The East Hotel is emblematic of an emerging Canberra, writes Sarah Maguire.
The East Hotel is located between Kingston and Manuka, two fashionable Canberra neighbourhoods known for restaurants, cafes, shopping and, in the case of the former, the excellent Old Bus Depot Markets every Sunday.
A new-build hotel in 2012, the East comprises 4½-star serviced apartments, ranging from studios to two-bedders. Owner Dan Bisa says the East has more edge to it than a chain hotel and he's right; a funky vibe is in evidence as soon as you walk into the carefully designed lobby. The walls are draped in large-scale photographic portraits of women in an exhibition on until May 28, an assortment of designer seating is scattered about on which you can read the magazines and newspapers laid out for all-comers, and lollies in glass jars are yours for the taking. Such edge is also symbolic of a Canberra that is slowly unpeeling the "boring" Post-it note that's been stuck to it for, well, forever. "Canberra is making its own soul," says Bisa, who grew up there. "You can be very easily surprised about Canberra."
We have a one-bedroom apartment that interconnects with a kids' cubby - bunk beds, bean bags, a drawing corner and an Xbox have the six-year-old squealing with delight. While it is a serviced apartment, it also feels like a smart, contemporary hotel room - albeit a spacious one, with lounging area, desk, small dining table and a kitchen with all you need to cook your own dinner. There is also a washing machine and dryer, 25 channels on the TV and a large selection of movies at $10 a pop. On the walls are framed photographs of gritty urban scenes, while in the kids' cubby the pictures are of Star Wars Lego figures on skateboards and little yellow Lego heads in pea pods. Super cool (and sourced from the Red Bubble online art community).
If I were a lobbyist on business in Canberra, I would think this hotel a fine place to kick back in between meetings. As a weekend family getaway, it is equally welcoming for those rest times amid frantic museum hopping (although, as Bisa attests, there is increasingly more to do in Canberra than this). You can lounge about, make a snack, sit on the balcony, watch a movie (the mini-bar in the kids' cubby includes popcorn); and, when it's time, climb into a king bed with those supersoft bed-toppers we have come to expect in hotels of a certain rating.
Ox Eatery, to the side of the hotel lobby, is a French-inspired restaurant which features rotisserie-cooked meats and offers a whole suckling pig on a board for $800, if you give three days' notice. We stick to the tasting plates, dining on delicious haloumi, arancini balls, herb-crusted rare beef and Pernod prawns. Breakfast highlights include bircher muesli in little stewing jars and a pancake-making machine.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
Naturally, the national capital has a surfeit of national attractions, but which to pick? With a six-year-old in tow, Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, is a no-brainer. As the junior goth is also set on seeing Phar Lap's heart, we visit the National Museum, too.
There is a growing buzz about the capital, and this hotel - which prides itself on giving its guests an insider's view of the city - is a scene-setter for a Canberra that may at last be finding its groove.
HOW TO GET THERE
Canberra is a three-hour drive from Sydney, seven hours from Melbourne, or a 20-minute taxi ride from the Canberra airport.
East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston ACT, phone (02) 6295 6925, see easthotel.com.au. Studios from $180, one-bedroom apartments from $220, two-bedroom from $380.
The writer was a guest of East Hotel.