Since arriving in Brisbane eight months ago, I have been on the hunt for a bar that makes me want to curl up and watch the world go by from over the top of my glass. As much as I enjoy Brisbane's nightlife, most of the bars that I've visited so far have not made a significant impression. Impersonal, open-plan spaces are probably very functional in hot weather but in terms of upping the atmosphere, they do not.
So my good cheer was immense when I arrived in Black Bear Lodge for the first time, after stumbling upon the inconspicuous stairway that leads up to it from the Brunswick Street Mall. Formerly known as the Troubadour, the bar is located above Cosmopolitan Cafe and has been beautifully renovated by its new Canadian owner. There is plenty of exposed brickwork, an eclectic mix of furniture and even mounted stag's heads on the walls, which I don't condone but have to admit that they do add to the rustic vibe. The front section of the bar is framed by large arched windows, which are perfect for peering down at the crowds stumbling along the Mall and feeling superior. Inside, strategically placed candles and vintage lamps create a soft glow that makes everyone look prettier.
Behind the bar itself, is an impressive collection of bottles lining the wooden shelves. The cocktail list is small but tempting, the beer is good and the house wines are reasonably priced. The bartenders are cheerful and unpretentious, as most of the crowd also seems to be. Although it is considered by many to be a cooler alternative to the usual places in the Valley, there is nothing intimidating about Black Bear Lodge and the crowd aren't afraid to enjoy themselves.
The bar hosts regular shows with both resident and touring bands, a full list of which can be found on their website. There is usually no cover charge but as specified on the website, there is the occasional ticketed event. There are also resident DJs; the last Saturday night I spent in Black Bear, was to a backdrop of old favourites played by an incredibly enthusiastic DJ who danced his way to the bathroom and back.
Black Bear Lodge is a great spot for an easy night and it certainly makes an interesting change from neighbouring bars in the Valley. It turns out that the dark and slightly dingy stairway on Brunswick Street Mall is definitely worth climbing.