Quirky in Queensland: A review of the W Brisbane
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The W Brisbane opened in Queensland’s capital in June 2018, kicking off what would become a serious hotel boom in the city. Despite upscale new competitors like the Calile Hotel and the Emporium Hotel South Bank, the W has held its ground thanks to its lively dining and drinking venues, a popular full-service spa and its quirkily decorated guest rooms.
On my recent visit to Australia, I stopped in Brisbane for a single night to stay at the hotel. But that was enough to remind me of how much I’d liked the property on previous visits and why I’d stay here again next time I pass through the city.
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Although the W brand has been feeling a bit outdated lately, the W Brisbane brings a fresh, new energy to the label. First and foremost, the interior design by Nic Graham & Associates is practically a visual essay composed completely of bold statements that pay homage to Brisbane’s flashy image and the jungly ecology of Queensland as well as the hotel’s location on the banks of the Brisbane River.
In the public areas, colorful murals by Australian artist Reko Rennie contrast with cheeky sculptures of bejeweled flip-flops and fruits. Hallway carpets with water-like whorls and opal-inspired patterns complement Warhol-like photographic prints of Australia’s animals. Then there’s the wall outside the Three Blue Ducks restaurant with Australian slang phrases scrawled across it. She’ll be right, indeed.
Rooms, meanwhile, feature playful references to the area’s resilient residents and river systems. White wooden wall paneling hearkens to the siding of traditional Queenslander houses. Turquoise minibars are modeled on post-war food safes. Side tables are shaped like giant boomerangs. And the bathtubs – separated from the bedrooms by glass walls frosted with pointillistic water droplets and both wood and Perspex rods meant to recall river reeds – are fashioned like sheep station (ranch) water troughs. It’s like looking at a black-and-white movie about Queensland that’s been colorized.
As for COVID protocols, the front desk and each bar and restaurant required guests to track their movements using the Check In QLD app and to wear masks when moving throughout the public areas. This might, however, end when the state begins relaxing masking and tracking mandates.
The W Brisbane is located riverside in the city’s Central Business District. An Uber ride from the airport costs between 40-50 Australian dollars ($29-$37), though you can also catch the city’s Airtrain to the city’s Central Station for AU$15 ($11) each way if you purchase your tickets in advance. The station is about a 10-minute walk to the hotel.
There were terrible storms that eventually caused historic flooding in the city during my visit, so I ended up just taking taxis and Ubers, but normally the Airtrain would have been an ideal choice.
From the hotel, you can easily walk to points all over the city center, though you might want to Uber to the dining and drinking dens of Fortitude Valley. It’s also easy to walk across the bridge over the Brisbane River directly opposite the hotel to visit the city’s cultural district, which comprises Queensland Performing Arts Centre, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland and the Gallery of Modern Art.
Nightly rates at the W Brisbane tend to run between $220-$310 per night in a starter category Wonderful king bed room with a partial river view.
For the evening I needed to book at the last minute, paid rates for that type of room were running much higher, starting at AU$607 ($449).
However, there was also award availability for just 35,000 points per night, which I ended up booking. That netted me a value of 1.28 cents per Marriott point, well above the 0.8 cents apiece which TPG values Marriott Bonvoy points to be worth. I ended up getting even more value from my points when I was upgraded to a Spectacular room with a river view and a king bed, which would have cost AU$645 ($477) thanks to my Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status.
It also put the hotel within range of my anniversary free night award from the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card I carry, which tops out at 35,000 points.
- Bold, contemporary design that feels exciting and fresh rather than gimmicky.
- Panoramic city and river views from the hotel rooms.
- A small but enjoyable outpost of AWAY Spa with vitality pools and treatments that incorporate all-natural Australian Sodashi products.
- One of the most Instagram-worthy pools in Australia … plus an excellent poolside bar for snacks and sips like the Pink Me Up with Beefeater Pink Strawberry gin, sparkling wine, lychee and rose.
- The pool and lobby bar can become noisy party scenes fast, so if you prefer something quieter, you will probably want to opt for another hotel.
- Room rates seem to skyrocket over weekends, so midweek stays might be the way to go.
- Whatever/Whenever service is more like Maybe/Sometimes – case in point, during the deluge the morning of my stay, the concierge wouldn’t even try ordering me a taxi, claiming it was impossible to get through to dispatchers, though I had an easy enough time calling one on my own.
Whereas some Ws tend to embrace a dark, moody aesthetic, the W Brisbane feels bright and sunshiney throughout … even on a very, very cloudy day, as I discovered.
As with the rest of the hotel, the decor in the guest rooms is inspired by the Brisbane River. In my Spectacular room with a full river view through a wall of windows (with electronic blinds controlled by bedside touchscreen panels), that meant swirling, curling wall and carpet patterns, a birdcage-like closet enclosed by reedy wooden rods and a neon throw pillow emblazoned with a cockatoo profile ornamenting the comfortable, king-size W Hotels Bed.
The massive minibar was stocked with goodies like Eveleigh Bottling Co. pre-made cocktails and Penfold’s Cabernet-Shiraz blend. But it wasn’t all play. There was a sizable work table with plugs galore, a comfortable desk chair and a Breville espresso machine for caffeinating up in the morning.
The glassed-in bathroom held an eye-catching trough tub and a single sink and vanity plus a walk-in shower and separate toilet room – however, you could only use one at once with any privacy since the glass door slid from one side to the other but did not close both at once. Thanks to W’s departure from Bliss bath products, this hotel featured melon-scented Momo ones by Italian brand Davines.
Food and drink
The W Brisbane hosts several distinctive dining and drinking outlets, depending on what suits your mood. The signature restaurant is Three Blue Ducks, which fields other Australian outlets in cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Byron Bay and serves “paddock-to-plate” cuisine from ethical and sustainable sources.
Come with friends since many plates are meant for sharing, though I managed to polish off a heaping platter of grilled Moreton Bay bugs (a type of slipper lobster) with umami XO sauce, lime and charred greens (AU$55, or $41) as well as a side of roasted broccolini with confit chili, gremolata and toasted hemp seeds (AU$13, or $10), pairing the food with a glass of on-tap Chenin Blanc-Sauvignon Blanc (AU$14, or $10.50) from Blind Corner in Western Australia’s Margaret River region. More adventurous palates might even venture to try the kangaroo tartare with pickled quandong, Davidson’s plum mayo, mountain pepper and olive brik pastry (AU$25, or $18.50).
The hotel’s WET Deck bar is adjacent to the pool and serves mostly cocktails and small bites alfresco on the fourth floor. The cocktails are mostly AU$22 ($16) and include signatures like the Gin O’Clock with ADco Brisbane gin, yuzu, strawberry gum, juniper berries and sour finger limes. The “Tucker,” or food menu, includes items like pork bao buns (AU$30, or $22) and Tasmanian salmon sliders (AU$36, or $27).
The lobby bar, meanwhile, takes up half the first floor along with reception and the W Store. You can prebook a fancy afternoon tea, but come in the evening once the live DJ starts spinning and settle into one of the cozy seating areas either in the bar itself or that spill out into the area approaching the check-in desks.
Though bartenders there are happy to whip up the classics, there’s an ongoing collaboration with Moët Hennessy and the mixologists from East London’s Oriole Bar with cocktails based on “the fruits of exile, empire and exploration.” Basically, they’ve taken specific places like South Africa, Chile, France and Turkey as their inspiration. I tried the Rabbie Burns (Scotland, of course) with Glenmorangie 10-year-old whisky, toasted barley infusion, kirsch, Campari and nettle-plum honegar (AU$26, or $19) — the mixture was sweet but strong, fruity yet smoky, and the perfect way to wind down my evening.
Amenities and service
The W’s well-equipped FIT gym was open 24/7 with keycard access and is located on the sixth floor. It was fairly large for a hotel gym, with separate areas for free weights, weight-lifting equipment, cardio machines and a single Peloton bike off on its own.
Down one floor was the AWAY Spa, which seemed to be hosting a small and laid-back bachelorette party the afternoon I was there. Don’t plan on just dropping in: According to its website, there’s a six-week wait on appointments.
Unfortunately, that meant missing out on signature experiences like the Crown Jewels of Oz massage (45-minute back and shoulders: $96; 60-minute full-body: $163) with Sodashi Western Australian tiger-eye gem and plant essence oil. I also had to skip the men’s relaxation area with sauna and vitality pools. Next time I’ll know to call in advance.
The hotel’s pool, located on the fourth floor, is Instagram-famous thanks to its zebra-like striped columns and ceiling and its clubby indoor-outdoor ambiance. The outdoor section wasn’t much in use thanks to the rain showers, but plenty of guests and family groups seemed to be enjoying the covered lounges and the pool itself.
The W Brisbane was the busiest hotel I stayed at during my entire trip to Australia, and probably seemed that way since most folks were stuck inside due to the weather. That said, the staff was exceedingly attentive. Any time I strolled up to a restaurant or bar, I was checked in immediately and seated and servers were always on hand to see if I needed anything else. The one snafu was trying to order a taxi to depart, which was a down note to end on, but understandable given just how bad the storms were becoming.
Even after a few years and a few stays — as well as time at some of the city’s other notable hotels — the W Brisbane still remains one of my favorite places to spend a night or two in Brisbane. Some might find the decor over the top, but I think it balances just the right amount of quirk, color and Queensland. The spacious guest rooms, variety of food and beverage options and a Sodashi-skewing spa are all factors in its favor as far as I’m concerned. While I’d balk at paying over $300 per night, the wide-open availability of award nights means I always check the Marriott app if my plans take me through Brisbane to see if I can score a night there using my points or credit card anniversary certificates.
Featured photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy.
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