Anyone who’s lived in Perth will tell you that Northbridge, its ‘entertainment precinct’ was once full of drunkenness, violence, crime and general bad manners. But over the last 5 or so years, Northbridge has been slowly shrugging all that off to emerge as the cultural, artistic and generally awesome heart of Perth.
Here’s a list of things that make Northbridge worth visiting (or coming back to if you’ve been avoiding it).
The Alex Hotel, James St
I am a huge believer that if you’re going to be a tourist in your own city, then my number one tip is to stay somewhere other than home (otherwise it just feels like 'going out' rather than 'going away'). That’s why we checked in to the Alex hotel.
The hotel only opened in 2015, so when we stayed there, everything was new and shiny. The designers have gone with an industrial vibe, where the ceilings and floors are grey concrete and all the piping is visible (I’m sure there’s an architectural term for that). But rather than feeling cold and dusty, the hotel feels cool and funky, while still somehow being warm and inviting.
In fact, they’ve managed to pull off a feat that so many other hotels I’ve stayed in have failed dismally at: they’ve created common areas that people actually want to hang out in. And that’s what we did. A lot. With the perfect combination of rugs, velvet couches, a fantastic book selection, soft lighting, open space, floor to ceiling windows and a self-service bar, the Alex has managed to embody that often-used (but rarely lived up to) pinnacle of the hotel industry: the ‘home away from home’. I wanted to move in immediately. And if I could afford to live there, I would.
Our room was on the 6th floor, with a tiny balcony but a big view over Northbridge to the city. The room was everything you could ask for in a boutique hotel, with heavenly pillow top beds which ensured a blissful night’s sleep.
Add to all of the above free use of bicycles, good coffee, great breakfast and a very pleasant little rooftop terrace, and you’ve got yourself the perfect city getaway.
Fringe Festival and Perth International Arts Festival
The two festivals overlap in Perth’s summer months (Jan-March) and bring a stratospheric buzz to Northbridge. The Fringe Festival’s rise has been absolutely spectacular, growing from a small side attraction to the Arts Festival into a full grown, full blown month long extravaganza which has catapulted it to third place on the list of the world’s biggest Fringe Festivals.
The great thing about the Fringe is it makes ‘the arts’ completely accessible, from circus acts to child-friendly improvisation to burlesque to profanity-laden comedic acts, the Fringe literally has something for everyone. Ticket prices are also very reasonable, which means it’s affordable to go to several shows. I’ve made a habit of buying my partner and his children tickets to Fringe (and PIAF) shows for Christmas, so that we can get out and see a range of things together, and we are yet to see anything that we haven’t enjoyed.
Even if you can’t be persuaded to see a show, Fringe turns some of Northbridge’s under utilised spaces into wonderlands, with roving performers, antique circus tents, quirky lights, bars and food trucks. The Urban Orchard at the Perth cultural centre also has a silent disco, which is very entertaining to watch, while the Pleasure Garden (aka Russell square) has mermaids in a tank, which the kids love, as well as food, bars and tents. Oh, and a man in the moon:
The Perth International Arts Festival is a bit more ‘artsy’, but it still has an amazing range of acts. PIAF kicks off with a huge free event every year which half of Perth turns out to see. The festival features everything from ballet to visual arts to skateboarding, with several family-friendly options included in the program. PIAF venues are spread all over the state, but in Northbridge they take over the State Theatre Centre, Art Gallery of WA and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA).
Tip: the programs for both PICA and Fringe can be pretty overwhelming, so I just go to the ‘what’s hot’ sections of the websites and book tickets to shows that are highly recommended.
Rooftop Movies and Yoga, Roe St
Turning a boring old carpark roof into a colourful, usable space was an absolute stroke of genius. During the summer months, the rooftop of the Roe St carpark is turned into a ‘pop up paradise’, with astro turf, palm trees, vintage caravans and, for some reason, pink flamingoes. From 6 o’clock weekday mornings, the rooftop is full of yogis welcoming the sun in a Vinyasa flow class run by Northbridge yoga.
At night, the space is full of moviegoers, sitting back in canvas or bean bag chairs, sipping on boutique beers and eating pizza. The movies range from arthouse to classics to blockbusters. Doors open at 6pm nightly.
The space is also used during the Fringe Festival for musical acts, and it’s a pretty awesome experience dancing under the sky while looking out over the city.
In the past, Northbridge was all quantity and no quality, but that’s all changed since Perth introduced small bar licenses, which has allowed new venues to pop up everywhere. Northbridge has also thrown off its grungy past to house a mix of edgy, experimental restaurants and even a couple of truly classy establishments.
Here are some of my favourites:
Shadow wine bar, William St
Shadow has upped the class in Northbridge substantially. Attached to the Alex hotel, the Shadow is a great place to meet for a glass of wine and a cheese platter, or stay for a top class three course meal. You can choose to perch yourself at the high tables or sit in the main restaurant. The Shadow has an extensive wine list, but if it’s all too confusing, the staff are on hand to guide you through it and make recommendations.
The restaurant is similarly designed to the Alex hotel, with concrete ceilings and exposed pipework, and it has dramatic ceiling to floor drapes along one wall. When we ate there, the food was delicious and filling, which unfortunately left no room for dessert, which gives us a good excuse to go back!
The Standard, Roe St
Roe St, which runs along the railway tracks (until they sink them), used to be Dodgyville until some cool restaurants moved in. One of the newer (and better) additions is the Standard, which is a large bar/restaurant with an outdoor area out the back.
On our visit, we chose to sit at the bar, where the chef was busy prepping food on the other side. He explained everything he was doing (and gave us a lesson in onion chopping), which was a really cool way to introduce us to what we were about to eat. The open kitchen behind the bar means that you can sit and watch all the chefs as they prepare your food. The service is great, as is the wine and cocktail list.
La Cholita, William St
OK, it’s not that new anymore, but La Cholita is too awesome not to mention. It’s Mexican street food that comes in small portions, which are geared toward sharing. They’ve got some truly different items on the menu, including crumbed cactus tacos, which were a little slimy but actually quite delicious. The street corn is a must, and the margaritas are sensational. They don’t take bookings, so you just have to try your luck, but they can usually squeeze you in somewhere, and waiting at the bar for a table isn’t exactly a chore. La Cholita also has some pretty funky décor, and the plastic panels in the floor allow you to see the cellars below.
Lucky Chan’s Laundry and Noodlebar
One of Northbridge’s quirkiest and funkiest bar/restaurants, you’d be forgiven for being a little bit confused when you first walk into Lucky Chan’s. If it wasn’t for the ‘wait to be seated’ sign in the front, you would think you’d just walked into a public Laundromat.
Lucky Chan was opened after raising money through a crowd funding campaign, and hasn’t looked back since. The restaurant’s fictitious patron Lucky Chan is described as ‘an enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a dumpling then deep-fried.’ I haven’t a clue what that means, but what I did find out was that Lucky Chan’s is fun, quirky, noisy, unique and best of all, has cracking food.
Northbridge Piazza, cnr Lake and James Sts
Once the home of drunken punch-ons, Northbridge Piazza now houses an outdoor movie screen and plenty of bean bags. They show heaps of family friendly movies and it’s free to go and watch (and there’s generally security guards there just in case). The Piazza also hosts free community events, including sporting activities, festivals, street theatre performances and yoga.
Notes: Northbridge is in the process of being connected to Perth City, which makes it about a 40 minute drive from the airport (depending on traffic).
The best time to visit Perth/Northbridge is in the summer months (December to March).