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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.