What’s going on with Brisbane’s CBD?
There was a time not so long ago when the city seemed on life support, with many operators predicting that the arrival of the $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf development would spell the end for any kind of dining and drinking scene not connected to Eagle Street Pier, Howard Smith Wharves or some other precinct.
Now, a new venue seems to be announced every second or third week. Dr Gimlette, Rothwell’s, Banc, the new Coffee Anthology, Exhibition and Frog’s Hollow Salloon have all opened in relatively quick succession. Lune is opening a new hole-in-the-wall in Burnett Lane. Even attitudes to the casino seem to have changed, with restaurant and bar owners now talking about how many people it will bring into the wider CBD, rather than suck out.
Such is the confidence in the Brisbane food and drink scene right now. Build it – and, you know, make it good and different – and they will come.
That’s the attitude of George Curtis, owner of Before and After, which will open on George Street in mid-August. Curtis has a neat spot – a basement tenancy down a grungy laneway that used to belong to Bean Cafe – and a neat idea: a bar dedicated to aperitifs and digestifs.
Curtis was previously a bar manager at Agnes, and amaro is his particular poison. Before and After will stock at least 45 amari on its back bar, 15 of them vintage, including a 1940s bottle of Zucca Rabarbaro and several expressions of fernet pulled from throughout the 1970s. That’s the “after”. The “before” will be a rotating list of light and clean cocktails made with seasonal produce, and a back bar featuring curious spirits such as specially imported Swedish whisky. There will be a house Negroni, and amaro and pineapple juiced to order much like Sydney's the Baxter Inn (or in Brisbane, Lefty’s) whisky apple that inspired it. Curtis will also be peddling 20-milliltre bottles of Underberg (German bitters), served with a tiny straw.
“It’s been a long time in the making and the only concept I’ve really thought of doing on my own,” Curtis says. “I always knew that this space was available, or at least had been left behind … It’s ideal for my concept: a cool basement bar with really good tunes.
“Originally, I didn’t even contemplate the city. But the more I thought through it, the more it made sense, especially with the casino coming up, and the bridge to South Bank as well. And then more and more restaurants popping up all over the place now with Exhibition and Rothwell’s. Donna Chang has been there for a while. So there’s huge potential in that part of the city.”
Before and After will also pour a selection of natural and organic wines, and canned craft beer. But its secret weapon may be a short food menu prepared by Evan Nagel at Alba Bar & Deli, a couple of blocks away on Burnett Lane. Curtis says to expect a shrimp roll with Fernet-Branca mayo, fish crudo with a vermouth gel, anchovies on toast with Montenegro (a citrus-flavoured amaro), and perhaps a cheese and amaro mustard toastie.
“It’s just bar food that you want to come in and smash,” he says.
The fit-out will be a relatively light affair, keeping the bones of the old Bean space but applying a lick of paint, replacing some of the lighting and rearranging the floor to add more couches and low-set seating. All up, there will be room for just 35 punters, meaning this will very much be an intimate pre- and post-dinner spot, as Curtis intends.
“It will be good to be among those bars that help bring people back,” Curtis says. “You start on Burnett Lane, and there’s Death & Taxes, and Alba Bar & Deli, and then you work your way around to Charlotte Street and there’s Frog’s Hollow, and you go down to Edward Street and there’s Dr Gimlette. All these places fill out this square in the city. It’s no longer just about the Valley and Fish Lane.”
Before and After will open at 181 George Street in mid-August.