Brisbane has changed, it’s true. There’s more specialty coffee shops than you can poke a stick at, enough smashed avo to cause a housing crisis and its all-time modern art gallery just celebrated its tenth birthday. The big ol’ XXXX man at Milton is no longer the only brewery in town, and the little bars and clubs you actually want to drink at are slowly fighting back against the big pub juggernauts. The idea Brisbane has finally come of age is a bit tired, but there’s a hell of a lot here to try to cram into 24 hours.
8am – Breakfast at Billykart West End
Rise and shine, kids. You’re in Brisbane – the city of breakfast. The sun gets up early and so do we. Drop into Billykart West End, the grown up version of chef Ben O’Donoghue’s original Annerley cafe.
Salute the early hours over a plate of his Aussie Asian eggs; order the spanner crab and scallop congee for something different, or keep it sweet with house-made crumpets and honeycomb butter. Before you leave, drop into Billykart Provisions next-door to browse the shelves of homemade cakes, cheese, salumi, pastries, jams, deli goods and craft beer, wine and spirits. From here, it’s a short wander to Davies Park on Montague Road.
10am – Davies Park Market
“I came to buy fruit but spent all my money on crystals.” That is a sentence we heard a real person say here, which sums up the Davies Park Markets nicely. West End’s biggest morning mass gathers every Saturday to confess sins at the juice stall, praise local farmers, and pray their favourite hangover-beating feed is there.
Line up for a cup from West End roaster Black Star Coffee and find a space under the big trees to reflect on the week while listening to an acoustic set or two. When you’re ready to go, GOMA is just 15 minutes’ walk down Montague Road.
12pm – Visit GOMA
A furry wall to pat, a three-storey slide to ride, live finches to watch and raffia horses to dance with – one of Australia’s greatest galleries just turned 10 and is celebrating with an outrageously fun exhibition. Bringing together more than 250 works from the collection along with two new large-scale works, Sugar Spin is Brisbane’s summer must-see. It runs until April 17. It also helps that the art-filled wonderland is air-conditioned. If hunger strikes, eat art on a plate at the two-hatted GOMA Restaurant or pop down to the riverside GOMA Cafe for a cheaper bistro-style feed under the trees.
3pm – Shop on James Street
Order an Uber or cab and cross back over the brown snake (that’s the Brisbane River for the uninitiated) toward James Street. Shop something shiny from treasure trove Molten Store, new threads from Gail Sorronda, handmade jewellery at Chrissa Alexion and high-end pieces from Natasha Schweitzer. Big name boutiques Aje, Camilla, Zimmermann, Mecca Cosmetica, Aesop and Gorman join these local designer stores on the tree-lined street.
You’ll also find petite cookbook store Scrumptious Reads, perfumerie Libertine, galleries Mitchell Fine Art, TW Fine Art and Redsea, and more. Make time to stop for a mid-afternoon beverage and snack at Gerard’s Bar – we recommend the white Negroni and hand-flamed cheeseburger.
5pm – Sunset drinks at Eleven Rooftop Bar
Early sunrise means early sunset, and Eleven is a great spot to take it in. An elevator will take you to the eleventh floor where the marble-filled, luxe vibe rooftop bar has a 270-degree panorama, taking in Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge, the river and CBD skyline to the south. There’s a whole menu dedicated to champagne and the cocktail offering is complete with cute illustrations – we guess that helps if you’re ordering a drink with Instagram in mind. From here, hail a cab and cross the river to dinner.
7pm – Dinner at Gauge
Gauge is one of Brisbane’s most interesting and reasonably priced eating spots with a menu that challenges the diner. Be sure to book and don't skip the umami-rich “blood taco” with bone marrow, mushroom and native thyme. Chef Cormac Bradfield changes the menu regularly, but one cult dish remaining constant: on the menu from breakfast to dessert, the sweet-to-savoury black garlic bread with a quenelle of brown butter and burnt vanilla is a must. It’s likely you’ll order two.
9pm – Cocktails at Maker Around the corner on Fish Lane lies Maker, an 18-seat cocktail and wine bar. The 7.5-metre-long oxidising brass bar is bathed in light from hanging porcelain pendants and dominates the black space. Pull up a seat at the bar and order from the short, sharp monthly menu.
Sibling to neighbouring Gauge (both are owned by Jerome Batten), the creative cocktail list expertly pairs seasonal flavours and odd ingredients with homemade liqueurs and local honey. The G&T with native quandong and finger lime is an adventurous twist. If you can coerce yourself away from the bar, take in the city lights while walking over the Victoria Bridge into the city.
11pm – Late-night burgers and whisky in Gresham Lane
“Small but mighty” best describes Gresham Lane – Brisbane’s little hub of good eating and drinking. Start with a late-night snack at Red Hook, the Brooklyn street-food joint that draws on the namesake suburb’s wealth of micro-cultures. The char sui pork tacos are a winner, and the Resolution Breaker burger is aptly named. Pair with a US craft beer, spiked milkshake or cheeseburger martini and keep kicking on.
After midnight, head to neighbouring whisky palace The Gresham. With its rich mahogany bookcase of booze, leather chesterfield couches and heritage setting, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped back in time. Put your phone away and enjoy fine spirits served neat or on the rocks, in a boilermaker or a cocktail.
1am – Dance at Prohibition
It’s time to boogie and we know just the place. Prohibition is a ‘20s style speakeasy in the Valley, where a fancy LED-ceiling undulates slowly over a dancefloor that attracts an eclectic mix of DJs and live acts, including – depending on the night – the Prohibition Ballroom Dancers lending a Quickstep, Tango or East Coast Swing to the occasion. That fits in with Prohibition’s Gatsby-style aura. In one bar they spin tunes on a turntable disguised as a gramophone, in another other, teacups of gin are delivered around a romping live swing band. Staff members are kitted in flapper gear, pinstripes and spats, and on Fridays and Saturdays an in-house makeup artist and hairdresser drop by to help you look the part. With so much going on it’s hard not to get involved. But if you just want to sit back and relax, there’s a number of secret rooms and hidden nooks where you can peruse a leather-bound hooch menu that list splashes, mixers and muddles of just about every possible combination. Go hard or go to your hotel.
2am – Sleep at TRYP
Tucked away in Fortitude Valley, TRYP is a stylish, boutique hotel decked out in huge swatches of street art combined with rustic touches, which gives it a unique feel of lived-in modernity. There’s a rooftop bar lurking upstairs, and room service includes a direct line to downstairs restaurant CHUR, which offers a range of burgers, snacks and share plates made from fresh seasonal ingredients. Tip: Don’t forget to draw your room’s electronic blind before going to sleep. In summer, the Brisbane sun can rise before 5am, and even in the depths of winter, around 6.30am.