Steeped in sto­ries

A new Ho­bart ho­tel with a rich cast of char­ac­ters

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KEN­DALL HILL

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.

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