Canberra is coming over all hip and new, but there are some classic touches that never go out of fashion, such as the Hyatt Hotel Canberra, as Leigh-Ann Pow finds.
You have to love any place where the person opening the door for you is dressed in pin-stripe plus fours, an argyle-patterned knit and a flat cap.
It’s a far cry from the new hipster hotels sprouting up all over Canberra, with their exposed concrete everything, resident baristas and iPad check-in. But the Hyatt Hotel Canberra has a venerable history that it’s proud to let people know (questionable trouser length included).
Opened in 1924 to house politicians in the newly minted capital (parliament sat in Melbourne until 1927), it was originally known by the rather pedestrian moniker of Hostel No. 1, before becoming the Hotel Canberra.
Reclaimed from parliament
The mighty Sydney-based Tooheys took over in the 1950s, and from 1976 to 1984 it was drafted into use as an annex for Parliament House and filled with government staff. After a drawn out mission to restore the grand dame to her former glory it was reopened in 1988 as the Hyatt Hotel Canberra.
Located in the leafy surrounds of Yarralumla, close to the power and hubris of Capital Hill and the high walls and ever watchful CCTV cameras of numerous international embassies, you arrive off the long, wide Commonwealth Avenue into manicured gardens.
The circular driveway leads up to the portico of the original structure, a wide, low whitewashed and red-tiled building that has an aura of the residential about it.
Inside the lobby its grand proportions are much more evident, with a vast, hushed space of columns and polished floors instantly evident through latticed doors. Check-in is efficiently taken care of here while the fellows in caps outside collect the luggage and valet the car.
High tea every day
With key in hand the walk to the lifts, and the extension that houses the bulk of the rooms, takes you through the Tea Lounge, where high tea is served daily (make sure you book ahead as this is the favourite gathering place of ladies who lunch in these parts), past the bar with its outdoor seating among the pretty gardens, and the restaurant where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served.
Suddenly the ceilings soar skyward as the atriumed modern space opens up in front of you, with stairs zig-zagging up to the floors above.
Our room is one flight up (no need for the lift) and has generous floor space with a seating area and desk. The bathroom is grand, dark and marble drenched, with a separate shower and bath, and lots of space to primp and preen in preparation for the black-tie birthday we are in town for. The king bed proves insanely comfortable when we return to the hotel.
The next morning we sit down for the buffet breakfast, which includes a very nice Bircher muesli and attentive service, before heading out to inspect the indoor pool and gym, housed in a modern glass building.
Biking the lake
There are a collection of bikes here that can be ridden along the paths that snake through the vast parklands that nestle up to the expanse of Lake Burley Griffin over the road, past Chinese and Japanese structures, gifts from the sister cities of Beijing and Nara.
Back in the lovely historic lobby, ready to check out, we wait for the doorman to bring our car. It seems strange to watch someone in plus fours climb out of our modern ride, but it is this mix of old and new that sets the Hyatt apart during the current ‘hipsterisation’ of Canberra.
So why not celebrate it, quirky uniforms and all.
The details: Hyatt Hotel, Canberra
The verdict: As Canberra reinvents itself as the cool capital of Australia, we love that there’s still room for a gracious grand dame such as this.
The score: 7/10
We rated: The helpful staff, the spacious rooms and, of course, the snazzy uniforms.
We hated: Nothing really; with so many years under its belt the staff really have things humming along nicely.
Contact: 120 Commonwealth Av, Canberra; 02 6270 1234; hyatt.com