Sydney’s hottest new hotel is quite the revolutionary, writes Georgia Rickard.

 

When Sydney’s illustrious Park Hyatt – arguably the city’s most glittering jewel in its luxury accommodation crown – relaunched to the resplendent tune of a reported $65 million, media reviews were united in their praise.

The colour scheme (chocolate, cream and beige) was pronounced “warm and soft” by Ultimate Travel magazine; US News complimented its “intimate, residential style.” “The overall impression,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald, “is one of restrained simplicity.”

And, indeed, Park Hyatt is exactly that.

In a market where hotels must fight that extra bit harder to attract would-be guests, their redesign was a safe bet; as beautiful (and beautifully predictable) as the calculations of their subsequently increasing profit margins.

Hotel QT has no such play-it-safe designs.

It isn’t often that one brand goes so consciously against the market grain, especially in financial times like these, but if this is the beginning of an accommodation revolution, then QT is on horseback at the forefront.

There is no beige here. No marble lobby, either. Indeed, the lobby is rather difficult to locate; tucked away off the street on the first floor of a fabulously unusual building. And though QT’s room rates start at an ambitious $450 – putting her on par with those more traditional upmarket peers – that’s about the end of their similarities.

Indeed, if Lady Gaga were to collaborate with a mischievous troupe of burlesque dancers, QT would be the net result. It’s hard to imagine an Intercontinental decorating their lobby with headless mannequins, or a Four Seasons programming their lifts to play a cheeky rendition of ‘All By Myself’ each time someone takes a solo ride, but QT pulls it off with convincing panache.

Then again, this is no two-bit operation.

What QT lacks in the credibility of grander brand names, it makes up for in sheer muscle: this chain is actually part of AHL, a formidable hospitality empire that owns the Rydges Hotel and Resorts chain, Greater Union, Birch and Carroll and Event Cinemas and management rights of Thredbo Alpine Resort for the next 50 years – among other bits and bobs.

Though QT has maintained a relatively low-profile so far, this Sydney operation is actually the third hotel in the series, too. Their first foray opened on the Gold Coast two years ago; the second is located in Port Douglas.

The brand is reportedly the personal baby of CEO David Sargent, who’s said to have been involved in every single detail so far; right down to picking the decorative jars on breakfast tables. It shows.

From the careful restoration of the hotel site – two heritage-listed, art deco buildings – to the little ceramic rabbit sitting alongside my assymetrical bathtub, attention to detail here is impressively smooth.

Most outstandingly, perhaps, is the recurrent theme of ‘Thing’, the Addam Family’s silent pet hand, who holds placards bearing the room number outside each door, and also greets guests again in the bathroom, cradling a magnified hand-mirror. It is perfectly quirky, and perfectly fitting for the hotel’s personality; an inside joke in an otherwise glamorous world of opulence.

Of course, like all good jokes not everyone will appreciate such punchlines. Each QT has its own distinct ‘personality’ – Port Douglas is shabby-nautical-chic in pastels; the Gold Coast is retro glamour in bold pops of colour – and Sydney is dramatically, decisively, old-world film noir.

In my Deluxe King Room – the hotel’s basic suite – expensive-looking crystalware sits on display inside glass cabinets with sultry orange backlights. A dark red sheepskin lies opulently across the startlingly white bed. Layered curtains – both heavy bronze, and filmy red – line the windows from ceiling to floor. Indeed, the entire bedroom – or is that boudoir? – seems at once both masculine and feminine; dimly lit and boldly coloured.

People will love this place, I find myself thinking. And people will hate it.

The divisiveness begins long before the bedrooms, however. Outside, the hotel greets passersby with a black-and-silver chrome façade that is as delightfully art deco as its original counterpart would have been, and it’s supervised by uniformed staff who, in their matching outfits and bright orange bobs (wigs, of course), look as though they belong to a time of soda pops and swing skirts.

The entrance is actually the old doorway through to Sydney’s heritage-listed State Theatre (which remains in operation next door), and it’s decidedly less grand than the traditional glass-and-marble monoliths of QT’s counterparts down by the harbour. But step into the lift and you’ll be whisked into a world away from the bustling streetscape, the contrast of which is only underscored by such a juxtaposition.

There are many ways to bring modernity to a grand old building, but this particular restoration has attempted no such thing. QT is convincingly of another era; right down to the traditional shave available in the original Gowings barber shop (now a lusciously appointed day spa) and the fabulous Gowings restaurant, which feels rather like a New York brasserie – all moody chrome lighting and polished black surfaces.

When I make my way here for breakfast, feeling conspicuously un-polished next to all the gleaming wall tiles, it takes a few moments for me to recognise the view outside.

The restaurant looks out onto one of Sydney’s busiest intersections, George and Market Streets, but the old-world ambience inside makes this easy to forget. It’s as if Rita Hayworth herself personally ordered the traffic to be quiet.

For fickle Sydney-siders, this would normally be the kind of place to skip into vogue for a season, only to be relegated to distant memory when the next trend comes along; and fair enough – Addams Family accoutrements and in-room espresso martini ingredients (which sit next to your bedside with a cocktail shaker and coffee pods, should you be so inclined for a nightcap) only go so far.

Happily, though, there is substance beneath the style here, and somewhat ironically, it is this that reminds me most of QT’s cream-and-beige-embracing counterparts.

Thousand-thread-count sheets, lambskin-soft leather bedheads, in-room DeLonghi espresso machines, black marble bathroom vanities, double-headed showers, uniforms by Hollywood costume designer Janet Hine… there are many examples that suggest this is not a hotel that cuts corners, but the real testament comes from the staff.

The maverick ever-more, QT’s recruitment strategy differed from the usual routes; with would-be staff invited to a five-minute, speed-date-style interview en masse, before they were invited to a mingling event where they were judged on their social interactions.

A final round interview (held in the State Theatre, no less) saw applicants either sent home, or given a golden ticket to the welcome cocktail party. Not surprisingly, the end result is a team friendly, professional and full of personality – a little like the hotel itself, really.

In a realm of bright, white, light-filled hotels, such a dark, plush offering won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But for those who fall in love with her – I’m predicting the advertising executives, media moguls and the cashed-up trendsters of the world – this is the way of the future. Revolution, indeed.

 

What’s the gossip?
Playful, stylish but eminently comfortable interiors… This is hotel as theatre.”
–The Courier Mail, Qld

The AT Verdict
Georgia Rickard, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says:
I’m not one for dark-and-moody, and I’m definitely not one for gimmicky themes, but QT has managed to pull off both with all the panache of a big-deal luxury chain. This is the new five-star.

The Details
Where: 49 Market Street, Sydney, NSW
Notes: For one night in a Deluxe King Room, prices start from $450 – not including breakfast.
Contact: 02 8262 0000. qtsydney.com.au