Brisbane's historic pubs

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Brisbane's historic pubs (Photo: Tourism Qld)
Tourism Queensland
Tourism Queensland
Story by Lee Mylne

There’s nowhere better to while away a sunny afternoon than on the verandah or in the beer garden of one of Brisbane’s many attractive historic pubs.

In recent years, many of them have been revamped and refurbished, with smart new restaurants and stylish bars — both indoor and outdoor — but they still retain their original charms.

The best known is undoubtedly the Breakfast Creek Hotel, on Kingsford Smith Drive, near the Brisbane River. Affectionately known as the “Brekky Creek” or simply “The Creek”, the hotel was built in 1889 and is listed by the National Trust. For many people, a visit to the city isn’t complete without a steak and beer “off the wood” in the beer garden at the Brekky Creek, which has long been a Brisbane institution

A $4.5 million renovation and restoration in 2002 gave fresh life to this French Renaissance–style pub, which retains a quintessentially Queensland character. It is famed for its gigantic, mouth-watering steaks.

Substation No. 41 bar, created in the shell of a derelict electricity substation next to the hotel, makes the most of its exposed brick walls and soaring ceilings, and the 4.5m-long wooden bar is just the place to prop up for a cocktail.

Possibly the oldest surviving pub in Brisbane is the family-owned Pineapple Hotel, on Main Street, Kangaroo Point, which has been serving up steak and beer since 1864. This is a great place for everyone, with lots of events (especially AFL coverage) as well as areas for families — there’s a playground in the beer garden — and great deals on meals in the lounge bar and sports bar.

Not far away, towards the city centre, is the Story Bridge Hotel, located under the Story Bridge on Main St at Kangaroo Point. The Story Bridge Hotel is well known as the venue for some of Brisbane’s most unusual events, such as the annual Australia Day cockroach races.

Built in 1886, the pub is also a great place to find live music. In 2003 it was given a $3.2 million facelift, creating a new restaurant and bar literally built into the base of the bridge, and a new beer garden under the bridge.

Another landmark is the Regatta Hotel on Coronation Drive at Toowong, named for the rowing regattas once held regularly on this reach of the Brisbane River. This heritage hotel with three stories of iron lace balconies over looking the river is the perfect spot for a cool drink. After a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2002, the place now bursts at the seams on weekends.

In more recent history, Australian actress Sigrid Thornton’s mother Merle and her friend Rosalie Bogner chained themselves to the public bar of the Regatta in 1965 to protest against women not being allowed to drink in public bars. How times have changed!

Just around the corner from the Regatta is the Royal Exchange Hotel on High Street, Toowong. Known simply as “the RE,” it has long been a popular spot for students, probably because of its proximity to the University of Queensland. It has a great garden bar at the back.

In Red Hill, on the city fringe, is the Normanby Hotel, at the corner of Musgrave Road and Kelvin Grove Road. Built in 1890 on the site of a previous pub, and stylishly revamped in 2003, The Normanby is listed by the National Trust as one of the few large suburban hotels from the late 19th century horse and buggy era to survive in Brisbane.

Another of the city’s oldest pubs is the Plough Inn at South Bank Parklands, which has stood its ground through major changes in the neighborhood since 1885. When Brisbane hosted World Expo 88, the Plough Inn suddenly found itself in the thick of things again.

Located in the heart of South Bank Parklands, the pub has views of the city, river and the parklands’ artificial beach. And like many self-respecting historic buildings, it even has a couple of ghost stories. One ghost is that of a young girl trapped in the cellar during the great floods of 1893; the other the murdered wife of a 1920s publican, who wanders the hallways and the balcony where she met her end.

The Plough Inn’s hallways are lined with historic photos, chronicling the buildings chequered history…take a look to learn more, and to see how much the South Bank river area has changed over the years.