Creating a dream theme

Subtle ... a themed room at Hard Days Night.
Subtle ... a themed room at Hard Days Night. 

These luxury hotels stick to the concept without going over the top, writes Joanne Brookfield.

Prison might seem like the last choice for a holiday but in Boston there is one you may never wish to leave. What was once home to convicted felons is now a destination for cashed-up travellers, happy to "do some time" there.

The Charles Street Jail was built in 1851 and housed some of Massachusetts' most notorious, right up until 1990. Then, 3 ½ years ago, this landmark American building was transformed into a luxury hotel.

Born again as the Liberty, the site has had a $150 million makeover but hasn't forgotten its past. Of the 298 guest rooms, 18 are located within the original jail, linked by historic catwalks that guards once patrolled.

The separate doorway through which prisoners were transferred from paddy wagons to their cells is now the entrance to the ground-floor hotel. The Alibi Bar gives a knowing wink to the location's infamous past by adorning its walls with celebrity mugshots.

The result? "You'll feel like one privileged inmate," The New York Times has said.

The concept of themed hotels may conjure tacky images but high-end hotels such as the Liberty work with a theme in sophisticated, subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux, in Malta, is a 17th-century palace located within the old capital, the fortified mediaeval city of Mdina. Originally a residence for a noble family, the hotel, which is filled with antiques and original paintings, has since welcomed Hollywood celebrities among its visitors.

Cambodia's The One Hotel takes it to the other extreme. Forget multiple rooms and other guests, the hotel has just one suite, so you literally have the whole place, including the chef, to yourself.

The general manager of England's Hard Days Night Hotel, Mike Dewey, believes these theme hotels appeal because "people get bored of the standard corporate offering".

Patrons still want quality of service and accommodation, he says, but also a level of originality. "We're different and people tend to like different," he says of the Fab Four-inspired hotel located in the heart of the "Beatles Quarter" in Liverpool.

It's not just diehard Beatles fans who stay in the four-star, boutique hotel, although the appeal of the band spanning the generations means there are plenty of those. Business travellers and those simply curious stay as well.

"They've heard about the hotel and want to see what the fuss is all about," Dewey says.

The hotel, also in a landmark building, is filled with original Beatles artwork by the artist Shannon and photography by famous Wall Street photographer Bill Zygmant.

"However, the hotel is not supposed to be a museum," Dewey says.

The Beatles theme has been subtly incorporated into the interior design of the hotel and is not tacky or overt. The restaurant Blakes is named after Sir Peter Blake, who designed the album cover of the Beatles' Sgt Peppers album, but you won't find dishes named after song titles on the menu.

The hotel aims to distinguish itself from the other major hotel chains in the way it tells the story of the band.

"The best thing about the Hard Days Night has got to be the spiral staircase, which displays photos of the Beatles from their early days at the Cavern up to present day," Dewey says.

"The images, most of which come from the local newspaper, take you on the Beatles amazing journey and if you've got the stamina to walk the whole six flights in one go it really is quite something."

FAST FACTS

Staying there

The Liberty Hotel — prices start from $US255 ($251) a night plus charges and taxes. See libertyhotel.com.

Hard Days Night — prices start from £100 ($160) a night. See harddaysnighthotel.com.

Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux — prices start from €200 a night. See xarapalace.com.mt.

The One Hotel — prices start from $US250 a night plus tax and service charge. See theonehotelangkor.com.

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