Melbourne hipsters brewing new Gold Coast culture
How the Gold Coast became the cultural and culinary hub of Queensland.
Criena Gehrke is from Melbourne, but she had to come to the Gold Coast for culture. Okay… while that statement’s not entirely true, the fact it kind of is should tell you something about what’s been happening in a region once synonymous with theme parks, dolphin shows and meter maids in itsy-bitsy bikinis.
Criena did come to the Gold Coast for culture – specifically, to help develop it. That was back in 2013 when the Gold Coast needed all the help it could get. High culture here – even just six years ago – was a Bruce Willis movie on a Saturday night and a covers band playing Daryl Brathwaite on a Sunday.
But everything’s changed – if you haven’t been to the Gold Coast in years, there’s a good chance you won’t recognise the place. For starters, Criena is CEO of a new place called Home of the Arts (HOTA). It’s so close to Surfers Paradise you can smell the sunscreen, but this ambitious, multifaceted cultural complex will soon be home to Australia’s largest regional art gallery.
“It was pioneering,” Criena explains to me. “To see a city [Gold Coast] that was interested in culture… and then they funded it and put their money where their mouth was. They were open to putting artists in the centre of the strategy.”
There’s a $37 million outdoor stage where the likes of Tim Minchin and Neil Finn have performed. Then there’s the $60 million art gallery due to open next year, which will span six levels with 2000 square metres of exhibition space.
Slides: The Collective Palm Beach, The Green Marque at Currumbin Valley, Balter Brewery and Burleigh Pavilion.
This kind of cultural awakening is happening all along the Coast. What was once a cultural and culinary wasteland is emerging as a bona-fide arts and culture destination, if you know where to look.
It all began with food. The fanciest meals on the Coast used to come served with chips at surf clubs by the beach. But that’s changed in the past four years. Even on a Monday night in early winter, I can’t get a table at The Collective Palm Beach, one of the southern Gold Coast’s most innovative culinary ventures. So I spend some time upstairs at a funky open-air bar. When there’s space to dine, I’m given a menu that reads like War and Peace – because The Collective Palm Beach is actually five restaurants in one (Japanese, modern Australian, American diner, Mexican and Italian). It’s all set in an uber-trendy space that used to be the Palm Beach post office.
“When we opened [in 2016] we had 200 people waiting outside,” co-owner Jeremy Davidson says. “That probably tells you the Gold Coast was ready for something new.”
These days it seems there’s an innovative new restaurant opening every month. Restaurateur Simon Gloftis, whose eateries Hellenika and Nineteen at The Star are two of the Coast’s most coveted, helped kickstart the change. “I’ve seen the Gold Coast transform before my eyes and I’ve been here since I was nine,” he says. “I couldn’t think of a place that’s progressed so much in such a limited time.”
In mid-2019 the culinary epicentre is undoubtedly Burleigh Heads. The surf at its point break is world-famous, but funky new eateries and hole-in-the-wall bars now compete for attention.
But you might not find the best places. They have that Melbourne kind of knack of hiding down secret laneways. Like Iku Yakitori, one of the country’s hippest new Japanese restaurants (Etsu, its sister eatery, is similarly hidden among retail shops just north in Mermaid Beach). You enter Yakitori via a laneway, through a timber door with no sign. Inside, Japanese chefs cook over hot binchotan charcoal while locals sit at a dimly lit bar inside. Burleigh surfers who once drank exclusively at surf clubs now linger here to sample Queensland’s most extensive Japanese whisky menu.
“We definitely took inspiration from Melbourne,” co-owner Mitch McCluskey says. “We used to take foodie safaris there. We wanted to mix things up on the Gold Coast, have locals dine at the bar, share their food, while listening to something that wasn’t elevator music.”
Bars like Lockwood epitomise this cultural revolution too – this hole-in-the-wall speak-easy is tricky to find, and you’ll need a text code to get in.
The Miami Marketta kickstarted this new cultural push.
Should you still yearn for waves, Rick Shores is the spot. On high tides with big seas, the ocean washes through, which might explain why waiters wear shorts and trainers, ready to run.
But dining is only part of the cultural revolution. There’s craft beer too in this XXXX heartland. You’ll find award-winning Balter Brewery inside an old radiator factory with a food truck inside, and a DJ too. It’s owned by four local champion surfers and their buddies. Meanwhile, Burleigh Brewing Company and Black Hops Brewery share kudos as two of the best small breweries in the country.
I’m partial to Lost Palms Brewery too – it’s the pink building among the auto-electric workshops in Miami, a few metres from the place that kickstarted this new cultural push. Built in an old warehouse, the Miami Marketta hosts bands beside food trucks, beside fashion designers and artist studios, beside the funkiest cocktail bars you’ll find outside Portland, Oregon.
“We became the first creative precinct zone on the Gold Coast,” co-founder Emma Miliken says. “In one year alone we’ve held over 150 street food events.”
Miami Marketta got the ball rolling, now there’s live music and food truck markets and festivals all over, including the Coast-wide Bleach Festival – a 12-day long artsfest with 47 events from opera to theatre and some of Australia’s best live bands, as well as pop-up bars and restaurants.
There are arts precincts popping up all over the Coast: in Mermaid Beach you’ll find internationally renowned artists exhibiting at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, next to The Sweet Fine Art Studio offering wine and life-drawing classes, right beside fashion designer Isabelle Quinn. At artist-run The Walls Art Space in Miami, anyone with flair can hang their creativity.
There are skyscrapers still and sunbakers bronzing themselves to oblivion, but look between the things we picture when we think of the Gold Coast, and you’ll find a whole new destination. Leave the bikini (or boardies)… bring your beret instead.
Dust Temple in Currumbin's industrial area.