Rag-trade to riches

CITY BREAKS – Adelphi Hotel, Melbourne

Once a rag-trade warehouse, the hip Adelphi Hotel is now the epitome of sleek, city style, writes Karen Kissane.

THE Adelphi Hotel is so lean and linear that those of us who are not feel rather like we have strayed onto a Quentin Tarantino set. The Adelphi is cool. Its staff of beautiful young things wear black on black. The doorman’s hair is slicked back like John Travolta’s in Pulp Fiction. The furniture is sleek and edgy, in hard straight lines and dark shades but with phallic blocks in strong ’90s colours – the yellow of the posts on the Tullamarine Freeway, the red of the “zipper” pillars on the approach to the Bolte Bridge.
The general ambience is dark, to the point of noirish. Bedrooms are carpeted in charcoal with bed coverlets in black. At night, the bar is so dimly lit that complete newcomers reveal their virginal status with a query about whether it is, in fact, still open. The barman can no doubt pick the “tourists”.
The Adelphi is probably more often patronised by those in the know: biznoids, fashionistas and the arts cognoscenti. Model-turned-crime-author Tara Moss had her hen’s night there, and Pat Rafter was thrown into its pool during a fashion launch. Opera Australia launched its 2005 season at the Adelphi. You would almost have to be in the know to find it; it is an unobtrusive presence in Flinders Lane, only two doors up from St Paul’s Cathedral, with a street frontage of less than eight metres.
The phrase “boutique hotel” can cover a multitude of lacks, allowing any imperfections to be relabelled as quirky charms. The Adelphi was built in 1938 and spent much of its life as a rag-trade warehouse before being converted to a hotel in 1993. Its proportions, therefore, are not generous. The reception area is a corner with a desk, the cafe is not large enough to set out buffet breakfasts, and the corridors between bedrooms are low-ceilinged and narrow. It leaves the accommodation areas with rather an industrial feel.
But, within those constraints, it is cleverly designed. The roof-top pool (heated, salt-water) is a triumph of style over expansiveness. It is a 25-metre lap pool, the equivalent of only two lanes wide, but is saved from mediocrity by ingenious engineering at one end. The final metre of the pool is cantilevered over Flinders Lane, and swimmers not subject to fear of heights can gaze through its glass floor to study the watery outlines of the street below. (Not recommended for those already woozy from a hangover, and the same could be said for the sauna.)
The nearby “gym” is worth only a glance unless you’re desperate for a workout: it’s a small room with only a half-dozen motley machines, including a treadmill, a bike and a couple of benches with weights.
The bedrooms themselves, though, are large, with king-size beds and generous bathrooms (also minimalist, with stainless-steel double handbasins, black tiling, and pistachio green glass walls, but with two thick cotton bathrobes and Bulgari toiletries in the kind of small plastic bottles useful for future travelling. The extra towels packed in the wardrobe for pool users come in handy when mopping up the water that overflows from the shower base).
The bedroom view might not be much – in our case, the side of a warehouse wall a few metres across an alley – but with the blinds down, the room took on that relaxing cocoon-like quality of the anonymous rented space in which time can be suspended. It needs to be suspended largely from the bed, however, as the too-clever-by-half couch, with its snappy design and severe lines, is not comfy for cosying up with either a book or a partner.
We missed out on one of the Adelphi’s big attractions. Its restaurant, Ezards, was established by Teague Ezard, the Age Good Food Guide chef of the year in 2003. It has “Australian free-style” fine dining influenced by Chinese and Thai flavours. Heavily booked ahead, it had a wait-list of 14 the night we stayed (none of whom made it in). If you would like a room and a meal, you will need to plan in advance.
That forced us into the happy discovery of the Bokchoy Tang, a stylish, upmarket Chinese restaurant in nearby Federation Square, where the delicately flavoured food was based on the cuisine of the Yangtze and Yellow River regions.
Late that night, we finally made it to the 10th-floor bar back at the Adelphi. We found a window table, and suddenly the dim lighting was explained. It enhanced the view. Outside, staid old Melbourne, like a woman of a certain age transformed by soft lighting, was at its loveliest. The spires of St Paul’s next door were lit up in all their glory, as was Flinders Street, Crown Casino and the flashing Arts Centre spire. It felt literally like a night on the town.
But the cold light of day brought a disappointing breakfast. The “light breakfast” was a meagre choice of supermarket cereal OR canteen-style fruit salad (large lumps of melons, unripe pineapple, and no sign of the summer stonefruits now in abundance); tea or coffee and “toast”, in the form of sourdough bread, muffin, fruitbread or croissant. I missed my morning fruit juice (an extra, at $8 a freshly squeezed glassful), but the waitress did make a perfect hot chocolate.
The verdict
Not for those who equate comfort with plushness. But it is, in fact, comfortable, and an evening drink over the city views and a morning swim in the lap pool make it a treat.
Address: Adelphi Hotel, 187 Flinders Lane, 9650 7555. Email info@adelphi.com.au; website adelphi.com.au Weekend staff cannot give you details about packages, so for inquiries phone Monday to Friday.
Prices: Double rooms start from $265, which includes a free glass of wine on arrival, a light breakfast and a morning paper. With a cooked breakfast, it’s $295. An Overnight Indulgence package with a deluxe room and three-course dinner at Ezard’s (no beverages) is $535. Prices increase on holiday weekends and peak times such as the tennis. Check-in is at 1pm and check-out at 11am. Discount parking of $13 a night is available nearby.

First published in The Age.