Despite a somewhat chequered corporate history, the Deagues, Melbourne's flamboyant property developer clan, deserve credit for introducing some bold splashes of colour to the Australian hotel industry's monochrome palette. The Art Series Hotel group, brainchild of William Deague, is an innovative chain of boutique properties fashioned around various leading, but all-male (tsk, tsk), Australian artists. The group of seven hotels – including the 224-room The Olsen in South Yarra – sold its Art Series collection last year to the Mantra Group for almost $53 million.
The Olsen, which opened in 2010, is located on Chapel Street, in the fashionable inner-city suburb of South Yarra, four kilometres from Melbourne's CBD. Trams operate outside the hotel as well as along Toorak Road, with South Yarra railway station a short walk away (if you're in a hurry to get into town, take the train).
My pleasant, 45-square-metre, one-bedroom suite on one of the hotel's upper levels includes a kitchenette and en suite bathroom. The decor feels slightly tired but there's talk of a refurbishment. The walls feature a selection of Olsen prints and well-thumbed coffee table books on the artist's life and work. The view from the room – a soccer field hemmed in by high-rise apartment and office buildings – is not quite as inspiring as the artwork.
Chapel Street is lined with restaurants and cafes but you'll find two Good Food Guide-rated stalwarts on Toorak Road in the form of France-Soir and Da-Noi. Inside the hotel itself, at ground level, there's the casual Spoonbill Restaurant and Bar, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Further along Chapel Street is a slice of the trendy thoroughfare's glory days, namely Caffe e Cucina. This classic, dimly-lit Italian eatery, near the hotel, was quite the sensation when it opened in the 1990s.
Consider taking an illuminating, expert-led art tour that encompasses not just The Olsen but also nearby sister properties, The Cullen and The Blackman. The tours cost $150 per group with a maximum of four people. Alternatively, it's possible to join a two-hour staff training tour of the hotel, at no charge. These are aimed at educating hotel staff about the art that adorns their workplace. If shopping is your passion, then South Yarra is one of Melbourne's better retail strips although its lustre, like that of many an Australian high street, has faded. Need some wheels? The Olsen offers an eco-friendly smart car, suitably adorned with an Olsen work, for $50 a day. There are also designer bicycles and scooters for rent.
The Art Series collection was a fine and innovative concept when it was originally conceived and it remains so, with branches now in Brisbane and Adelaide as well as Melbourne. In a nation obsessed with sporting stars, it's a pleasure to stay at a hotel that salutes some of our cultural heroes. Let's hope the chain prospers and expands under its new ownership.
Doubles start from $229. The Olsen, 637-641, Chapel Street, South Yarra, Melbourne. Phone (03) 9040 1222 or see artserieshotels.com.au
A hotel stay is a novel way to become more familiar with the work of a legendary Australian artist.
Management might consider providing an information sheet on John Olsen on check-in, to emphasise the cultural significance of the hotel's theme.