In the trove of job titles, "master storyteller" must rate among the best. At MACq01, the title belongs to Justin Johnston and it is an excellent fit as he colours in the local history for guests at this smart Hobart hotel, revealing the rich and sometimes scandalous stories of this wharf and this area in its eras past. Take one of his tours to really get a sense of place and get behind the scenes of the old Hunter Street buildings, the haunts and hangouts of its former inhabitants and discover some traces they left behind
Built, as Johnston will tell you, on an area once known as Old Wharf, the new structure is clad in timber designed to fade in the sea and sun of Sullivans Cove on Hobart's waterfront. Here you're close to the CBD and close enough to the various bars, restaurants and other attractions around that waterfront.
The Lounge in the hotel lobby acknowledges Hobart's Indigenous past, with artefacts and installations like an extraordinary ceiling that resembles the kelp of the coast. On one side of the Lounge is Evolve Spirits Bar, recently named Australia's Hotel Bar of the Year and Tasmania's Cocktail Bar of the Year and setting for the "Overeem Experience"; a curated tasting of single malt whiskies. Turn in the other direction at the lounge and you'll walk through the Old Wharf Restaurant to the Story Bar, with everything from smart cocktails to local wines and Tasmanian draught beers, served with a backdrop of newspaper front pages from decades past.
Each room comes with a character, as well as its own character. Ours is named for Deny King, a pioneer of Tasmania's south-west and there's a little display case at the entrance where something of Deny's story unfolds. It's a Superior Waterfront room, looking out over the water with a couple of tugs tied up just below our balcony. The windows are big, as is the room, with a view all the way up to kunanyi/Mount Wellington. The interior is clean, with the only art a spectacular panelled print at the bed head. There's a neat mini-bar and coffee making station and a vast bathroom with walk-in robes as you enter the area and a walk-in shower beyond. A long bench that doubles as a desk and lounge chairs and coffee table are welcome inclusions.
There are options aplenty nearby, or even just across the way at the sister Henry Jones Art hotel and its Landscape or Peacock & Jones restaurants, but there's really no need to go beyond the Old Wharf Restaurant at MACq01 for innovative dishes that make the best of fresh, mainly Tasmanian ingredients - we rest our case with an entree of a BBQ Seafood Plate (scallops, squid and octopus from local waters) and King Island eye fillet and chips for main. The beef sublime, and the chips, well, just get Tasmanians started on their potatos and you'll be there for a while.
The ferry to Hobart's best-known art gallery, Mona, is a couple of wharves away, but walk for a few minutes towards the city from MACq01 and you're at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (Dunn Place Hobart, see tmag.tas.gov.au) and until February 20 it is hosting an exhibition of Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly series from the National Gallery of Australia - it's a rare chance to see such landmark paintings in such an uncrowded setting. The museum also has some engaging natural history exhibits telling the stories of Tasmania's unique flora and fauna. Beyond that, Salamanca is nearby for its Saturday markets and everyday bars. In the other direction, the sanctuary of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens is a 15-minute walk away (gardens.rtbg.tas.gov.au).
With the mid-December opening of The Tasman in Hobart's Parliamentary precinct, MACq01 has been presented with some serious competition, but it has plenty of substance to fall back on. MACq01 is a hotel with depth, a venue that takes history seriously but delivers it and its many stories in light-hearted style. The food, the bars, the rooms and the public spaces are a level above, as is the location.
Rooms from $330 a night. 18 Hunter Street, Hobart. Phone (03) 6210 7600. See macq01.com.au
For a history buff, the way the hotel brings together the stories of its past is quite exceptional.
The buffet has bombed in COVID, but the substitute fruit and pastry platter didn't quite match the standard of MACq01's otherwise excellent food.
Jim Darby was a guest of MACq01.