(Right: it’s about time I finished off documenting the ‘Fynn’s Australian adventure. It’s hard to imagine how different things must be after the horrific flooding earlier this month — thankfully, Chris, Leyla & Scarlet are fine.)
After having spent Friday messing about on the water, Saturday was a designated drinking day. That afternoon Chris guided us to Brisbane’s West End, a cosmopolitan area with cocktail bars, tattoos and singlespeed bikes much in evidence, and we proceeded on a geographically short but alcoholically intensive pub crawl. We kicked things off with an excellent meal in a quiet music bar called Vinyl, then moved across the road to Archive, a so-called ‘beer boutique and bistro’, where we were intrigued to see a waitress working the floor while carrying an enormous tray of — well, of meat. A barman accompanied her with a book of raffle tickets. Chris nodded towards them.
“It’s the meat raffle,” he told us.
“Wait, what?” we asked him. Consternation reigned until the pair arrived at our table.
“What’s the meat for?” we asked him.
“It’s the meat raffle,” he told us.
“A meat raffle? A raffle for meat? But why?”
The barman was unperturbed by our obvious incredulity. “It’s the meat raffle.”
“Is it for a good cause?”
“It’s for meat.”
This stylish establishment might position itself as a high-concept ‘beer boutique’ but underneath the gloss it was Australian to the core: if you pricked it, did it not bleed Bris-bonian? If you tickled it, did it not emit a hearty belly-laugh and throw another shrimp on the barbie? We giddily bought tickets and awaited the draw, which we lost. I might have been disappointed had I not become quite drunk in the intervening period.
After Archive we decamped to the nearby Boundary Hotel to shout “Crossroads” at the resident blues band and finally pitched up at a decidedly slick cocktail bar named Sling. We sat outside and perused the menu. What would Don Draper do, I asked myself?
“An Old Fashioned! I must have an Old Fashioned,” I told everyone as I read the menu, “apparently with a Hand-Crafted Ice Cube.”
The waitress took our order.
“Can I have an Old Fashioned, please? And what’s so special about a ‘Hand-Crafted Ice Cube’?”
“I’ll ask for you,” she replied without a hint of irony. And so she did, returning five minutes later. “Basically the ice is purer than water, you see, and so, uh…and also they cut it to fit the glass.”
Miss, I wanted to say, miss, please. The purity of the ice is independent of the means by which it is shaped. Sadly, such a retort was beyond me at that point, not least because I was by now having difficulty forming basic words. “I’ll take one,” I managed instead. When it arrived, most of the glass’s volume was occupied by a monolithic, roughly sculpted cylindrical ice cube; the remainder was occupied by a cocktail not a million miles away from neat bourbon. It was anticlimactic, but in the spirit of the evening I knocked it back. We drank on, taking in stolid White Russians, kitch Tiki drinks and arty molecular cocktails as we ranged through the menu, and at a certain point a primitive survival mechanism clicked into action in my foggy head.
“Guys,” I said, “I have to go now. I’m absolutely hammered.”
I left them to it, taking a taxi home from the rank next to the bar. Finding the side door open, I crept stealthily through the garage and quietly called to Leyla (so as not to wake Scarlet) to let me into the house. I fell into a drunken slumber as soon as my head touched the pillow.
“You know when you came in last night,” Leyla said the next morning as I crawled downstairs with a raging hangover, “I’ve never heard anyone so loud in my life. You shouted ‘LEYLA! LEYLA!’ from the garage, worked out how to open the door yourself and slammed it behind you, then talked to me at full volume as I was trying to get Scarlet to sleep.”
* * *
The next few days were necessarily low key. I borrowed Chris’ brother-in-law Darren’s bike for a couple of rides; we barbequed sausages on the deck, played cards and generally pottered around at a laid-back sort of pace. Then, in the middle of the week, Leyla took Doug, Davis, Scarlet and I to the South Bank on the site of the old Expo ’88. There’s an articifial beach and a paddling pool there, and after lunch we sat by the water to soak up the rays and make sandcastles with Scarlet.
Alongside the South Bank runs the Queensland Cultural Centre, an interconnected stretch of concrete edifices housing the State Library, the Queensland Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. In concept, it’s not unlike the gaggle of newer buildings clustered round Edinburgh’s George Square with their multi-level layout and hidden tunnels, but the experience of walking around the place could not be more different. Brisbane’s version is amazing: the concrete is broken up by lawns, trees and ponds, while airy passages cut through the buildings and seem to blur the distinction between inside and out through the use of consistent materials and clever layout. Key to it all, thought, is that the sunlight keeps everything warm, bright and inviting; much as I love the architecture in George Square, in this respect Brisbane has got it firmly licked.
That evening we chaps headed out once again, this time to Caxton Street, a diverse stretch of watering holes that encompassed fixie-riding hipster hangouts, multi-level sports bars and strip clubs. And reader, our evening would also take them in.
Things started off gently enough near Caxton Street’s eastermost extremity in a sprawling multi-level place called , before we headed out looking for some food. Aiming for the Barracks, a converted jail and army base, we gawked into the various restaurants available to us before Chris unilaterally decided on an outlandishly baroque-looking place called Libertine. What he said to us, in essence, was this: “We’re eating here. I don’t know anything about this place, what the food is like or how much it costs, but we’re eating here.”
Libertine, we found out, was a seafood-based French/Vietnamese restaurant with fairly lofty ideas about its station in life. After some horse-trading to manage the 50-50 seafood/you-must-be-joking split in the group, we ate an intriguing meal of soft-shelled crabs, foie gras and a variety of other tasty but challenging dishes. I don’t think I can say we enjoyed all of it, but at the very least it won our respect.
Next up was an Irish bar called Kitty O’Shea’s. We shouldn’t have bothered. The four of us found ourselves forming roughly half the audience of a dreadful ‘comedy’ show which started shortly after we arrived. Doug, Davis and Chris formulated a plan to escape this ghastly spectacle, sidling outside one by one ‘for a cigarette’. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell me about this plan, and so after ten minutes spent wishing quite specific forms of harm upon the performers, I turned round to find the three of them laughing at me through the window. I got up and left, making ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ gestures at the jokers on stage.
Having extricated ourselves, the night picked up. We crossed the road to a tiny coffee/cocktail bar called Cartel. I’m not sure how convinced the others were, but I could have stayed there all night: it had a relaxed indoor/outdoor layout, a decent selection of beers with a South American bent to it, and most importantly of all the toilet key was attached to a set of drop handlebars. (If you know me at all, you’ll understand that this discovery made my night.) From Cartel we hit Calypso just down the road for a jug of sangria (that’s how we roll, yo), which Chris lobbied the barmaid to have spiced up with extra brandy, and where he further endeared himself by haggling over the price and then accidentally smashing a glass on the floor. We drank more cocktails at two formidable multi-bars, the Caxton Hotel and Hotel LA, before finally wandering out into the night air and heading back down to Calypso for a nightcap.
Davis and I were about to cross the road to take a seat at an outside table, and waited for Doug and Chris — lagging behind to light a cigarette each — to arrive. They seemed to be taking an awful long time. As we watched they each took a final drag, stubbed out their cigarettes on the ground, turned around and walked straight into the only strip club on the street.
Oh balls, I thought.
Davis, to his credit, suggested that we get a drink and wait it out, so we crossed over and took a seat. Calypso had — rather unfortunately for a cocktail bar — run out of tequila, and so we ordered a pair of extravagantly gauche strawberry-flavoured cocktails while we waited for Doug and Chris to emerge. As our glasses neared empty, we saw them come out. They each lit up, smoked a cigarette, stubbed it out on the ground, turned around and walked straight back into club.
Oh balls, I thought.
We gave in. We paid for our drinks, crossed back over the road and went into the Velvet Cigar (yeah, you probably want to avoid that link if you’re at work) to find Doug and Chris deep in conversation with one of the strippers. The place was dark but not gloomy and had an unexpectedly upmarket feel about it — to call it ‘classy’ is probably going too far, but it did have a certain Moulin Rouge air which I suppose isn’t entirely incompatible with its primary source of income.
Davis and I walked over to them.
“Guys!” said Chris, then pointed me out to the girl he was talking to and declared: “This man hates strippers.”
And so I found myself plunged into a long, rambling conversation about strippers, strip clubs, moral relativism and my imperfect knowledge of feminism. Of course, at least one of us was sorting out another round at the bar this whole time, and so by the time the first girl had headed off to perform and been replaced by a Geordie physiotherapy student who found that stripping was an excellent way to support her studies, I was completely blotto. I tottered unsteadily back to the pool room near the entrance, collapsed into a high-backed armchair and attempted to focus on the game of pool being played by a hopeful punter and a visibly bored stripper.
When it became apparent to me that it was going to take a lot longer than I would have liked to sober up, I decided that it was time to call it a night. I walked back into the club proper, could not for the life of me find any of the other guys, and headed out the front door to find a taxi. The journey home was an exercise in restraint; restraint, that is, of the contents of my stomach, which were agitating for freedom. I got home to find all the doors locked and my phone gone from my pocket.
“Balls,” I said to myself. After a few minutes spent evaluating my options, I went down the outside stairs and collapsed on the hammock under the deck. An hour or so later I was woken up by the sound of Doug and Davis’ taxi pulling up. They found me in the hammock.
“Dude, you know there’s a spare key under the big plant pot on the deck, right?” asked Doug.
Christ, as Doug is wont to say in an Italian accent, Christ. What an evening.
* * *
I made a round of Skype calls the next day to try to find my phone. The first was to the taxi company, and was relatively straightforward (“Have you found my phone?” — “Sorry, no”) and the second was to the Velvet Cigar. I was in the downstairs bedroom and Skype was on speaker. The receptionist’s first, very loud question:
“Where were you in club? Did you have lap dance? Did you have lap dance?”
“No, I didn’t,” I told her. She didn’t believe me.
“Are you sure? Did you have lap dance? Did you have lap dance?”
I could have died. And they also did not have my phone. Le sigh.
We left a couple of days later, saying goodbye to Leyla and Scarlet at the house and Chris at the airport. It had been an amazing holiday, as much for the opportunity to see Charlie, Penny, Annabel, Alex, Chris, Leyla & Scarlet as it was for the chance to bask in the sunny, relaxed Aussie way of life for a few weeks. It’s wrenching each time we have to leave, and this time was no different. Thank you all for having us, and I can’t wait to see you all again!