The Johnson has been created inside a circa 1960s Department of Main Roads building which is virtually unrecognisable these days. I used to come to this dreary office block to pay my car registration in the early nineties. Back then, the building had no ‘wow’ factor whatsoever (other than a ‘wow, that car rego cost a lot’). These days it’s a different story as the original building has been given a fresh new look inside and out.
The Johnson is a member of the Mantra operated Art Series Hotel Group collection which pays tribute to Australian contemporary artists such as John Olson, indigenous artist Tommy Watson and Zhong Chen. The group’s first Brisbane hotel features works from abstract artist, Michael Johnson, who spent time living and working Queensland early in his career. Some of the paintings throughout the hotel reflect the blues, greens, browns and (very abstract) palm trees of Tropical North Queensland.
Checking into The Johnson, it’s immediately apparent that art is a highlight, from Johnson’s large feature painting near reception to the stacks of art books in the nearby reading room. There are over 400 Michael Johnson prints throughout the hotel. Even you stayed numerous times, you would never tire of finding a new print on the wall each time you checked into a different room.
The Johnson is located in the inner-city suburb of Spring Hill which means it’s close to both the CBD and trendy Fortitude Valley, but far enough away to avoid the constant traffic and city noise. Travelling to both locations involves a 20-minute walk or a bus, taxi or Uber ride. Or, if the mood takes you, it’s possible to rent one of the hotel’s bikes or its signature smart car. One draw back with the hotel’s location is the lack of free long term parking mid-week and charge of $30 per day to park onsite. If you’re arriving from interstate or overseas, this shouldn’t be a problem.
However, if you’re a local, the weekend is your friend. Street parking is free at Spring Hill from 7pm on Friday until Monday morning so you can park your car right outside The Johnson and it won’t cost you a cent. We were impressed when we were shown to our Deluxe Studio Suite Twin Room on the 5th floor. It was extremely large with two queen size beds, rather than two singles, and the open plan design made it feel extremely spacious.
The hotel’s décor is contemporary with colours that highlight the art works in the rooms. There was no balcony but there’s not much to see at Spring Hill even if you did have one, so this was no great loss. The wood panelled work area was large enough to spread out paperwork and there was a padded bench seat and funky chair for reading or iPad browsing. Wi-fi at The Johnson is free and fast.
The bathroom is large with twin sinks and sweet smelling Evo toiletries. All of the rooms have a kitchenette, except for the cheaper, entry level Studio Suites which are priced accordingly. We especially liked the pod coffee machine and T2 tea bags, which included decaffeinated options, and in-room collection of art books and magazines such as Frankie. If you’re after something really special, the Michael Johnson Penthouse offers stunning 180 degree views of the sparkling CBD and has three bedrooms so you can invite a few friends around.
We love staying at art hotels and signed up for The Johnson’s hotel art tour in advance. Our guide was a lovely guy but he didn’t do the art tours often and had to read pretty much everything word for word off a piece of paper. Offering a self-guided tour could be a better option, especially as guests have to make a special appointment for the tour. Outside on level 5, you’ll find a glam 50-meter pool and sun deck. Inside the hotel, near the pool deck, there is also a gymnasium decorated with, you guessed it, beautiful Michael Johnson prints. Another highpoint is the on-site restaurant Tumbling Stone, named after one of Michael Johnson’s best known pieces. Its light and airy decor featuring louvres and plenty of greenery, is very much in keeping with Queensland’s obsession with the great outdoors.
This is a hotel restaurant worth staying in for with an interesting wine list, friendly staff, and a selection of tempting menus to take you from breakfast right through to drinks followed by dinner. We started with warm olives and chorizo from the bar snacks menu followed by pork belly with a pulled pork cigar, apple cider gel and kale (a steal at $26) and an excellent lamb rump, sliced diagonally and served with pommes anna, beetroot puree and a sprinkling of pomegranate. At $32, this was also exceptionally well priced. If you fancy something more casual, burgers and dishes such as a healthy broccoli and chicken salad are also available. Whatever you order, leave room for the lemon curd parfait for dessert.
Breakfast is also served at Tumbling Stone and – hooray – it is a la carte rather than a buffet. Don’t be surprised if you see plenty of locals dropping in for breakfast. The likes of smashed avo with feta and poached eggs or ricotta hot cakes with maple butter, seasonal berries, and candied pistachios will likely see you dropping in again too. If you’ve got breakfast included with your accommodation package, you can order a main of your choice plus one drink such as a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or glass of OJ.
The Johnson has much to recommend it, with the added bonus of an extra night for just $99 if you stay on a Saturday night and the hotel isn’t busy the following evening. Check the hotel website for any packages which may be available as there is usually something interesting and affordable on offer.
Disclosure: The writer stayed as a guest of The Johnson and paid for dinner at Tumbling Stone.
If you’re looking for accommodation in Brisbane, we have reviewed the Treasury Hotel, The Calile, Ovolo The Valley, W Brisbane, Capri by Fraser Brisbane, Hilton Brisbane, The Johnson, NEXT Hotel Brisbane, Sage Hotel James Street, The Westin Brisbane, Oaks Brisbane Festival Suites, Royal on the Park, Ibis Styles Elizabeth Street, Sofitel Brisbane, Crystalbrook Vincent, The Inchcolm by Ovolo, Alex Perry Hotel & Apartments, and Pullman Brisbane Airport.