Once, not so long ago, Before and After might’ve been a whisky bar, or perhaps a cocktail bar, and that would’ve been fine. It would’ve been enough. Take a dark, subterranean CBD space, turn the lights down low, line the back bar with some hard-to-find bottles, and you’d have a minor hit on your hands.
But Brisbane’s drinking scene has evolved at breakneck speed over the past seven or eight years. Celebrated bars such as Super Whatnot, Cobbler, Maker, Gerard’s Bar, Canvas Club and The Gresham have been followed by Death & Taxes, Savile Row, Alba Bar & Deli, Finney Isles, Bar Brutus, Dr Gimlette, Butler and Frog’s Hollow, among many others. Each opening has added more detail and texture to the city’s drinking scene, whether it’s Alba’s focus on pintxos or Gimlette’s precision service or Frog’s Hollow’s honky-tonk lack of pomp.
Thankfully, then, Before and After isn’t really a cocktail bar, and it has only a passing interest in whisky. Owner George Curtis has instead opened a boozer dedicated to pre- and post-dinner drinking, and aperitivo and digestivo in particular.
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“You don’t want the market to be saturated with small whisky bars,” says Curtis, who could most recently be found running the bar at Agnes in the Valley. “You don’t want it to be saturated with big, bright spots. In major cities around the world there’s such an array of bars. And the more that open in Brisbane, the quicker it will become like that.”
Before and After opens this week in the cosy CBD basement hideaway previously occupied by Bean Cafe. Turn left at the top of the Queen Street Mall, left again down a small laneway off George Street and walk past a graffiti-smeared wall, and you’ll find it hidden behind a nondescript black door.
Inside, the bones of the old Bean are still in place, including its old timber bar top, but Curtis has lent the premises an entirely new feel by dimming the lights, applying a darker coat of paint and ripping out some plaster to reveal an original brick wall (a late decision that’s allowed him to increase the venue’s capacity from 25 to 35 seats). A back area has been blocked off with a couple of couches and populated with lamps and an old gramophone. There’s nothing super expensive here – Curtis says he fitted out the place almost entirely via Facebook Marketplace – but that gives it an inviting, lived-in feel.
Before and After’s particular poison is amaro, the bar opening with close to 40 bottles of the traditionally Italian digestif on its back bar. Thirteen of them are vintage, including bottles of Zucca Rabarbaro and Bianco Lorenz that date back to the 1940s, and a 1960s Fernet-Branca. There’s also a bunch of Australian drops, including a hard-to-find (in Brisbane, at least) Osare amaro from Tasmania, and a range of Beechworth Bitters amari. Curtis says to expect the list to grow as he seeks out more bottles from around the world.
Cocktails include a signature beeswax and lavender Negroni; a concoction of Mr Black coffee amaro, Marzadro grappa, curry leaf and pineapple skin that he’s named a Dutch Curry; and the Hayfever, which mixes Basil Hayden bourbon with Amaro Nonino from Friuli, a squeeze of citrus, smoked rice and bee pollen.
Elsewhere, there’s a short selection of grappa and small-producer Australian wines, and canned beer from Balter and Black Hops.
A menu of bar snacks is being prepared at Alba Bar & Deli, a couple of blocks across on Burnett Lane. There’s a shrimp roll with Fernet-Branca mayo; fish crudo with a vermouth gel, fried capers and citrus; Olasagasti anchovies on toast with salsa verde; and a grilled cheese sanga with lillet-soaked pear and amaro mustard. The food will run during the day on weekends too, when Before and After will pour Tim Adams espresso for the drop-in trade.
It amounts to a singular little venue in a unique – and, arguably, hard-to-find – spot, but Curtis sees the opportunities, not the risks.
“I think the location is amazing, to be honest,” he says. “We’re smack in the middle of the city in a square of amazing restaurants – Donna Chang, Rothwell’s, Exhibition. The casino’s right across the road. Burnett Lane is within walking distance. In the four weeks I’ve been here I’ve constantly had people sticking their head in … There’s nothing really like this in Brisbane, and that really sets us apart. The rest of it comes down to our service and what we’re offering.”
Before and After
181 George Street
Wed to Fri 4.30pm–12am
Sat & Sun 3pm–12am