For a drinking den, this place sure is peaceful. The first venue to open in Sydney under the new small-bar licensing laws, Small Bar’s sandwiched between Erskine Street and Sussex Lane in a narrow heritage terrace – we’re talking about 140 years old – and laid out over three levels, ensuring it’s more cosy than cramped. Popular with 30- to 50-something professionals keen for a drink over a relaxing chat without the need for shouting, this salubrious hole-in-the-wall also doubles as a Melbourne-style laneway bar. The cellar level – with its bare rafters and ancient brick walls reminding you just how close to the Rocks you are – opens out onto a laneway seating area, Sussex Lane having been paved and reclaimed for pedestrians some years back. At street level, the main bar looks more like a rustic mountain café than a watering hole, with an assortment of pews, chairs, cushions and tables, a chunky wooden slab of a countertop, and knick-knacks and curiosities on display. While there are premium domestic and imported beers on offer, this pint-sized parlour is a wine bar at heart, hawking mostly Aussie drops that complement a short menu of sharing fare – antipasti, Boston crab cakes with tartare sauce, pulled-pork sliders. But the best thing about Small Bar has to be that once inside, it’s near impossible convincing yourself you’re still in the heart of the city.