The best Brisbane boutique hotels to check into for a glamorous BrisVegas style staycation include everything from the quirky Ovolo The Valley with its retro-glam Rockstar Suites inspired by David Bowie, The Calile with its Fifties ice-cream coloured palette and sublime swimming pool, and the luxurious Emporium with its Belle Epoque cafe-bar and sumptuous river-view suites.
Like many of you I’m making lists of places I want to go, people I want to see, restaurants where I want to dine, and hotels I want to check into in a post-pandemic world: a world where it’s safer to travel, borders are open, flights have resumed, and travellers can go places. The best Brisbane boutique hotels below are on that list.
Brisbane, the capital of Australia’s northeastern state, Queensland, is on my list – along with Townsville, and not only to visit family. The Northern Queensland city has all kinds of cool things to do, from checking into a retro-chic seafront resort, and diving into the new Museum of Underwater Art with ocean-floor installations, to following a cool street art walking trail, and sampling an emerging craft beer scene.
But Brisbane… each time we’ve returned to the sub-tropical city since Brisbane-born Terence and I left the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane way back in the mid-Eighties, to move to my hometown Sydney and later abroad, we’ve increasingly been wowed. Brisbane has slowly but surely grown into the city that once upon a time we dreamt it would become. Although these retro-glam boutique hotels make us a tad nostalgic for twentieth century style.
Best Brisbane Boutique Hotels for a Retro-Glam BrisVegas Style Staycation
While ‘BrisVegas’ was once an ironic yet affectionate name that southerners from Melbourne and Sydney gave the
sleepy laidback city that enjoyed the occasional big night out, Brisbane has become a more compelling destination over the years, with its own brand of casual retro-glam that you’d expect from a sultry sub-tropical capital
For Queenslanders planning a city escape, and Australians allowed to enter the Sunshine State, where the weather is ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’ as the slogan goes, these are the best Brisbane boutique hotels to check into for a glamorous BrisVegas-style staycation. For the rest of you, put these on your bucket list.
Best Brisbane Boutique Hotels
OVOLO THE VALLEY
Few Australian suburbs have experienced such radical gentrification – or urban renewal, if you prefer – as Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, or The Valley as it’s known to locals. The area’s legendary dance halls, iconic concert venues and underground clubs of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties are long gone – as are the days of us dancing late in basement dives post-drag shows. Nostalgic for those times? Then check into Ovolo The Valley, the most idiosyncratic lodgings of our pick of the best Brisbane boutique hotels, where the quirky design by Woods Bagot (of Townsville’s The Ville fame) tips a hat to the neighbourhood’s history and a time when Fortitude Valley was Brisbane’s edgiest nightlife district. Guests are greeted by ‘The Valley’ illuminated by a Broadway-style light-globe sign. There are retro-chic Rockstar Suites, inspired by David Bowie, with plush velvet lounges, bespoke wallpaper and a gold bar, and regular DJ events (virtual during pandemic times). Of course, the ten-year-old Hong Kong-born Ovolo brand with its focus on “F.U.N” and mission to make your stay “Wonder.Full”, gives a nod to another brand that made boutique hotel history, the 22-year-old W Hotels, which were trail-blazers when they launched with their playful décor, nightclub vibe, champagne check-ins, and complimentary mini-bars stocked with candies and condoms. Missing those days too? This is definitely the hotel for you. There are free minibars with lolly bags and complimentary happy hours, not to mention a cool little rooftop pool area and The Valley’s hip boutiques, restaurants and bars are close by. Ovolo The Valley, 1000 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley.
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Pssst… our friends at Luxury Escapes have a special offer right now for 2 nights at the Ovolo The Valley starting from A$379 per room, including daily breakfast and nightly drinks.
Before Fortitude Valley was an entertainment hub, it was a high-end retail district in the early to mid 20th century, when Brisbane’s residents dressed up in their finery to take the tram to The Valley to shop at swanky department stores such as Waltons, TC Beirne and McWhirters. The Calile re-injected some of that sophistication into the suburb when it opened on James Street in late 2018. While the gorgeous urban resort, easily the most beautiful of the best Brisbane boutique hotels, with a nod to the 1950s with its pastel and gelato hues, billowing curtains, and generous use of pink marble, oak, cork, rattan, and brass, became a destination in itself, especially for sipping and eating – the hotel hosts pretty poolside Greek restaurant Hellenika, smart Thai eatery Same Same, elegant SK Steak and Oysters, and a lobby bar you’ll actually want to hang out – The Calile’s owners established one of Brisbane’s most enticing retail destinations on site. There’s M.O.S.T (Museum of Small Things) with a carefully curated selection of Australian treasures; Wolfe and Ordnance, for Australian fashion labels such as Faithfull, SIR and Spell; Bondi-born VENROY for ethically-made leisure-wear; and Love Stories for lingerie and swimwear, in case you forgot your cozzies. Because you will need them: at the heart of the Calile is one of Brisbane’s loveliest swimming pools with pale-mint sun loungers and umbrellas and private cabanas. In the rooms: linen bathrobes and slippers, Grown Alchemist bath amenities, and a minibar stocked with delicious local snacks and drinks. The Calile Hotel, 48 James Street, Fortitude Valley.
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If you’re in Brisbane for a dose of culture and art – the city has two outstanding art museums, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), along with small art galleries scattered around the city – the Emporium is a brilliant choice. Located in the South Bank precinct, home to QAGOMA, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Museum, and the Maritime Museum, the Emporium makes a perfect base for a weekend of art, culture and history – as well as some of that famous sunshine. Within walking distance are the South Bank Parklands with a riverside promenade, leafy gardens, manicured lawns, a manmade beach and pool, along with alfresco waterfront restaurants, cafés and bars. The Emporium also has one of Brisbane’s best hotel swimming pools, a breathtaking 23-metre infinity pool on the 21st floor with gobsmacking views of the Brisbane River and city skyline. Book a River City Suite to savour those vistas from your balcony. Perhaps the most luxurious of the best Brisbane boutique hotels, the Emporium’s spacious suites are sumptuous, furnished in plush fabrics, mirrors and marble, a full-size bronze bar, Eurocave wine fridge, and Bose sound system. Savour sunset on your balcony one night and The Terrace rooftop bar the next. The beautiful Belle Epoque café will transport you back to an old fashioned Paris with its black and white tiled floors, velvet bar stools and vintage mirrors. Currently operating as a café until 5pm, Thursdays are steak-frites nights, when it’s open until 9pm, so book for a long weekend. The Piano Bar is even more glam, with its illuminated bar, ceiling mirrors, chandeliers, and cocktail masterclasses. Emporium Hotel South Bank, 267 Grey Street, South Brisbane.
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Arts enthusiasts also have two fine choices in Brisbane’s Art Series hotels, The Johnson and The Fantauzzo, below, which are easily the best Brisbane boutique hotels for art-lovers. We’re big fans of the Art Series, having stayed in Adelaide and Melbourne properties. Each of the lodgings are inspired by a particular Australian artist, whose art fills the building. There’s an art channel and books on the artist in rooms, an art library, and some hotels offer guided art tours. Started in 2009 by Melbourne’s Deague family, but now managed by the Mantra group, best known for serviced apartments, the Art Series now includes eight hotels, The Cullen, The Olsen, The Blackman, The Larwill Studio, The Chen, The Watson, and The Johnson. While Sydney-born, artist Michael Johnson spent time in North Queensland where he became immersed in nature, and was inspired by everything from bird feathers to beetle wings. Located in Spring Hill, within walking distance of galleries, cafés, restaurants, bars, and the lush Roma Street parklands, The Johnson is a classic boutique hotel in a clean minimalist style. There are Lekker bicycles to borrow and Smart Cars for rent. If you’ll be eating out a lot (The Tumbling Stone restaurant downstairs is good for a bite, though currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, though things can change any time), the deluxe studio suites will suit you just fine, but if you plan on shopping for local produce, book an apartment with kitchen. The Johnson boasts another of Brisbane’s best hotel swimming pools, a 50-metre rooftop lap pool. The Johnson, 477 Boundary Street, Spring Hill.
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Just a ten-minute amble from The Johnson, on Wickham Terrace on the edge of the CBD, the Ovolo Inchcolm is located in a handsome 1930s red-brick building in Georgian Revival style and it’s perhaps the quirkiest of the best Brisbane boutique hotels. Built on the site of an army surgeon’s former residence and hospital dating to 1880, it was named after the isle of Inchcolm in his native Scotland. The Ovolo Inchcolm’s designers have skilfully managed to maintain the history and integrity of the old heritage building while still injecting that sense of whimsy and vintage glam that distinguishes the brand’s Brisbane hotels. The Andy Warhol-esque Pop Art-style portraits of rock stars hang on pretty floral wallpaper, while beneath the swanky cocktail bar there’s a cabinet of curiosities with a quirky collection that includes Beatles memorabilia, antique cameras, telephones and transistor radios, and glass science flasks, beakers and test tubes. There’s a similar display, featuring antique toys, bowling pins and embossed books in the beautiful moodily-lit restaurant with parquet floors that’s apparently inspired by Getrude Stein’s pre-World War II Parisian salon where the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald might mingle. The light-filled rooms and suites are classic by comparison, with whitewashed and beige walls or white wood panelling with British racing-green feature walls, more art, and marble bathrooms, although the four-poster bed in the Thomson Suite is pretty special. Rooms in the heritage section of the building have more charm and atmosphere, although the split-level lofts on the top floor have fantastic city views. All rooms have complimentary mini-bar with lolly bag, Apple TV, iPad and iPod, along with Biology bath products. There are bicycles to borrow but no swimming pool here unfortunately, however, the hotel has arranged for guests to access pools at neighbouring hotels. Ovolo Inchcolm, 73 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill.
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Not far from Brisbane City Hall and Queen Street Mall and just across the river from the Emporium and South Bank, is the W Hotel. It’s another one of the best Brisbane boutique hotels simply for the fact that the W hotels were some of the first boutique hotels and have a special place in boutique hotel history. With 312 rooms, the W Brisbane is a lot larger than we like our boutique hotels to be, but it still has a lot going for it, including shimmering river views and plenty of sunshine streaming into most of its rooms. The lobby will take you back to the Eighties with its mirrored check-in counters reminiscent of disco balls, as will the lounge with a hot pink, royal blue and canary yellow mural. Rooms are decorated in the signature bold palates of W Hotels, so expect splashes of turquoise and pink and a kitschy Australiana theme. That means you can expect to gawk at crocodile skull sculptures on tread on carpets with a pattern resembling ripples on a sandy beach or river bed, to soak in a deep metallic bathtub reminiscent of 10-gallon drums, and to take a disco nap (or nanna’s nap?) on glittery cushions featuring stencilled cockatoos and parakeets. You can expect all the usual Signature W amenities, including comfy W bathrobes, Bliss bathroom products, and the W MixBar, where you can stir yourself a cocktail before heading to the WET Deck for sunset drinks. While the Wonderful King Rooms and perfectly fabulous, if money is no object book the Extreme Wow Suite and invite some close friends over for in-room dining or head down to the Three Blue Ducks for dinner. Don’t miss the Australian High Tea with Aussie favourites such as the meat pie and lamington reimagined and savoury treats made from fantastic local produce such as native finger limes and Fraser Island crab.
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Brisbane’s second Art Series hotel, The Fantauzzo, is also located on the bank of the Brisbane River at the newish eating and sipping destination, the restored heritage-listed Howard Smith Wharves, and it’s another of the best Brisbane boutique hotels. Built into a cliff on the border of Brisbane’s CBD and The Valley and tucked under Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge, the low-rise hotel couldn’t be more different to the group’s first property, The Johnson, but that’s what makes the Art Series hotels so alluring. The Fantauzzo showcases the work of Australian photographer and photo-realist painter Vincent Fantauzzo, who has won the Archibald People’s Choice Award a staggering four times, which indicates how much his work is loved by Australians. Fantauzzo, who has an extraordinary story, has painted portraits of Australians such as the former prime minister Julia Gillard, boxer Lionel Rose, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, chef Matt Moran, and actors Heath Ledger and Asher Keddie (his wife), whose portrait is in the lobby and some of the rooms of the hotel. The nine categories of rooms at The Fantauzzo epitomise BrisVegas glam, with gold mirrored cube coffee tables, 1970s-style velvet sofas and cushions in the royal blue and emerald-green that are favourites of Brisbane boutique hotel interior decorators, and big bold pieces of work by the artist. The Deluxe Riverview room is made for entertaining with a living-room sized sofa and six-seater dining tables inside and out, with bridge and river views. Note that not all rooms have water vistas, some rooms face the cliff, others overlook the wharves and promenade, so choose carefully. There’s a lovely on-site Italian restaurant, Polpetta, and a rooftop bar called Fiume, tucked under the Bridge, with lots more restaurants and bars down in the Howard Smith Wharves, but the highlight of the hotel must be the stunning swimming pool with Story Bridge and Brisbane River views. The Fantauzzo, Howard Smith Wharves, 5 Boundary Street, Brisbane.
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Do let us know if you stay in any of our picks of the best Brisbane boutique hotels as we’d love to hear about your experience.