has a ladder leading up its shelves, making it look like a liquor library Oscar Wilde would lovingly dive into.
Clients: Take the CEOs, the suits, and all the Don Draper-wannabes in between. Good for small, post-conference medical meetings when everyone can have a stern whisky – exactly what the doctor ordered.

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the roosevelt

Back in the late 40s and 50s, The Roosevelt was a playground for the underground and glitterati crowds with even Sammy Davis Junior, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra performing on its stage. Owned by Abe Saffrron, the Boss of the Cross, the cocktail club was a favourite of Sydney underworld’s high society, always full of mysterious, dapper suited men and bejewelled women, until it was closed down for illegal operation. Its old world charm has been resurrected, and its intrigue continues from the likes of bespoke cocktails smoking with liquid nitrogen and its gentlemen’s club private dining room. This is a bar of old Hollywood glamour, with the history of the city’s underworld running through it.
Clients: CEOs and meeting groups of high stature, along with the glamorous folk who have an appreciation for a good cocktail (and perhaps some good-looking barmen).

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Mercure Sydney Potts Point

gardel’s bar

A tribute to Carlos Gardel, ‘the king of tango’, this old fashioned South American bar is filled with the smell of toasting coals and wood-fired fare. Gorgeous maître d’ Sarah is always dressed in 1950s glamour, and the barmen follow suit, but with their beards and braces adding a little more grit. With deep red walls, pressed-tin ceilings, a long wooden bar counter, brown leather chesterfield lounges and ferns scattered throughout, this really does feel like an Argentinian bar of another era. The dishes here are famous for the slow-cooked flavours favoured by renowned chefs Ben and Elvis. The meats come crispy from the grill, and are best with an old world cocktail served in crystal, such as the Rio Grande of brandy, Cointreau, maraschino liqueur, lily and star anise syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters.
Clients: This one’s for the fashionable foodies who think they know their stuff (so most of Sydney’s population). Take advantage of the bar’s character (and cut the line for the Argentinian foosball machines) by hiring out the entire floor for an event of 80 lucky people. Gardel’s will impress anyone and everyone.

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shady pines saloon

Shady Pines Saloon is another unmarked wonder – unsurprising when it’s by the Baxter guys. Behind the cruddy sliding glass door and down the stairs is a basement hung with taxidermy cow heads, faded black and white portraits from a bygone era, and old liquor bottles scattered around. Flannelette-clad bartenders drop bowls of peanuts on wooden barrels that double as tables, and women sidle up to the tall barstools to lean flirtatiously across the long wooden bar. Sydney loves the barmen for their freshly juiced cocktails (as well as their cheekiness), so order one straight from the juicer spiked with whisky (or something hard enough to masculinise fruit juice). This is old American lumberjack bar style complete with country music and a little bit of attitude.
Clients: The cool kids and the clients who like to have a good chat in a casual place that isn’t fixated on prettiness and colour-coordinated décor and lighting.

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the island bar

When the sun comes out for spring and summer, so too does The Island Bar on Cockatoo Island. All decked out in primary colours and astro turf, it’s like walking into a retro Hawaiian holiday with a splash of Brady Bunch (when someone has spiked the punch). The barmen are dressed up in nautical stripes and sailor hats for a bit of an oceanic theme, and the drinks are on the fun side of kitsch. Cocktails can be ordered in giant glass clams for groups to sip through straws and lounge on deckchairs in the sun.
Clients: Groups of clucky females who like to get dolled up and go out to play, or the clients from warmer climates who can appreciate a good tropical cocktail. It’s also great for retro dos that need to make a statement with location.

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jazz city diner

The American theme continues, but this time, 1950s diner style with black and white tiles and homemade apple pie. Waitresses donning frilled caps and pink dresses with the names Betty and Mary-Anne embroidered on the pocket are “[insert southern accent] Good gosh, just so happy to serve you today!”. Black and white jazz legends play on mini screens at the booths as Betty swans between tables serving up huge burgers, southern crispy chicken wings, curly fries and shakes.
Clients: The super small sales teams. Hire out the whole venue and take small groups of association members there for a bit of old-time fun.

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Royal Randwick