The Sydney CBD after-work drinking club guide to pubs and bars

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The CBD after-work drinking club is an informal group of expats that meets in Sydney CBD most weeks (usually on a Thursday). We choose a different bar or pub to meet in each week, and usually have a bite to eat and some drinks. Below are some reviews of the bars that we have visited on our rounds.

The Town Hall Hotel, Balmain

The upper bar, complete with contemporary furnishings and elegant balcony seats, is the chalk to the ground floor's cheese. An excellent range of boutique wines and beers compliments spacious and comfortable surroundings. The menu offers a good selection of quality food that is served promptly from the adjacent kitchen. The Steak & Kidney Pie comes highly recommended. In the summer months, sitting on the balcony watching the activities of Darling Street with a cold beer and some snacks is a favourite passtime.

A variety of cocktails are also on offer, at half price on Thursdays. The bar staff are a bit obsessed with getting you to return to your table rather than waiting at the bar for them to prepare your drink, however.

Well worth a visit.

The Exchange Hotel, Balmain

The Three Weeds, Rozelle

AKA The Tardis.

This pub looks small from the outside, but there are delights around every corner. And it will become even more delightful when smoking is banned from every area. The restaurant is in a separate dining room (and is recommended, though not if you're feeling really hungry). The main bar is nicely decorated, with some coveted sofas and chairs at the far end. If you aren't lucky enough to get one of those, you may end up on one of the bench seats which unfortunately are very uncomfortable. But if you have a look round the corner, you'll find more seating!

The bar food is okay, rather than outstanding, and the prices are reasonable for both food and drink. There is often live music (the jazz on Sunday evening is worth a look, although the volume wouldn't hurt from being turned down a notch). Alternatively, you can borrow jenga, scrabble or dominoes from the bar for a good old fashioned game.

If you get bored with the games, there are some pool tables including one which is hidden away in an alcove near a tiny courtyard. Here you can be as noisy and boisterous as you like.

Parking is terrible round there though, so don't bother to bring your car. It's a five minute journey from the CBD by bus.

The Lord Dudley, Paddington

The Lord Dudley - what a find! It sells itself as Ye Olde English Style Pub and you can see where it's coming from - even if the mark's not spot on. Lots of dark wood panelling and maps of Blighty make the place feel familiar and welcoming. It's a popular place and is favoured for Sunday lunch.

Located in Paddington/Woollahra, it's easily accessible from the CBD (just 15 minutes or so by taxi). It's a large hotel (over three floors), with lots of different rooms, each with their own character.

The restaurant, at $25-30 for a main, is not the cheapest eating spot in town. The food is good quality though and tasty enough, even if the menu isn't particularly inspired.

And (most importantly) it has a dartboard! Unfortunately you may not get to use it unless you can pluck up the courage to ask fellow patrons to move out of the 'dartboard room' (more like a cubby hole). Hanging around, glaring at them, talking about darts and with darts in hand, isn't sufficient...

The East Sydney Hotel, Woolloomooloo

The East Sydney Hotel is on the cnr of Crown and Cathedral Streets.

It feels more like a proper pub than most hotels in Sydney: there's a decided lack of pokies; there's a pool table; there's a jukebox; and, most importantly, there's a dartboard!

The hotel's front bar is small, with only a few tables, but lots of room to prop the bar up. At the rear there's the pool room, with jukebox, and the restaurant. The front bar is decked out with old photos, posters and so on - so it feels comfortable and welcoming. Even dogs are welcome. The staff aren't grumpy. The beer selection is good.

It attracts a diverse clientele, with locals rubbing shoulders with city types. It's also a reasonably busy place, although it manages never to seem too crowded.

The Slip Inn, Sussex Street, Sydney

Where Princess Mary met her Prince Frederik (or any other prince going). It generally has a good atmosphere, but the beer garden can feel rather squashed. Over two floors, the upper caters to Thai tastes. There's a good courtyard area, although this is extremely popular and seats can be hard to come by. The clientele is largely an after work crowd. Consequently, the place attracts work dos and can seem a bit staid.

The Angel Inn, Pitt Street, CBD

St Patrick's Tavern, Sydney

If you are having problems finding a pub that will serve you without ID, or if you're wearing thongs, or you're desperate for a drink at 4am, this pub is ideal. The clientele are delightful, particularly the drunk regulars and the boozed up backpackers. If you're not there to play the pokies or have a heated up frozen meal, space is at a premium but what a bonus, it means you're even closer to the other patrons. To fit in, I recommend smashing a few glasses, having a row with a stranger, and loosing all your money on the pokies.

The Art House, Sydney

Not one of our regular haunts. And not likely to become one. Generally agreed to have crap music, expensive beer and be full of suits. It's a huge place though, over several floors, and has a restaurant. Its location (off Pitt Street) is a little odd, too - you get the feeling of having stumbled across something, but you'd rather wish you'd not bothered.

The Bligh Bar, Sydney

The Shelbourne, Sydney

James Squire, Darling Harbour

This bar was suggested by a BE member who subsequently failed to materialise - perhaps he was worried about being lynched?

Although this has a good harbourside position, it wasn't destined to become a regular haunt. It was extremely pricey and there was very little atmosphere. If you had friends or family over who you wanted to impress with some waterviews, you could take them here, but frankly there are much better and more impressive bars in Sydney.

The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, Sydney

Great choice of house beers on tap (if you like beer) and a range of bar food, if a little on the pricey side. Can get a bit noisy and crowded but a great spot on a wintery day. It's a heritage building, where you can feel yourself being transported back in time... or that may just be the effects of the beer!

The Metropolitan, Sydney

The Criterion, Sydney

AKA The Cretin. The downstairs bar was empty on a previous visit, so stick with the main bar upstairs. This is a bog standard hotel, which could probably do with a renovation or maybe just a good clean. Food is available, which looked a bit like roadkill but it may have been tasty - no, it wasn't (tasty that is, the roadkill bit is right).

The Cruise Bar, Sydney

A great location, with wonderful views of the Opera House if you bag an outside table.

Popular with young, beautiful things in tiny dresses (the girls) and tight t-shirts (the boys) but it's a friendly place that doesn't make you feel unwelcome if you're older than 25 and wearing jeans. There's a dj and a dance floor if you want to boogie and show your age. The drinks are probably very expensive usually, but the night we were there I got rounds for $10 (four beers). This may have been a one-off 'disgruntled bar employee getting revenge on the owner by undercharging everyone' experience.

Strattons, Sydney

The site of the very first CBD after work drinks. And that's the best thing I can say about it.

Redoak, Sydney

The Columbian, Darlinghurst

Located on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, this gay-friendly hotel doesn't look much from the outside (it actually look a bit like a nasty RSL place), but has a good atmosphere inside. Following a refit, it's now got a new-bar feel about it - low lighting, leather couches, widescreen TVs... It's got a relaxed feel; the bar staff are laid back and helpful and it attracts a mixed crowd. Drinks aren't too pricey and the location is great.

The London, Balmain

Another great Balmain pub, this time at the bottom of the hill. Serving Guiness in pint glasses, and a range of other boutique and premium beers, it manages to please most times. The bar area is large, with ample seating, and if that fails the road balcony is great for those warmer days. A good menu and restaurant services compliments this popular and well known bar. In keeping with most Balmain pubs, you can always find at least one dog in the bar. And as if all that wasn't enough, apparently (according to local lore, anyway) the house next door is owned by Malcolm Young of AC/DC fame.

The Brooklyn, Sydney

What a great place! Actually, a bit of a dive but some of us got free glasses of sparkling wine there so I remember it as being fantastic.

Heritage Belgian Beer Cafe, The Rocks

Old Fitzroy, East Sydney

Amazingly cheap food, although there were a few reports of dodgy stomachs the next day... Comfy, relaxed place with decent pool tables and zebra striped walls. It also has a theatre attached to it that's meant to be pretty good.

The Shark Bar, Sydney

Unless you're very drunk (or hideously insane), for the love of god, don't enter this place sober. The smoking area is in the front of the bar. The carpets and the decor remind you of a airport lounge/little chuff; the food is dire; the pool tables are poorly lit; it honks a bit; but, on the plus side, the beer is cheap (a mere $3.50 a schooner for a New). Errrrrrm, we didn't like it, but it might be better if it's gone midnight and nowhere else will let you in.