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Brisbane West End: Bohemian Lifestyle in Queensland

(Last Updated On: March 20, 2023)

Brisbane West End is an inner ring suburb with a quick commute to the city proper or the slick South Bank, with a bohemian lifestyle vibe all its own.

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 Brisbane West End, within walking distance of the slicker South Bank area on the same promontory of land, is an entirely different world, a great place with a bohemian lifestyle vibe.

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 after a house sit in Toowoomba, 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 Brisbane West End vibrant, multi-cultural experience.

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. Note: the Boundary Street Markets temporary weekend tent stalls appear to have been permanently closed.

a bit of Bohemia in Brisbane
Boundary and Vulture – the heart of Brisbane West End Photo Credit: visitbrisbane.com.au

The neighborhood’s best food can be found among the clusters of ethnic restaurants and cafes amid blocks on Hardgrave or Montague Roads. In the space of a few blocks from our Airbnb digs we could choose from a little Greek taverna, or Chinese, 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.

Brisbane West End
Why Not, Indeed?

There’s a thrifted, repurposed vibe in the Brisbane 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 culture of West End with its 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 Brisbane 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 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 on a Saturday night, even with the January post-holiday doldrums. Getting around is easy, whether you’re walking, taking public transport, 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:

If you’re visiting Brisbane West End in May, don’t miss the Paniyiri Greek Festival, held in Musgrave Park since 1976. This is the longest running cultural fest in Australia, and you’ll join approximately 60,000 other revelers for traditional food, dancing and music.

An easy evening’s amble down Boundary (Brisbane West End’s main street) will put you into several distinctive watering holes, many with good food. 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, the best place to get 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.

Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of Booking.com. We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to Expedia.

You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Tripimage 9133145 14418597

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alison @GreenWithRenvy

Monday 16th of March 2015

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.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 16th of March 2015

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.

Jowita

Sunday 15th of March 2015

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!

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 16th of March 2015

Hi Jowita - Yes, we thought it would be lots of fun to live in the West End, too. :)

Andrew

Monday 16th of March 2015

So many people must have touched Mick's Nuts of an afternoon!

Brianna

Saturday 14th of March 2015

I love discovering the artsy neighborhoods in any city I visit- you get to meet such interesting people!

Betsy Wuebker

Sunday 15th of March 2015

Hi Brianna - You can say that again! The West End is full of unconventional spirits!

Peter Wuebker

Saturday 14th of March 2015

I miss the nuts and when we return some day Mick's Nuts will be my first stop. Airport -->Mick's Nuts.

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