Brisbane’s Small Bar Scene Might Be Australia’s Best
8 bars that are changing the city.
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The most distinctive aspect of Brisbane’s skyline is the fact that it’s always packed with cranes reconstructing the buildings before they have a chance to form a distinctive skyline – with the exception of the Batman Building, of course. Everything changes including the drinking establishments, many of which have the lifespan of butterflies. But recently some small bars have been making a go of it, finding ways to stay alive by serving up unique selections of craft beers or other fancy drinks, often pairing them with delicious food that’s equally unique. These are some of the small bars in Brisbane giving Melbourne a run for its money.
#1 The Gresham, CBD
Hidden inside the heritage-listed National Australia Bank building on Queen Street is an upscale bar called The Gresham. The original bank’s safe is proudly on display inside and you’ll need to bring an appropriate amount of money, because it has a comprehensive collection both ‘whiskeys’ and ‘whiskys’ and knowledgeable staff who can whip you up a cocktail like the Heartattack & Vine or something bespoke. Pleasingly in a city full of bars fussing over their dress codes The Gresham has an “attitude policy” instead.
#2 The Mill On Constance, Fortitude Valley
In a building that’s been both a mill and a barracks for American pilots during World War II you’ll find one of the fastest-changing selections of beers on tap in Brisbane, with something new to try every time you visit. The Mill On Constance‘s Irish owners are planning to add a kitchen next year but for now they serve beer, wine, coffee, and cocktails that come in jars because of course they do. A few mechanical relics from the days when the space was a mill decorate the room, as well as a statue of a velociraptor that’s harder to explain but no less impressive.
#3 Heya, Fortitude Valley
Modeled after the bars of Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Heya has taken over the underground space formerly belonging to the Brunswick Social and split it up into several small bars with a Japanese theme. Japanese whiskey isn’t for everyone so fortunately they have plenty else on offer, and the fusion-y food is surprisingly great. Their signature dish of cheeseburger spring rolls in particular have no right being as tasty as they are.
#4 The End, West End
Beloved Brisbane icon Trash Video may have closed, but as the credits rolled The End appeared. A few mementos of the old days are still plastered on the walls, but now there’s a timber bar and a set of leather couches to lounge in as you drink one of their cocktails. That includes several served in pitchers like the Jug-o-gin, which they suggest is “best accompanied by friends.” The End has a broad selection of spirits and beers on tap (check the blackboard to see what they’ve got at the moment), and a narrower selection of bar food, mostly platters of cheese, olives, and nuts.
#5 Death Valley Bar, Morningside
Brisbane band The Grates own both the Southside Tea Room, serving hot drinks and cupcakes by day, and its night-time neighbour Death Valley Bar. The front room has a collection of pinball machines, an arcade cabinet, and 10 taps of specialty beers, while the open back deck provides a parking spot for the Red Robin Supper Truck. Take your drinks out back and you can grab a burger, burrito, or chorizo dog as well as buffalo wings that are $1 each. Death Valley is a nice option for those who have aged out of noisy nights in the valley and maybe want to bring their kids when they go for a drink in the suburbs – double j listeners rather than triple j listeners, if you catch my drift.
#6 The Brightside, Fortitude Valley
Once a church and now mainly a music venue, The Brightside is more than just the place you go to see pop-punk bands in Brisbane. Even if you’re not there to see a show you can sit in the beer garden, they’ve added a kitchen called Lucky Egg Fried Chicken whose specialty is right there in the name, the range of drinks on offer is better than it is in most other gig holes, and they’re starting up their own BASEketball league (you read that right, just like the movie) in January next year.
#7 The Silver Bullet, West End
On the weekend the Boundary Street Markets have a great variety of food stalls, with everything from German sausages to Korean fried chicken to Transylvanian cheese pies, as well as the pavlova specialists of Mad Pav. Next to the entrance is the Silver Bullet, a 10-tonne train carriage that’s found a new life as a bar owned by Red Bay Brewery. All their craft beers and ciders are preservative-free, and until the day Queensland Rail legalises drinking on trains this is the only way you’ll be able to get a buzz going while riding the rails.
#8 Fourth Wall, Fortitude Valley
Behind a glass wall on Ann Street is a small space – with a strictly limited capacity of 60 – that looks like a comfy living room, but is actually another of Brisbane’s small bars, Fourth Wall. The beers are all from Australian micro-breweries and they have a wide selection of wines, plus half-a-dozen ciders. They don’t do food but you’re allowed to bring your own, so long as you don’t make a mess. Just don’t crack any jokes about “breaking the fourth wall” while you’re standing near the glass.
(Lead image: The Gresham/Facebook)