Streets ahead

Northbridge is Perth's new capital of cool, writes Kerry van der Jagt.

On a small laneway in Northbridge, not far from Perth's central business district, a cool new rooftop bar named Mechanics Institute has opened. The trouble is, I'm not cool enough to find it, and skulking around with a beach towel-sized map is making me less cool by the minute. I've been told it's on Lock Lane, but not to look for a street sign because the lane doesn't have one. There's no number either, or even a sign out front. And naturally, it's too new (and cool) to be on my map.

Fuelled by the mining boom and the loosening of Western Australia's small-bar legislation, shy little bars such as this are popping up like meerkats all across Northbridge. From basements to rooftops, Prohibition-style speakeasies to hole-in-the-wall wine bars, Northbridge is booming.

Anchored by the Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge has always been a carnival of colour, with art students spilling onto the pavement like lollies from a pinata. Unfortunately, on most Saturday nights, dirtbags and drunks spilt onto the same pavement. But with the help of the William Street Collective, an association of people involved in Northbridge's creative industries, Northbridge is slowly shrugging off its "Kings Cross of Perth" moniker. "The focus of the collective is to highlight the cultural and creative activities of our suburb," says the chairwoman of the collective, Aimee Johns.

"The past 12 months has shown the greatest development and opening up of new spaces."

The Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority is also behind the regeneration, reclaiming land to create a community piazza, making plans to sink the railway to provide better links to the CBD and opening up more areas to development.

As new bars have opened, cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques have followed. Here is a round-up of the latest and greatest. Or at least, the ones I could find.

Cocktails and more

Best for views Mechanics Institute does have a sign - it's on the back gate. The discreet back entrance is on Lock Lane (parallel to William Street, between James and Francis streets), a groovy little lane painted with colourful murals by Kyle Hughes-Odgers (aka Creepy). Perched on the rooftop of a burger bar - yes, you can place an order - Mechanics Institute is open to the sunshine, sea breeze and moonlight, and affords good city views.

Best for ambience Ezra Pound is another semi-clandestine bar, a tiny space that takes its inspiration from the US's Prohibition days. Hidden down a dingy lane, Ezra Pound serves a literary line-up of vintage cocktails including Tom Collins, Ramos Gin Fizz, Ward Eight and Louisiana Jam. The decor is a cosy blend of wooden wine boxes and red velvet, the music ranges from hazy jazz house to funky soul, and the cocktails are potent. I'm sure the poet Ezra Pound would compose a sonnet or two in their honour.

Best for live music The Bird is a quirky bar that benefits from the cross-pollination of artists, musicians and chefs through its program of live music, secret gigs, monthly art exhibitions and pop-up restaurants serving snack food in the courtyard. On the night I visited, it was $7 lentils served with flatbreads and fine drawings by Lance Kershaw Ladu.

Neighbourhood nosh

Best for tacos and tequila The new kid on the Northbridge block is La Cholita, a Mexican restaurant with 102 bottles of tequila hanging on its wall. The restaurant pays homage to traditional Mexican fare, with everything on the menu made on site. There are plans to open a second establishment in Northbridge, Sneaky Tony's. 279 William Street.

Best for fresh, local produce Bivouac Canteen and Bar is the place for rest and recuperation on the William Street trail. The summer menu is zinging with local produce, including the family's fresh farmed meats from Gingin and Mogumber. "Northbridge is a really exciting place to be right now," says the owner of Bivouac, Amanda Ricciardo. "The sleeping giant has awoken." The space also doubles as a gallery showcasing the work of emerging artists.

Best for coffee on the go Bookend is a mini-me of a coffee window that continues Northbridge's literary theme. But it's the beans, not books, taking centre stage. The breakfast burritos are popular, too. 179 William Street.

Cultural gems

Best urban art The Butcher Shop, on William Street, is Northbridge's finest purveyor of art supplies, including quality aerosols, original artworks and street-art-related literature. Pick up a copy of its "Urban art walking tour" map (or download one) and uncover quality murals across 11 Northbridge locations. Works have been commissioned by the City of Perth, Artrage, Foodchain and the owners of buildings and bars.

Best drama Rooftop Movies, a pop-up venue created by the people behind the Fringe World Festival, is Perth's only rooftop cinema. From October to late April, the stark rooftop of the Roe Street car park transforms into a colourful oasis with black-and-white-striped deckchairs, pink flamingoes and vintage food caravans. Each night features retro favourites, cult and arthouse flicks and self-proclaimed B-grade schmaltz. Drinks can be bought at the bar and designated drivers receive a free soft drink and popcorn.

Best arts program For years the Perth Cultural Centre was a brussels sprouts kind of place - known to be good for you, but generally shunned for more exciting fodder. A little bit drab and a little bit dreary, the State Library, Art Gallery and Western Australian Museum equally suffered from an identity crisis. Enter the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority, which over the past two years has added numerous outdoor spaces such as the Museum Plaza, James Street Amphitheatre, an urban orchard and even a wetland. Home to Fringe World, the Perth Cultural Centre also hosts night markets, short-term urban artworks and a line-up of live performances including Summer Nights at the Blue Room.

Trip notes

Getting there

Qantas flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Perth, with prices starting at $229, one way, including taxes. 13 13 13, Northbridge is a short walk from the city centre, or catch the free blue CAT bus.

Staying there

There's not a lot of accommodation right in Northbridge. The Richardson Hotel and Spa, a boutique hotel in West Perth, offers a quiet alternative. Rooms from $400 a night. 32 Richardson Street, West Perth,

More information,

Street style

Nothing illustrates Northbridge's edgy extremes more than its fashion. Shops selling streetwear, vintage and retro gear and clothing by local designers feed the multicoloured fashionistas. Ruck Rover General Store is the latest boutique to open and sells everything from clothing to accessories to stationery. "We love the sense of community here," says Claire Trolio, who co-owns Ruck Rover with her sister Isabelle.