Viva Bris-Vagas!

Words by Dorian Mode and photography by Lydia Thorpe

This senior finds the city of Brisbane, transformed into an arty cool city

The last time I was in Brisbane was over thirty years ago. Back then, it was like a big country town. And compared to Sydney or Melbourne, b-b-b-oooring. So I face our impending trip northwards anticipating humidity, ennui and bad coffee.

But as soon as we Uber (now a verb) our way from Brizzy Airport to our digs, I can’t believe the change in the old town. What a very pretty city! The river is gorgeous. It’s not that muddy ditch they call the Yarra. It’s a fully-fledged working waterway.

Our hotel is The Gambaro, on the groovy side of town. Opened in 2014, Gambaro Hotel is Brisbane’s newest luxury boutique hotel. Being in the guts of Brisbane’s Caxton Street precinct, Gambaro is really the only luxury hotel accommodation in its CBD locale. Before morphing into a hotel it was famous in Brizzy as a seafood restaurant (every Brisbane foodie has eaten there at some stage). Indeed we notice the seafood motifs decorating the interiors of the hotel.

The Gambaro Hotel is Brisbane’s newest luxury boutique hotel

The rooms are swish-o and the staff as friendly as country farmers. And brekkie is 5-star. Our favourite was bruschetta and goat’s cheese on Turkish matched with toe-curling lattes.

And Caxon St is not simply Cane-toads heckling busloads of Cockroaches. There’s a plethora of cool little bars and honky-tonks like Lefties Old Time Music Hall and Seymour’s Oyster Bar. All with free music and no gorilla at the door stating you aren’t cool enough to enter because you’re wearing Hush Puppies and a beige cardigan (I love a cardie, me. It’s a jumper with a sunroof.) So we are impressed by the location of the Gambaro. It’s also conveniently situated across the road from Coles, a big cinema, and a train station. But walking into the CBD is a snack. It takes us all of 15 mins with bad knees/hips/backs.

The City Hopper is a free ferry service traversing the Brisbane River

In the CBD we leap onboard the City Hopper. A free – yes free – did I mention free? – ferry service traversing the pretty Brisbane River. You can stop at the Maritime Museum, Eagle St Pier with its cool bars and restaurants, or the wonderful Southbank precinct.

What we adore about Southbank is it’s all the arts wrapped up in one beret-sporting stroll. We delight in the rainforest walk with its arbours and archways framed in bougainvillea and tropical flowers; a walk that would rival any garden in Europe.

GOMA (Queensland Gallery of Modern Art) is one of the best contemporary art museums in the country. That day they feature the inaptly named Marvel Exhibit. Fun for the kids who like comic books but not us. So Mrs Pictures and I stroll around the other exhibits at GOMA that we don’t understand. Standing before a red hole the size of an elephant I remove my glasses and suck the stems, tilting my head. This makes me appear deep. ‘I must get that hole in the roof fixed,’ I think.

‘I must get that hole in the roof fixed,’ I think

We also loved QAG (Queensland Art Gallery). They have some stunning works of fine art and an exquisite pottery collection. Mrs Pictures is unimpressed with the pots, however, saying ‘it reminds her of washing dishes’. Fair enough, I say. She does the washing up. I love watching grandparents unpack the paintings for wide-eyed grandkids. Forget the footy, take your progeny to a gallery for goodness sake and teach them to appreciate art. Or the symphony for that matter. (Start with the SSO playing Harry Potter or Star Wars or something.) Anyhoo, our favourite painting was Under The Jacaranda painted in 1903 by Godfrey Rivers. This seemed to encapsulate the QAG, as Brisbane is a sea of lavender in November.

The most stunning jazz venue in the world: The Brisbane Jazz Club

That evening we again ‘hop’ on the City Hopper to catch some cool jazz at what has to be the most stunning jazz venue in the world: The Brisbane Jazz Club. Imagine a jazz club on the very foreshore of Luna Park and you’ll visualise this breathtaking location. Indeed, it would be hard to play the blues in such an uplifting venue with the city lights bobbing on the dark river and City Hoppers gliding past. Run by music-loving volunteers, drinks are at club prices and the meals more than reasonable. It’s a must visit in Brisbane.

The following day we amble through a city mall in the inappropriately named Adelaide St in the maw of the CBD, with its pretty leopard trees and vociferous buskers. Soon we happen upon the heritage listed Brisbane Arcade. Here we find Room with Roses – a fun retro dining experience in Brisbane, specialising in High Tea. On the day we visit they serve a royalist-lovin’ Coronation Lunch. Nothing at all groovy about this place and much like the Brisbane I remember from old. But if you like the pre-war ambience of the Strand Arcade in Sydney, Room with Roses is still serving tea and lunches circa the 1930s and 40s when going to town was a dress-up affair with gloves and elegant hats. High Tea is fun but not cheap (I still have a scone on lay-by) but home-baked sweets, fresh roses on each table and linens make it fun lunch for the nostalgic.

Don't miss the wonderful Southbank precinct

That evening we dine at the Gambaro Restaurant. I order the steak only to remember that Gambaro is famous for its fine seafood. What a dope! Even the waiter surreptitiously rolls his eyes when I mumble the words “medium rare”. But our cow is superb with a killer merlot to match.

So seniors, Brisvegas is full of surprises. We can’t wait to get back there. Flights these days are under $100 if ewes book far enough ahead. Indeed, I just coughed up for my elderly mother-in-law to visit. No return ticket, of course. Just kidding/dreaming…

In the CBD we leap onboard the City Hopper. A free – yes free – did I mention free? ferry service traversing the pretty Brisbane River. You can stop at the Maritime Museum, Eagle St Pier with its cool bars and restaurants, or the wonderful Southbank precinct.