IT’S not quite New York’s Grand Central or London’s King’s Cross but Brisbane’s Central Station does have one very pleasant surprise – its old refreshment rooms.
Most bars around Brisbane are open, airy, modern spaces but the Grand Central Hotel is a grand exception.
Originally the refreshment rooms servicing Central Station, it is now evocative of the grand old age of rail travel; that, is apart from the big screens broadcasting sports and the small screens showing train times (which is very handy if there’s time to kill waiting for a train).
Exiting Central Station down a retro staircase and through the grand stone entrance with its clocktower and pillars facing Ann Street, it’s only a few paces to the Grand Central which retains the vibe of the old refreshment rooms.
You can almost see the big suitcases being guarded by the mustachioed gentlemen in suits and bowlers and women in long skirts who have stopped in for a cuppa while waiting for the steam train to carry them back to the country.
The retro feel is enhanced by a cabinet of memorabilia out the back and a few scattered air vents for the trains below.
The first Central Station was built of wood and corrugated iron and opened in August 1889. It was the city’s second station, as Roma Street had opened in 1875, for trains travelling west to Ipswich and Toowoomba.
In 1891, a tunnel was built to connect Central to Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley, and onwards north to Gympie and its goldfields.
A much more elegant station opened in 1899 with iron arches over the platforms and a portico out the front and then, in 1901, a handsome new entry was built of sandstone from nearby quarries, as well as the adjacent railway refreshment rooms.
Sadly, progress took its toll and the portico was demolished in 1954 to make way for construction of government offices. Then the vaulted roof over the platforms was replaced by awnings in 1966 and finally, redevelopment in 1968-1970 saw the end of the 1901 entrance building on Edward Street with its distinctive row of clocks.
Around the mid-1960s, a new hotel “Fihelly’s Arms” took over the refreshment rooms. This was renamed the Grand Central Hotel in 2005 when the Dining Car Restaurant and Platform Bar also opened.
It’s a pleasant surprise to stumble across the Grand Central and take a step back in time helped by a cold beer and a good steak for under $20.