Australian House & Garden
Small bars, creative hubs and fabulous shopping with a focus on local talent. Perth has officially perked up, writes Vanessa Walker.

 The Perth skyline at twilight, with the 46-storey City Square skyscraper that houses BHP Billiton (middle).  Photography by Louis Liu.

The Perth skyline at twilight, with the 46-storey City Square skyscraper that houses BHP Billiton (middle).  Photography by Louis Liu.

Viewed from across the Swan River, Perth’s cityscape is dominated by skyscrapers housing mining giants such as BHP Billiton. At street level, meanwhile, Perth is undergoing a rebirth of cool. 

A revitalisation of historical precincts within the CBD has seen the WC Trustee Building in St Georges Terrace keep its majestic facade, while inside it’s become a beacon for after-hours fun. It’s now home to The Trustee Bar & Bistro, a nose-to-tail style restaurant with industrial-baroque decor run by brother and sister Scott and Angie Taylor, and the Print Hall, a four-level dining and bar precinct that is the last word in urban sophistication. It has the kind of atmosphere and refinement (dress codes!) that makes those who enter feel as though they are part of something trés cool. This is nothing short of a miracle: with the exception of the odd King Street venue, the CBD was known for closing down at 5pm. 

Meanwhile changes to liquor-licensing laws have seen a proliferation of small bars open up in previously neglected laneways. Wander them and you’ll hear the sound of laughter and fun, with patrons sampling artisanal drops in softly lit, intimate spaces. This new-found attention has also led to small expressions of affection in the laneways, be it a historical detail illuminated by a spotlight, an outdoor chandelier, or interesting public art. 

Innovative start-ups are supported and the city benefits from young people populating the city.

As every shopper knows, there’s nothing quite as bleak as an unloved arcade, and Perth reputedly has 3km of them. But affordable rents and pop-up shops such as ephemera-haven Pigeonhole are seeing some innovative outlets emerge among the old-timers. I loved Buzz Hair in Trinity Arcade (it has a standard 1950s fitout, complete with twirling barber shop poles and is staffed by trendy young men doing buzz cuts) and Retro Safari in Plaza Arcade. 

A project called Forgotten Spaces is also bringing creative people into the CBD. City of Perth workers had fanned out across the city identifying nooks and crannies in vacant buildings; the spaces were stripped of their ’80s-boom makeovers, restored and are being offered as studios for small businesses. A film-animation studio, for example, might be housed in the reinvented 1900s Moana Chambers. It’s win-win: innovative start-ups are supported and the city is benefitting from the vitality that comes with young people populating the city. 

For locals, the icing on the cake is Perth City Link, a transport hub/green space/retail and residential area that will run east to west across the city and will include the new Perth Arena. For the first time in a century, the city will be linked to the inner suburb of Northbridge. 

This, coupled with the development of 10ha of Swan River-front land into Elizabeth Quay, which includes shops, venues and landscaped promenades, will finally see the threads of this city woven together into a whole.      

  LEFT  Conceived as an art gallery, design store, artists’ studios and bar/cafe, Venn is located in a transformed century-old flour mill in the city. Photograph by Joel Barbitta.  RIGHT  The Venn shop, a mecca for all things designer. Photograph by Angelita Bonetti.

LEFT Conceived as an art gallery, design store, artists’ studios and bar/cafe, Venn is located in a transformed century-old flour mill in the city. Photograph by Joel Barbitta. RIGHT The Venn shop, a mecca for all things designer. Photograph by Angelita Bonetti.

City spots

GETTING THERE H&G booked flights using Webjet, which offers the widest range of flights and more than one million hotel rooms. Go to

WHERE TO STAY The Richardson Hotel & Spa. A fantastic place to stay a short distance from the CBD, with friendly staff and a beautiful property. It’s also a five-minute walk to Kings Park and on the free CAT bus route.

WHAT TO DO Book a Two Feet & A Heartbeat walking tour – its guides know their architecture, pubs, laneways, what’s been and what’s coming. Call 1800 459 388 or go to

Here are some city addresses worth checking out: The Trustee Bar & Bistro Print Hall A truly amazing transformation of the former premises (including printing presses) of The West Australian newspaper into a sophisticated bar and dining establishment. Wolf Lane Find this small bar by looking for the two-storey high Mr Wolf painted on a side of the laneway. The Cheeky Sparrow By day this woodland-style place has great coffee and delicious lunches. By night the lights dim and staff open the cocktail bar. 6/317 Murray Street, (via Wolf Lane). Greenhouse Find this ‘honest-food’ haven by looking for its huge green (ie plant) wall. Its wholewheat stoneground pizza is a game-changer. Venn An art gallery, design shop, artists’ studios and bar/cafe, all housed in a three-level historical building. Perfect for design fiends. 16 Queen Street. Pigeonhole Browse ephemera and be served by tattoo-sleeved ladies. Shop 7a Shafto Lane. Art Gallery of Western Australia It has recently developed a special relationship with New York’s MOMA; locals and visitors are reaping the benefits.  

So, to the suburbs…

While the CBD has been under-utilised, the suburbs have thrived, with many high streets lined with independent retailers; bookshops, grocers, boutiques that champion local fashion and cafes that turn into small bars at dusk. And, wherever you go there’s a gourmet burger bar within reach (Jus Burgers, The Burger Bistro, Grill’d, to name a few). Here is H&G’s by-no-means exhaustive edit of ‘burbs worth wandering: 

NORTHBRIDGE Be it a couple of kids with a great selection of vintage clothes, a hole-in-the-wall cafe or a small bar, this inner-city suburb is set to fire up. Rummage For theatrical accessories. 282 William St. Miss Brown Vintage Modified vintage clothing. 278 William St. Casual wear, haberdashery, and giftware. 218a William St. Ristretto Coffee Roasters A walk-up window that specialises in in-season coffee. 53 Aberdeen St. Bivouac Canteen & Bar Great for a mid-shopping rest. 198 William St.

LEEDERVILLE Stroll down bohemian Oxford Street for a global mix of shops. From the edgy fashion at Varga Girl to Perth-based Anna Chandler’s riot of colour and Frieda Kahlo-style homewares, there’s every style on offer. Be sure to stop at Snags and Sons for locally sourced sausages. Varga Girl 148 Oxford St. Ambassador de Buenos Aires 626 Newcastle St. Harry & Gretel Cool fashion and select homewares. 133 Oxford St. Anna Chandler Possibly the best door mats ever. 747 Newcastle St. Black Plastic Ironic and unusual cards.  2/226 Carr Pl. Urban Depot A treasure trove of fashion and homewares. 117 Oxford St.

KINGS PARK One of the largest city parks in the world, this is a glorious place to picnic. I loved Greg Nannup’s Indigenous Tours, which brought alive the way this land had been lived in by generations of Aborigines. He’s a fount of knowledge about flora and fauna:

SUBIACO An established suburb with some great shops for the seriously moneyed. A delightful place to stroll of an evening, with plenty of alfresco eateries. Ricarda Fashion Objects Stocks international designers’ fashion and homewares. 399 Hay St. Get In The Forrest Objets de art, fashion and ceramics that are utterly covetable. 9 Forrest St. Lexi&Roy Well-selected casual clothes by groovy small fashion labels. My favourite find. Shop 1, 103 Rokeby Rd. Juanita’s An eccentric wine and tapas bar at the back of Gill & Hille Merchants. 341 Rokeby Rd.

FREEMANTLE Walking under the porticos in Freo, 20km south of Perth, you can hear the birds as you shop. There are pubs and backpackers galore as well as banks converted into bookshops with huge tables for reading… it’s that kind of place. Bobby & Olive Local label that makes lovely floaty silk tunics. 1/17 Essex St. Shedwallah Exotic, ethnic wares for the house and garden. 6 Stack St.  Willow and the Bowerbird Everything for the lady, from clothes and bags to beauty products. 78 George St. Megan Salmon This Freo designer mixes rich colours with original prints. 55 Queen Victoria St. Squarepeg Home Mid-century Danish design and contemporary Australian furniture. 17 Blinco St. Old Values ’50s, ’60s and ’70s collectables. Cnr Holland & Onslow Sts. Little Creatures A not-to-be missed dining and beer-swilling experience in a former crocodile farm on the port. It has passionate staff, a bar (with taps connected directly to the beer tanks), a brewery, shop and two levels of dining with a choice of huge tables or cosy vintage couches on the mezzanine level. 40 Mews Rd.