Brisbane secret bars

Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNNPublished 4th March 2015
Editor's Note — This story, and several others on Brisbane, complement the CNNGo TV series. See more of the show here:
Brisbane (CNN) — Bras hang from the antlers of a pair of moose heads above the bar inside an old music hall.
Dim red light shines on classic leather booths.
You push through a crowd dancing to a live rockabilly band and head to the toilet, tipsy.
Then something weird happens -- you exit the washroom and find yourself in a different bar.
The early 1900s dance hall with chandeliers has vanished.
Suddenly, you're in a whimsical bar with a pirate serving drinks.
No, you haven't had too much to drink and the washroom isn't a passageway through a time-space continuum.
You've simply stepped into the maritime-themed Mermaid Bar.
Inside Lefty's Old Time Music Hall, the Mermaid Bar is an example of the latest nightlife trend in Brisbane -- hidden bars.

Sultry old days

Prior to Lefty's, the space was occupied by the Velvet Cigar, a strip club.
Prior to Lefty's, the space was occupied by the Velvet Cigar, a strip club.
Maggie Wong/CNN
"We actually didn't mean to turn the Mermaid into a secret bar," says Mick Dwyer, general manager of Lefty's. "We were just lazy and didn't publicize it."
The story behind the hidden bar takes in a bit of sultry local history.
Before Lefty's moved in, the building was occupied by the Velvet Cigar, a longtime strip club.
Jamie Webb, owner of local restaurant Peasant and Cabiria, took over the place and renovated it, preserving some of the old establishment's bawdy touches.
"We loved the mirror too much to take it down," says Webb, referring to the long mirror that still runs the length of one wall. "It used to be in front of the dance floor for the girls, but we turned the dance floor into booths."
"If you look at the floor, you can still see some of the holes where dancing poles used to be," says Dwyer.
A list of prices for services rendered by different girls still hangs inside the toilet.
The bar counter upstairs is where customers once paid for extra services from dancers before entering a small room (now the Mermaid Bar, which sells beer in cans).

Mermaid Bar: Secret escape

Mermaid is a maritime-themed bar and "secret escape" for owner Jamie Webb.
Mermaid is a maritime-themed bar and "secret escape" for owner Jamie Webb.
Maggie Wong/CNN
"There are actually three entrances to the Mermaid Bar," says Webb of the hidden bar.
"It's my favorite place. It's a lot of loud fun out there at Lefty's sometimes, and the Mermaid is like my escape."
The small Mermaid is bright, with light shining through the windows.
Sharks hang from the ceiling and paintings of mermaids adorn the walls.
People love the Mermaid for different reasons.
"Some like the bartender dressed up as a pirate," says Dwyer. "Some say it's the cannon on the pirate ship model behind the bar."
That pirate bartender, Dean Moready, says the apple rum made from fresh-pressed apple juice is the real crowd-pleaser.
About those bras on the moose antlers
While the Mermaid is a rum bar, Lefty's is a whiskey bar -- each has about 100 varieties of rum or whiskey, and a food menu.
Three bands usually perform each night at Lefty's and the bar always gets busy after 9 p.m.
So what's up with the bras on the moose heads?
"I once dared a customer on a hen night to sling a bra to the horn to win a free shot," says Webb. "She did and it has become a tradition ever since."
"We have a strict bra-only policy."
The Mermaid is one of a handful of secrets bars in Brisbane.
It only takes a willingness to push past a few unmarked doors to find more secret drinking holes scattered around the city.
Lefty's Old Time Music Hall and Mermaid Bar, 15 Caxon St., Brisbane, Australia; daily 5 p.m.-3 a.m.; +61 555 9447539


Bar-within-bar is a nightlife trend in Brisbane.
Bar-within-bar is a nightlife trend in Brisbane.
Maggie Wong/CNN
A bar at a famed historic hotel -- how secret can that be?
Turns out the airy courtyard bar in the landmark Regatta Hotel is just a smokescreen for the Walrus, the secret bar hidden beneath it.
An unassuming doorway that looks like the entry to a basement storeroom is marked with just a small sign hinting that something grander might exist behind it.
"It really was a storeroom," says a manager at the Walrus.
"We have been hoping to make use of the space, but it wasn't until after the big flood in 2011 that we renovated the place into an underground bar."
The bar has a few treasures -- apart from it's spiced house rum -- including rare Black Tot Last consignment rum (A$250 per shot) and a handful of bottles of Appleton Estate 50-year-old Jamaica Independence Reserve Rum.
Regatta Hotel, 543 Coronation Drive, Toowong, Brisbane, Australia; daily 5 p.m. till late; +61 7 3870 9595


Though you might have difficulty finding it, the Cobbler really is on Browning Street.
Apart from a street number, however, there's no sign outside to indicate its presence.
Curtains shield the loft-style Cobbler from the street, but brush past these and you'll find a spectacular drink library downstairs, and an upstairs room featuring graffiti on walls and sofas.
Warning: it can sometimes take a while for drinks to come while the bartenders juggle bottles and chat with regulars.
Cobbler Bar, 7 Browning St., West End, Brisbane, Australia; Monday 5 p.m.-midnight, Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday 1 p.m.-midnight, Saturday 3 p.m.-midnight; +61 430 217 621

Bar inside Kwan Brothers

Kwan Brothers is a hip restaurant in the trendy suburb of Fortitude Valley that serves Asian street food-inspired dishes.
After chowing on pork bao bao (pork buns) and pineapple fried rice, you're ready for a drink.
Step through a sliding door at the rear of the restaurant and you'll find a little publicized bar that's dark and cozy.
Kwan Brothers, 43 Alfred St., Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia; Monday-Thursday noon-3 p.m., 5-11 p.m., Friday-Sunday noon-11 p.m.; bar open till late; +61 7 3251 6588