A leather apron-clad man with two inches of brown beard deftly places a coaster in front of me with one hand and with the other – in a kind of grand hug gesture – sets down a salt-rimmed, lime-garnished cocktail with a straw teetering from its rim.
His big, proud, perhaps-a-tad-ironic grin is on account of this drink being the house speciality. The concoction is made with Giniversity Botanical Gin (an herbaceous drop from Margaret River), Fever Tree Soda Water and a syrupy mix of native lemon myrtle leaves.
Best of all, it’s called a ‘quoktail’, a natty reference to the local Rottnest Island quokka, a cat-sized nocturnal marsupial that – among other things – provides Western Australia with one of the State’s best selfie ops.
As I sip away, tunes playing in the background, well-dressed dudes either side of me, it strikes me that this is all very young and cool and all very Perth and that the scene is somewhat of a metaphor for a city that is seriously getting its groove on.
The W XYZ bar, where I’m sitting, is at the new Aloft Perth Hotel in the suburb of Rivervale, which is roughly halfway between the airport and the city.
The hotel is on a main road and sprouts 14 storeys – well above the rooftops surrounding it. But, from the ground up, the build has been about mixing a local crowd with young-ish visitors to the city.
The bar, which hosts live music on Friday nights, is actually in the hotel lobby, and similar free-flowing spaces connect the reception desk with a table tennis area, swimming pool and breakfast room.
Tables and chairs at Springs Kitchen, the hotel’s mod-Oz eatery, spill onto the footpath goading locals in for coffee, brunch, lunch and dinner.
There’re some awesome local art installations and furniture, too. My favourites are Stephen Baker’s 17 m-wide poolside mural, so big you can see it when you drive by in a car, and, in the lobby, an iconic B&B Italia striped ‘Up’ chair, which engulfs anyone who sits in its big bosomy cuddle.
The rooftop boasts one of Perth’s best new views (and wedding venues if my radar serves me correctly) with the nearby Swan River snaking away to the shimmering blue-hued metal and glass buildings of the city.
This is a serene space to do morning yoga (tick), catch up on social media (tick) and sip on a latte (tick). With 270-degree views, it’s also a lofty spot to take in the lay of the land.
The city centre, I’m told, used to blow tumbleweeds, especially during winter when Perth residents tend to overdo the hermit thing. But times, they are a changin’.
In the past few years some mega government projects, buoyed by the finances of Western Australia’s now busted mining boom, have helped encourage folk back downtown.
The $700 million rejuvenation of the historic Cathedral Square precinct and its three interconnected 19th century buildings has resulted in a heritage-cum-cool, inner-city eating and drinking precinct that includes The Treasury – oft voted one of Australia’s best boutique hotels, and David Thompson’s popular street-food-inspired restaurant, Long Chim Perth.
Down the road, connecting the city to the waterfront and surrounding suburbs via ferry, is the $2.4 billion Elizabeth Quay development, which includes an inlet and island, shops, restaurants and public spaces with free entertainment.
On the other side of the city, the suburb of Northbridge, postwar home of primarily Italian and Greek immigrants, has become the city’s hipster hub, largely aided by the new Perth Cultural Centre – a complex including the Art Gallery of Western Australia, along with a project that saw the railway line sunk underground so as to connect Northbridge with the CBD for the first time in a century.
A stroll around its grid of heritage streets reveals one-off boutiques, street art, a rooftop cinema and night-owl bookstore. Places like Shadow Wine Bar, which has New York-style white tablecloths, dark-panelled walls and savvy wait staff, are interspersed with quirky drinking dens such as the split-level Mechanics Institute Bar, speakeasy-inspired Sneaky Tony’s and The Bird, where live DJ sets meet pool and craft beer.
From the top of Aloft I can also see the new $1.6 billion Optus Stadium, a 60,000-seat sporting arena that opened in December 2017.
The stadium rises from the riverside like a modern-day colosseum, bringing to mind Beijing’s ‘bird’s nest’ Olympic stadium.
The State’s AFL and cricket comps will be held here, but it’s also touted as something of a destination, with function rooms and cafes that take in glorious city views, a playground and river boat access.
In the other direction, the expansion of Perth Airport touted as a ‘Gateway to Asia’ and home of the first direct flight to the UK, is evidence of the tourist dollar, as is the upcoming debut of several big-name international hotels including a Ritz-Carlton at Elizabeth Quay.
On top of all this government spend, the city’s natural beauty combined with a full-throttle food and drinks scene are like icing on the big Perth cake.
Earlier in the week, I joined colleagues at Kings Park, which covers 400 ha and is one of the world’s largest inner-city parks. Here, Picnics by Design laid a lavish table with food platters and flowers and surrounded it with pink blankets and fluffy white cushions.
Lazing in the sun, we were the envy of all the head-phoned joggers lapping footpaths around the beds of wild native flowers.
I also had a sundowner and dinner at Odyssea Beach Cafe, which is plonked on the sand at City Beach, one of 19 pristine metropolitan beaches.
This new $18 million redeveloped precinct has three glass-fronted restaurants, which are architecturally designed in sandstone to complement the angular lines of the City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club. Two other beaches – Scarborough and Cottesloe – are also getting multi-million dollar makeovers.
Away from the water, you will find gourmet food and wine trails in the Swan Valley, which is just 25 minutes from the city. There’s a chocolate shop here, plus craft beer breweries and home-grown boutique wineries such as Mandoon Estate.
With its expansive park-like lawns and picnic tables, craft beer brewery, art gallery and kids’ playground, there’s something for everyone. I indulge in a degustation lunch at the winery’s restaurant, Wild Swan, where an outdoor pew is perfect for people watching.
I can report that the crowd here on a sunny Saturday is dressed up like its Melbourne Cup Day, further proof that Perth and its people have got it going on.
Photography by Penny Watson and Aloft Perth
- Qantas flies from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide to Perth on a daily basis. 13-13-13; qantas.com.au
When to go
- September to November for wildflowers, clear skies and mild temperatures.
Where to stay
- Aloft Perth is one of the city’s newest and hippest hotels, with a bar that hosts live music sessions on Friday evenings. In addition to the big design-friendly rooms, the property is well located between the city and Perth Airport. aloftperth.com
Where to eat and drink
- Wild Swan, Mandoon Estate, Swan Valley: mandoonestate.com.au
- Odyssea Beach Cafe: odysseabeachcafe.com.au
- Picnics By Design: picnicsbydesign.com.au
- Long Chim Perth: longchimperth.com
- Shadow Wine Bar: shadowwinebar.com.au
- Mechanics Institute Bar: mechanicsinstitutebar.com.au
- Sneaky Tony’s, Somewhere in Chinatown, Northbridge: www.facebook.com/sneakytonys/
- The Bird: williamstreetbird.com