Breath­ing new life into the River City

Rocked by floods, the ef­forts to trans­form the Queens­land cap­i­tal are start­ing to pay off. The city has bounced back and is re­gain­ing tourism ap­peal, writes An­gela Sau­rine

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - DISCOVER BRISBANE -

AS FAR as ma­jor Aus­tralian cities go, Bris­bane has al­ways had a tough time keep­ing up with its east coast coun­ter­parts.

While Syd­ney has un­ri­valled nat­u­ral beauty and Mel­bourne has its cul­tural draw­cards, cool laneway bars and restau­rants, Bris­bane has . . . well, sky­scrapers.

This time last year the Queens­land cap­i­tal was also struck by dev­as­tat­ing floods, which did noth­ing to en­hance its ap­peal to tourists.

But over the past 12 months the city has done an im­pres­sive job pulling to­gether and clean­ing up. There are few signs of the dev­as­ta­tion which made front-page news around the coun­try last Jan­uary and there is a sense that the city is trans­form­ing.

There are some who say the floods have had a pos­i­tive im­pact on tourism, spurring many busi­nesses to take the op­por­tu­nity to re­fresh their of­fer­ings.

Ma­jor city ho­tels, in­clud­ing the Novo­tel Bris­bane, Hil­ton Bris­bane and Mar­riott have had ma­jor makeovers this year.

In the last three months of 2011, the city wel­comed 30 new bars, cafes and restau­rants. At river­front South Bank, which was re­built af­ter the floods, the new River Quay din­ing precinct – pre­vi­ously known as River Bend – will of­fer five swish new restau­rants when it is com­plete.

Cove Bar + Din­ing and The Jetty South Bank opened in Novem­ber, fol­lowed by Stoke­house, which be­came a place to be seen in the lead-up to Christ­mas.

The restau­rant, which has a sis­ter venue in Mel­bourne’s St Kilda, has a light, open feel with glass bi-fold doors lead­ing on to a nar­row bal­cony, high ceil­ings and white table­cloths. It is a great place to while away an af­ter­noon watch­ing the pad­dle­wheel­ers and Ci­ty­cat fer­ries glide by.

Back in the CBD, the new ‘‘ food em­po­rium’’ Spring is also at­tract­ing at­ten­tion. With well-known former restau­rant critic and chef Lizzie Loel at the helm, Spring is a clever con­cept. In the fi­nance district on the cor­ner of Felix and Mary St, it is a kind of modern-day mixed busi­ness sell­ing mostly lo­cal, or­ganic pro­duce. It of­fers every­thing from mar­i­nated olives to mac­a­roons, has a cook­ing school and will be­gin sell­ing wine next month.

The em­po­rium has an invit­ing feel. Sit on the cor­ner out­side on large wooden ta­bles, sip cof­fee on tree-

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