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Where you'll find the best Live Music in Sydney

By Australian singer and musician Morgan Joanel


When I moved here from the other side of Oz, the top 3 things in my new-to-Sydney survival guide were: 1. The live music scene is eclectic, buzzing and fresh and you'll find it in the most unexpected places; 2. Those places are usually down side alleys and through back doors; and 3. If you're not there yet you'll probably end up in Surry Hills. I'm a musician so I get to see and play at a lot of places all over the country but hands down, I think Sydney offers the widest range of live music haunts. Filled with creative food menus, ambitious drinks selections and always a good vibe, these places are the ones you want to be at.

FRANKIE’S PIZZA - 50 Hunter St, Sydney

In the heart of the Sydney CBD is Frankie's. One half cute Italian pizzeria - one half manic dive bar. Imagine Al Capone at CBGB's. With the best damn pizza-by-the-slice in town and a 3am licence, it's the Holy Grail of late night in Sydney. The drinks menu is beer, beer and more beer and the pizza is cheap; the closest you'll get to New York-style by the slice in all of Sydney. Accompany that with neon lights and old rock posters lining the wall, this is where you wanna be mid-week for a loud and bodacious late night with a mixture of local and international bands playing Rock and Heavy Metal, to Rockabilly, Blues and Psychedelia.

THE BACK ROOM - 2A Roslyn St, Potts Point

Just a hop, skip and a jump from the Golden Mile of Kings Cross, down a back alley and through a non-descript door, you'll find The Backroom. Rum-filled-coconuts, mermaids, artists (who could actually be painting right there in front of you) and the odd pirate are just some of the characters you'll meet as your get further into your journey down the deep corridor-like venue.

What it lacks in size, it makes up for with some of the biggest of big names kicking into secret shows and after parties with models who could out-hipster even the coolest of cool kids. The music is wild but the party is wilder and if you're lucky enough to get in you won't come out the same.

THE SODA FACTORY - 16 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills

Disguised behind what appears to be a modest hot dog stand, The Soda Factory is like a forgotten 1950's American-Pop-Culture warehouse with just enough low hanging light globes, retro booths and couches to make it one of the coolest and unexpected live music hang outs in Sydney. On any given night of the week you'll get a mixture of acts performing anything from the coolest chilled out tunes to the trippiest of rock n’ roll vibes (and everything in between).

You know this is a cheeky-good-time place just by the menu boasting Chicken Waffles, gourmet hot dogs with names like "The Don Draper" and "The Yoko Ono", sides of Mac & Cheese and Cheeseburger Spring Rolls, to name just a few. Regular attractions other than live music are movie nights, dollar-dog nights, cocktail specials and DJ's; something for every night of the week.

CAFÉ LOUNGE - 277 Goulburn Street, Surry Hills

As one of Sydney's pioneer small bars, the Café Lounge has been going strong for well over 10 years, and it just keeps getting better. Known for its regular comedy nights and good cheap food (think $3 pizza nights!), you'll want to get there early to get a spot, because once you come in you won't want to leave.

Like a little bohemian cave tucked into a side street of Surry Hills, Café Lounge is an explosion of abstract ideas mashed together that somehow makes you feel at home. It's dingy, but in a welcoming way that feels like you're in a secret place only the real artisans know about; which could be why there's always a stream of international touring acts playing intimate little sets to those who have wandered into the right place at the right time...And if you whisper the secret password to the door person, you'll get cheap drinks - no joke.

GOOD GOD SMALL BAR - 53-55 Liverpool St, Sydney

Down in this basement bar is an early 1960's Acapulco café meets country club diner serving up the raddest gourmet interpretations of classic Americana fast food favourites. Buttermilk fried chicken burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, apple and cabbage slaw, chili fries and hot wings will make your mouth water all night long as you slip past the canteen doors and into the 'Danceteria' out back. That's where the real tacky-tikki magic happens. The music acts come in all shapes and sizes from singer/songwriters to ironic 80's synth-revival types and you'll see everything from the latest Triple J Unearthed darling to the next indie up-and-comer before they make it big and chances are you'll see them here again when they are big.

PALMER & CO - Abercrombie Lane, Sydney

As you make your way down the steep, stark staircase from a long and narrow side alley in Sydney's inner city, you would be forgiven for thinking you were heading for some dark and dingy dungeon. Rest assured, the feeling vanishes as you're transported into a 1920's speakeasy bar, with sepia toned décor, international mixologists and flapper waitresses looking like they stepped right out of The Great Gatsby.

It's bustling. It's busy. It's the place to be and you'll be surprised the incredible jazz tunes you hear coming from a live band. Whilst the main attraction for Palmer & Co. may be the extensive cocktail list and whiskey bar, the soulful tones of Miss Pia Anderson will turn your regular Wednesday night into a classy time travel back to the riotous roaring 20's.

FBI SOCIAL - 248 William St, Kings Cross

My favourite thing about FBI Social is that it's actually the live music venue for Sydney's coolest local radio station, FBI (94.5fm), so it's always a sure thing that the music is not to be missed. Located in the red light district of Kings Cross (directly opposite the iconic Coca-Cola sign), with its dark ambience and if-these-walls-could-talk vibe, FBI is central and easy to get to. It takes up the whole second level of the old Kings Cross Hotel, but your experience doesn't end there with four more levels to explore well into the night.

CAMELOT LOUNGE - Cnr 103 Railway Pde & 19 Marrickville Rd, Marrickville

The general consensus of Camelot regulars is that if you only have one night in Sydney, this is where you want to be! Hidden in industrial Marrickville, the calendar is always jam packed with all kinds of entertainment from burlesque dancers, magicians, contortionists, hula-hoopers, comedians, gypsy bands and even live model painting - with crowd participation a must!

It's small, it's art deco and perfect if you like being up close and personal with the musicians and all the weird, wild and wonderful characters that inhabit this intimate gypsy hang out.

THE BEACH ROAD HOTEL - 71 Beach Rd, Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach calls to all Sydney visitors, so if you're looking for somewhere to chill out and kick on after a day in the sun and surf, The Beach Road Hotel is calling your name. The unpretentious vibe joins both locals and backpackers in beachside harmony, and the regular free live music just adds to the awesomeness of this pub. It's big so you won't wait long for a drink and the food comes as good and cheap as any Australian beachside pub can offer. As it's affectionately known as by locals, "The Beachy" has all original music most nights of the week, happily mixing Australian Hip-Hop and indie cool.

For more from Morgan, check out her blog

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