Beneath the cantilevered beams of the Story Bridge sits an octagonal pastel-hued bar in shades of musk and pistachio. Mr Percival's juts out over the river at the Howard Smith Wharves (HSW), Brisbane's hottest new riverside playground. It's hard to imagine, I think looking at the lively crowd, that these historic wharves lay unloved and abandoned for almost five decades.
Here groups of friends tuck into ceviche and shoe string fries at the Anna Spiro designed riverfront bar with its European beach club feel, crow's nest style DJ and namesake pelican logo (from Storm Boy). At Felons Brewing Company across the way, families are spread out over the lush lawn eating fish and chips off enamel plates, while punters sip locally brewed schooners watching the passing flotilla of boats, chugging ferries and city cats. Their wash laps beneath the floorboards where I'm perched at a prime window seat on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Built on the banks of New Farm in the Depression to generate employment, the buildings and sheds that make up HSW have been transformed. Today the precinct includes Felons craft brewery in a vast waterfront shed, the oh so Instagrammable Mr Percival's, Arc Dining and Wine Bar, modern Greek taverna Greca and the new Art Series hotel The Fantauzzo, carved into the cliff beneath the iconic bridge. It's home for the next few nights.
The HSW illustrates the leaps and bounds Brisbane has made in the past decade, a lifetime away from when the city was bereft of good coffee, bars, shopping and nightlife. With the emergence of the vibrant riverfront precinct and cutting edge James St (more of that later), the northern capital gets decidedly cooler each year. Thankfully though the friendliness for which Queenslanders are renowned is still evident.
There's plenty at HSW to occupy visitors including those holed up at the striking new Fantauzzo for a long weekend. You could easily waft from pre dinner drinks at Mr Percival's or The Fantauzzo's rooftop bar, before having dinner at Arc with its 400-plus wine list and eclectic interiors also designed by Brisbane-based Spiro.
Be sure and work up an appetite with a brisk walk along the boardwalk which skirts the river between the wharf and New Farm. On a midweek night, we take a seat at a pink-marble-topped table in Arc's glasshouse structure which appears to float on the Brisbane River. In her design Spiro has managed to capturemodern Brisbane: colourful, eclectic and chic.
The interiors and river views through floor-to-ceiling windows are almost as captivating as rising star and head chef Alanna Sapwell's innovative yet simple menu. Almost. Rye bread with cultured butter along with a Poor Toms' gin and tonic with cucumber is delivered swiftly to the table. Sapwell's sublime raw cobia, daikon and finger lime caviar and melt in the mouth lamb with radicchio, currants and hazelnut are particularly memorable. And we're still talking about the Granny Smith apple and sunflower tart drizzled with lemon and honey.
A few blocks west Fortitude Valley's James St precinct is another shining example of Brisbane's urban renewal. It's firmly established itself as the city's foremost retail and lifestyle precinct, particularly since the opening of its crown jewel, The Calile, Australia's first urban resort. Rachel Bryce is the Calile's official stylist. She's watched the neighbourhood evolve since opening the first boutique on the strip in 2002 and now runs custom stylists' tours.
"James St has a concentration of fashion labels, eateries and two iconic tenants in the James St Markets and now The Calile Hotel by the clever Malouf family," she tells me referring to the Brisbane-based developers behind the game changing precinct.
Bryce leads me on a two-hour tour through the leafy high-end strip with its 130 outlets including a veritable who's who of Australian designers. Again, it's hard to imagine that the chic neighbourhood with its designer stores, cafes, arthouse cinema and Brisbane's coolest hotel was once a down at heel industrial block on the city's north fringe.
We visit Calexico for its terrific selection of denim, elevated basics and smart blazers with a backdrop of cool art and fashion prints. From there we pop into Camargue for curated threads, Gorman, Sass & Bide and Samantha Ogilvie. Along the way Bryce points out the Brooklyn Beauty Bar which serves customers signature gin-based cocktails along with express manicures, and Kalio which offers anti-ageing bespoke facials.
We stop for lunch at Harvey's Bar and Bistro, one of James St's earliest tenants, ordering the Asian chicken salad which has a devoted following. Locals refuse to let owner PJ take it off the menu. Other eateries include the hatted Gerard's Bistro for Middle Eastern fare, the relaxed Italian eatery Bucci and the neighbourhood's original watering hole, Cru Bar and Cellar with its extensive international wine selection by the glass.
That afternoon sees my brows whipped into shape at the swanky Amy Jean Eye Couture, which boasts a star studded celebrity client list. Afterwards I stroll across the road for a Messino gelato and peruse the beautiful pieces at Andronis Jewellery. Other upscale shops include Bespoke for custom made suits and Auguste The Label for flowing resort wear by Byron Bay designer Ebony Eagles.
Catherine Malouf whose family is responsible for the reimagined strip loves to soak up the atmosphere with a cocktail or glass of wine. "I like to sit in the Calile's Lobby Bar on a balmy day with the windows open to the laneway. Or watch life pass by with a Negroni at Gerard's bar or gin bowl at Harvey's."
Malouf says the stylish Richard and Spence designed precinct isn't finished yet. Ada Lane, a micro food and beverage precinct next door to the Calile and named in honour of the Malouf's great-grandmother (Calile was their great-grandfather), is set to open in coming months. "Together with her husband Calile, Ada set sail for Australia in 1892. We decided to name it in homage to Ada's sense of hospitality and adventure. Stay tuned."
At The Calile , I enjoy a G&T poolside at the modern Greek restaurant Hellenika. Typically I'm drained after a few hours' shopping but it's been pure joy exploring this sub tropical strip. I only wish it was my hood.
FIVE OTHER GREAT AUSTRALIAN HOODS
BURLEIGH HEADS, QLD
This village by the sea offers a bohemian vibe with cool cafes, beachfront dining and designer and vintage shopping along James Street. Book a table at the intimate Restaurant Labart by former Sydney chef Alex Munoz, follow the smell of meat grilling over charcoal to Japanese speakeasy Iku Yakitori Bar and lap up incredible views and pan Asian dishes at Rick Shores. Stay at the Anna Spiro designed Bon Sol.
Cool and Canberra never really went together unless we're talking about the weather, but neighbourhoods such as Braddon are shifting long-held perceptions. Fabulous restaurants, boutiques, music and martinis can be found along the Lonsdale Street strip.
Farmers markets, music festivals, craft breweries and more Vietnamese eateries than you can poke a stick at lend Abbotsford a hip urban feel. Try Dr Morse's cult panko crumbed eggs Benedict with siracha hollandaise and explore Abbotsford Convent, an arts precinct with cafes, galleries, a wellbeing centre and a "pay what you feel it's worth" vegetarian restaurant.
NEWCASTLE EAST, NSW
Surfers, girls on vintage bicycles and smartly dressed Baby Boomers can be found sipping and supping at cool bars such as The Falcon, The Grain Store with its 21 taps of craft beer and hatted eateries such as Restaurant Mason. Good coffee can be found at Xtraction and Good Brother which morphs into the city's coolest little wine bar by night, while newcomer Edmonds & Co brings a slice of New Zealand to the Pacific Street strip with crispy fried whitebait and Kiwi drops.
Galleries, theatres, bookshops, cosmopolitan eateries and Perth's highest concentration of bars have transformed this once gritty neighbourhood north of the city. Expect home-grown designers, vintage stores, hip bars and handmade gelato.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Art Series Hotels and The Calile.
Mr Percival's: mrpercivals.com.au; Arc Dining and Wine Bar: arcdining.com.au; Greca: greca.com.au; Harveys Bar and Bistro: harveys.net.au; Hellenika: hellenika.com.au; Gerard's Bistro: gerardsbistro.com.au