Jennie Milsom sacrifices herself in the search for Sydney's best drinking spots.
Best location: Opera Bar
On a sunny afternoon, you'll need to fight for a table at the Opera Bar, and understandably so. Slap-bang in front of Sydney's iconic House of the same name, surrounded by water and overlooking the harbour bridge, you can't get much closer to the beating heart of Sydney than this. Popular with Sydney-siders and tourists alike, countless tables are scattered along the water's edge and huge parasols offer welcome respite from the sun. Visit on a Sunday afternoon for live jazz.
Drink: A bottle of rose in the sun hits the spot and by moonlight, a Madame Opera - a heady mix of vodka, campari, grand marnier - will have you bursting into song.
Lower Concourse Level, Sydney Opera House.
Best cocktails: The Loft
The drinks menu at The Loft isn't just a list - rather it's a glossy catalogue of glamorous people striking poses. But don't let that put you off, the place is drop-dead gorgeous, too. Think chic lounge-style: a glass-walled space with low-slung sofas set around low wooden tables adorned with glass oil-lamps. The ceiling is carved wood, there are funky chandeliers above the bar and metres of orange gauze filtering light from the windows, which roll up at the touch of a button to reveal fancy boats outside. Cocktail waiters know their stuff.
Curiously-named concoctions - The Importance of Being Earnest is Pimms, ginger ale and lemonade - are dispatched on trays to a young crowd enjoying laidback beats.
Drink: Be a daredevil with an Oyster Martini, or pitch up between 1-4pm at weekends for High Tea, a delicious selection of cocktails in teapots.
3 Lime Street, King Street Wharf.
Best hotel bar: Zeta
The Hilton's fourth-floor bar is a discreet and intimate spot. Surfaces are high-gloss and the display of bottles behind the bar is strikingly back-lit. Ceilings are high, sofas expensive and tea-lights twinkle on tables. It's in the CBD so the surrounding landscape is built-up urban but windows overlook the historic and architecturally splendid Queen Victoria Building, which is artfully lit by night. Drinks are expertly constructed and the service is five-star. A refined mix of corporate and after-work city types pay handsomely for the privilege. Don't forget the credit card.
Drink: The Ultimate Opulence Cocktail - Hennessy Ricard with The opulent Zeta bar in Sydney's Hilton Hotel is the ultimate in luxury and decadence.The loft has the best cocktails and is just drop-dead gorgeous.
Fresh berries, a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee and a cheese plate - will set you back $700 (relax, it's for two!) but if funds don't quite stretch, a mixed spirit from the extensive list with a cheese and fruit plate comes a close second.
Level 4, 488 George Street, CBD.
Best pub: The Cricketers Arms
Don't say we didn't warn you about this traditionally wall-tiled pub that's stood the test of time. It's a sprawling warren of ill-lit rooms, including a pool room, an upstairs cocktail bar and a part-covered internal courtyard for smokers. Fusty furnishings include mustard-and-olive sofas your granny could have grown up with. There's even some shameless graffiti and a tiny Pokies area behind a beaded curtain. It's no oil painting, but has laidback grunge and kitsch appeal in double measures (check out the plastic flower-garden up high in the ladies loo). To offset all that old-school style, every Saturday is Pod Wars night where punters can plug in their own iPods for a 20-minute set. The set judged the coolest by patrons takes home a prize. The kitchen knocks out brilliant $5 tapas - just dandy for soaking up the beer and cheap wine.
Drink: As much as you like - draught beer, wine or alcopops - with a side of fried potato and aioli.
106 Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills.
Best wine bar: Bambini
Hidden in a heritage building overlooking Hyde Park on the CBD fringe, Bambini offers olde world splendour. Like an ornate boudoir in a French chateau, Bambini is decked out with floral wallpaper, church candles, fresh flowers and a chandelier. Confident staff know their wines without reference to the list and dishes of olives and nuts appear at no charge. With a 30-plus choice by the large, elegant glass, it's no surprise the place is bursting at the seams with wine aficionados.
Drink: Wine. Kick off with a glass of bubbles - you can't go wrong with the Bollinger Special Cuvee - followed by a French classic, such as a Rhone or Chablis.
185-187 Elizabeth Street, CBD.
Best `it' spot: Victoria Room
Ascend the broad staircase from the lively Darlinghurst street and farewell the lights of Sydney. This is a unique space that's best described as British colonial. Slatted blinds keep daylight to a minimum; it's not about what's outside, it's about transporting you to another era within. Wooden floorboards are draped with tapestry rugs, the ceiling is lofty and fans up high dispense gentle breezes. There's too much to take in: huge pot plants, fabric-covered table lamps and a mishmash of armchairs and leather sofas. A dining area occupies one half of the space.
Drink: A sugar-cane cocktail. The Sugar Daddy - vodka with lychees, apple and sugar cane juice topped with ginger ale. There are six dessert wines by the glass.
Level 1, 235 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst.
- Detours, HoS