We asked a bunch of Sydney locals—from musicians to music journos to nightlife activists to booking agents—to share their favourite music venues.
There’s something very special about live music venues. Like sacred houses of worship for congregations of music lovers, they bring like-minded punters together for a holy trinity of boogying, bevs and beats. But whether it was the site of your first gig or the local haunt you frequent every weekend, we’ve all got a favourite venue that stands out from the rest.
And while we’ve seen many beloved clubs close their doors in recent years, Sydney remains a lively ecosystem of vibrant venues. Need some inspiration for your next fix? We’ve sought advice from the experts.
Recommended by: Tyson Koh, Campaign Manager of Keep Sydney Open
I take my hat off to any venue that sticks its neck out to put on live music, so it’s hard to pick one to talk about. One which I think deserves a mention though is Freda’s in Chippendale, because of the journey they’ve been on since they first opened. It was actually a straight up restaurant/bar to begin with before morphing into a multi-purpose space that has live bands, DJs, talks, markets and whatever else you can come up with.
Acts like Severed Heads, Kirin J Callinan and Sui Zhen have played there, as well as Sydney bands that are just breaking through like Orion, Los Tones, Retiree, Winston Surfshirt and These New South Whales. Many local collectives, labels and promoters have also used the space, like the Ladies Network, Personal Best, Otis Records, heavenly and Vibe Positive.
This kind of versatility is a godsend in a city that struggles with providing spaces for creatives. On top of everything else they do, they also just opened up an art gallery downstairs. It just earned the right to trade until 2am so I hope it’s a sign that Sydney is starting to open up again!
Address: 107-109 Regent Street, Chippendale
The Metro Theatre, Sydney
Recommended by: Rod Yates, Editor of Rolling Stone
Over the years there have been so many great venues in Sydney, and the ones that have managed to stay afloat really have done an amazing job. So while once upon a time I’d have said the Annandale was my favourite venue, and with honourable mentions to the Oxford Art Factory, the Factory and the Enmore, I’d say the Metro is probably my favourite in Sydney right now. It’s played such a large role in my gig-going experiences over the decades, and I’ve seen so many wonderful shows in there. The sound is generally good, the sight lines are great, the location is really convenient (for me), and I love that it’s a big enough room to feel like a big show, but intimate enough to really feel special.
Address: 624 George Street, Sydney
The Red Rattler, Marrickville
Recommended by: Amelia Jenner, Music Director at FBi Radio
The Red Rattler in Marrickville is by far one of my favourite venues in Sydney. The uniquely DIY vibe to the Rat means you’re always in for an unpredictable night, free from the usual constraints of heavy-handed security guards and surly bar staff.
There is a certain sense of freedom that comes with attending a gig at The Rat. Punters are treated like adults which is refreshing for a change.
It’s a fully volunteer run, not-for-profit venue, which hosts everything from experimental poetry readings to Mardi Gras raves and everything in between. No matter what show you go to there, everyone from performer to punter feels welcome, safe and supported.
Address: 6 Faversham Street, Marrickville
107 Projects, Redfern
Recommended by: Emily Collins, Managing Director at MusicNSW
Sydney has some amazing venues and the people who run them are some of the hardest working people I know. And despite all the negative press, they’re doing incredible things in terms of programming and supporting the next generation of Sydney talent – all against the odds. Special shout outs go to Venue 505, Oxford Art Factory, Hudson Ballroom and The Basement, but my pick would have to be 107 Projects in Redfern. Their programming is visionary and diverse, their venue hire is affordable and they’re one the few spaces in Sydney where emerging artists can take a risk, put on a gig and test their chops. 107 is also not afraid to get weird and experimental, which is an absolute necessity for creative spaces and in short supply here in Sydney.
Address: 107 Redfern Street, Redfern
The Enmore Theatre, Newtown
Recommended by: Stephen Wade, Booking Agent at Select Music
My favourite live venue in Sydney is easily the Enmore. There is a special feel to this venue for both the performer and the punter. The Enmore is a grand space but it’s also an iconic venue that Australian musicians aspire to be able to play at some stage in their careers. Because of that, I think the reason you get so many amazing performances from Australian acts is they are so excited to be there and this comes across in their performances and emanates back through the energy from the crowds.
I am lucky to have spent the past 20 years in countless venues throughout Sydney from the smallest for acts starting out up to the biggest spaces an act can play and The Enmore still stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Address: 118-132 Enmore Road, Newtown
The Gasoline Pony, Marrickville
Recommended by: Tori Forsyth, Musician
The Gasoline Pony in Marrickville is one of my favourites to play, it always has an amazing vibe and the team there are brilliant. I also love the way the Camelot Lounge is set out, always fun to play and watch music there. It also has a great vibe!
Address: 115 Marrickville Rd, Marrickville
Mamasan, Surry Hills
Recommended by: Jonathan Zwartz, musician
Of all of the venues that have live music in Sydney, it’s a tiny little restaurant next to the Public Library on Crown St in Surry Hills that gets my vote as favourite. Mamasan Surry Hills fits about 30 people max, it’s a downstairs dungeon, it has a great vibe and great food too.
But the reason I love it so much is because the owners of this bar/restaurant are music lovers as well and respect the performers that play there. Adam and Gemma have won awards for their establishment and deservedly so.
Currently there’s music there every Tuesday night, from 7.30pm until about 10pm. Artists like Reg Mombassa and Pete O’Doherty, Martha Marlow, Brendan Gallagher, Jade MacRae perform there as well as jazz musicians from all over. As well as the Mamasan, honourable mentions go to Venue 505, Foundry 616 and another tiny bar in Redfern called the Dock.
Address: 403 Crown St, Surry Hills
A whole lotta venues in Marrickville
Recommended by: Kat Dopper, Founder and Director of Heaps Gay
Marrickville is the home of some of the best live music venues in Sydney. You can see incredible jazz musicians and talented peeps at Lazy Bones and Camelot Lounge. Gasoline Pony is the down-to-earth neighbourhood bar you want to drink beer at on Sundays for local live music and country bands to all female choirs and an old school records store next door. The Red Rattler Theatre is hands down my fav, though. Diverse programming, inclusive community and it’s uber accessible and affordable. It’s the place to go to see live music in Sydney.