Brisbane or Brisvegas as it known by many locals is one of the most underrated cities I have ever been to. Not really on the backpacking radar in the same way as Sydney or Melbourne I had heard very little about the place before arriving there to look for work a few months into my working holiday visa.
Referred to as a bit of a country town by some people I had met in Sydney I didn’t know what to expect when I set foot in Queensland’s capital, midway up the east coast of Australia on the Brisbane river. With a population of 2.5 million the city retains a relaxed atmosphere making it a place that is easy to like. I was staying at Nomads Brisbane Hostel on the corner of Edward St and Ann St in the CBD. One of the oldest buildings in the city, its late 19th century construction includes a wrought iron veranda on each floor where it is possible to sit and watch life go by in the busy city centre below.
One of my best memories of this hostel was sitting on the second floor veranda having my dinner after work while a thunderstorm lashed rain down onto the CBD. The rainwater flowed down Edward St like a river while thunder and lightning added more visuals and sound effects to the battering rain.
Windscreen wipers flapped back and forward at full speed on the few cars which tackled the weather while the handful of people still on the street rushed to the cover of their destinations under umbrellas or newspapers. Sitting there having the backpacker staple of pasta watching nature at work from the veranda gave me a cosy feeling, with only the occasional spatter of water hitting my lower legs.
While the main building of Nomads was of historical significance the bar in the basement aptly named the Downunder was anything but historical. Each night the place filled with travellers from all over the world who were inhabiting the four floors above. After 9pm the food orders finished, +and the party started with drinks deals and loud music making a party atmosphere even on the normally low key midweek days of Tuesday and Wednesday.
As much as I liked the Downunder pub it was the local Brisbane nightlife that I really enjoyed.
“You need to get yourself down to Fortitude Valley at the weekend mate,” Mark a boilermaker who I was working with in the industrial area of Hemmant told me one day at work.
“Oh right, what’s happening there?” I asked.
“It’s where everyone goes at the weekend, they have all kinds of pubs and nightclubs, will be great for a young bloke like you,” he advised.
Taking Marks advice that Weekend I ventured into The Valley as it is known locally. Rumour in the hostel was the area was a bit rough and ready but I liked the place right from the off. Located to the east of the city centre not far from the picturesque Story bridge The Valley takes in Brunswick and Mclachan streets and their surrounds. As you might expect with a place called Fortitude Valley the name has interesting origins. Scottish immigrants arrived in Brisbane in 1849 and set up in the area naming it after the ship Fortitude, which brought them safely on their voyage.
Every city has a beating heart and The Valley is the heart of Brisbane. Right from setting foot in the area I could feel the weekend energy as revellers ventured from place to place as the night built up from early evening beers to its crescendo in one of the jumping dance clubs in the area. Even just walking around here and taking in the atmosphere while stopping for the occasional bottle of Tooheys New would be worth it alone.
Everyone has their own favourite pub or club in The Valley and mine was the Elephant and Wheelbarrow. The area has all kinds of chic cocktail lounges, cutting edge dance clubs and great dining but I have always preferred the more basic pubs. Give me some cool beer on a hot Brisbane evening and throw in some live rock music and I’m happy for the night. That’s exactly what The Elephant had and it was packed out every weekend with the place getting livelier as the beer flowed.
The evening often started with a few beers at the Empire hotel, another listed building on Brunswick street before venturing over to The Elephant to see what live band was on that night. The front part of the bar was old school and had a seasoned crowd who liked a drink and often had a cigarette in their hand while chatting to their friends. This was in the time just before the indoor smoking ban came into effect and people often dragged on a cigarette and supped on schooner of beer.
The back of the bar where I liked to be had a younger crowd fuelled by beer and spirits watching a local rock band who blasted out a mixture of their own songs as well as cover versions. Anything by AC/DC usually went down a storm and had the already boisterous crowd in frenzy as the weekend energy really kicked in. Bobbing my head and tapping my left foot at the edge of the crowd was normally as far as I got but I loved the place and often split from whatever friends I was with to check out what was happening in The Elephant while they went to one of the cooler bars.
Sometimes I would join my friends in places like the Story Bridge Hotel bar, which attracted a different crowd to The Elephant and other times I would be having such a good time watching the live band that time would get away from me and I before I knew it was closing time.
The relaxed way of the people in Brisbane, almost constant sunshine and the rocking nightlife at the weekend made Brisbane my favourite city in Australia. They certainly don’t call it Brisvegas for nothing, and this is from someone who only made it to the casino once!