Those fiery red wigs on the chic-outfitted “Directors of Chaos” who wait on busy Market Street to welcome you into QT Sydney should tell all you need to know about the property: this is a five-star hotel that does things differently. For over four years, QT’s very first Sydney venture (they opened a QT Bondi last year) has been successfully pulling on the classicism of the heritage-listed State Theatre, drawing on much of its neighbours sumptuous character and blending that with a dramatic baroque sensibility. It’s unique to say the least, overdone to say the most, but the chaotic film noir aesthetic, from the high impact colour-splashed lobby which has an an almost creepy fashion house inspired display of headless mannequins to the immediately memorable designer rooms, is just crazy enough to work.
Designer Nic Graham, who has also worked on several other Australian properties for QT Hotels & Resorts and is part of their core creative team, has set QT Sydney’s public spaces up with dynamism in mind. Various statements flow energetically into each other, making the lobby and its adjoining spaces feel alive with a certain unconventional playfulness, often lacking when it comes to more traditional hotels. It’s sleek, charming and unafraid to highlight its undeniably flirtatious character; these are all personalities which pop from bold magenta armchairs, custom wall art, a collage of cabinets, and ornaments that look like they’ve been sourced from underground auctions the world over, many of which are offered for sale in a hidden gift shop.
The lobby also extends upstairs into two bars and one restaurant, nodding to the historic Gowings building both in name and style. Gowings Bar and Grill has built up a reputation not only as a worthy addition to QT, but a destination dining venue in itself. You’ll regularly spot locals dining out at this French inspired à la carte restaurant, the majority with a fat juicy steak in front of them and a big glass of red, seeing as the kitchen excel when it comes to meats, and the wine collection is just as impressive. It’s also here that QT’s breakfast option lies, and surprisingly it isn’t your standard hotel buffet; rather it’s an à la carte offering that justifies the high price with excellent dishes like the Eggs Rockefeller, which is like an eggs florentine but on a warm round brioche bun with wilted spinach beneath and mild caviar on top.
The two bars sit with one stacked on top of the other, the upstairs Gilt Lounge boasting a very fine, very animated private lounge room as well as the property’s business-minded function spaces. Downstairs is convincingly blended with the lobby itself, dark, moody and also the better choice if you’re a visitor who wants to mingle with the locals. Cocktails are the focus for both, and with a regularly changing menu and a knack for nailing “classics with a twist” it’s advisable to spend a few hours at either.
QT Sydney’s 200 rooms are divided unequally among two wings, seeing as the property was fitted out across two heritage buildings with roots in both the State Theatre and the Gowings building. You’ll be assigned to either side, but it seems the rooms above the State Theatre are more convenient in terms of access, with several elevators available. There’s also a slightly hidden gym accessible from the top floor, past what looks like a fire exit and up a dingy set of stairs.
The elevators are of particular interest; all are fitted with unique sensors that can ascertain how many people are in each at any given time. Cleverly, traditional elevator music is scrapped in favour of contemporary hits, and the playlist is controlled by the number of people inside. For example, if you’re alone in the elevator you might hear De La Soul classic “My, Myself & I” modestly scoring your ride; flip this to two people in an elevator and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” or Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us” might start playing. It’s the little things, right?
There are still plenty of atmospheric flourishes to take in when you get out of the elevator and walk down the wide, gothic corridor to your room. Each floor has a different feature piece, with the top most given a large cabinet full of blank ornate television sets, a stone’s throw from a retro sofa that looks like it was lifted from the set of Back to the Future. Next thing you’ll likely notice is how smoothly spaced out the rooms are, making the hallway feel endless if yours is located on the far-side. Though the most interesting feature of the hallway is the room placards, each held by an eerie charcoal black hand that extends from the wall outside of every room. These hands are once again found inside of some of the rooms, conveniently cradling hand-mirrors in the bathroom.
As a guest I was put up in a QT Deluxe King room, the most common type in the hotel. While not any two rooms are the same with slight differences between them, the overall atmosphere is kept consistent. On entry there’s a warm red and amber glow radiating from a peculiar column of glass cabinets that contain various bottles and decanters. It stands by the entrance to a bathroom that has a muscular look to it with a deeper-than-deep standalone bathtub, an elegant double vanity with sliding mirrors overlooking the bed and a walk-in rain water shower.
A furry sheepskin is draped across the impressive king size bed, which like most hotels is configured opposite a wall-mounted television. If you end up with down time in the room, take note that all movies are included at no extra charge and the selection is well curated with a mix of classics and celebrated newbies; there’s even a selection of horror, which stands out because most high-end hotels tend to overlook the divisive genre when it comes to entertainment packages.
For the workers, a desk is provided with an Ethernet cable and most of the connections you’d need; Wi-Fi is also free and quite speedy when compared to what you’d usually get in Sydney. Annoyingly the chair cannot be adjusted but the fast and seamless connection makes up for that. Your temporary workspace is also fortunately located right next to the mini bar, it too glowing from seductive backlights that illuminate the zany mixture of food and products on offer. Need an emergency bow tie? How about a game of pick-up-sticks or a beard kit? You’ll find those right next to kit-kat bars, bags of lollies, and bottles of wine.
Like all other QT’s, each room comes with a make-your-own cocktail kit. For Sydney, they’ve smartly gone with an espresso martini so you’ll find a little stand near the door with all the ingredients, equipment and instructions you need to make yourself one of the city’s most in-demand concoctions.
Another important feature of the hotel is the mezzanine floor which is home to the awarded spaQ, a mainstay feature for every QT property across Australia. One big reason for the spas popularity is the very modern approach they take to their treatments, offering bespoke options that are completely tailored to your likes and dislikes, which you are encouraged to discuss with the friendly staff should you arrive the suggested 15 minutes before your treatment.
On the same floor is an old-fashioned barber shop, a huge nod to the former department store which occupied the building and offered a similar service. The barbers are immaculately dressed, donned in M.J Bale and obviously selected with a strict preference for personality and customer service, as well as talent. While I didn’t get a cut or shave on my stay, I have been fortunate to visit The Barber Shop several times before and would readily recommend it to anyone looking for a traditional shave, trim or haircut that’s well worth the price (prices start from around $50 and do not exceed $100). You’ll also get a glass of Chivas Regal served neat.
It’s now well known that QT like to imbue their properties with the various histories and undiscovered eccentricities of each hotels’ immediate area. Clearly, QT Sydney’s designers looked to the State Theatre and the building’s department store history to convincingly capture a bygone era and have riffed off that brief to present something that’s both subversive and comfortable, successfully achieving five-star luxury but opting to take a very different route to get there.
QT Sydney is most certainly a divisive hotel, and some who lean on tradition may not be as easy to win over. On the other hand, guests who appreciate a beautifully done departure from the norm will find themselves fascinated by the immersive, theatrical atmosphere that has been cultivated to operate on a completely different level.
Address: 49 Market St, Sydney
Contact: (02) 8262 0000
Prices: From approx. $350 per night.
The writer stayed one night as a guest of QT Hotels & Resorts.