Three years ago, it was impossible to find a quiet and intimate place in Sydney to read a book and talk with friends over a glass of wine or a cheeky cocktail.
But today, more than 40 new and interesting small bars are changing the drinking culture in Australia’s No.1 city.
Sydneysiders can now knit over a glass of punch; drink cocktails from glass jars; snack on peanuts surrounded by the Wild West or sip wine in the “home” of notorious Sydney madam Tilly Devine.
Martin O’Sullivan is a co-owner of Grasshopper, a small bar built with recycled materials, and kick-started with matched grant funding from the City of Sydney.
The venue has reactivated a laneway basement that had been empty for several years.
Before Grasshopper sprang to life, Temperance Lane off George Street – between the Hilton and the Strand – was home to nothing more than garbage bins and cigarette butts.
“Small bars have changed Sydney in a positive way,” Martin said.
“People no longer have to go to Melbourne for that small-bar experience – there are dozens right here and they’re doing it well,” he said.
“We wanted to create something with meaning and character, so we used sustainable building materials and created a new space for emerging artists to display their works.”
Martin is also co-founder and president of the Small Bar Association, which has more than 30 members who share ideas, advice and expertise with each other and industry newcomers.
“I started the association with Chris Lane and Luke Heard, who started the first small bar in Sydney (Small Bar on Erskine Street).
“We share everything from tips about good plumbers or air-conditioning mechanics, to promising locations or good real-estate agents.
“We see the association as an opportunity to start sharing information and help each other out; we don’t see each other as competition.
“We want everyone to succeed so we can change the culture of Sydney from the big-beer-barn-nightclub-mentality to personalised service – it’s all about diversity.”
Sydney’s small bars are diverse and there are now dozens of small boutique and unique bars and places for people to meet and mingle.
These low-impact venues have a maximum capacity of less than 120 people, promoting a sophisticated and resident-friendly drinking culture in the city.