It’s Adelaide’s newest stay, and an artful one at that. But what’s on at The Watson isn’t quite enough for Max Anderson.
Pleasant, quiet and ever-so-slightly dull.
You might think this article is to be another assault on The City of Churches, but no – thanks to a $3-billion cash-splash, a rejuvenated 52,000-seat oval and a relaxation of small-bar licensing laws, Adelaide’s CBD is rising like Lazarus. People want to go there.
But do they want to go to Walkerville?
The Art Series Hotel Group has won fans in Melbourne for locating its urbane mid-range residences in happening beats. The new Watson in Walkerville, however, is an ex-Transport Department office rising 10 storeys from a small village suburb outside the Adelaide parklands.
Converted into resident apartments and this 24-room hotel, the block has also been professionally lit and underpinned with retail space, including a sharp café operation called Local Grind.
It looks kind of cool out here on its own, and yes, there are benefits to not being in the CBD. Everyone gets a free parking space, and at night it’s amazingly quiet (I was woken by morning birdlife). There’s the River Torrens out front, with Linear Park bikeways gently delivering cyclists to the new oval heartland 3.4 kilometres away. But when I check in on Sunday afternoon, there’s no escaping the feeling: the party’s going on somewhere else.
It’s been six weeks since the ‘soft opening’. The hotel is named for Pitjantjatjara artist Tommy Watson, a master of colour whose prints lend some lushness to the open lobby and the chic charcoal corridors. But these aren’t the only marks around the place.
After checking into my room, I’m greeted by busy white footprints across the charcoal carpets. Presumably left by builders on Friday; they stay there until I check out on Monday, by which time the builders are back on the job, adding to earlier tracks.
In fairness, rooms are discounted (my Sunday night cost me $165 with breakfast served in Local Grind) to help assuage the inconvenience. My suite is certainly a welcoming space – large by city standards with a big TV, delicious bed, a black kitchenette and ubiquitous Watson prints.
I want to like this hotel. It just won’t let me.
Good: the glassy rooftop gym and 25-metre pool is spacious.
Bad: my first-floor suite’s tiny courtyard of frosted glass offers a view of suites above and makes me feel caged.
Good: there’s free bike-hire downstairs.
Bad: the bike is a shoddy design that won’t hold its gear.
Good: the kooky foam dice printed with things a carefree spirit might do at the hotel.
Bad: one side entreats me to buy the bed and linen. And then there’s Walkerville.
Because Foxtel isn’t working, I take the bicycle for a long evening ride. There’s an Art Deco pub, a café bar called Nest (supplying the in-room dining), a homewares shop, a gallery and the biggest mansions ever seen close to a CBD.
It’s nice. But I’m patently not having the experience of visitors staying for a similar price at the Minima surrounded by Melbourne Street’s restaurant scene, or the Crowne Plaza near thronging Rundle Street, or The Adina close to the buzzy new back streets of Leigh and Peel in the West End.
Three things to be said in The Watson’s favour.
Firstly, it has two Smart Cars and an electric scooter to hire for an extraordinary $50 a day or $7.50 an hour.
Secondly, suites are available for month-long rental at an equally extraordinary $420 per week, screaming ‘Adelaide Festival!’ for anyone quick enough to book the ultra-tight February/March period.
And thirdly, the Art Series Group will no doubt attend to the shortcomings after this fairly ambitious makeover has finished.
However, I stand by what I said at the outset: pleasant, quiet and ever-so-slightly dull. For me, this Art Hotel is just too far out of the picture.
The details: The Watson, 33 Warwick St, Walkerville, Adelaide
The verdict: A funky hotel that’s paradoxically rather old Adelaide. No doubt, it will improve as they ‘tweak the experience’.
The score: 13/20; good
We rated: The friendly reception staff, the food being served at Local Grind and the bonkers-cheap hire cars.
We hated: The first floor’s glass courtyards, Walkerville on a Sunday night.
Notes: Bed and breakfast packages start from $269 per night, twin-share.
Contact: 1800 278 468; artserieshotels.com.au/watson
All AT reviews are conducted anonymously and our writers pay their own way – so we experience exactly what you would.