Brisbane: Above water

By Pam Neville

Many of Brisbane's great Aussie pubs survived the floods, writes Pam Neville.

The historic Regatta Hotel was damaged, but is still open. Photo / Supplied
The historic Regatta Hotel was damaged, but is still open. Photo / Supplied

Of the many, many strange things encountered in Brisbane pubs, the loo-with-a-view was always the most odd. It made it to Lonely Planet's list of the World's Top 10 Weirdest Bars and Restaurants, but it was no match for the torrent of water and rubble which wiped out the bottom floor of the historic Regatta Hotel in January.

After a week of clearing mud and debris, staff opened a temporary bar and restaurant on the second floor. The ground floor should reopen by year's end, but no one's said if the star attraction of the men's bathroom will be reinstated.

A large one-way mirror covered the length of the wall above the urinal. So gentlemen could go about their business while gazing at pub-goers on the other side, and women in the bar could use the mirror side of the glass to retouch their lippy. It was the source of much amusement, to both sides. Toilet humour, Brisbane-style.

The gents' was wrecked when the Brisbane River burst so dramatically in what is now known as Queensland's worst disaster.

Sand-bagging couldn't keep the water out, but the pub fared much better than its near neighbour, Drift Cafe, which was swept off its pontoon and destroyed.

The Regatta holds a place in history for being the site of the liberation of Queensland public bars in 1965. By law, women were not permitted in public bars, but when two women chained themselves to the footrail of the bar, a groundswell began which saw the law repealed a few years later.

Now - in the absence of a loo with a view - the prize for strangest pub might go to the bar built around the pylons of a massive bridge, which vibrate when trucks go overhead.

The Story Bridge Hotel, where you will find the vibrating columns, kept its feet dry during this flood. The pub opened in 1886 as Kangaroo Point Hotel, and changed it name when the Story Bridge was built over the top of it in 1940. The Shelter Bar, which uses the bridge structure as walls and support, was originally a World War II bomb shelter. The fear was that Japanese planes would target ship-building yards on the Brisbane River.

Fans of the Breakfast Creek Hotel, another riverside icon, are relieved to find it up and running again. Like Regatta, "Brekky Creek" was badly damaged on the ground level, but managed to open after about a week.

The biggest worry, beer-wise, during the flood was that deliveries were halted to all of Queensland from the giant XXXX Brewery. The bottom level of the brewery was swamped when the river swept through the front gates, wrecking the packaging plant and reception area. Fortunately, the brewing equipment was upstairs, so top priority was given to restoring packaging and delivery - getting the beer in boxes and on the road to Queensland pubs.

Queensland still suffers from the January floods. Thousands of homes are damaged and many are uninhabitable. Half the ferry terminals on the Brisbane River river remain closed, pedestrian walkways and cycle paths have been washed away, the luxury Stamford Plaza hotel was closed for more than three months for restoration, and some waterside restaurants may never reopen.

But pubs are in business every night. Monday is hospitality night, when chefs and waiters are on the town because their restaurants close. Tuesday is student night, Wednesday is music night, Thursday is quiz night. And then, of course, it's the weekend, when everyone is out.

I barely scratched the surface of the weird and wonderful world of Brisbane's riverside watering holes.

* Pam Neville visited Brisbane with the assistance of Tourism Queensland.


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