Let’s just clear something up from the get-go. It’s not Brisvegas, or Brissy, it’s just Brisbane now. It’s like continuing to use pet names for a younger cousin after they’ve reached adulthood. Brisbane was the gawky teenager with braces and a questionable haircut who has suddenly grown up and is now not only better looking and better dressed than you, but probably also earns more as well.
They’ve been talking ‘New World City’ for a while now, and it seems suddenly as if everything has caught up. This year has seen a pivotal shift for Brisbane, with a wave of investment suddenly coming online at the same time. The difficulty is not having something to write about. It’s knowing where to start.
It’s not just accommodation, it is whole dining and entertainment precincts that have suddenly appeared as the boarding and high vis vests depart. So let’s begin with a local Queenslander by the name of Adam Flaskas, who had a punt on the lease at Howard Smith Wharves (HSW) some six years ago.
The former Burleigh heads self-confessed surf bum had already impressed as one quarter of the husband and wife double act behind the much lauded Halcyon House on the Gold Coast. Much hard yakka later, Flaskas and his wife Elisha Bickle are beginning to see the same response to the rapid number of venues that have started to come online at HSW in the last few weeks. Event spaces, a brewery, overwater bar and Greek tavern have been chockers from day one with locals eager to enjoy the new precinct perfectly positioned under the Story Bridge. More event spaces, a fine diner and flagship Art Series Hotel will all be up and running by March next year.
The interesting thing to note beyond the attention to detail and superb eye for design is the number of key talent that relocated from interstate to be part of the HSW dream team. Sydney hotshot chef Alanna Sapwell was lured back from Sydney to head up new fine diner ARC. Ash Cranston was poached from Perth’s Little Creatures to oversee Felons brewery. Sydney restaurateur Jonathan Barthelmess is behind new Greek tavern Greca. This is some serious talent, and they all want to be in Brisbane. That speaks volumes about what is happening here city wide.
Howards Smith Wharves is just one large piece of a multi-faceted puzzle that has taken shape across the city. The South Bank precinct has also cemented itself as a major player with the addition of two new hotels within walking distance of the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. The new accommodation joins the already established Rydges South Bank and Mantra South Bank increasing the accommodation offering within the South Bank precinct by over 40 per cent, with organisers now having have a total of 916 hotel rooms to choose from.
Opening earlier this year, the 4.5-star Novotel Brisbane South Bank offers 238 rooms and two flexible function rooms catering up 145 attendees in total. It also boasts a ground floor pathway connecting the hotel to the convention centre which is directly over the road.
A block up, arguably the most luxurious hotel in the city has also just opened shop. Now the problem with really fancy hotels is often the people that can afford to use them. Usually they just don’t match the surroundings. That’s just not the case at the Emporium Hotel South Bank. This new hotel is very flash and if the guests we saw at breakfast on our stay are anything to go by, you’d better start planning your new wardrobe now. Is that award winning British film producer Lord David Puttnam helping himself to the freshly made mini donuts at the breakfast buffet? Yes it was, but our visit did coincide with the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, however the rest of the guests still looked like they’d stepped out of an Slims Aarons photo.
The hotel also has a killer infinity pool on the rooftop (so be ready for your close-up) and a very shiny new event space called the Frangipani Ballroom which caters up to 250 for sit down and has a ceiling that lights up like the UFO in Close Encounters.
Talking conference precincts, the Royal International Convention Centre is also booming. Otherwise known as the Brisbane Showgrounds, the inner city precinct does big events with ease and is now attracting locals and visitors alike with its King Street dining hub home to some seriously good venues. It wasn’t that long ago the only thing you’d see down King St was tumble weed. Now it’s packed. There’s also a 4.5-tar Rydges Hotel next door for added convenience.
W Brisbane can also stake a claim as one of the city’s most Instagrammable hotels. Launching a few months ago with much fanfare, and some help of the Veronicas, the hotel offers the usual W eye popping design faves such as the rooftop bar WET Deck as well as 1100sqm of event space. The 312-room hotel also lured the highly talented Sydney crew behind Three Blue Ducks over the border to bring their paddock to plate style to the hotel’s signature restaurant.
The Westin brand also made its Brisbane debut at the end of 2018. The 299-room hotel is so box fresh, it should patent its “brand new hotel” aroma and sell it. It’s corporate luxury done perfectly. If you can drag yourself away from the stunning swim up pool bar, Brisbane’s first, there are multiple meetings spaces totalling 930sqm including a ballroom catering for up to 500 people for cocktails.
The Westin Brisbane also offers access to the services and facilities at its sister complex property, Four Points by Sheraton Brisbane, making it perfect for larger groups. A new dining precinct is also in the making in the adjacent Mary Lane.
TFE Hotels are doing some really interesting things in Brisbane with two new hotels offering radically different but equally enticing propositions. The Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane promises amazing heritage design when it reopens next year after an unexpected closure earlier this year. In the meantime sister property The Calile Hotel delivers something else entirely. Located in Fortitude Valley, it is billed as Australia’s first urban resort. But what does that mean? Well, first off the building itself has echoes of a contemporary Middle Eastern palace.
A walled 175-room paradise complete with its own boutique retail outlets and dining venues. Once inside you completely forget that you are in the middle of a bustling city. Its minimalist design is all about the year round climate. And in the centre, of course, is another eye popping pool. Note to self – bring swimmers and workout more this city is filled with amazing pools. And with flagship restaurant Hellenika overlooking the pool and a new dining precinct, Ada Lane, set to offer five new street level eateries and bars there’s no reason to leave.
And finally, just to hammer home the point that Brisbane has an incredible diversity of hotels to choose from, the Ovolo The Valley has also just launched in the same neighbourhood, marking the second Queensland hotel to fall under the design-led hotel group, following the opening of Ovolo Inchcolm earlier this year. Another rooftop pool, oh Brisbane stop it, and some proper swagger make this one a must for a design conscious crowd.
But if you wanted to step out from the sophisticated charms of the big city, you don’t have to go far to really feel you have got away from it all. Spicers Hidden Vale is around an hour from Brisbane, or 15 minutes in a chopper, and delivers a real sense of the Aussie bush but with a luxury twist. Just so you know, before the homestead became a luxury retreat it was the home of James Bond. No really. Well, the man who inspired Bond. A certain Sidney Cotton grew up here before embarking on a lifetime of rip roaring adventure, espionage and womanising – one that friend and author Ian Fleming used to base his most famous of British spies on. Really it should be “Gday, the name’s Bondo, Jimmy Bondo”. Maybe not…. But truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.
So while you take in the 12,000 acres of unspoilt bushland you really can sip a martini before dining at their hatted Homage Restaurant. The restaurant is overseen by Ash Martin, probably the healthiest chef you will ever see. It’s all that foraging for fresh herbs and looking after the pigs, which as he puts “only have one bad day in their life”. Most of the meat is cooked over an open fire just for the added sense of being in the bush. And if you want to stay it offers a mixture of luxury cabins through to four bedroom cottages.
If that’s not enough, there are another 1000 accommodation rooms coming online in the next few years at the multi-billion Queens Wharf development. Luckily Brisbane Airport is constructing a new runway which will double its capacity, and hopefully help fill those rooms. And if you can’t make it out from the airport do not despair, as the Brisbane Airport Conference Centre offers a pillarless ballroom and multiple conference rooms next door to the Pullman and ibis Brisbane Airport.
The final thing you’ll notice about Brisbane is that everyone is zooming around on electric lime green scooters. These appeared overnight and have taken up with gleeful abandon by the locals. And why not. What better way to get from new hotel, to new restaurant to new bar.