A Bit of Bohemia in Brisbane: The West End

The West End, an inner ring suburb with a quick commute to the city proper or the slick South Bank, is an entirely different world: a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane.

Brisbane is first and foremost a river town. The Brisbane River cuts through southeast Queensland for a couple hundred miles before emptying into Moreton Bay, its last few serpentine twists defining the city. Just short of what is now Brisbane’s central business district, the river turns upon itself and turns back again, creating a tomahawk shaped almost-island. The West End, within walking distance of the slicker South Bank area on the same promontory of land, is an entirely different world, a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

The West End occupies a portion of a peninsula located south of Brisbane’s CBD

We landed in the West End almost by accident, securing a stay in a beautifully remodeled Queenslander through Airbnb. Our hosts, both cinematographers, had completed renovations by instilling a funky, colorful decor spanning three different centuries and multiple continents.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Plantation House Airbnb in West End

This charming irreverence, we would discover, perfectly augmented the vibrant, multi-cultural experience we would have in our new temporary neighborhood.

Invariably, neighborhoods around the globe draw travelers in by showing us who we could be if we lived there. Our illusion might be anything from chic Parisian to artisan in Santa Fe. In the West End, there’s more than a little bit of Bohemia to fuel the fantasy of becoming almost anyone, along with the certainty if you didn’t find the persona you first adopted to your liking, it could easily be shed in favor of another without remark.

Textured with different ethnicities, visitors and residents alike indulge in West End’s bohemian atmosphere at the retail crucible of Boundary and Vulture Streets. All in the space of a few blocks, boutiques, bistros and services co-exist in a cacophony of color and sound.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Boundary and Vulture – the heart of the West End Photo Credit: visitbrisbane.com.au

Clusters of ethnic restaurants and cafes amid blocks on Hardgrave or Montague Roads flavor individual neighborhoods within the district. In the space of a few blocks from our Airbnb digs we could choose from Chinese, Greek, Vietnamese, Turkish, Thai and Japanese cuisine. Across Hardgrave Road from our location was a small street named “Why Not” – which is just the way things go in the West End.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Why Not, Indeed?

There’s a thrifted, repurposed vibe in the West End that brings out its beautifully honest historic patina in juxtaposition with the new. And there’s plenty of new happening, not without controversy. Mid-rise flats along the Vulture Street corridor or closer to the river are unaffordable for working class residents. The renovation our hosts did wouldn’t have been feasible unless they incorporated rooms to let as part of the deal. Narrow secondary streets sport residences in various states of well-being, from complete deshabille to newly refurbished.

Even though the West End’s traditional industrial heritage is being chipped away by urban renewal, there are large remnants of working-class Brisbane still left in the neighborhood. SaveWestEnd.org, a movement to encourage appropriate development with funded commitments to infrastructure improvements and continuous riverside open space, has been a vocal opponent of the City Council’s South Brisbane Renewal Strategy. The City Council has more recently announced new riverfront projects that will rise higher than previous limits. The view from our Airbnb’s verandah is due to drastically change.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Verandah view to the rivers edge

The few days we enjoyed in Brisbane’s West End were memorable because of the residents. Without fail, everyone we met loved their neighborhood passionately.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Pete and the tall proprietor of Mick’s Nuts

Business was bustling, even with the January post-holiday doldrums. Getting around is easy, whether you’re walking, taking public transportation, or grabbing a bike for hire at any number of stations.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Rent a bike for a short distance and drop it at another kiosk, get another when you need one

But still, there was a pall hanging over the pleasantries. You get the impression of a sunset clause on what once was. Certainly the West End won’t be entirely the same in a very short amount of time. Let’s hope the gentrification and upscaling doesn’t completely sanitize the funky, bohemian vibe of this lovely little world inside a wonderful city.

Tips and information:

An easy evening’s amble down Boundary will put you into several distinctive watering holes. Try the Lychee Lounge. You won’t know you were looking for something that looks like an opium den – complete with absinthe dispenser – disguised as a cocktail bar with light dinner fare, snacks and share plates. But after it’s all said and done, you’ll feel like a regular hipster.

If your type is more books and brew, your man at Archive Beer Boutique will help you select amongst 22 rotating draft beers or more than 400 domestics and imports in the bottle. Archive’s bistro menu is even more well-priced on Wednesdays, when there’s a 2-for-1 special.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane

Inside Archive Beer Boutique

The Lock’n’Load Bistro isn’t a place for gun slingers as much as it is to enjoy a variety of live music ranging from jazz to party to local talent. Indoor dining gives a nod to yesteryear, outdoor garden dining is tranquil. After work drinks include free happy hour menu.

Duck into any number of funky little holes in the wall on Boundary Street for a drink. Most of them open up into secret gardens or connect to back rooms in an interesting warren of spaces to hang out.

On Hardgrave Road, Lefkas Taverna is a neighborhood icon, serving traditional Greek cuisine in a small village atmosphere. Further up toward Vulture, an Art Deco movie theater is newly reincarnated into a complex of ethnic restaurants. You could choose a different one for each day of the week.

At the corner of Hardgrave and Vulture, the one and only Mick’s Nuts is a treasure trove of bulk organic nuts, mueslis, dried fruits, chocolates, snack mixes and baking ingredients. A family business for three generations, Mick’s has even hosted secret shoppers from Britain’s Royal Family on behalf of A Certain Someone.

a bit of bohemia in Brisbane

The one and only Mick’s Nuts

Our Airbnb was peaceful and reasonably priced, with every conceivable comfort wrapped up in a bright, shiny and spotless package. Hostess Meg was delightfully friendly and unobtrusive. Housemates were international students finishing up a custom online project for university. There was plenty of room to spread out in the common areas and get work done, and each room had its own en suite bath. Use our discount code to get $25 off your first Airbnb stay.

Comments

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suze – Yes, we’d definitely stay at the Plantation Cottage again. Very comfortable and affordable. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – Yes, isn’t that fun? The silver lady on the dispenser looked like a 30’s hood ornament. The process is really slowly dripping iced water from the dispenser over a sugar cube which rests on a slotted spoon, to sweeten and dilute the absinthe. I couldn’t believe I guessed what it was for; such a beautiful antique.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Shelley – Yes, indeed! We felt we shed decades ourselves hanging out in all the fun places! 🙂

  1. says

    Like Newtown in Sydney, and Shoreditch in London these places become discovered, gentrified but .. still do retain much of their original charm. I love boho chic places and your airbnb place is so unique. I love it and hope that the West End retains its charms.
    Paula McInerney has an awesome blog post here: Sydney Mardi Gras, 2015My Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Paula – Yes, we’re hoping there is a balance between the improvements and maintaining the magnetic atmosphere in the neighborhood.

  2. says

    It sounds as though you were in Brisbane long enough to absorb and understand the vibe. One great advantage of knowing the language of a place, is the ability to understand what the locals are chatting about and to read the local newspapers. It certainly seems like you had your ear to the ground and were able to grasp what your neighborhood was all about.
    Suzanne Fluhr has an awesome blog post here: Cruise Report — Winter Escape on the Celebrity SilhouetteMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – Very true about sharing the language, although we were “outed” as Yanks the minute we opened our mouths. We could easily imagine ourselves living there for an extended period of time.

  3. says

    Hi Betsy,

    Only in Australia would you find Why Not? Street! And I agree with Suzanne above who complimented you on paying attention to the local news. Airbnb helps with that too! Having local hosts with which to share lives and info, you get a better travel experience.
    Thanks Betsy. I can always count on a full and interesting post from you!
    Wishing you happy and safe travels,
    Josie
    Josie has an awesome blog post here: What is Your House Sitting Quotient? Take this QuestionnaireMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Josie – Yes, the Why Not Street was hilarious. I was so glad Pete snapped that photo. The West End is the kind of neighborhood where you get your news pasted on a telephone pole. It reminded me so much of other fun neighborhoods I lived in when in my 20’s.

  4. says

    West End is so close to Brisbane city and even closer to South Bank where you find the Gallery of Modern Art so its a perfect place for arty types to congregate – hence its bohemian feel – West End really does have a character all of its own –
    And aren’t those louvre windows from your accommodation so evocative of a Queenslander building 🙂
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings has an awesome blog post here: Packing List for Travel Journallers Who Want to be More ArtyMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Linda – Yes, the Queenslander is a new love of mine. We saw so many that had been reverentially restored in our Toowoomba neighborhood. It was such a treat to stay in this one. Watching passersby from the verandah was better than TV! 🙂

  5. says

    Betsy, you really did an outstanding job immersing yourself into the local scene. You have found some amazing places to eat and to relax and enjoy! When we visited Brisbane we had only one day to go to the city, we spent it at the riverbank. It is also very beautiful, but not quite like the charming location you stayed. I also think your Air BnB looked super cool!
    Suzanne Stavert has an awesome blog post here: A Postcard Perfect Visit to FlorenceMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Suzanne – We spent a day at the South Bank, too, and it’s within walking distance of the West End. It was happy serendipity (and truth be told a budget to stick to) that led us to the Airbnb and this fun, funky neighborhood. We wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else upon return.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Anita – Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to live on Why Not Street? Way better than Journey’s End, which is up by our cabin in Northern Minnesota! LOL

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – I think the vocal concerns of current residents have been heard, somewhat. It’s hard to say no to developer money and potential tax revenues, but hopefully there will be a balance.

  6. says

    Brisbane sounds like a fascinating city! Having grown up in a river town myself I can imagine, from your descriptions, how liveable it must be with those views and outdoor activities. I hope it is able to retain its unique charm as it develops. One of my first stops would be the Archive Beer Boutique and its selection of 22 rotating draft beers!
    Michele Peterson has an awesome blog post here: Mango and Black Bean SalsaMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – I kept wondering how long it would take to sample each one of those beers. I think they have some sort of prize if you have. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Susan – Yes, it’s a fabulous, funky little neighborhood. Kind of like a cool kid who is even more so because they are unpretentious. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Yasha – Wow, thank you so much. We felt so at home in this neighborhood. I’m so pleased that we delivered with someone who knows it so well.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Carole – Yes, the host has a cinematographer’s eye for color and combinations. Truly a unique property.

  7. says

    This is my city! I’m gad you liked West end, I used to go to a club named Uber there all the time. If you’re still in brisbane i recommend checking out Moreton Island (snorkel next to ship wrecks) or diving the shipwreck in redcliff (if you dive).

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lexi – We’ve moved on from Brisbane, sadly, but we now have yet another reason to return with your recommendation. Thanks! 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Doreen – You’d have a marvelous time. Brisbane is a wonderful city overall, not just this neighborhood. 🙂

  8. Carol Colborn says

    You write so well Betsy! Sometimes I wonder if the places you talk about are really as alive, stunning or thought-provoking as you write about them. But then again I think that you do also choose the places you write about well. I had not considered Brisbane among the likes of Sydney, Melbourne,, Canberra, or Adelaide, even Perth or Darwin (I’ve only been to the first two).

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Carol – Wow, thank you so much! There’s certainly so much more we could have seen in Australia so we feel fortunate to have had the lovely experiences we’ve written about.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Johanna – LOL is that what we should be calling it? Not sure about that, but definitely we love Brisbane.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kristin – We were actually there twice, bookending a house sit. The Airbnb stay was for three days. I could have easily stayed there a month. The vibe is very much like South Minneapolis with a bit of the North Loop thrown in. You’d love it.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jackie – We’re latecomers to Airbnb, too, but we’re definitely sold. Exceptional experiences in Fiji and Australia both.

  9. says

    Seems like a perfect place to live for me 🙂 Glad to hear you had good experience with airbnb. I would love to check Archive Beer Boutique out!

  10. says

    You have such a gift for really immersing yourself in the local culture. It will be interesting to see how the whole airbnb concept plays out. I haven’t stayed in one yet, but know a few people who have joined in to rent rooms in their houses. This one looks like a great find.
    alison @GreenWithRenvy has an awesome blog post here: St. Patricks Day in BostonMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Alison – Thank you! We don’t know anyone who has decided to host, except the folks we have rented from, of course. You’d have to have a setup that was conducive for it for sure.

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