Flashpacker’s Guide to Sydney Nightlife

Hayley Woolf explores five ways to hit the nightlife in Sydney, Flashpacker stylee.

Backpacker or Flashpacker?! There are two terms that often come to mind when people say that they are going to travel the world on their Gap Year. There is the ‘backpacker’ and then there is the ‘flashpacker’. OK, now I know I may not be classed as your typical ‘backpacker’, given that I arrived at Heathrow airport in August 2010 with a suitcase that weighed in at 35 kilos (yes that is 5 kilos over the luggage allowance and inevitably required the removal of some all important clothing items). I  am living in Sydney with approx 15 pairs of shoes (6 of those in which are around the 5 heel inch mark) and my wardrobe consists of more partying attire as opposed to ‘thongs’, shorts and vests. What I want to try and get across though, is that backpacking doesn’t have to be all about living it rough and only visiting the standard bars and clubs where you are overwhelmed with the smell of stained beer on the carpets upon entrance and everyone is so drunk they are slurring their words, probably from the effects of drinking cheap cocktails out of fishbowels. There is so much more to Sydney nightlife than this. You might even do several trips to and from Sydney and need annaul travel insurance. So check out of that bar beneath your hostel, or the ‘hotel’ (that’s what they call the pubs on this side of the world) down the road and check in to my top five recommendations….

1. Ivy Bar

320-330 George St, Sydney, 2000

Image: You Bars

With Free entry, great music and a heaving crowd, for backpackers who want to have a night of sheer extravagance whilst on a semi-budget (a couple of drinks before hand would be recommended) The Ivy is a must on a Friday night. Flowing over two levels around a spacious courtyard called The Patio, which boasts a Japanese maple tree and a spectacular spiral staircase leading you up to ‘The Terrace’, the overall feel of the venue can be compared to that of a private party in a luxury Hollywood home. The crowd is mainly ‘suits’ aka business men and ‘city boys’ who have come straight from work, so guys if you’re after some females who are easy on the eye you may not be too impressed with the ratio of girls to guys here. Girls on the other hand… take your pick.

Due to it’s great location and reputation of attracting Sydney’s elite it comes as no surprise that the venue is already heaving by 11.00pm on a Friday night so be prepared to have to push your way through the crowds to get to the dance floor. Alternatively, thanks to the impressive interior, if relaxed lounging is more your style you can enjoy drinks and private chats over on one of the white comfy leather booths. Whether it’s living it up and partying hard, or winding down after a long week (of probably more partying) The Ivy allows you to do both whilst being in and around Sydney’s most finest, sophisticated and stylish. Backpackers, you may want to leave the flip flops at home tonight, dress to impress is the code at The Ivy!

While entry is free on a Friday, I would advise having a few pre-drinks first. However take note of ‘few’ being the operative word here. If you turn up unable to compose yourself in some form of ‘I’m not intoxicated manner’ be prepared to be turned away by one of the ever so serious doormen and sent back to backpackerville.

2. Hugos

Shop 1, Manly Wharf, East Esplanade
Manly, 2095

Situated on the beautiful Manly Wharf with a stunning view of the waterfront, is Hugo’s, Restaurant and Bar by day, Nightclub by evening. After my first visit I can already appreciate how this place has a rep for being one of Manly’s hotspots, attracting its locals and tourists alike. Its polished wrap-around deck and chic interior of leather booth seats and chocolate brown coffee tables with marble tops makes this venue effortlessly inviting. It reminds me of a glamorous beach house, sophisticated and stylish, yet cool, with a chilled out vibe.

My friend and I visit of a late Sunday afternoon; the atmosphere is lively, while relaxed and everyone seems pretty laid-back. We prop ourselves up on to two stools by the back bar and within moments have gained the bartenders attention who has a welcoming smile and presents us with the menu. Although the bar is busy our bartenders still got time for chat and when hearing we are cocktail lovers’ starts reciting every cocktail on the menu to us down to each and every ingredient (all by memory). With their proficient service it’s no wonder these guys have been the winners of the Australian Bar Awards since 2004 (among numerous other awards). I glance around and observe the crowd, families and couples enjoying a meal, guys in shirts with opened neck collars standing by the bar and girls in flowing maxi dresses exchanging girly chats over a glass of wine. Everyone is all smiles and laughter and at ease with each others company, creating the perfect ambiance. Whether indoor or outdoor dining takes your preference, you can do both at Hugo’s, whilst sipping on a sunset drink admiring the harbourside, daydreaming watching the world go by.

3. Sydney Sky Tower

1/86-100 Market St
Sydney New South Wales 2000

A Revolving Bar, Panoramic Views, Dexterous Service – I’m talking about no other attraction than the internationally famous Sydney Tower on Market Street. Backpackers, want to hear the best part? You don’t even need to pay admission to witness the phenomenal sites, as entry to the 360 Bar is completely FREE. Backpacker or flashpacker, I’m not recommending you go here, I’m telling you to go here. The 360 Bar is situated eighty eight storey’s high and almost two hundred meters off the ground offering the most unbelievable sites of Sydney, guaranteed to take your breath away. The Sydney Tower is a place to see from and be seen in.

Dine at the Sydney Tower Restaurant or over by the bar and order a drink or two whilst being taken on a seventy minute journey around the beautiful city across and out to the Blue Mountains. Your eyes will not let you down. If you are considering having dinner here, you may want to check out the prices before you book a table though as the menu is not your average Maccy D’s or Hungry Jacks. Think more fine dining and banquet-style, perfect and well-worth it for a special occasion or celebration. Granted, four beers at Scu bar (backpacker heaven) could have probably been divided into what I paid for my peach bellini but you can’t put a price on the most spectacular views you will witness at the Sydney Tower. I will definitely be visiting again before I leave Sydney, although next time I might be even more adventurous and opt for a Supernova Martini.

4. Trademark Hotel Lounge Bar and Piano Room

1 Bayswater Road Kings Cross, 2011 (Direct entrance to Trademark Hotel Lounge Bar)

Corner of Kings Cross & Darlinghurst Roads Potts Point Sydney NSW 2011 Australia (Direct entrance to Piano Room)

You can’t call yourself a true backpacker travelling around Sydney on your Gap Year until you have experienced a night out in Kings Cross aka ‘The Cross’; one of the most happening places in Sydney come dark. It reminds me of a lively strip, the kind you find on a wild holiday clubbing resort. Everyone is out for a good night, guys chanting and shouting banter to the girls from across the streets and empty beer bottles left on the pavements. It’s just turned midnight and the night is clearly still young, the streets are busy and the streets are buzzing. ‘The Cross’ is alive. Opposite the road, situated just beneath the iconic Coca Cola sign sits a dark and sophisticated venue, called Trademark. Incorporating two swish bars, the Lounge Bar and the Piano Room, I consider it as one of the more exclusive venues of ‘The Cross’.

My friend and I begin our night in the Piano Room. Striped upholstered armchairs and leather lounges rested against black and gold lacquer feature walls, this venue has superiority and class written all over it; a reflection of the cliental it attracts. I particularly love the leopard statue rested on the ebony marble surface by the private seating area, oh and then there’s the baby grand piano. After placing our orders by the bar we head centre stage where a live band is performing well known hits that has Kings Cross’ glitterati singing along and dancing the night away. Between 1.00-2.00am the party goers start to make their way through to Lounge Bar. All eyes are open to yet another fancy bar with hundreds of circular lights and floor to ceiling windows that allow you to witness the backdrop and buzz of ‘The Cross’ by night. While Lounge Bar carries its own distinctive aesthetic, it’s apparent that exquisiteness remains a continuous theme throughout both venues. From live jazz in the Piano Room through to late night dancing to house, electro and R n B hits in the Lounge Bar, if you’re in ‘The Cross’ and looking for a night of lavish partying then Trademark is calling you…

5. Pontoon Bar

Cockle Bay Wharf
201 Sussex St
Darling Harbour 2000 NSW

Say goodbye to pretentiousness and hello to a fun-loving crowd who are on a night out in Sydney looking for one thing and one thing only – to have an awesome time partying! Situated on Cockle Bay Wharf, with a fantastic outlook onto Darling Harbour is Pontoon Bar; waterfront casual Bar by day and Nightclub come evening. When the sun goes down and the crowds come out its Pontoon Bar where they’ll all be heading. My fellow entourage (backpackers/flashpackers, whatever you want to call them) and I, arrive closely approaching midnight. A $10 entrance fee is incurred at the door- I’d paid this to witness the spectacular views opposite me of the luxury boats and the reflection of the moon dazzling on the waterfront alone. Arrive before 10pm though and free entry for you! Pontoon Bar welcomes you to a night of laid-back, yet lively partying, dancing and drinking in one of Sydney’s stylish clubbing hotspots. The venue boasts state-of-the-art strobe disco lighting and a raised dance floor where you can show off your moves to the latest R ‘n’ B and hip hop tunes. If you’re a fan of Usher & Beyonce you won’t be leaving the dance floor in a hurry! With half the bar inside and half the bar outside, only steps away from the harbour, Pontoon Bar is the perfect location for late summer nights clubbing. The dress code is smart/casual, so guys you can relax, there’s no need to get all suited and booted, however this doesn’t make ‘boardies’ and ‘thongs’ acceptable attire either (shirt, jeans and shoes will sort you out though). All in all, if you’re looking for an exciting night out in Sydney to remember, round up your fellow backpackers and flashpackers at the hostel and head towards the harbour where you can, drink, dance and party like a trooper.

This post was written by GYE contributor Hayley Woolf, an avid traveller currently living in Sydney, Australia.

  • Sila Piukala
    Posted at 22:23h, 12 January

    That was excellent!! I haven’t been to any of those places but now you’ve convinced me to go…haha!

  • Magda @DestinationWorld
    Posted at 22:36h, 12 January

    I’ve lived in Sydney for over 4 years, but haven’t heard about 1 and 2. I guess it’s time to explore the city a bit more 🙂

  • Annie
    Posted at 22:42h, 12 January

    Great article Hayley! I LOVE LOVE LOVE Sydney and it sounds like you are really enjoying it! Way to go scoping out the classier bars scenes and even getting the inside on how to save a bit of money!

    I have to be honest here and say I don’t think I actually ever made it to any of these bars (very sad for me) but my housemates raved about the Ivy and Piano Bar was always on my list. You know that sadly I never even went out in Kings Cross in 6 months?? What a loser I am. I always mentioned it to my housemates (and BF) but somehow they always managed to get there when I was out of town for the weekend (angry glare flashed in BF’s direction). I got sucked into the local Irish pubs that were within a 5 min walk from my house in Newtown… lazy American.

    Great tips! I am definitely looking forward to more of your posts! 🙂

  • anthony
    Posted at 10:06h, 13 January

    ok this is really odd but… Hi im up in sydney for a 6 week internship and the people at my work suck no friday night drinks and i don’t know anyone up here. I’ve heard about a few of those places and really want to go to them. im not some freak, just an out going guy looking for a few nights on the town, if you would be keen on heading out together, let me know my email is stewa@unimelb.edu.au, hope to here from you anthony

  • Matt
    Posted at 15:34h, 13 January

    Really enjoyed this post — almost as much as I loved Sydney. I only spent three nights there but these tips would have come in very handy. I’ll use them in the coming months as I’ll hopefully be back in Sydney for a visit soon!

  • DBP
    Posted at 19:31h, 13 January

    This sounds well allwhite! where is backpackerville though?

  • Hayley
    Posted at 11:24h, 04 February

    Hey guys, thanks for the positive feedback! I have more posts coming soon 🙂 hayley x

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