Perth switches up its pace with hip bars and new entertainment venues

Mar 13, 2018

The capital of Western Australia has decisively shrugged off its sleepy image with a burgeoning nightlife scene, a game-changing boutique hotel and new, large-scale entertainment venues.

There’s the Perth I know, framed by foggy, 10-year-old memories conjuring life as a nocturnal university student: of lairy techno nightclubs arrayed in raddled-looking blocks, and dewy spring nights spent roaming the well-manicured lawns of Kings Park in desultory fashion, for lack of other forms of entertainment.

Then there’s this hip-to-the-bones-of-a-repurposed-building town I’ve just stumbled upon. A decade after leaving the once-quiet West Australian city, I’m discovering its trendy side – on a walking tour that dissects its small bar scene, no less.

Raising the bar

alfred's pizzeria perth

Instead of the strobe-lit, bass-licked clubs of my distant past, I’m cocooned in a subterranean bar, sipping an INXS cocktail (gin, fresh tomato, pepper, rosemary, olives and Fever-Tree tonic) by paintings of Madonna and Axl Rose depicted as holy figures, the jumpy riffs of the Rolling Stones swinging through speakers. With its irreverent decor and rock-and-roll, dive-bar-meets-speakeasy vibe, Alfred’s Pizzeria is the antithesis of Perth’s party scene in the noughties.

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Indie-spirited joints like this one – set in a former record store – have proliferated in the CBD area, thanks to the State Government’s watershed liquor licensing reform in 2007. What it spelt were fewer restrictions for small bars.

Tonight’s bar-hopping trail, led by Ryan Mossny of Two Feet & a Heartbeat, takes us to watering holes burrowed in parts of the city that, in the past, were more about suits than snazzy mixologists.

print hall perth bar

Take, for instance, commercial precinct Brookfield Place, which is fronted by five restored heritage buildings housing a clutch of swish bars and restaurants. Among them is Print Hall (above), once occupied by a print house, and now home to Gazette, which majors in Campari- and amari-stiffened cocktails and handmade pastas.

The cluster of Neoclassical-style buildings was developed together with a skyline-piercing glass-and-steel tower that is the home of British-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton – which was at the centre of the mining boom that transformed Western Australia from 2003.

“With the mining boom came extra disposable income that could be spent on dining, drinking, and enjoying arts and culture around the city,” says Mossny. “It also attracted an influx of people from Australia’s east coast, who brought with them a desire for more entertainment options.”

caballitos perth mexican bar

Clearly, affluence has inspired variety, as the area’s nightlife can aptly be described as eclectic. A few blocks down from Brookfield Place, we sidle into Mexican-themed bar Caballitos (above). Here, the sight of a bartender pouring mescal-laced frozen margaritas beneath the glowing red centrepiece of 500 fake skulls at the wraparound bar transfixes me. Combined with a thumping soundtrack and folksy wall art, it delivers a sensory treat I did not expect to experience on staid Queen Street.

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That the city centre’s once-utilitarian image has finally been burnished is something I’m convinced of as we cut into Wolf Lane (above). Wedged between King Street and Murray Street, the bar-lined lane conceals a veritable gallery of fairy-tale-like characters. Here, a portly vampire adjusts his cloak; there, a towering boy in a wolf suit clings to a pole. These murals, painted by local artists, including Stormie Mills and Hurben, are said to have precipitated a street art movement that enlivened the city. Home in on the artworks by using Streets of Perth’s interactive Urban Art Map.