"When did this become a hotel?" exclaims my taxi driver, as he pulls up in front of Brisbane's newest boutique property, The Johnson. This 1960s modernist skyscraper was, until recently, the home of the Department of Main Roads; "I renewed my license here 18 months ago," my driver tells me. With some nips and tucks in the interior, and a slatted black frame facing the street that gives a sense of arrival, the building is entering a new incarnation.
The inner-city neighbourhood of Spring Hill, with its characteristic Queenslanders shaded by jacarandas, is the perfect compromise if you want to be out of the CBD but still close to the action. Regular walkers will find the stroll into town an easy one; alternatively, you can take the free city shuttle bus that departs just outside the hotel, or hire a bike from the hotel.
The Johnson is the latest offering from Art Series Hotels, which showcases the work of a different Australian artist in each property. Previous properties have been dedicated to high-profile artists such as John Olsen and Charles Blackman. Michael Johnson may be less well-known, but his abstract canvases, with their bright colours and shimmering shapes, bring a sense of life and play to the hotel. The hotel's art collection includes not just the original works in the lobby, but almost 400 prints that have been placed throughout the hotel, including one inside every room. Guests can watch an insightful video about Johnson's work on their TV, and a fascinating 10-minute art tour is also available. The hotel's other facilities include a small gym, a 50-metre outdoor lap pool, conference rooms and free Wi-Fi.
With the focus firmly on the art, the interiors have been kept clean and simple: think neutral tones and wood and marble finishes. My Studio Suite is generously sized and furnished with a comfortable king-size bed, a work bench, a kitchenette complete with fridge and microwave, and even a small balcony. The floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of light – and come with excellent blackout curtains – while the minimalist bathroom has a roomy shower. Apart from the absence of a full-length mirror, my major complaint is the positioning of the air conditioner, which blows directly on to the bed.
With its inviting indoor-outdoor feel, Tumbling Stone restaurant is a lovely space to start the day. Breakfast is not included with the room rate; however, the adventurous menu tempts me in both mornings of my stay. The chilli scrambled eggs with Persian feta and pesto green, served on Turkish bread, gets two thumbs up; the housemade sourdough crumpets do not. The dinner menu is equally bold, but not always well executed. The fried chicken, for instance – enclosed in a deliciously crunchy tempura-style batter made of rice flour and tapioca flour – would be a winner, if only the chicken weren't overcooked. Here's hoping the kitchen crew hit their stride soon.
There is not a whole lot to do in the immediate neighbourhood but with the many bars and restaurants of the CBD and Fortitude Valley within easy reach, that's not a major drawback.
Already off to a strong start, Brisbane's newest boutique hotel may soon become a local landmark.
477 Boundary Street, Spring Hill. Opening special rates start from $180 per night for a Studio Suite Balcony. Phone (07) 3085 7200, see artserieshotels.com.au/Johnson
This is exactly how hotel staff should be: friendly, efficient, and with an uncanny memory for names.
Whose bright idea was it to use one-ply toilet paper? A major fail for an upmarket hotel.
Ute Junker was a guest of Art Series Hotels.