The Alex is a lovely concoction of Euro-smart and bohemian cool.
The intriguing design concept.
The noise from the street.
Alex Hotel, Perth
On James Street in hip (some say slightly debauched) Northbridge, in the thick of bars, restaurants and cultural venues and 10 minutes trot to the CBD.
From the team that founded the Little Creatures brewery in Fremantle, Alex Hotel is a lovely concoction. It has 74 rooms over six floors of a former National Australia Bank, in several styles including Nook, Cosy and Roomy.
On my first night I try a Cosy on the third floor and it's fine for a single traveller, with a door opening onto a balcony overlooking James Street and a small rectangular en suite. The noise from street level on the first night wakes me a few times so it's not an entirely successful introduction but I'm told the seals on the double-glazed windows are due to be improved.
On my second night, I move to the more spacious Roomy, on a quieter corner, and sleep right through. Rooms have no tea and coffee making facilities or mini bar, encouraging guests to venture into the communal bar/breakfast area on the mezzanine level, or the lobby cafe.
These communal spaces are colourful, welcoming and classically modern. There are interesting furniture choices including brightly coloured sofas and banquettes and the art is striking, from sculptures on shelves along with rows of chunky tomes on design and architecture to some eye-catching canvases on the walls.
The Alex manages to be simultaneously a la mode sparse and bohemian cluttered and the hanging lights lend themselves perfectly to that impression, rounded off by white and light grey walls and polished concrete ceilings and exposed Little Creatures-style pipes overhead.
Designers wanted to create the feel of a modish European home and the Alex's interior wouldn't look out of place in Berlin or Copenhagen. It's another sign that Perth is rapidly firing ahead thanks to a new generation of hoteliers, restaurateurs and bar owners.
There seems to be building work going on everywhere in the WA capital, including the Elizabeth Quay development, which will make the Swan River central to the city and the Treasury/Cathedral precinct, with another boutique hotel at its core, opening in September this year.
In-room bells and whistles are minimal but free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel and little touches like a bedside notepad with pencil and sharpener and wastepaper baskets in the bathrooms make me smile. The television in my Roomy doesn't work but impressively there are no other technical teething problems six days after opening.
The Cosy is exactly as you'd expect, almost veering towards Japanese in its size and minimalism but you're most likely not staying in Northbridge to stare at your room walls. Beds in both rooms are accommodatingly big and firm, bathrooms have overhead and handheld showers and a separate toilet area. The decor in guest rooms is pleasantly unfussy.
Plaudits, too, for the multicultural staff, emanating from places as diverse as Finland and Africa, who are chatty and attentive.
The breakfast spread on the mezzanine level isn't huge but it's inviting with fresh loaves of bread, cereal offerings in jars, delicious muffins and flasks of filter coffee and hot water for tea. Barista-made coffee is available at a premium and I think that's a mistake for a modern hotel, as is the pricing of wine by the glass ($14 for a Margaret River Chardonnay). But there are many other options close by. The hotel's free, stylish Lekker bikes give you even more scope.
On the street, Saturday night in Northbridge is sadly reminiscent of Sydney's Kings Cross with boozed-up blokes and women tottering on high heels and Bacardi Breezers. On Sunday morning, the scene changes as groups of happy families and friends queue on the street outside several yum cha joints. Northbridge is a grungy beast which will mature as Perth does. Having said that the bars and restaurants I visit on an excellent "Two Feet and a Heartbeat" walking tour, such as the rooftop Mechanics Institute bar overlooking William Street and the Standard, a superb new restaurant on nearby Roe Street, are exceptionally convivial and demure.
The hotel's European home concept really works and while rooms are not spectacular, it's the perfect bolthole from which to experience the "new Perth" vibe.
Alex Hotel, 50 James Street, Northbridge, Perth. Cosy rooms from $255 per night; Comfy $265; and Roomy $305, all inclusive of continental breakfast. Phone (08) 6430 4000, see www.alexhotel.com.au
The writer was a guest of the hotel and Tourism WA.