So, Mr Hilton, was it something we said? Five years no less since it decamped from Melbourne, the Hilton's eponymous flagship brand is back with a bang as audible as a late night guest room door slam and, what's more, in a showstopper building with which to showcase its comeback. The 244-room Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, which opened earlier this year, was commissioned to satisfy the pre-pandemic international tourism boom, as well as the Victorian capital's event-rich domestic appeal. Unfortunate timing or not, the world's most recognisable hotel brand's stunning new establishment spectacularly draws together Melbourne's uncertain present-day with its decidedly illustrious past.
Although called Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, the hotel in fact faces the less romantic-sounding Bourke Street, close to the centre of the CBD and its shopping heart with free city trams running regularly right out the front door. However, the rather discreet reception is not on Bourke Street but instead secreted away on Little Queen Street, opposite a street-art style mural reflected in a series of external swivelled bronze panels fronting the petite lobby.
Contrasting the Melbourne trend for contemporary, and at times way out hotels such as the W Melbourne, Next and Ovolo South Yarra, the Hilton Melbourne sits on the site of Victoria's first synagogue and is chiefly housed in its successor, the early 1930s Equity Chambers building. Brilliantly designed and restored by the architectural firm Bates Smart, the modern, 16-storey tower is, commendably, set well back from the original inter-war Romanesque-style chambers. The heritage gem, the erstwhile home of the Equity Trustees Company as well as the chambers of city law firms, is sympathetically connected with the tower by a glamorous, lower-rise atrium-style space. This houses Luci, the excellent in-house restaurant, as well as the Douglas Club, a snug 1930s-style art deco cocktail bar, spread over two rooms and facing Bourke Street. Here the mere act of moving to from the hotel's heritage and modern wings is a little like entering and exiting Melbourne's past and present.
My contemporary but not showy king deluxe room has all of the expected five-star mod cons, floor to ceiling windows and a soothing palette of blue, grey and white tonings. Located on an upper level of the modern tower block, the billed city views are mostly a jumble of uninspiring tower blocks. Each guest room features prints by Roger Arnall, a Melbourne art photographer and former Bates Smart director. His minimalist images capture selected Melbourne landmarks. If you'd prefer to gain a sense of the original building, with most of its gorgeous original features intact, book one of the timber-panelled suites inside the elegant Equity Chambers wing with its wonderful antique elevators.
Yes. There is food. Lots of it. This is Melbourne, after all, and even after what it's endured during multiple lockdowns, the CBD is still an epicurean epicentre. You must sample Luci's modern Australian, Italian-tinged menu, if only to soak up its extraordinary Manhattan-esque ambience. You won't be disappointed by the cuisine or the service. Beyond the hotel, and within an easy stroll, is Chancery Lane, a moody, modern interpretation of the classic European bistro and the latest restaurant of the stellar Melbourne chef Scott Pickett, and located in the former home of Iki-Jime Seafood by Vue.
Melbourne's CBD needs your love and, with such a central location, it awaits you in all of its retail, culinary and cultural form with there's more than enough to keep you entertained over a weekend or a mid-week stay. Half a block away is the vibrant Hardware Lane, the old stager of Melbourne laneways, still tooled-up with restaurants, cafes and bars stretching along and around the Lonsdale and Bourke Streets nexus. Further afield, the National Gallery of Victoria's She-Oak and Sunlight Australian impressionism exhibition continues until August 21 at Federation Square where you can also get reel and head off to the recently reimagined Australian Centre for the Moving Image. But, as ever with any Melbourne CBD stay, the mere act of weaving in and out of its handsome streets and lively laneways, with a stop here and a stop there, is satisfaction enough for this reviewer.
This rather un-Hilton Hilton is a welcome addition to not only the suddenly bloated though formidable Melbourne accommodation scene but to the fabric of the CBD with the sensitive, yet imaginative, revival of one of its finest heritage piles.
The sympathetic restoration of the heritage-listed Equity Trustees building and the teaming of it with a modern tower makes for a rewarding and enriching stay.
It's a pity that the hotel, like so many others, has opened at a difficult time when its considerable appeal can't be fully appreciated by international and to a lesser extent domestic guests.
Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street.