For most of its history, Brisbane has been labelled “a great big country town” but as Joanna Hall discovers, the Queensland capital has undergone an amazing transformation over the past decade - now it’s a vibrant and energetic city with more than a few surprises.
The Place to Stay:
Standing sentinel over the CBD right on the banks of the Brisbane River, the Stamford Plaza (www.stamford.com.au) is the epitome of traditional elegance, with a warm European decor and stunning views along the river towards the Story Bridge from every guest room. Online “best rates” winter packages start from $155 a night.
With a dearth of “boutique” hotels in the city, the Emporium Hotel (www.emporiumhotel.com.au) has been designed to reflect Brisbane’s new found status as a hip and cool destination. The designer driven hotel opened its doors in June 2007, and its stylish standard suites start from $295.
Fads and Fashions:
Forget any preconceptions that Brisbane is still a “shorts and thongs” kind of place - local fashionistas are being joined in the hunt for original and quirky designs by their interstate and overseas counterparts, as the word spreads that this is the place where cutting edge ideas are being born.
Fortitude Valley, or “the Valley”, is where it’s all at. Seven of Queensland’s most innovative young designers have taken up residence in a redeveloped shopping complex called the TCB (www.tcbforwin.com.au), situated between Brunswick and Chinatown Malls. Given a free fitout and 12 months waived rent, Joshua Schacheri (Subfusco), Chris McCallum (Vein Wear), Juli Grbac (Grbac), Chelsea de Luca (jewellery), John Prikryl (Check), George Wu (George Wu Gallery), and Gail Reid (Gail Sorronda) are helping Brisbane’s reputation as a serious fashion city grow.
Everyone’s talking about ...
Culture and caffeine - what’s showing at which gallery and where to get a decent macchiato.
Brisbane’s cultural status is growing thanks to the Queensland Cultural Centre on the South Bank. It houses four of Brisbane’s major cultural venues, among them the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (www.qag.qld.gov.au; tel: 07 3840 7303), and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (www.qpac.com.au; tel: +61 (0)7 3840 7444).
With its subtropical climate and outdoorsy personality, meeting for a coffee is something of an obsession for Brisbanites and the local café crew will argue in support of their favourite joints.
The Gun Shop Café (53 Mollison St, West End, tel: +61 (0)7 3844 2241) is a a brunch hotspot and a great place to mix with the locals, as is depot, located in Fortitude Valley’s Emporium complex (1000 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, tel: +61 (0)7 3666 0188). And The Little Larder (76 Moray St, New Farm; tel: +61 (0)7 3358 2024) has become so popular it can be very difficult to nab a table on the weekend.
The Big Night Out:
This is a city where the old adage “work to live - don’t live for work” is an essential part of the psyche for the locals and it’s hard not to become caught up in their enthusiasm to step out on the town. Cocktails and clubbing has taken off in a big way and the number of stylish bars is increasing rapidly.
Family (8 McLachlan St, Fortitude Valley, tel: +61 (0)7 3852 5000) has won numerous national clubbing awards, and if you’re after a new place to see and be seen, head to the three-storey The Met (256 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley, tel: +61 (0)7 3257 2557).
Complementing the Valley’s reputation as a fashion centre, it also has a slew of unique art galleries within a stone’s throw of each other along, or just off, Brunswick Street.
A wander through this mini district can include the Institute of Modern Art (420 Brunswick St; tel: +61 (0)7 3252 5750), Fusions Gallery (483 Brunswick St; tel: +61 (0)7 3358 5122), The Jan Murphy Gallery (486 Brunswick St; tel: +61 (0)7 3254 1855) and Philip Bacon Galleries (2 Arthur St; tel: +61 (0)7 3358 3555).
The Valley is where it’s all at, and just in case it becomes a victim of its own trendiness, suburbs like New Farm right on the river are emerging as funky destinations in their own right.
The redevelopment of the Brisbane Powerhouse (www.brisbanepowerhouse.org; tel: +61 (0)7 3358 8662) as the premier performing arts centre has added to New Farm’s reputation. Paddington and Rosalie are both developing a cool inner city vibe while the renovated warehouses of Tenerife are becoming popular with cashed-up locals.
The top table:
Finding quality restaurants is not the issue in Brisbane - it’s choosing which one to try out. Siana (Upper Plaza Level, Riparian Plaza, 71 Eagle Street, tel: +61 (0)7 3221 3887), offers innovative Asian fusion cuisine and serious cocktails, complemented by stunning views of the Story Bridge.
Alchemy Restaurant and Bar (175 Eagle St; tel: +61 (0)7 3229 3175) threatens to overwhelm the senses with its Story Bridge view and hand blown Murano glass chandeliers, but the French inspired menu helps create an intimate atmosphere.
And if you tire of fine cuisine and fantastic views, there’s a slew of BYO Asian noodle joints on Brunswick Street near Chinatown which are cheap and cheerful, and good value for money.
Visit www.ourbrisbane.com and www.experiencebrisbane.com for a good overview of what the city has to offer.