Wednesday, February 24, 2010

National Hotel

Back in the days when there seemed to be a hotel on every Brisbane CBD corner and one or two in between, the one that stood on the corner of Queen and Adelaide Sts at Petrie Bight was the magnificent National Hotel. An impressive sight that by the late sixties had sophisticated cocktail bars and restaurants, this hotel became infamous in the Royal Commission into prostitution and police corruption that commenced in 1963. It bobbed up again in the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption of the late eighties.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #APO-002-0001-0005)

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #22309)

Above (top) is the National Hotel with the Customs House in the background, and a more direct view (bottom), both pictures from around 1890. Below are later photos of the hotel in 1939 and 1972.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #78353)
(Photo: NLA; #nla.pic-vn4361600, Bruce Howard)

At the time that I first remember the National, in the late sixties, there was an extremely popular cocktail bar called "Warren's Bar" which was quite the risque venue because of the eponymous cocktail barman Warren. Warren was very theatrically flamboyant, with a witty repartee of suitable double entendres - behaviour that would perhaps now be described as "camp". Brisbane at that time was not a very worldly city, and looking back on the environment now, it is hard not to wonder at the cruel jibes that would have been heaped on Warren. I hope he survived it all. I found the following work portraying Warren by artist David Collins at the Bett Gallery in Hobart.
("Warren: The National Hotel (Brisbane)" 2009 by David Collins. Reproduced by kind permission of David Collins and Bett Gallery, Hobart)

(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

In my recent photograph (above) Customs House with its copper dome can be seen in the background, now dwarfed by the large building behind it. On the RHS of the picture, the hotel has gone, replaced by another large office tower which has a coffee shop on the ground floor. These days, there is a coffee shop on every corner of the CBD, often with one or two in between. I suppose that it's one way of humanising glass towers.

Click here for a Google Map.


The apothecary


  1. i spent several fridy nights in the national in late 80s (he said sheepishly)

    what an ugly replacement

  2. ok how much do-do does one reveal?
    I have one friend who took a Hotel room over the road in another hotel, so he could take (new friends) back to his rooms!
    Warren's Bar was HOT . . . gay and straight, everyone mixed up there.

  3. It was certainly unique in Brisbane, for that time anyway!

    1. It was the watering hole of all the corrupt coppers outed in the Fitzgerald inquiry...and they were Legion.

  4. I am pretty sure Amyls Nightspace was downstairs, lots of 4ZZZ bands there, I saw Do Re Mi and The Saints. I remember feeling so grown up, esp because I was underage. Every time I walk past that new glass building I think Brisbane lost a little knocking down the National.

    1. The National certainly was a TripleZed venue in the early '80s, but I think what was originally promoted as Amyl's was previously the old Curry Shop in George Street. I could be wrong.
      At the National, when I was still at school, I saw the Laughing Clowns, Scientists, Chris Bailey solo, Iggy Pop, The Gun Club, Vampire Lovers, The Go-Betweens and many more. It was a dreadful viewing venue - lots of big pillars obscuring the stage. The best view was a bird's eye from the mezzanine.

      And then I started lunchtime drinking there when 'working' next door at 444 Queen Street in the Public Trust Office. Very boozy, and Friday lunches lasted until knock off time. The nearby Belfast Hotel was another nice spot ('til it was demolished) - quieter, with Carlton Draught on tap and Big Bob Williams holding court

      Would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the 60s when the scenes Matt Condon describes were unfolding

    2. Yes, Barry Maxwell was a genial host at the Belfast.
      An easy place to disappear in during the 80s.

  5. I met Warren several times in the early 70's, with his black painted finger nails. He was a very entertaining person who disclosed that he was hetrosexual and had a wife and two children.

    1. My mother worked with warren when I was little we used to go over his place I think he must have been divorced by then. It was probably 1972 or 1973. I remember his black painted fingernails and his eye creams. My mother told me many funny stories about him, probable things that should stay untold.

  6. Yesterdays was a hot nightclub there in the mid eighties.


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