wining and dining

Surry Hills bar hopping

Boutique bars of Surry Hills

A choice night out in the Emerald City

Until recently, a boozey night near Central Station meant an evening spent with teenaged trashbags, boorish bouncers and gurning girls with glowsticks. But since Sydney's liquor laws have become more like those of its boutique bar-saturated sister city of Melbourne, amazing watering holes have seeded and started to sprout.

Surry Hills is now a lush garden blooming with hip drinking spots — and there's something for everyone. So let's take you through a top night on the turps in and around Sydney's coolest burb.

Common? Anything but

Start your evening at The Commons, one of Burton Street's oh-so-welcome new additions. An industrious group of friends decided that Sydney didn't have enough simple, inviting and delicious public spots where they could converge over delicious, locally sourced eats and share a boutique bottle of beer. Luckily for you, they managed to lovingly renovate a charming 160-year-old building into the perfect place for a vino and a catch-up.

While you wait for a table, indulge in a cocktail from a candlelit perch in the newly reopened downstairs lounge — it's an idyllic date spot for drinks pour deux. To start, tuck into a charcuterie board and the caramelised shallots and goats curd on toast. When it comes time for mains, the Commons chicken parma is anything but, and the veal and pork lasagne beats mum's by a Tuscan mile. Finish off with a chocolate fondant, which is well worth the wait. As awesome as it is affordable and affable, you'll be back again soon.

Pop in for a quickie

Sticky Bar on Campbell Street is absolutely and without a doubt one of Sydney's best places to park yourself for an excellent evening. Be sure to head here next, because the joint gets jumpin' and you're likely to miss out if you wait until late. Sticky is the cocktail cousin of überpopular Table for 20 (such a hit with diners that it is booked out until March 2011 ... Take that, Tetsuya!), but works remarkably well as a standalone stop.

Their wines are delicious and easy on the pocket (the house shiraz is peppery, complex and less than 50 bucks a bottle), and the atmosphere cosy, kitchy and comfy. But the staff really make this the kind of joint you'd like to call your local — poised, helpful and ridiculously hot. Note: if you're looking for amazeballs bargain eats on a Wednesday night, Sticky does a delish lamb roast dinner, served with a glass of wine, for just $15. Get there early to score the best views of the bar staff table.

For a sloe, comfortable screw against the wall ...

If cocktails are more your thing, check out the tastebud teasers at Low 302 on Crown Street. We recommend a fuyu at first, a meehoulong as a main and a lemon cheesecake martini for dessert. The exposed brick and red velvety surrounds make it a sumptuous venue best enjoyed during a salacious gossiping sesh with the crew.

That said, if you make it here on a weekend the live music often leads to barstool boogies. And if you prefer your tipple corked, rather than shaken and stirred, Low 302 has a fab wine list (with a surprising array of budget bottles available from about $40).

Boot scootin' brewie

When you pitch a stop at a country and western themed bar, where Willie Nelson is sure to be playing on the juke and antlers hang from the walls, your posse will likely put up a fight. But Shady Pines is not one of those godawful American chains — it is a fun, frivolous, fair dinkum find. No frou-frou drinks here; grab a whiskey and a beer back, and kick up your heels.

Our favourite (and most endearing) quality of Shady Pines: the door policy. Patrons older than 60 are ushered in front of all the waiting hipsters on the queue and given the gold-star treatment (the pub is named after the retirement village oft mentioned on The Golden Girls). But everyone can expect service with a smile from owners Anton Forte and Jason Scott — with a sincere salutation including "pardner" or "little lady" delivered with casual Johnny Cash cool, you'll feel welcome to park your boots here for several rounds.

Bordello brilliance

Ravál is a fantastic secret spot (shh!) you're not likely to have been to yet, unless you follow live soulful singing and funky piano gigs. But we can't keep it to ourselves forever. This intimate lounge, perched above the Macquarie Hotel at the corner of Goulburn and Wentworth streets, is the ideal place for a têt à têt amoureux or a secret liaison.

Much of the furniture and fittings came from the Moulin Rouge set sale, so park your derrière on the same bench as the best of burlesque (or "our Nic", in any case). Expect attentive service, nice nibbles and the utmost discretion.

Before sun up

No need to end your adventure when the barman shouts "last call" — we recommend grabbing a (new?) friend, sleeping it off and then introducing yourself all over again during brunch at Bills. But where to bed down? The best choice in town is the Econo Lodge Sydney South — conveniently located just upstairs from Ravál.

The only thing "econo" about this hotel is the rack rate — rooms start at just $78, but come with all the bells and whistles. So secure yourselves a comfy bed with views over the bedlam of Slurry (sic) Hills and ... decant. And remember this place for your next night on the town, as we've paid more for a cab ride home than for a choice deal like the Econo Lodge Sydney South. Sweet dreams!

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