Brisbane occasionally hides a trendy bar down a laneway, but its finer drinking establishments are just as likely to be scattered around the suburbs or tucked away above or below other bars. And, sometimes, it hides them in plain sight, with unassuming fronts for some of its very best drinking holes
Here are the best hidden places to head for a tipple. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?[related_articles]5501,5353[/related_articles]
#1 The Mermaid Lounge
Everyone in Brisbane knows about Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall by now, with its apple whiskey and walls covered in hunting trophies like the kind of country house a murder mystery takes place in. But, head upstairs to the balcony and then towards the front of the building through a door that looks like it’s reserved for staff, and you’ll find the Mermaid Lounge.
Enjoy cosy leather booths, a selection of nautical-themed beers, a shark hanging overhead, and a model ship over the bar that fires a cap-gun broadside at regular intervals.
Where: 15 Caxton Street, Paddington
#2 The Walrus Club
There’s something very Brisbane about hiding a speakeasy underneath an existing pub. The 1920s-themed Walrus Club is down a flight of stairs in the laneway beside the much more commercial Regatta Hotel.
It’s basically a cigar joint for Don Draper cosplayers, with vintage leather couches and candelabra lighting. Named after the SS Walrus, a steamboat that doubled as an illegal rum distillery on the Albert River in the 19th century, rum is the specialty here, in spiced, traditional molasses-based, and French colonial varieties, as well as blended with house-made soda.
Where: 543 Coronation Drive, Toowong
#3 Junk Bar
In suburban Ashgrove, between a Chinese/Thai restaurant and a formal dress shop, hides the Junk Bar. Antique furniture, lamps, heavy curtains, an alpine-wood cabin back lounge – it’s a retro hole-in-the-wall bar that somehow found itself in residential Brisbane.
Among their specialties is teapot gin, a fruity gin cocktail that, yes, is served in a tea set. The staff will also pop next door to get takeaway for you, then serve it up on their own Junk Bar crockery.
Where: 215 Waterworks Road, Ashgrove
Halfway down an honest-to-god laneway that connects the Queen Street Mall to Albert Street in the city, Brew is, by day, a nice (and, importantly, air-conditioned) place to get a coffee. But at night, it transforms into a trendy tapas bar where staff cycle through various craft beers on tap, have a thing called “Cider Wednesdays”, and provide board games over the bar if you ask.
Where: Lower Burnett Lane, Brisbane CBD
#5 John Mills Himself
Behind the Archive second-hand bookstore (which has over a million books on its shelves) is John Mills Himself. A small brick room with a marble-top bar, it’s another place that transforms at dusk – rotating local blends in the coffee grinder during the day and then, at night, turning into a bar with a narrow but focused selection of beers and cocktails that will make your friend from Melbourne shut up for five minutes.
Where: 40 Charlotte Street, Brisbane CBD
#6 Greaser Bar
Down an alley next to a bottle-o, through a kitchen and into a basement, you’ll find Greaser Bar. With a painting of a Chevy Camaro on the wall, cheeseburgers on the menu, “pickleback” cocktails, and blues-rock blaring at full volume out of the speakers, the Greaser Bar does the American dive-bar thing with gusto.
That means the tequila selection is solid, staff knows how to mix a bloody Mary, and the fried chicken is great. Don’t sit under the speakers if you want to keep your hearing, though.
Where: Robyn Ward Lane, Fortitude Valley
#7 Fat Louie’s
View this post on Instagram
If you don’t want to drink craft beer in a dive-themed bar where everyone’s actually quite well-groomed but prefer drinking cheap spirits in a place that is actually pretty skungey and has karaoke, then Fat Louie’s is for you.
Up a flight of stairs on Albert Street, you’ll find a place that lets you book Tokyo-style private karaoke rooms for hours and serves sake and refined Polish vodka that’s about 90 per cent alcohol. And that is a recipe for a very interesting night.
Where: 1/124 Albert Street, Brisbane CBD
(Lead image: The Walrus Club / Facebook)
Jody has written for The Big Issue, Brisbane Times, and Rock Paper Shotgun. He is currently planning a trip to South Korea, where he will enjoy rich cultural traditions like K-pop and very fast wi-fi.