HIGHLIGHT Smart design is a smart investment; it shines throughout.
LOWLIGHT The room is slow to heat during a cold Melbourne stay.
Coppersmith Hotel, South Melbourne
If it wasn't for the absence of gaudy brewery signage on its roof and facade, Coppersmith Hotel could be mistaken for any other pub in South Melbourne, the ancestral home of the Sydney Swans Australian Rules team. But walk inside and all comparisons end at this newly renovated hotel at the leafy end of Clarendon Street, just an F1 speedster's glove toss away from the Australian Grand Prix circuit. Sure, the hotel, which opened a year ago this month, is a little removed from the Victorian capital's CBD but trams regularly operate and taxis are readily available. A short stroll away you'll find a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants.
The pub, which is named after Ebenezer Drummond Menzies Thomson, a local coppersmith who went on to become a mayor of South Melbourne between 1913-14, used to be the Cricket Club Hotel (complete, presumably, with gaudy brewery signage on its roof). That was until the owner decided to hit the old pub for six, completely gutting the property save for its attractive, historic facade. Melbourne architects, Hassell – a joint partner in the massive redevelopment of Sydney's Darling Harbour convention and exhibition spaces – was engaged to design the modern (though happily, hipster touches-free) interior with 15 guestrooms. And while they appear to have been given full licence, they have shown considerable and considered restraint in their focus on timber, leather and, yes, copper finishes. Upstairs, there is a small rooftop deck delivering on one side, stunning, uninterrupted views of Melbourne's city skyline and on the other, panoramas of parklands.
Right down to the quirky bright yellow wardrobe interior to nifty furnishings, mirrors and lighting, my relatively compact, well-designed room overlooking Clarendon Street is a stylish, contemporary treat. The room's walls are a combination of painted brick from the facade and timber panelling with the colour scheme consisting of pleasing black and beige tones.
A few quibbles: on a bleak and frigid winter's day in Melbourne the room with its three large windows took a little while to heat. And it's also difficult to access the power point for a laptop under the table-cum-desk on which the TV resides and I found the in-room espresso machine hard to operate as well as locating a place to put it and plug it in.
I can hear the trams trundling below but it's more a pleasant reminder of being in Melbourne than it is bothersome, though that may not be the case during the Melbourne Grand Prix.
Downstairs, there's a small French-style bistro, where service can be a tad unpolished at times, and a decent bar menu, featuring dishes such as fish pies, burgers and steaks, with premium wines on the tap (yes, that's right) behind the bar. Low-key room service is also available. Good food is never far away in Melbourne with a plethora of restaurants just up the street with other dining hot spots like South Yarra and St Kilda within easy reach by car or taxi.
The hotel is at the quieter end of Clarendon Street but, as mentioned, everything you could need to sustain and amuse yourself is within a short stroll. Albert Park Lake, around which that Formula One race is still controversially run, is a few minutes walk away while up the road is the popular South Melbourne Market, a more diminutive version of its more famous Queen Victoria counterpart at the other end of town, which dates to 1867.
In a world of pretenders, Coppersmith is an authentic boutique design hotel. It's a smart, in every sense of the word, alternative to a conventional CBD hotel, complete with plentiful good food and wine on the premises in highly decorous surroundings. The hotel is also an exemplar of the value of investing in quality design, to create a unique and thoroughly enjoyable small-scale, big-city accommodation.
The writer was a guest of Mr and Mrs Smith and Coppersmith Hotel.