Everything you need to know about Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley precinct
If ever a suburb had split personalities, it would be Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.
It moves from being a place for party animals and haven for hipsters to trophy cabinet for restaurants who can barely move for all the chefs’ hats they’re wearing – and all within a few city blocks.
Fortitude Valley’s identity crisis is enough to drive a person dizzy, which is why we’ve come up with this guide to deciphering a suburb so popular with locals, it was even floated as an alternative site for City Hall in the early 1900s.
Where to eat
The Valley (as it’s called by locals) occupies a few prime strips of restaurant real estate, with Brunswick Street, James Street, Wickham Street and the sneaky back-street corner of Alfred and Constance Streets the names you’ll want to get acquainted with.
Brunching is a serious sport in Brisbane and the cafe game is strong in this pocket of the Valley.
Start out your day on a healthy high with a freshly-squeezed juice, smoothie, acai bowl or muesli at superfood container cafe, Pineapple Express.
Wander down the laneway on Wandoo Street to find good, strong coffee and a menu that dances between savoury mince and lemon chia hotcakes at the HQ for Campos Coffee.
On James Street, Harveys Bar + Bistro is a Brisbane institution and a little further up the street and around the corner on Arthur Street, King Arthur is housed in an old warehouse and serves up the likes of spiced pumpkin bircher and butterscotch shakes.
As if plucked from the streets of Paris and implanted onto the streets of Brisbane, Les Bubbles on Wickham Street in Fortitude Valley’s steak-frites specialist. In a nod to Brisbane’s underbelly era, this restaurant serves the national dish of France from a building that was once an illegal casino, bath-house, and brothel. If these walls could talk, they’d tell you a lot more than how great their bottomless fries are. And yes, that really is a jacuzzi in the downstairs bathhouse.
(Psst. Head out into the back alley to Mister Fitz for Instagrammable ice-cream cookie sandwiches if you have any room left.)
A walk up James Street is like hitting the dining jackpot with the likes of Bucci, Cru Bar + Cellar, Sixes & Sevens, Pineapple Express and The Yiros Shop covering everything from quick nibbles on-the-go to a full sit-down experience.
To see the kind of tucker worthy of the ‘Best Restaurant in Queensland’ crown by the Australian Financial Review, book yourself into the middle eastern bazaar, Gerard’s Bistro. The cool industrial design, a menu of sharing plates and drinks list of encyclopaedic proportions deliver all the ingredients for a good night.
For a taste of south-east Asia like no other this side of the equator, join the queue in the forgotten laneway behind backpacker bar, Birdees (on Ann Street), to score a table at local favourite, Longtime. Both the drinks and food menu will transport you to Bangkok without any of that pesky travel.
And for authentic eats, BYO drinks and the occasional karaoke bar, head for Chinatown Mall.
Where to drink
Nowhere else in Brisbane will you find a bar to postcode-population ratio quite like Fortitude Valley. It’s the nightclub precinct for a reason, but even if you don’t want to go into one of the heavyweights like Cloudland, Oh Hello! or Prohibition, there are plenty of smaller watering holes (with fewer party animals too).
For cocktails, you can’t look past Laruche on Ann Street, who’s bartenders are so skilled behind their shakers you’d think bartending needed post-graduate qualifications. The tiki cocktails coming out of Alfred and Constance are always a crowd-pleaser, too.
If you’re a gin lover, Dutch Courage Officer’s Mess on Alfred Street provides the poison with over 120 boutique distillations to choose from or if you prefer a cosy wine bar, Proud Henry Wine Bar & Ginoteca keeps things simple with a tight selection of 12 wines by the glass and cheese and charcuterie boards to complement.
Rise above the Valley forest floor at Eleven, the rooftop bar that has revellers on a Saturday night queuing around the block to get a seat at the table or if you prefer something a little more underground, find the door beneath the Queen Arms Hotel and slip into Farrier Bar + Supper Club, serving food up to 2am.
Of course, if you prefer to take your drinks in complete silence, there’s no shame in a Saturday night at Palace Centro (the cinema) on James Street, who pour wine in two glass sizes. Their “Feature Length” pour resembles a goblet, which will see you in more than just the opening credits.
Where to stay
A burst of recent development in the Valley has seen three hotels with a 4006 postcode open in as many years.
To check into one that oozes urban design from the exterior graffiti facade to the street art interior influences, Tryp Hotel offers accommodation in the heart of the action. The old warehouse is much a gallery as it is a hotel with displays from local artists.
For somewhere with as much style as its namesake, check into the Alex Perry Hotel & Apartments, which have been designed by the famous Australian fashion designer himself. The interiors reflect the same principles of his fashion brand, so expect plenty of luxurious fabrics.
And the Sage Hotel is the newest kid on the James Street block, nestled up against the Queen Arms Hotel.
Of course, these two hotels aren’t where the accommodation starts and stops. The jungle of cranes towering above Fortitude Valley is good evidence there will be no shortage of apartments coming online in the next few years to sate the demand of Brisbanites for this proximity to the city.
Where to shop
It might have taken a little while, but the Fortitude Valley is quickly clawing its way back to its former status as ‘the largest shopping precinct outside of a central business district in Australia’.
While it may still have a way to go, David Jones just opened its first store in The Valley, which points to the fact shopping is still a primary industry for this suburb.
James Street, which straddles both Fortitude Valley and New Farm is where serious shoppers go to work their credit cards because you don’t have to look hard to find an outfit to suit any occasion here. Stores like Lululemon take care of your morning yoga attire while Scanlan Theodore has your evening look covered. Throw in Zomp for shoes, Mimco for a handbag and Bailey Nelson for your sunnies and James Street provides more outfit options for a fashionista to fathom.
If you end up footsore and weary from walking up and down James Street, a quick visit into The Thai Footspa will have you up and shop again.
It’s not all mainstream brand names in Fortitude Valley either. If Rommy and Michelle were shopping for their High School Reunion, they’d point their clacky mules in the direction of Sunday Social, whose stocklist is an eclectic mix and treasure trove for the discerning sartorialist.
Overlay into the shopping mix a series of boutique bridal stores along Ann Street which sit ironically close to adult bars and nightclubs, and you’ll understand why it’s not uncommon to see small armies of women pounding the pavement to find a dress for their big day.
If you’re out shopping, don’t forget to check out these laneways.
Where to go for music & arts
It’s no surprise that Australia’s first dedicated entertainment district is bursting at the seams with live music and theatre venues.
While most bars will have a band playing every day of the week, there are three dedicated music venues for bigger, ticketed acts – The Tivoli, New Globe Theatre and The Zoo. Smaller venues like Black Bear Lodge, host moderately sized acts for a cover charge.
Head to the Judith Wright Centre on Brunswick Street for performances spanning theatre, music, dance, fashion, circus and visual arts.
Want to find more places to see live music in Brisbane? Don’t forget to check out this blog.
Every year, the streets of the valley are transformed into a stage, as BIGSOUND turns up the volume on Brisbane’s music scene. Now in its 16th year, the festival runs across four nights, putting a spotlight on up and coming musicians.
The format is simple: conferences by day and concerts by night, and showcasing who the festival organiser’s think will be the next big things in the Australian music scene. They’ve got it right before, the likes of Flume, Rufus, Courtney Barnett, Megan Washington, The Temper Trap, A.B. Original, Remi, Gang of Youths, were born out of BIGSOUND and made it big.
Mark your calendars for October, as postcode 4006 pays homage to its nightclub routes with The Valley Fiesta. This three-day music festival closes off parts of Brunswick and Ann Streets for the main acts.
From one outdoor extravaganza to another, Chinese New Year takes over the Chinatown Mall each lunar new year. Over February, you’ll struggle to find standing space among the markets, lion dancers and entertainers that occupy the middle of this mall.
Want to get to know some of Brisbane’s other postcode personalities? Check out this post.
Other live gigs
Check out live music at the following spots in Fortitude Valley:
- The Foundry
- Heya Bar
- Black Bear Lodge
- The Brightside
- The Zoo
- Woolly Mammoth
- Ric’s Bar
- The New Glove Theatre
- The Triffid
- The Tivoli
- Bloodhound Corner Bar
- The Met / 256 Wickham
- Empire Hotel