You can't miss it. Anyone driving up West Coast Highway, the road that hugs the Indian Ocean coastline in Perth, has an opinion on the city's most controversial hotel. Rendezvous Scarborough – once known as Observation City - has quite the history. Back in 1986, the late tycoon Alan Bond could have anything he wanted in his hometown. Bondy demanded a good view to see the yachts sail from Fremantle in the America's Cup (and he figured a lot of tourists would too), and three decades on, this beacon of 1980s exuberance is still Perth's only beachside highrise.
Whilst under the Rendezvous brand the hotel has had an extensive refurbishment, including a much-needed paintjob, some remnants of the past remain. The binoculars that Bondy would have peered through are still there on the Level 25 viewing deck. So is the grand piano that Michael Jackson played on when he stayed here in 1996. It's sitting, rather forlornly, outside one of the hotel's 25 function rooms.
In the Club Lounge, where a great fry up breakfast is served, there's not much to give away that this was once part of the Australia II Deck, where lavish parties were held. Back in those heady days, bon vivant, Eileen 'Red' Bond would have regaled the guests with extravagant tales while Bondy and his business mates and political allies were striking a new deal. There's just one hardback book propped up near the door of the lounge to remind diners of the state's riches, 'Perth Western Australia, A Wealth of Resources' from 1993. Perhaps a framed Australia II victory shot of Alan Bond and Bob Hawke in that famous jacket when he proclaimed, "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum" and some yachting memorabilia from the glory years might be a good idea. Or, maybe the aim is not to look to the past, after all Scarborough Beach has just gone through a major rejuvenation.
The 100-hectare seafront area, which used to be mostly a vast carpark, has been transformed into parklands, decked pedestrian walkways, a skate park and a swimming pool. There's also a transit hub, which makes catching public transport there a more attractive option. Already the new amphitheatre is being put to good use. On a Sunday night, about 100 dancers are here taking free tango lessons. It's hoped that the revitalisation will encourage more tourists and locals to see Scarborough as a destination for all; in the past the giant carpark drag races sometimes overshadowed the beautiful beach beyond it.
Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time beachside in Perth will have some association with Scarborough. My mum and I sit down to sample the 30th anniversary retro-themed menu at Straits Café, the Rendezvous' beachside restaurant and over delicious prawn cocktails, duck a l'orange and Bombe Alaska we reminisce. It was in the hotel's grand ballroom that my school dance was held. Back then, the colour scheme (said to be chosen by Eileen Bond) was strictly peach. I recall pleated curtains, velvet textures and tipsy teenagers stumbling out into various mums' Corollas lined up in the valet area. Years later, my American musician friend loved the hotel so much he bunked here for a week after a Big Day Out festival. We'd feast on Chiko rolls, sip on banana milkshakes and sit on the beach all day. Directly under the hotel, at what was The Lookout Bar, my boyfriend's (now husband) band played, and next-door at the former nightclub, Club Atlantis, my brother met his wife. In the late 60s my mum and dad would dance the watusi to the latest rock and roll hits at the Snake Pit, an open-air dance floor. In a nod to those days, the new competition-grade skate bowl has been named The Snake Pit.
Rendezvous would be wise to give over the dedicated conference outdoor spaces to make room for rooftops bars for all to take in the famous sunsets and the new attractions that line the foreshore. But there's opportunity elsewhere in the hotel to see the spectacle. Most of the suites' balconies offer glimpses of it, and the impressive lagoon-style outdoor pool (with waterfalls, palms, striped umbrellas and deckchairs) has a raised deck with bar to view. The modern rooms are done in neutral tones with a handpainted murals of Western Australian wildflowers over the bed. The beach is well-patrolled and good for swimming, surfing and kite-surfing, once the seabreeze kicks in. There are also two tennis courts, a games room and a spa on site.
The only link to the days when the hotel first opened its doors that remains is takeaway joint, Peter's By the Sea, where you can still order original hamburger that they've been serving since 1952. It still comes between two pieces of bread, and tastes just as good as it did when I was a kid looking up in awe at the new gleaming hotel skyscraper above 30 years ago.
Scarborough is a 30-minute drive for Perth Airport and a 15 minute drive from Perth's CBD.
Stay at Scarborough Rendezvous from $153 a night, see tfehotels.com/scarborough
The writer was a guest of Rendezvous Scarborough.