Steeped in stories
A new Hobart hotel with a rich cast of characters
The prospect of a hotel built by “focus group” sounds so silly I can’t imagine ever wanting to stay in it. But a night at MACq 01 quickly convinces me otherwise.
This latest project from Tasmania’s casino monopoly Federal Group (Saffire, Henry Jones Art Hotel) commands the old Macquarie 1 wharf site on Hunter Street, beside Hobart’s luminous waterfront. Once home to gallows and reeking vats of boiling blubber, the historic quarter is now a 114-room hotel designed by hip heritage architects Circa Morris Nunn.
The pitched-roof structure, built to resemble a shipping shed, is clad in white cypress and glass to capture grand views over Sullivans Cove and Hunter Street’s storied 19th-century facades. MACq 01 is all about stories. Each of its rooms is named for an illustrious or infamous figure from Tasmania’s past. Convicts, crooks, captains of industry and other colourful characters are remembered in words and artefacts that make every room individual and special.
The cast includes globetrotting spiv Ikey Solomon, said to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’s Fagin, and TV fitness guru Sue Becker, who “rocked a leotard and fishnet stockings like nobody’s business”, according to the hotel’s witty “master storyteller” Justin Johnstone.
In-house researchers including Louise Casey, the mother of Federal Group’s general manager of tourism Matt Casey, assembled the cast. She and indigenous researcher Greg Lehman short-listed more than 150 characters, dozens of them unearthed by Louise and her husband Ralph during a six-month tour of Tasmanian pubs and communities gathering stories straight from the source.
Public input has formed almost every facet of MACq 01. Federal tapped into Tourism Tasmania’s database of more than 20,000 consumer surveys (compiled since 2012) to discover what most attracts outsiders to the state. It turns out, people come for the people.
“We are a bit strange, a bit different,” explains Tom Wootton, Federal’s tourism marketing guru. “So we did a hotel that focuses on the stories of the Tasmanians.”
Rooms are divided into five different character traits ascribed — again by Tourism Tasmania research — to islanders. These include “colourful and quirky”, “grounded yet exceptional’’ and “hearty and resilient’’. Decor in each room type aims to reflect these characteristics. My hearty and resilient suite 302 is rich in leather, timbers, stone and wood; it’s also one of the most comfortable hotel spaces I’ve stayed in lately. It opens on to an AstroTurfed roof terrace with quoit set and cutaway views across sparkling blue waterways to humble Hobart city and Mount Wellington. It’s stunning.
Federal also did extensive focus group surveys of past guests to conjure their ideal hotel room. They wanted lavish couches they could nap on, free movies, minibars at retail prices and plenty of space. All of which MACq 01 delivers.
Room interiors are furnished by artists and craftspeople to create uniquely Tasmanian spaces. Each is anchored by a vast photomedia triptych by leading Devonport-born landscape artist and academic Troy Ruffels (troyruffels.com). Some feature lampshades crafted from native timbers by the gifted but almost sightless furniture and lighting designer Duncan Meerding (duncanmeerding.com.au). All are spacious (a minimum 44-48sq m) and feature custom-made beds and minibars to excite the most jaded hotel junkie. Besides Nespresso coffee machine and Tasmania Tea Company brews there are state-made treats including leatherwood honey drops, grass-fed beef jerky with mountain pepperberry, local wines and beers and bottled cocktails (Vesper Martini, Negroni, Sidecar) by Hobart gin-maker Sud Polaire. Posh soft drinks range from Cape Grim water to Fever Tree mixers; there are also boxed games (Jenga, Pick Up Sticks, Barrel of Monkeys), Laguiole cutlery and a merino scarf by Mongrel, so irresistible I buy it.
The upside to such a carefully contrived hotel is that virtually nothing is incidental or average. Bathrobes are cool, Rocky-style hooded sweats in grey jersey with maps of Tassie printed inside the hood. The alpaca throw rugs are from Launceston’s Waverley Mills. And all the public areas are places you actually want to hang out in.
Their big attraction is a wall of glass and a wooden deck on to the waterfront so the ground-level Old Wharf Restaurant, Story Bar and Lounge all capture infinite river and city views. These are enhanced by a cosy circular fireplace sculpted from river stones and a moody dining room of lavish breakfasts and island-proud menus featuring Fulham oysters with wakame aioli and Huon Valley lamb with barberries.
At the far eastern end, beyond a sprawling cabinet of curiosities housing everything from an 1852 conditional pardon to scrimshaw and Georgian silver, a lively bar serves tap brews and top-shelf liquor to keep the stories flowing freely beside the Derwent.