Sure, it’s now cold enough to warrant spending all our time indoors and watching back-to-back Netflix. But, this year, Sydney is putting on one helluva show that’s sure to lure you out of the house. This June, Sydney Solstice (June 8–20) is greeting winter head-on, showcasing some of the best music, arts and food the harbour city has to offer. The packed-out schedule spans events held in urban laneways and famous landmarks, but, if you really want to get cosy, you’ll want to track down the gigs heating up Sydney’s go-to bars and restaurants. Whether you want to sip whisky in a western-style saloon, party in a multi-level pub or hit up new Darlinghurst darling Cafe Freda‘s for a natty wine, these in-venue shows are better than watching Friends… again.
In partnership with NSW Government via Destination NSW, we’ve rounded up the top spots around town where you can wine, dine and catch a dazzling show this season. So, put on your winter woollies and get out that front door to catch everything from camp cabaret and swingin’ country tunes, to early-morning raves and Latin-infused beats right by the harbour.
Freda’s may have lost its nightclub vibe when it moved to Taylor Square, but that doesn’t mean it lost its edge. Serving minimal-intervention wines, local craft beers and a range of cocktails, plus pastel green pandan panna cotta, Freda’s second iteration is packed out pretty well every night. So, if you want to combine fun wine with culture this winter, make tracks to the bar’s queer reading event, The Longest Night. It’ll be hosted next door in the Abstract Thoughts Gallery, and will bring together leading writers and comics from the LGBTQIA+ community. The night will be complemented with visual art displays and DJs to set the mood. Best of all — you can catch it all for free.
Dulcie’s Kings Cross
Dulcie’s, Kings Cross’ 1930s-inspired cocktail bar, is leaning into the winter solstice with a queer-focused night of ‘mystery, magic and campness’. Cheekily called Star Gayzing, the one-off affair will combine drama and intrigue with cheek and cheer, so you can expect to be dazzled by the likes of card readings by the bar’s resident psychic, daring dance performances, burlesque shows, drag, comedy and live tunes, all packed within a two-hour show. Hosted by Queer Sydney, a collective of LGBTQIA+ visual and performance artists, Star Gayzing will transport you to another realm where you can let your hedonist flag fly.
With its unbeatable view of Sydney Harbour, leafy oasis-like interior and pastel-hued furniture, Hacienda never fails to impress. For Sydney Solstice, the 1950s Cuba-inspired bar is bringing the vacay vibes with live music on weekends. You can catch traditional South American bands and DJs playing lively Latino-infused beats, which will be sure to get you forgetting all about the weather outside. You’ll also be sipping cocktail shots and tucking in to South American-style share plates, so round up your crew for this one.
Shady Pines Saloon
Although it’s no longer much of a secret, Shady Pines remains one of Sydney’s most-loved hidden bars. Wander down an alley, go through a nondescript door and you’ll enter a country-and-western haven. From the taxidermy-clad walls to the pokey wooden tables and chairs, Shady looks like it was plucked straight out of a Tarantino movie. For Sydney Solstice, the bar is bringing a big dose of live tunes to its intimate subterranean space. On Sunday, June 13, you can catch cowpunk chaos from Extension Chord, supported by James Van Cooper and Buffalo Grass Boys. Then, on June 20, CK & The 45’s are transforming the bar into a full-blown honky-tonk with their fast-shooting western swing music.
Waywards At The Bank
If you love Dolly Parton and can’t get enough of Johnny Cash, you’ll want to head to the inner west over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. For three days, country and country-adjacent tunes are descending on the neighbourhood thanks to the inaugural Country and Inner Western event. There’ll be an all-day music festival in a park and a heap of free gigs popping up in Newtown and Enmore bars, shops and gig spaces. One spot where you can get in on the action is Waywards, located inside The Bank Hotel. It’s playing host to an epic 16 gigs over three days, including acts from A. Swayze & The Ghosts, Scabz, Private Wives, Esme, Andy Golledge Band and Ella Haber.
A cornerstone of Sydney nightlife, Harry’s is bringing some spicy levels of dancing to the streets of Surry Hills this solstice. During Sydney Solstice, the much-loved pub is transforming into Harry’s Altar Danceteria, with late-night events that will transform the space into a rave cave — complete with fluoro posters, lasers and installations by Babekuhl and Serwah Attufah. Tunes-wise, expect to dance into the early hours (3am) with local legends like Jono Ma, The Santamaria Bros, Stereogamous, Roy Blues, P.Smurf, Niku, Body Corp and Finer Things Deejays behind the decks. You’ll have plenty of time to get your groove on, too, with Danceteria running across 12 nights.
Poof Doof is back, baby. Ivy’s popular night out returns, and it’s ready to send you off on an unforgettable — or perhaps too forgettable — night of partying. Celebrating Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ community, the event will involve lots of dancing and plenty of drag. Aussie music legends Sneaky Sound System are headlining the party, with performances from RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under stars Coco Jumbo and Jojo Zaho also on the bill. Plus, Poof Doof queens Sia Tequila and Jimi the Kween will be bringing their glamour to what promises to be a glitter-filled evening. The Merivale venue is also hosting another six events across the long weekend, if you’re keen to extend the good times there — and we won’t blame you if you do.
Originally published on Concrete Playground, 3 June, 2021.