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Brisbane's Best Retro Spots For When You're Feeling Nostalgic

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.
By Sarah Ward
October 05, 2017

Brisbane's Best Retro Spots For When You're Feeling Nostalgic

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.
By Sarah Ward
October 05, 2017


in partnership with

The question isn't just where to go, it's which era to spend time in.

DeLoreans, hot tubs and phone booths are all great forms of time travel, but sometimes stepping back into the past is as simple as heading to the right place. Restaurants where nostalgia may as well be on the menu, and bars where you'd think it was the '70s if it weren't for the thoroughly modern prices, for example.

New eateries and venues might be opening in this fair city of ours every day, but that doesn't mean that Brisbane doesn't know how to rock a retro vibe. To help you find them, we've partnered with American Express to whip up the ultimate guide to getting a blast from the past when it comes to eating, drinking and having a great night out. Plus, you'll be able to swipe (see: tap) that Amex card of yours at these spots, too.

From beer halls that never change to boozy lounges that aim to recreate times gone by, the question isn't just where to go — it's which era to spend time in. If you work your way through the entire list, you'll be calling yourself Marty McFly in no time.

Got yourself in another dining situation and need some guidance? Whatever it is, we know a place. Visit The Shortlist and we'll sort you out.

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    Slowly but surely, Brisbane has been building up a stock of multipurpose eateries that offer a variety of drinking and dining options for any time of day. Of these, Malt is one of the best. It sits within Market Street’s Wenley House, first erected in the 1800s and origianl home to the first incarnation of the produce markets now found at Rocklea. It’s easy to appreciate the old-world charm of the locale, and the interior of the place retains some of the history and nostalgia so immediately evident in its exterior.

    In a touch that is very of the times, however, Malt hasn’t opted for minimalism when it comes to its food and drink offerings. A stacked bar menu will make picking something for lunch or dinner a tricky task, while the restaurant range is similarly hefty. When it comes to beverages, peruse seven pages of tipples and expect to find plenty of old favourites.

    Image: Anwyn Howarth.

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    The German Club

    Germany and Brisbane have had a long-term relationship for as long as our short history allows. If you thought The German Club was just some fun drinking hole for post-Gabba shenanigans, then you were wrong.

    Indeed, the original Brisbane German Club dates back to the 1800s when it boasted some bad-ass turrets, but sadly it burnt down in the 1940s. These days it’s more of a beer hall than a mini-castle, but it still has that old-world charm.

    You will have to pay to get in, but membership only costs $5 and may be the best $5 ever spent. And if you’re still not sure if that’s worth it, then let these words assist you: ‘Brisbane’s Best Pork Knuckle’. The German Club’s over 130-year-old restaurant Zum Kaiser makes this claim boldly (in lights at their entrance) and there is little disputing this. If you want German pork knuckle — and a huge selection of German beer — this is the place to go in Brisbane.

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    The times, they aren’t a-changing at The Vietnamese Restaurant, one of the Valley’s best Asian eateries for more than three decades — the Le family has been running the joint since its inception. Their name says it all. With this Wickham Street stalwart clearly one of the first of its kind in Brisbane, it certainly lives up to the definitive ring its moniker conjures.

    While some of the city’s other renowned Vietnamese haunts may trump it in the colourful, sleek decor stakes, The Vietnamese Restaurant more than makes up for its humble fit-out with brilliantly flavoursome, moreish eats and excellent value. To peruse its menu is to find the same kind of dishes that probably graced its pages back in 1983, and the same kind of flavoursome tastes as well.

    Expect salt-and-pepper squid that ranks among the best in Brissie, crunchy quail, crispy duck and the aptly named make-your-own ‘fun rolls’, which serve as a potentially messy but nonetheless very enjoyable entree.

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    Some places feel like the spots that time forgot. Others feel like they just don’t age. Alfred & Constance enjoys the best of both — and in a good way. When you’re keeping cosy with an ice-cold one, what day, week or year it is is the last thing going through your brain.

    The fact that A&C has made its home in two old Queenslanders certainly helps; there’s nothing like having a few eats and brews in the types of buildings that the state is known for, after all. And, serving up classic offerings as well as destined-to-be-classic fare, the menu does plenty of work as well.

    Sticky, smoky beef short ribs, baked camembert and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream are timeless go-tos for a reason, after all. So are old fashioneds and whiskey sours, Pimms jugs and hanging out in beer gardens.

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    Prohibition Brisbane

    If you’ve ever wanted to drink in a speakeasy or pretend you’re drinking bootlegged liquor, here’s your chance. Welcome to Prohibition Brisbane, the venue that brings the debauchery of almost a century ago to Fortitude Valley’s nightlife district.

    It’s a theme the underground haunt takes seriously, as its grand arrival space, complete with moving ceiling, makes clear. Inside the 1100-square-metre warehouse, three separate basement spaces — the main hall, a speakeasy-style bar and an exclusive VIP lounge — evoke times gone by with earthy tones and aged finishes.

    Need proof beyond the fancy decor? It’s all in the drinks list. The hard stuff reigns supreme, of course, as Prohibition’s packed bar shelves prove. For those fond of shaken or stirred concoctions, the extensive cocktail range mixes time-honoured tipples that date back to the ’20s with brand new house originals. Twists on classics are a highlight, including ‘The Peach and Passionfruit Rickey’ and the ‘Du Pont Daiquiri’.

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    Nestled into one of the charming Queenslanders that Paddington is so well known for, Kettle & Tin is a laidback slice of Brisbane history. Sure, it has only been operating for a few years, but you’d swear it’s been around for longer — it just has that atmosphere.

    It’s not hard to see why. Offering an array of daytime eats, plus craft beer, cocktail punches and quality food at night, they specialise in relaxed-style dining to be shared with friends. If the venue itself weren’t already cool enough, it must be noted that they have a herb garden out the back and a beehive on the roof — we’ll drink to that.

    And, in the ultimate move that’ll make you forget what time it is, you can order alcohol from 10am.

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    A step into The Gresham is a step back in time. Picture three-storey-high walls adorned with photographs and works of yesteryear, iced with a pressed tin ceiling and 20-bulb chandelier. On the floor, a large rug covering wooden floors is topped with custom-made Chesterfield couches, cedar tables and red leather bar stools. Behind the bar wooden shelves are lined with a wall of every premium whiskey you can imagine; a ladder is needed to reach the top shelf.

    Yep, The Gresham is a bar drenched in history, and rather than changing the face, the owners have worked with the grain to create a space straight from 1881. Above the marble fireplace is a portrait of Edward Robert Drury, the soldier and banker that commissioned and oversaw construction of the bar’s housing. Drury took chances, making massive loans and risky acquisitions without asking his directors to create what became known as Drury’s temple.

    The heritage-listed National Australia Bank building is now a landmark in its own right, and so we’ll always dedicate the first drink to Drury. After seeing the drinks list, good luck stopping at one. Whiskey is the name of the game here and with more than 100 on the menu, the question will always be, which to try next?

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    The Hope & Anchor

    When is an old-school, English-style pub more than just an old-school, English-style pub? When it also throws nautical theming into the mix, too. That’s what’s on offer at The Hope & Anchor, a slice of Blighty in Paddington.

    Housed in the quaint, heritage-listed space that was originally a bakery and has also boasted The Lark and Shingle Inn in recent years, the two-level H&A combines historic charm with a laid-back atmosphere. Thankfully, there’s more to the pub than a great look and feel, even if it does ooze both in spades.

    Drinks-wise, prepare to imbibe craft, microbrewery and even ginger beer by the bottle or on tap, or peruse the hefty wine, cocktail and spirits lists. And if you’re hankering for something to eat, eat your way through everything from fish fingers, to pot pie du jour, to daily puddings.

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    They say that change is as good as a holiday. Great restaurant decor mightn’t be quite as good, but it can make you feel like you’re somewhere else. If you’re in the vicinity of Barracks, a sunny courtyard, bright red tables and chairs, well-groomed shrubbery, shaded benches and bright hanging lanterns will do the trick.

    Make your way inside and you’ll find the interior is even more inviting than the exterior. Not sparse or minimalist in the way of many Brisbane restaurants, nor is it ostentatious or homely. Instead, Libertine is decorated in ‘French-colonial bordello style’. Warm mahogany colours, red-fringed lampshades, chandeliers dangling from high ceilings, ornate wallpaper and gold leaf accents combine to quite a lavish effect.

    The menu continues the same vibe thanks to petite dishes like dumplings filled with five mushrooms and water chestnuts with chilli soy, twice-cooked pork belly and yuzu cheesecakes.


    As you drink and dine with your American Express, reap all the sweet rewards of being a Card Member. Explore the many ways American Express has your back here.

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