We all know Melbourne’s CBD laneways but it turns out the city doesn’t have a monopoly on the scene.
Every city has laneways but it’s what they do with them that counts. In the ’80s, clever planners in Melbourne sought to lure people to the CBD with small bars, cafés and shops populating its many narrow thoroughfares. Since then, Brisbane has caught on and the city’s lanes and alleys are bustling with activity. Brisbane’s laneways scene is the result of the Vibrant Laneways initiative, which was designed to create more public spaces, business opportunities and foot traffic. And it’s worked. Knock back a coffee from a hole-in-the-wall café, spend an evening small-bar-hopping or liven up your wardrobe with a local designer piece in some of Brisbane’s best backstreets.
Tucked behind Queen Street Mall, between George and Albert streets, is Brisbane’s oldest laneway, Burnett Lane. It was once the exercise yard of a colonial prison and the scene of grisly public executions but now it’s more about food than floggings. There are historical facts splashed across its walls and painted artworks glow beneath visitors’ feet. It’s home to some of Brisbane’s coolest little restaurants and cafés, such as Felix, which serves egg and prosciutto breakfast tarts and organic coffee. Nearby, Super Whatnot is a great spot for a nightcap.
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Just off Queen Street Mall, Albert Lane is a modern, arcade-style laneway full of casual eateries, making it perfect for a pit stop during a shopping jaunt on Albert Street. Don’t go past the newly opened Comuna Cantina for South American street food, such as arepas, washed down with sangria. Alternatively, grab a table at popular Harajuku Gyoza for an extensive dumpling menu.
While Eagle Street is all riverside glam, Eagle Lane couldn’t be more different, hiding its charms away for those curious enough to discover them. Eagle Lane is home to some killer caffeine thanks to weekday-only hole-in-the-wall The Coop Espresso Bar. On Monday to Saturday nights, basement bar Brooklyn Standard kicks out the jams with live music and Brooklyn lager on tap. The American theme will continue, with an outpost of burger chain Ruby’s Diner in the works – the first outside of the United States.
New shopfronts give renewed vigour to heritage façades on Bakery Lane, Fortitude Valley. Locals love it for its communal dining area, where street food from Nomnom Korean or doughy slices from Johnny's Pizzeria can be consumed.
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Located on the edge of the CBD, off Margaret Street, Spencer Lane is a busy night-time hub thanks to its fine-diner, Urbane, where the most difficult decision is whether to go for the five-course or eight-course degustation. There’s also popular dinner spot The Euro and The Laneway, a small bar with an outdoor eating area.
This tiny Fortitude Valley laneway sprung up organically, with various hip, indie businesses occupying its pocket-sized shopfronts over the years. The current roster includes House of Ezis for bridal, jewellery from Phoebe Paradise and Sen Studio for one-off garments. When hunger strikes, there’s Ben’s Burgers.
A few blocks back from the Golden Triangle, this city lane is food central. There are bagels, yakitori, bánh mì and the American-style Red Hook – a veritable United Nations of cuisine. After dark, The Gresham is the place to be. This historical building was completed for the Queensland National Bank in 1885 before becoming the Gresham Hotel, named in honour of the first Gresham Hotel, which was demolished after being damaged by a flood in 1974. According to staff, the original hotel was a place where momentous things happened, including the 1942 “Battle of Brisbane” between American GIs and Australian soldiers. The formal establishment of Qantas occurred at the original site, too, with the signing of papers in November 1920.
The Gresham (Image credit: Savannah Vander Niet)
Cross over Victoria Bridge to South Brisbane and discover Fish Lane, an eclectic laneway spanning six blocks. Formerly Soda Water Lane, Fish Lane was renamed after a local alderman in 1904. Now it’s home to cafés, restaurants and bars. If you’re short on time, explore the Grey Street end, where Julius Pizzeria serves Napoli-style pizza and Fish Lane Bistro offers some great pub fare. Nearby on Grey Street is Gauge, a light-filled eatery that’s great for breakfast on your way to Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art or Queensland Museum.