How the other half relax



InterContinental, Sydney
The basics
The eye-candy was pretty, if a little surreal, in the lift lobby on my floor. The young men were handsome, square-jawed, solidly built. They greeted each other with masculine grunts or silent salutes of the water bottles they always carried.
But they were curiously attired. Waiting for a lift, I studied their running shoes, their shorts and the muscles bulging under incongruously bright, shiny Lycra leggings, and said demurely, “Theme party, is it?”
They looked back at me blankly. Banter was not their game; some kind of footy was. I was later told that I had probably been speaking to Wallabies, who were also staying at the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney that week. The hotel’s demographic catchment, then, is wide, because it was also hosting international authors such as Naomi Wolf for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, plus many local literati.
The bar and restaurant seemed mainly patronised by wealthy Americans dressed in mid-western low fashion, but it is not always so. High-profile guests in the past have included Cate Blanchett, Cher, Rod Stewart, kd lang, Powderfinger, Luciano Pavarotti and Condi Rice. I was about to discover how the other .00001 per cent live – and it’s very comfortably indeed.
For us, the best thing about the hotel was the Cortile, a cafe and bar in a large, atrium-like space on the ground floor, surrounded on two sides by three storeys of historic brick and sandstone balconies (the hotel is built around the old Treasury building) and flooded with light. It is a stylish but comfortable space, where you are free to browse through the Saturday papers for as long as you like. Its crowning glory is a centrepiece of a gilded urn filled with a metres-high display of Australian dried flowers (with apologies to Carmen Miranda).
The service
This is one lovely pub. The service during my four-day stay was perfect: cheerful and attentive, with not a flutter of an eyelid to suggest the staff were disappointed by my determined non-tipping. Every little request was dealt with swiftly: when I realised I had left my mobile phone charger at home, housekeeping dispatched a young man with a box of chargers that had been left behind by other guests. He found one that fitted but it had an American plug. Undeterred, he took off and then reappeared wheeling a trolley with something the size of a small toaster that weighed a helluva lot more. He had found me a transformer. In the courtyard bar and cafe, the waiter did not miss a beat when I told him one night that I was too tired for food or drink but wanted to stay and people-watch. “Can I bring you an iced water?” he suggested courteously. The housemaids found my note requesting peppermint tea bags and silently left them for me; the young men looking after cars and luggage were quick and pleasant but never ingratiating. The only glitch was that after check-in my luggage did not make it to my room as promised, but it arrived five minutes after my follow-up phone call.
The rooms
This was the largest and most comfortable room I have ever had in an Australian five-star hotel. It gave me glimpses of Sydney Harbour and was stylish and simply furnished but full of small comforts. The bed, decorated like the rest of the room in stone and aubergine, was as big as some high-density backyards. There was a generous table set up as a desk, with a proper reading lamp, and four desk-height electrical outlets for executives trying to set up laptops and modems – no undignified crawling around the floor looking for outlets here. At the foot of the bed was a chaise longue, and the room also had a window seat on which one could sit with a glass of champers and watch the sparkly lights at night. No sad nylon curtains – there was a shade-blind and a nifty electric night blind that zipped up and down via a button beside the bed. The room had a well-stocked mini-bar and coffee and tea-making facilities.
The bathrooms
Check out the Harry Potter mirror. Run a hot steamy shower; the mirror will mist up except for a portrait-sized square in the centre, which stays immaculately clear and ready for make-up or shaving (or both, I suppose, for those of us with more complex grooming needs). The water was hot and there was lots of it; the granite surrounds of the basin had been cleverly designed with a ledge all round that will cater for even the most compulsive collector of paintpots and perfume bottles. The towels and bathrobes were thick and fluffy and the toiletries, by Audleys of London, elegantly packaged.
The food
Much of the fare here was out of my range, so this is a very limited comment. Favouring breakfasts around the $10 mark, I had a pleasant time with my “medley of muffins” (two) and hot chocolate in the Cortile cafe. The steak sandwich one lunch-time was a bit of disappointment – the meat was tender but lukewarm and gristly, and the chips weren’t hot either. It might have been because the chefs were preparing for high tea, a silver-service affair with little cakes and savoury tarts, clotted cream and freshly made crepes. A late-night room-service pizza was soggy – too generous a hand with the cheese.
The location
For anyone holidaying in the city of Sydney, the hotel is brilliantly placed, only a block from the water. Out the front door and round to the right is Circular Quay, with its ferries (both tourist and commuter types) and its views. On one side is the matronly glory of the Opera House, on the other the industrial grandeur of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The pretty walk from one to the other is along the water’s edge, passing a historic three-masted schooner (available for sailing) and the stylish Doyle’s seafood restaurant. The historic Rocks area is only a 20-minute stride away.
The hotel has 509 rooms and suites, high-speed internet access, voicemail, several dining rooms, 14 function rooms, a business centre, gym and pool, as well as a day spa that offers hair, beauty and massage treatments.
The place
InterContinental Sydney, corner of Bridge and Phillip streets, Sydney. Telephone (02) 9253 9000;;
The lowest internet rate is $251 (advance purchase 14 days/no cancellation). A standard city-view room starts from $295 (including buffet breakfast for two in Cafe Opera). A Club InterContinental package of $365 a day includes deluxe breakfast, high tea, and evening drinks with canapes, as well as spectacular views of the harbour from the rooftop lounge. All packages include complimentary use of the gymnasium and indoor heated pool. Check-in is 3pm and check-out is 11am. — KAREN KISSANE
All short breaks and city breaks are conducted anonymously and paid for.
A luxurious, pampering cocoon. Perhaps the hotel is best described in the words of a young man walking around the lobby with his over-awed sweetheart. Responding to her murmured praise of the place, he preened. Like a sentimental bloke with his Doreen, he then said, in a fine piece of Australian understatement: “Bit’uv orright, inn’t?”First published in The Age.