wandermelon’s Kate Ayrton, a Sydney local, checks out two of the city’s most iconic buildings recently transformed into a modern luxury hotel and entertainment space, and brimming with creative energy.
The bar has been raised in Australian urban hospitality with the recent opening of the hip designer QT Sydney Hotel thanks to the AHL Group, one of Australia’s premier entertainment, hospitality, tourism and leisure companies. Located in the heart of the CBD, no expense has been spared to renovate two of the cities most iconic buildings: one originally being the historic Gowings department store, the other the heritage-listed State Theater. Gowings was established in 1868 and specialized in men’s casual clothing, camping gear and novelty items, including the bespoke services of hatters, tailors and barbers. Next door was the “Palace of Dreams” where punters could escape into an elaborately designed movie theater using baroque and Gothic inspired decorative features that still dazzle.
Today the facades have been restored to their former glory (gargoyles included), while inside the stage has been set by a carefully selected team of artists, craftsmen and designers who have created a bold and playful mix of original features, curated digital art installations, eclectic artifacts, and quirky design pieces inspired by the retail and theater legacy of the buildings.
QT is completely unique and therefore rather special given its heritage and recent renaissance as a modern luxury hotel and entertainment space. Visiting is a bit like entering the House of Fun – with so much to look at and take in, it can be a tad overwhelming. With a huge focus on art and design, and lots of curious interactive touches, QT isn’t just a place to lay your head – it’s a whole experience and one not to be missed even if you aren’t staying at the hotel.
The QT collaborators were brought together by managing director, David Seargeant, whose 30 years of passion and devotion to design hotels clearly shows as the attention to detail is extraordinary throughout the hotel. An unusual display of salvaged bric-a-brac from the original store and building in the reception area includes old luggage, a vintage movie sign, a TV from the 1950s and even an original marble panel from an elevator shaft. The original stairwells retain references to its retail heritage, while the halls are filled with cutting-edge works of art by emerging artists. Even the rooms are numbered in a novel way. One of my personal favorites is the elevator. No muzak here; instead a sensor on the ceiling registers whether there are one, two or three people in the elevator and plays an appropriate song: ”Just the two of us… we can make it anywhere” or “One is the loneliest number,” – all specially curated by the in-house DJ and designed to enhance your mood, for better or worst.
Did I mention the redheaded Dominatrix-like doorwomen dressed in black leather and a voyeuristic keyhole motif collar? Known as the “Directors of Chaos”, these ladies meet and greet guests upon arrival before escorting them through the downstairs café and up to the first floor reception area. On your way up don’t miss the four ornate brass display cabinets styled by Jane Frosh, two of which are original and have been restored to their former glory. Once upon a time they showcased the wares of retailers, but now the cabinets display quirky artifacts and objets d’art that give a glimpse of what’s to come (like the ball dress made of granny undies). Not surprisingly, a theatrical costume designer was commissioned to design the quasi-couture staff attire to bring a sense of bravado and confidence while working. All the staff were “cast” rather than hired, using an Australian Idol-style audition process of elimination, with the judges looking for personality plus polish, not necessarily experience. Young, friendly and full of enthusiasm, I could not fault them (or their hair and make-up, applied daily by the in-house hair and make-up artist). You could be forgiven for imagining all style and no substance at this point, but you would be dead wrong.
Nic Graham designed the public spaces of the hotel, combining the disciplines of architecture, interiors, furniture design and product design to create a visually intriguing space that delivers a sucker punch upon entry. Significant historic fittings and fixtures have been neatly interwoven by Graham into the decor to highlight the historical aesthetics of the space with the addition of modern and eclectic pieces intended to create a visual experience for guests to contemplate and enjoy. (Think Art Deco meets Surrealism, Voyeurism, Opulence, Noir and Intrigue.) The eye-catching reception area also functions as the guest lounge and is serviced during the day through to about 11pm, after which it becomes an honesty bar for hotel guests. It also serves tea, coffee and highly tempting cupcakes. Several glass cabinets line the walls and are filled with all sorts of intriguing and beautiful artifacts specially curated by Ann Roberts, the hotel’s funky stylist. This serves as the hotels shop front and is well worth browsing through for some unusual finds.
Upstairs, Shelley Indyk has designed the guest rooms with post-modern flair. Using a rich palette of reds, oranges, yellows and whites, Indyk has established 12 distinct room themes through the hotel’s two buildings, marrying heritage detailing such as the traditional oak paneling with eccentric touches and embellishments in fun and witty ways. Details like bowler hat lamps and light fittings surprise and delight. Every fixture is tailored specifically for each space and every room is fitted with an 82kg gel bed that looks like a thick ice cream sandwich (also for sale). Wardrobes, bedheads, minibars and cabinets are all designed with distinct purpose and style. A martini set stands ready to go by the front door and the minibar is filled with goodies such as Ninja Bread men and large colorful lollipops, as well as games like Pick Up Sticks and even an Intimacy Kit. All the slate grey bathrooms come with QT’s signature bathtubs, fluffy black bathrobes and separate shower complete with sultry pin spot lighting and whimsical collectibles designed to amuse. Given the QT is located in the middle of a busy urban district, the rooms are amazingly quiet and seem to float above the city in another world. (One reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.)
Downstairs, the Gowings Bar & Grill is already drawing crowds of hip urbanites and the city’s business elite, blending an edgy New York interior with a European brasserie-style menu of wood-fired meats and seafood, courtesy of Creative Food Director Robert Marchetti of North Bondi Italian, Icebergs and Nield Avenue. A trendsetter in his own right in Sydney’s highly competitive culinary scene, this is an excellent alliance for QT supported by Executive Chef, Paul Easson formerly of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne and Ian Cook, QT’s resident wine consultant. This culinary team also oversees the Parlour Lane Roasters on the ground floor; a European style café open for breakfasts and lunches and a popular wine bar from the afternoon and into the evening. The Gilt Lounge, popular with the late-night crowd, is the hotels high-end cocktail lounge located above the restaurant.
Other attractions include spaQ in the basement of the building, which showcases period decorative brass-lined shop windows filled with a clever display of vintage glass science equipment and old Bunsen burners. The Spa features six treatment rooms, two of which retain the original glass ceilings and walls from the original Gowings barber shop, and a Hammam, as well as a contemporary social space for guests to relax and unwind in.
SpaConsultant, Naomi Gregory, offers a fresh modern twist for spa-goers with an array of facials and body treatments by USpa and Kerstin Florian, including a creative range of 30-minute add-on treatments. For men, the art of shaveology is a must with the revival of the Cut Throat Shave while seated in the comfort of the classic imported Koken barber chairs complete with hot towel and face massage. The first straight blade razor was manufactured in England in 1680 and by mid 1700s straight blade razors were the most common form of shaving and remained so in many countries until the 1950s when King C. Gillette developed the double-edged safety razor. For those brave enough to succumb to the blade, it’s worth the thrill.
Hot Tip: Don’t miss out on the the free QT Concierge app for guests convenience, available on iTunes.
QT Sydney is located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district (CBD) and retail precinct. The hotel is in close proximity to Darling Harbour, a tourist and nightlife area, The Rocks, Australia’s finest restored historical district, Circular Quay as well as Chinatown and the Opera House. The airport is just a 30-minute drive from the hotel. Rates start from $365 AUD.
For more information visit QT Sydney online or at 49 Market Street, Sydney, NSW 2000.
QT Hotel +61 2 8262 0000
Gowings Bar & Grill +61 2 8262 0062
spaQ +61 2 8262 0088