Known, sometimes affectionately, but more often not, as Australia’s “big country town”, Brisbane has had no small share of city-shaming over the years. Some of it fair, some not. The problem? Well, it depends on who you ask, of course, but the steady outflow of the city’s young artists, innovators and entrepreneurs to places like Sydney and Melbourne hasn’t helped. Things are changing, however: as a bright, bold, buzzy new Brisbane emerges, the swirls around the city’s creative brain drain are slowly disappearing. Now, the state capital once thought of as a kind of cultural backwater is a vital part of Australia’s entrepreneurial engine.
“The creative landscape here has evolved rapidly in recent years,” says Emily Devers, a contemporary artist, gallerist and one half of internationally renowned typography duo Frank & Mimi. “Not only is it fertile ground for testing bold ideas, but there’s now a strong design, arts and entrepreneurial community right behind you as support. The tired trope of Brisbane creatives migrating to Sydney or Melbourne is seen as predictable and boring today.” Even after a decade, Devers has no plans to leave any time soon. “I couldn’t be happier to be part of the city’s creative growth – it’s phenomenal.”
What With partners Frank Li, Andrew Hohns and Nick Woodward, David Flynn co-founded Little Valley, a hip Chinese eatery in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley that’s the talk of the town (and the national food press). A sibling to the Gold Coast’s Rick Shores, Little Valley is at the heart of Brisbane’s eating-out revolution.
He says “I love Brisbane because it’s home, but I think the reason a lot of talent is staying or returning to the city is because there are so many opportunities to break new ground here. Maybe you couldn’t break that ground in Sydney or Melbourne now. But in any case, we’re doing it differently here than we would do anywhere else. Brisbane has its own identity.”
Check out Little Valley’s must-eats: chilli-crab-pork dumplings; lobster-chive har gow; cured scallops with pumpkin seed and chilli oil; and the restaurant’s biggest hit, “Chinese Bolognese” with nduja, XO sauce and prawn floss.
Info @littlevalley_ @imrickshores
There’s certainly a sense of renewal here. Food, drink, fashion, design – just about every sector is booming. Set on the Brisbane River, 1930s-built Howard Smith Wharves (HSW), disused since the 1960s, have been transformed after a US$140m reboot. Nestled beneath the Story Bridge, HSW is home to The Fantauzzo, a chic 164-room Art Series Hotel, as well as restaurants and bars including Felons Brewing Co, neo-Greek taverna Greca and the excellent cocktail boîte Mr Percival’s, designed by local interiors star Anna Spiro.
Elsewhere, the arrival of W in 2018 – the CBD’s first five-star hotel opening in two decades – has ushered in a new era of luxury lodging in the city: the oft-Instagrammed Calile Hotel, as well as the ace Ovolo Inchcolm and Ovolo The Valley, all opened in 2018, while the Queen’s Wharf redevelopment, slated to complete in 2022, brings more big luxury players to the city (Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood). Due next year, a second runway at Brisbane Airport is expected to make way for a widely anticipated boom in tourism.
Emily Devers & Rick Hayward
What The typography duo behind Frank & Mimi, Emily Devers and Rick Hayward have created some of Brisbane’s most iconic street art. Their large-scale installations have caught the eye of clients everywhere from California to Tokyo, and their murals can be found all over Brisbane.
Devers says “Brisbane is definitely finding its voice within the wider Australian art realm, and I have nothing but pride for the exceptional community of artists that were born, bred and still represent this city. We have artists representing Brisbane in some of the most high-profile international art festivals and notable art fairs, and they’re still proudly calling this city their base.”
Check out The Third Quarter, Devers’ gallery on Petrie Terrace in the CBD.
For the perfect Instagram shot, seek out Frank & Mimi’s Other Shores mural – part of the Pillars Project – in Spring Hill. For directions to their other pieces, see thepillarsproject.com
All this expansion has thrown open the doors to creativity and innovation. A new guard of restaurateurs has disrupted the food landscape, long dominated by formal fine-diners and casual nine-to-five cafes. Now, hip eateries with globally inspired menus and voguish fit-outs have plugged the gap.
“It’s as though Brisbane was always trying to imitate Sydney or Melbourne, and never really knew what it was supposed to be,” says restaurateur David Flynn, who co-owns dumpling hotspot Little Valley and sister restaurant Rick Shores on the Gold Coast.
What An eye for unique forms and materials has seen Marloe Morgan emerge as one of Australia’s most exciting young ceramicists. Since founding her studio, Marloe Marloe, in 2014, she’s created a range of covetable homewares and designed custom pieces for some of the country’s biggest restaurants and hotels.
She says “In Brisbane, I’m passionate about the shifting food scene and the impact it’s having. The dining here is really buzzing at the moment. Most recently, we worked with Greek restaurant Hellenika when they opened their second location in James Street within the Calile Hotel. They’re both must-visits.”
Check out Hellenika in Brisbane to see Morgan’s creations in situ, or browse her online store.
“There’s been a natural progression here of people seeking out more sophisticated experiences, but they still want those experiences to be relaxed and in line with their lifestyle, which is very laid back. They want a vibe, but they don’t want it to be too frenetic. They want a challenge, but not if it’s condescending.” Architecturally, the city is changing, too. Notorious for tearing down its historical buildings, Brisbane was – with the exception of its heritage-listed Queenslander homes – an architectural wasteland by the late 1980s. In 2006, the striking Gallery of Modern Art, Australia’s largest contemporary art gallery, was unveiled, signalling a shift in architectural thinking. It’s been a slow burn, but the cityscape has altered radically in the last decade, according to leading local architect Joe Adsett. Though it lacks grand, historic landmarks, he predicts Brisbane will be a destination renowned for its cutting-edge contemporary architecture within the next 10 years.
“There’s been a cultural change of mindset, where good design is now highly respected and sought after,” he says.
What One of a new wave of architects changing the shape of the city, Adsett founded his studio in Fortitude Valley a decade ago. Inspired by symmetry, proportion and the quirks of colonial Queenslander houses, Joe Adsett Architects is now a team of 10 that specialises in luxe homes and forward-thinking high rises.
He says “Brisbane has an entrepreneurial and maverick spirit. We’ve also seen a progressive and collaborative approach to encouraging good design by our politicians, which is leading to some incredible things being designed and built in Brisbane.”
Check out The award-winning Clifftop House, a dramatic three-storey extension built onto an old home on a crumbling clifftop in Walker Avenue, Teneriffe.
Ceramicist Marloe Morgan, who founded her studio Marloe Marloe in 2014 and recently created large-scale, custom pieces for the Calile Hotel and a number of local restaurants, says there’s no denying Brisbane’s metamorphosis into a buzzy, creative centre.
Brisbane is now a very culturally progressive city – you no longer need to visit Sydney or Melbourne for a culture hit,” she says. “The creative scene here is taking strides nationally. It’s a really exciting time to say, ‘I’m in Brisbane.’”
The interior designer
What One of Brisbane’s – and, indeed, Australia’s – most in-demand creatives, Anna Spiro is the city’s reigning queen of interior design. With a unique (and widely imitated) style that combines patterns, colours and textures, her work has defined the now-nationally recognised “Brisbane look”.
She says “One of the most important things I try to live by in my career is to go against the tide. Look for opportunities, ideas, concepts that nobody else is currently embracing. I love contradiction — I don’t want to be the same as everyone else.”
Check out Mr Percival’s, a chic new cocktail bar designed by Spiro within the new Howard Smith Wharves development.