Ad­ven­tures down the rab­bit-hole

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CATHY OS­MOND

Cups. Every­where, the cups. There’s a pink one hov­er­ing on the wall by my bed (The Bou­quet), one with a haunt­ing face in the hall­way (The Alice Cup), a great spread in the lobby (At The Tea Party) and plenty in our gue­stroom’s kitch­enette.

Last night, they danced in my head as I drifted off in what must be the world’s most com­fort­able bed.

And now, break­fast ar­rives at our Level 13 suite. I recog­nise the style of brioche from the ho­tel’s street­front cafe/bak­ery Fleur De­pot de Pain, where the mac­arons come in an artist’s pal­ette of colours and there is, I mar­vel, a Pas­tries Happy Hour. But my room-ser­vice cof­fee is in a pa­per thim­ble so small I have to hold it be­tween my fin­ger­tips. Has there been a mix-up on the phone? Is the cof­fee cup a nor­mal size or have I changed into a “nine feet high” gi­ant­ess overnight?

The Black­man can do this to you. A mem­ber of the bou­tique Art Se­ries Group (in Mel­bourne there’s also The Olsen, Lar­will Stu­dio and The Cullen), the ho­tel show­cases the work of Aus­tralian artist John Black­man, whose flir­ta­tion with surrealism came to the fore in his Alice se­ries of 1956. Ac­cord­ingly, the 209-room Black­man is about dreams. Lewis Car­roll’s hero­ine greets you in gi­ant re­pro­duc­tions, il­lu­mi­nated at night on the mod­ern build­ing’s façade. In the lobby, there’s an over­sized black wing­back chair, a wall of Black­man works, a bi­cy­cle cart sport­ing a cup and saucer, and as­sorted ce­ramic rab­bits say “whimsy lives here”. And in the hall­ways, which are per­haps some­what un­der-lit (for a rab­bit-hole vibe?), knee-high bun­nies cut from mir­rored glass sur­prise in cor­ners.

Hap­pily, the ho­tel group’s Deague fam­ily own­ers and their de­sign­ers know there’s a line to draw be­tween at­mo­spheric art-ho­tel ex­pe­ri­ence and theme-park lu­nacy. And so the play­ful­ness eases off as you reach your in­ner sanc­tum; ours is el­e­gant, with neu­tral decor the bet­ter to show­case three Black­man prints. Bal­conies of­fer views to the city and MCG; the mini bar is full of good­ies, in­clud­ing jubes and gi­ant Freck­les (the kids do some se­ri­ous dam­age here, even af­ter scoff­ing free ice creams from the lobby fridge); the bath­room is chic, with a great shower and e.v.o toi­letries. There’s a stack of art books, and those beds … if, like me, you find them hard to for­get, you can just go on­line and buy one.

What with the mini­bar, Wi-Fi and 24-hour room ser­vice menu, it’s dif­fi­cult to ex­tract the kids from our room, but Mel­bourne awaits. We’re a hop, skip and jump from the trams that trun­dle up St Kilda Road, so we en­joy easy trips to the NGV, Fed­er­a­tion Square, the Aquar­ium, and short taxi rides to din­ners in Rich­mond (dumplings) and Fitzroy (su­pe­rior pub grub). Find­ing we are late-for-avery-im­por­tant-date that’s off the tram grid, I won­der about hir­ing one of the ho­tel’s teeny smart cars, which look like white rab­bits with arty doors and are a rea­son­able $50 per day (or $8 an hour). Even the teenager says he would not be too em­bar­rassed to be seen in one, al­though he draws the line at head­ing out en famille on ho­tel bi­cy­cles.

There is a lot about The Black­man to de­light the senses, in­clud­ing the per­sonal ser­vice. We check in early, with not a blink of an eye from front desk staff; and a miss­ing cof­fee plunger that has me doubt­ing my san­ity as I scour the cup­boards is quickly and apolo­get­i­cally re­placed. The Black­man has an “Ask Us” pol­icy that could be a chal­lenge for shy peo­ple or old-school types like me who like their in­for­ma­tion in print, and in room. A folder on our glass cof­fee ta­ble that boasts “I’m Full of Use­ful Things” isn’t, re­ally, with just two brochures and no in­tel­li­gence on op­er­at­ing the TV, hir­ing cars and bikes, buy­ing posters, or on the lovely-look­ing restau­rant Clas­sico, which flanks the lobby.

The folder does give the where­abouts of ser­vices such as the gym; twice I look for it on Level 6, dart­ing around like Alice in search of a se­cret door. Check­ing later at the front desk, it seems I should have asked; de­spite what the in-room folder says, the gym is on Level 1.

Phew. I thought I was go­ing mad.

Cathy Os­mond was a guest of HotelClub.com.

CHECK­LIST

The Black­man, 452 St Kilda Road, Mel­bourne; (03) 9039 1444 or 1800 278 468; the­black­man.com.au.

TAR­IFF

From $209 a night for a stu­dio bal­cony suite; pent­house from $749 a night. The HotelClub.com global net­work of­fers ex­tra dis­counts and re­wards for mem­bers at 5000 par­tic­i­pat­ing ho­tels world­wide. Mem­ber re­ward points (up to 7 per cent of the tar­iff) are in­stantly ap­plied and can be redeemed at the next book­ing. De­pend­ing on the mem­ber­ship tier, perks in­clude up­grades, free break­fasts and ex­clu­sive deals with part­ners.

GET­TING THERE

From Mel­bourne air­port, take the SkyBus ser­vice to South­ern Cross Sta­tion then a taxi.

CHECK­ING IN

Busi­ness trav­ellers, fam­i­lies, art lovers.

WHEELCHAIR AC­CESS

Yes.

BED­TIME READ­ING

Delve into those glossy art books by your bed­side.

STEP­PING OUT

Hop on the tram for St Kilda or head to the city via the en­ter­tain­ments of Fed­er­a­tion Square and the Arts Cen­tre. The Royal Botanic Gar­dens and Al­bert Park are nearby.

BRICK­BATS

Our gue­stroom could have ben­e­fited from a bet­ter stock­take be­tween book­ings.

BOU­QUETS

Good ser­vice from friendly, en­gaged staff and a great vibe.

Foyer and en­trance to The Black­man, top and top right; art­filled gue­stroom, above right; mir­rored­glass bunny, above

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