Har­bor City Stays


Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - CONTENTS - By Ron Gluck­man

A slew of new rooms in her­itage ho­tels, block­buster brands and baby bou­tiques of­fers ex­cit­ing rea­sons to high­tail it to Syd­ney right now.

based in Hong Kong, I bounded off the plane, rev­eled in the clear air and blue skies, kneeled down, and kissed the tar­mac. Ad­mit­tedly, there had been many on-board drinks. Still, ex­cite­ment had been build­ing from take­off: like-minded peo­ple speak­ing bois­ter­ously, spin­ning yarns, wear­ing shorts and loud shirts. I’d felt that I’d fi­nally found my tribe.

I quickly ob­tained im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers—which went un­filed, since, like in most tor­rid love af­fairs, the spell even­tu­ally broke. And, like so many plunges of pas­sion, the end came in the sack. Syd­ney claimed stately ar­chi­tec­ture, won­der­ful parks, whole­some food, and har­bor views cap­ti­vat­ing even a na­tive San Fran­cis­can re­sid­ing in Hong Kong. But, sorry Syd­ney, your ho­tel scene just lacked suf­fi­cient world-class stays.

That changed in the run-up to the 2000 Olympics. Syd­ney rein­vented it­self, not only with fu­tur­is­tic sta­di­ums but a whirl of ho­tel and tourism in­vest­ment. Come cur­tains-up on those world games, Syd­ney was dolled up, glis­ten­ing, a global sen­sa­tion.

The decades since haven’t been so kind. Syd­ney hasn’t so much de­clined as failed to keep pace. At­ten­tion turned to other Aus­tralian cities. Mel­bourne mod­ern­ized as Syd­ney stayed sta­tus quo. From Bris­bane to Perth, breath­tak­ing new con­cert halls, air­ports and foot­ball sta­di­ums de­buted, and buzzy new ho­tel brands sus­tained the mo­men­tum.

Then, the tide turned, as Sof­i­tel added nearly 600 rooms to Dar­ling Har­bour, fol­low­ing a slew of de­sig­nori­ented and her­itage ho­tels that have greatly diver­si­fied


the scene. Syd­ney claimed an as­ton­ish­ing 17 open­ings last year, and global hos­pi­tal­ity con­sult­ing brand Hor­wath HTL pre­dicts an­other 4,600 rooms will be added in the next four years. It seemed time to check into some of the lat­est Syd­ney prop­er­ties.

First stop is Surry Hills, a leafy back­wa­ter that was the cen­ter of Syd­ney’s rag trade, and also Aus­tralia’s own mini-Hol­ly­wood. Para­mount Pic­tures and 20th Cen­tury Fox had of­fices here, and many his­toric build­ings sur­vive. Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion be­gan in the early 2000s, and Surry has some of Syd­ney’s most cel­e­brated restau­rants. And now, a hip her­itage ho­tel to match.

Para­mount House Ho­tel opened in April, in the World War II–era Para­mount build­ing, which has been buzzing for years. The for­mer film screen­ing room in the base­ment is the art house Golden Age Cinema. On the main floor is the al­ways-packed Para­mount Cof­fee Project, which is run by part­ners with more than two decades each in the cof­fee trade who set out four years ago to ex­pand and re­store the old film com­pany’s of­fice into a movie-themed ho­tel.

Their de­light­fully funky bou­tique inn reimag­ines Syd­ney’s cin­e­matic hey­day. Over a cup of his cel­e­brated java, co-owner Mark Dun­don ex­plained that much of the ho­tel is in a new ad­di­tion above the old Para­mount ware­house. De­sign­ers had to be as in­ven­tive as film­mak­ers cre­at­ing sets. Hence, the lovely ex­te­rior cop­per cladding and com­pan­ion piece in the lobby are new, but look con­vinc­ing as relics from a Hol­ly­wood epic.

The 29 rooms fea­ture a va­ri­ety of lay­outs, in­clud­ing lofts. Best are Sunny rooms, with lots of green­ery and big win­dows open­ing out onto one of the hottest Syd­ney neigh­bor­hoods. As be­fits a first-time ho­tel launch, there are hits and misses. The me­tal tub in the cen­ter of the room seems clumsy, overly zen for the cin­e­matic con­cept. But I’m bowled over by the ex­quis­ite fab­rics sourced by th­ese well-trav­eled cof­fee traders, and comfy beds with mounds of pil­lows.

Food op­tions were boosted when Ester, the her­alded Chip­pen­dale restau­rant, opened a wine bar and eatery in the build­ing, Poly (get it: Poly-Ester). Just out­side are two of the coun­try’s hottest Asian eater­ies, Chin Chin and Lon­grain. Don’t miss vis­it­ing gor­geous Golden Age’s bar, with vin­tage wrap­around seat­ing and brown leather

stools. The tiny cinema sports vel­vet-backed wooden chairs from the 1940s. The motto, fit­tingly, is “The Good Old Days are Now.”

paramoun­t­house­ho­tel.com; dou­bles from A$240.

The big­gest splash on the Syd­ney ho­tel scene in decades came last Novem­ber with the open­ing of the A$500 mil­lion Sof­i­tel Syd­ney Dar­ling Har­bour, the city’s first new lux­ury prop­erty of the mil­len­nium. Check­ing into the gor­geous 599-room glass tower was a chore, with long lines in the lobby. But it’s ideally lo­cated be­side the new In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre with in­sanely stun­ning views, am­pli­fied bril­liantly by floor to ceil­ing win­dows through­out. The fourth-floor pool is com­pact, but perched over the bustling har­bor, out­ra­geously In­sta­gram­able.

Rooms are spa­cious with an un­clut­tered modern de­sign, al­though I’d trade the cute mini-bar in the round cylin­der chest for a work­sta­tion. Bet­ter yet, up­grade to some of the most cov­eted suites in Syd­ney. My bath­tub was tucked into a glass vestibule, cush­ioned by clouds, hov­er­ing over Syd­ney’s an­i­mated har­bor. Even drained of wa­ter, that throne-like tub was my pre­ferred spot for lux­u­ri­at­ing like a king while tak­ing my morn­ing cof­fee.

The de­sign here is light and airy, walls filled with art, venues bright. Sig­na­ture restau­rant Ate­lier boasts a big open kitchen and stacks of glass­ware, but sit­ting ar­eas sport a back­drop of light wood that matches the floor, with a nice, nat­u­ral feel. Suites and lux­ury club rooms in­clude ac­cess to Club Milles­ime, 35 floors up with sweep­ing har­bor views on three sides.

sof­i­tel­syd­ney­dar­ling­har­bour.com.au; dou­bles from A$309.

Ovolo 1888 is just a short walk from Dar­ling Har­bour, but a com­plete de­par­ture. Set in­side a 19th-cen­tury Vic­to­rian ware­house, the rus­tic de­sign em­pha­sizes its her­itage as one of Syd­ney’s old wool stores. Criss­cross­ing cor­ri­dors and open beams make it easy to vi­su­al­ize how sheep were moved around and sheered, and the free happy hour al­lows guest to min­gle in a rough-hewn lobby bar where buy­ers long ago bar­gained for bales over brews.

Prop­er­ties by Ovolo, a quirky, fast-ex­pand­ing brand, mix zippy de­sign with Pop art, Modern fur­ni­ture, and blar­ing party tunes. Opened in 2015, this one is a hip lad’s re­treat in the im­age of CEO Girish Jhun­jh­nuwala, an un­abashed 1980s Bri­tish pop fan who con­fides that he per­son­ally pro­grams all the mu­sic him­self: Ra­dio Ovolo.

A ho­tel dis­rupter from Hong Kong, Jhun­jh­nuwala de­cries cookie-cut­ter de­sign. Rooms are funky, fit­ting the orig­i­nal lay­out of the old build­ing. My room is two sto­ries, with a big bed in an up­stairs loft, and what feels like a col­lege man-cave down­stairs. Un­con­ven­tional, but ut­terly comfy, and my loft has a pri­vate ter­race with stun­ning views over the busi­ness dis­trict.

Ovolo aims not only to re­make ho­tels, but also hos­pi­tal­ity, with fea­tures like free mini-bar, laun­dry and com­pli­men­tary bag of snacks. Be­yond the free lol­lies is a for­mula fre­quent trav­el­ers em­brace: just make ev­ery­thing work, and keep the bed com­fort­able. Hence, there are plugs aplenty bed­side, fast and free wire­less through­out, and healthy food at break­fast. Nailed it.

ovolo­ho­tels.com; dou­bles from A$250.

Chip­pen­dale is an­other long ne­glected neigh­bor­hood trans­formed into trendy hotspot. A brew­ing cen­ter in the 1800s, Chip­pen­dale be­came a slum renowned for dis­ease and crime. But it now sports spiffy apart­ment blocks and bustling shop­ping tow­ers sur­rounded by parks, thanks to a mas­sive A$1.5 bil­lion ur­ban re­newal scheme. Putting it on the map was The

Old Clare Ho­tel, in the cen­tury-old Carl­ton & United Brew­eries build­ing and ad­ja­cent pub. Part of the Un­listed Col­lec­tion, a lively set of prop­er­ties from imag­i­na­tive Sin­ga­porean Peng Loh, the prop­erty matches preser­va­tion with modern de­sign. The orig­i­nal brew­ery’s brick walls and creaky wooden floors in rooms above the pub main­tain the fla­vor of the tra­di­tional Aus­tralian road­house. The dé­cor is fun, risqué, of­ten de­light­fully goofy. Loh strad­dles the line be­tween cool and kitsch; ev­ery nook of­fers some­thing like odd­ball den­tist chairs, vin­tage safes hauled from the base­ment, and cus­tom light­ing.

The orig­i­nal dive bar is now hip­ster nir­vana, with mixol­o­gists cen­ter stage in cir­cu­lar sta­tion with bright yel­low and or­ange pan­els. Cus­tomers choose from retro barstools or a wide ar­ray of ta­bles, chairs and couches, all mix-matched with an­tique fans and stand-up lamps.

In a city bask­ing in sun­shine, Syd­ney has in­ex­pli­ca­bly lacked knock­out ho­tel pools. The Old Clare’s long rooftop pool has a wide wooden deck per­fect for grills and par­ties. Renowned for award-win­ning eater­ies, Un­listed went all-out at The Old Clare, per­haps too much, launch­ing three sig­na­ture restau­rants. Sil­ver Eye has since closed, but scrump­tious op­tions re­main with Au­tomata by Clay­ton Wells decked out in scrap­yard parts, and Kens­ing­ton Street So­cial from Miche­lin-star chef Ja­son Ather­ton. the­old­clare­ho­tel.com.au; dou­bles from A$299.

West Ho­tel is fur­ther up the har­bor by Baranga­roo, an­other ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment scheme rad­i­cally re­shap­ing Syd­ney. On a pre­vi­ous visit, of­fi­cials had toured me around cranes at the old docks, and busi­nesses al­ready spring­ing up around the 22-hectare site with big park­land. Now, the water­front is buzzing with bistros and pubs and, as of a year ago, this chic ho­tel.

Part of the Cu­rio Col­lec­tion by Hil­ton, West fea­tures an eye-catch­ing ex­te­rior de­sign of giant black pan­els shaped like faceted edges of a jewel. The strik­ing, dark de­sign ex­tends in­side with black glass walls over­look­ing a vast atrium filled with green­ery, a cool na­ture theme that un­for­tu­nately doesn’t carry into the rooms. Th­ese are ul­tra-modern, with blue-black car­pet and dark pan­els. But rooms seem small and cramped, es­pe­cially in con­trast with that airy atrium.

Best to hang at el­e­gant Solan­der, the fash­ion­able all­day eatery slash lobby bar. Named for botanist and early ex­plorer Daniel Solan­der, it of­fers botan­i­cal-in­spired cock­tails, and a dark-side vibe whether in the blue or pur­ple lounge chairs, or black stools in that cool atrium.

west­ho­tel.com.au; dou­bles from A$238.

Even amid all the her­itage build­ings in the busi­ness dis­trict, Primus Ho­tel stands out. Set in­side the one­time head­quar­ters of the Syd­ney Wa­ter Board, the re­design show­cases the Art-Deco glam­our of the 1930s build­ing. The red­dish-pink columns in the lobby might not ap­peal to ev­ery taste, but I adore how the vi­brant shades con­trast with the darker-hued Wil­mot, the ad­ja­cent old-world din­ing hall. And be­sides, th­ese orig­i­nal columns were the work of the pro­lific Me­locco broth­ers, Ital­ian crafts­men cred­ited with 90 per­cent of the mar­ble, scagli­ola and ter­razzo work across Syd­ney from 1910 to 1965.

Rooms are big and lux­u­ri­ous, from the fluffy bed to thick rug, which stuns in a rich blue-and-gold pat­tern. The dé­cor seems dis­tinc­tively mas­cu­line, like a men’s club from an­other cen­tury. Back in the day, the rooftop ac­tu­ally fea­tured a shoot­ing range, a good-old-boys’ perk for Wa­ter Board em­ploy­ees.

If it looks fa­mil­iar, you may re­mem­ber the build­ing from An­gelina Jolie’s Un­bro­ken. In 1939, it was the tallest build­ing in Syd­ney—which might make you feel retroac­tively safer about all those bul­lets fly­ing around.

primusho­tel­syd­ney.com; dou­bles from A$300. >>

Potts Point over­looks the sea east of Syd­ney, but has too of­ten got­ten lumped in the back­packer sprawl of ne­far­i­ous King’s Cross (it­self a neigh­bor­hood on the as­cen­dant). Yet it’s qui­eter, and the large col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal homes and cafés have earned more than a few ref­er­ences to Paris. In July, a trio of old Vic­to­ri­ans re­opened as the ut­terly charm­ing Spicers Potts Point.

In­side three won­der­fully frilly town­houses dat­ing to 1880, the 20 rooms pro­vide an oa­sis from an­other age. Guests sip tea or fruit-fla­vored wa­ter in the li­brary, or sit in the leafy gar­den. Rooms fea­ture big beds with down pil­lows, white walls and light dé­cor. En­try-level rooms are small; it is def­i­nitely worth up­grad­ing to the spa­cious suites, some with a pri­vate ter­race or fire­place.

The at­mos­phere is friendly, with snacks in the room, and cock­tail hours with canapés nightly.

spicer­sre­treats.com; dou­bles from A$439.

Ovolo Wool­loomooloo is a to­tal odd­ity, not only for the tongue-twist­ing name. It seems far from ev­ery­thing, but is re­ally an easy 15-minute walk to mu­se­ums or Cir­cu­lar Quay. It looks more like an air­plane hanger than hip ho­tel fronting a high-end res­i­den­tial project for yachties and celebs like Rus­sell Crowe. Called Fin­ger Wharf when it was built a cen­tury ago, it laid claim then to be­ing the world’s largest tim­bered-piled wharf.

An­other distin­guish­ing qual­ity: the sprawl­ing site never made sense as a ho­tel. Af­ter boats moved to other piers in the 80s, the plan was to de­mol­ish the wharf and re­place it with a high-end ma­rina. Protests saved the struc­ture, which was ren­o­vated into a 100-room ho­tel. It launched as W Syd­ney Wool­loomooloo, the first W out­side the U.S. Later it be­came Blue Ho­tel, man­aged by Taj. “It re­ally should have been called Yel­low,” joked my taxi driver, as we pulled up to the cav­ernous prop­erty. “Be­cause it’s al­ways been a lemon.”

No longer. Af­ter Ovolo took over and re­opened the prop­erty at the end of 2015, it’s be­come a trendy ad­dress, with a buzzing bar and pop­u­lar events space. The wa­ter­side lo­ca­tion is a pull, but hardly any­one comes here to chill. Ovolo is known for its buoy­ant blend of art, fash­ion and mu­sic, and Wool­loomooloo has taken the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion—and fun—to a new level.

Check-in is quick and seam­less, but pause to sur­vey the art. Over the front desk is a jum­ble of fig­ures mov­ing re­lent­lessly, an A$300,000 ki­netic clock. In the ceil­ing nest metal­lic eggs. Hall­ways are packed with vi­su­als. If it sounds busy, that’s an­other odd anom­aly: it all works.

ovolo­ho­tels.com; dou­bles from A$350.

Para­mount House Ho­tel, a new bou­tique built in and above an old film stu­dio. OP­PO­SITE: A buoy­ant blend of art and de­sign in a room at Ovolo Wool­loomooloo.

Sof­i­tel Syd­ney Dar­ling Har­bour boasts the best bath­tubs in town. OP­PO­SITE FROM TOP LEFT: By the num­bers in Ovolo 1888; The Old Clare kept to its orig­i­nal make up.

New-world chic in West Ho­tel's Solan­der Bar.

The Primus Ho­tel roof went from boys' club shoot­ing range to glama­zon pool deck.

A trio of frilly town­houses make up Spicers Potts Point.

The lat­est in­car­na­tion of a his­toric wharf, Ovolo Wool­loomooloo sprawls and buzzes.

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