It's no secret that Sydney’s after-dark landscape has had a dramatic makeover in recent years. The city used to be known for its vibrant night life and entertainment, but the introduction of lock-out laws by the New South Wales Government in 2014 curbed a lot of late-night activity. An attempt to curb alcohol-related violence in the city area, the laws mean that venues within the lock-out zone are unable to let new patrons in after 1.30am and are restricted in the types of alcohol that can be served after midnight.
The new laws make things a little confusing but, although the bar scene has changed, it’s far from dead. There is no shortage of places in Sydney where you can still have fun after midnight—you just need to know where to look. Central yet outside the lock-out zone, the inner-city suburbs of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Redfern retain a strong pulse when it comes to night life. In fact, there might just be more going on in these areas now than there was five years ago, as venues have popped up to accommodate late-night wanderers trickling out from the city.
Between Thursday and Sunday, there’s guaranteed to be a line spilling out the door of Goro’s in Surry Hills. Good for a feed with its Japanese izakaya-inspired menu, it’s much more than a restaurant. If you go here for the pork katsu sando, it’s highly likely you’ll end up sticking around for a round of karaoke and dancing.
If pubs are more your pace, The Unicorn on the Paddington end of Oxford Street offers a truly excellent chicken schnitzel (or whole roast cauliflower for healthier but no less hearty fare). The menu sits at the higher end of the pub food spectrum—no surprise considering the venue was recently taken over by Mary’s Group, which owns Mary’s Newtown, the late-night venue that single-handedly revolutionised the city’s burger scene. But that’s another story. If you’re still thirsty after your meal, The Unicorn stays open until midnight on Sunday night, 1am on Monday and Tuesday nights, and until 3am for the rest of the week.
The closest thing to a house party you’ll get in a public venue, Freda’s is part bar, part live music venue, part hangout for local creatives. Since opening its doors in 2011, the Redfern space has played host to its fair share of all-night celebrations, from up-and-coming local acts to community events to cult international sensations. On nights when there aren’t any gigs playing, the bar is still a welcome spot to grab a drink and a toastie up until the wee hours of the morning.
Closer to the city, Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice is a riotous good time filled with a ragtag band of misfits behind the bar and a greasy-good selection of New York-style pieces by the slice. If you’re after a quiet dinner, this is not where to go. But if you’re reading this article, that’s probably not what you’re looking for anyway. On any night of the week, this joint is open until 3am, except for Sundays when it’s open until 5am to mark the beginning of the hospitality weekend. In the second, rowdier room you’ll find a stage which plays host to live music throughout the week. On weekends, step out through the inconspicuous door to the right of the stage. What at first will feel like a mistake turns into a second wind when you find the very well-hidden speakeasy-style bar down the fire escape.
And speaking of second winds, since the lock-out laws kicked in, the inner-western suburbs of Sydney have experienced a night-life renaissance—particularly Newtown, which is overflowing with bar-hoppers most nights of the week. Further towards the city end of the suburb is The Lansdowne, an old pub with a new lease on life since its renovation a few years ago. Still retaining much of the grungy charm that made it a local favourite, it now has a new-and-improved food menu and a band room upstairs that regularly attracts performers on the verge of hitting the bigtime. Open until 3am throughout the week, The Lansdowne kicks on until 4am on Friday and Saturday nights.
Finally, Newtown is home to one of the most eclectic—and fun—nightclubs in the city. Hidden underneath the old Marlborough Hotel, Tokyo Sing Song is a basement club that’s equal parts Tokyo and New York City, with music and décor set by a new curator each month. See you on the dancefloor.