Pier One started off in 1912 as a ferry passenger terminal and cargo wharf in the already maritime-and history-rich Dawes Point, and was converted to a hotel in 1998. It has undergone several improvements, most recently a 2019 refurbishment, and is managed by Marriott International.
The hotel hunkers almost under the southern end of the Harbour Bridge and is part of elegantly restyled old wharfs in Walsh Bay arts and restaurant hub. You couldn't be better placed to enjoy Sydney, with The Rocks historical precinct, newly developed Barangaroo, Circular Quay and the Opera House within an easy walk.
Don't be fooled by the hotel's unprepossessing grey exterior. The interior deftly marries industrial leftovers such as original flooring and ironwork with contemporary style and glimmering harbour outlooks. That said, the hotel could do with a refresh, since interiors look fatigued and not as sparkling as they ought to be. As this is a boutique hotel, amenities are limited. Although without a gym or pool, harbour-hugging promenades for jogging pass outside the door, and guests can borrow fitness equipment and follow Flow Athletic classes on the in-room television.
I'm in room 238, which has a Juliet balcony that, when the floor-to-ceiling window is rolled back, nicely opens up the interior to Walsh Bay views and breezes. The colour palette is subdued, which creates a contemporary look and relaxing ambience. Everything you want is here, such as a coffee machine, upscale toiletries and speedy Wi-Fi; the only welcome extra would be a second armchair. Happily, this guestroom never gets distracted from its primary purpose, a decent night's sleep. Big thumbs up to the blackout blind, exceedingly comfortable king-size bed and marshmallow-perfect pillows.
The bathroom in contrast has its disappointments. Though stylish, it's cramped compared to the overall size of the room and, although the shower space is generous, water pressure is lethargic. While it no longer surprises me that hotel design so frequently indulges in impracticalities, Pier One wins a special prize for a tap so low to the sink that I can barely get my hands under it.
Breakfast is a joy, with friendly and attentive staff and a small but delicious buffet of choices such as pastries, salmon, fruit and cereals. Also included is coffee and a hot dish made to order; I have scrambled eggs with mushrooms and bacon on sourdough on the outdoor terrace, where I feel smug watching glum commuters chug past on ferries heading towards Circular Quay.
The Gantry Restaurant, which previously earned a chef's hat from the Good Food Guide, has just reopened for a limited preview season, while Bar One dishes up a range of snacks, share plates, salads and mains including lamb rump, snapper and tiger-prawn linguine.
Walsh Bay has numerous dining options just along the boardwalk, including the excellent Jounieh Lebanese restaurant (jounieh.com.au). The Rocks, a short walk away, has abundant dining options.
A good chunk of the CBD's northern end is nearby, but you could spend time in Walsh Bay (walshbaysydney.com), where you'll find theatres, exhibition spaces, restaurants and a couple of interesting boutiques. Keep going and you're into Barangaroo Reserve (barangaroo.com), one of Sydney's most recently created harbour foreshores.
Meanwhile a 10-minute walk takes you to Observatory Hill Park, an overlooked slice of Sydney that brings new angles on harbour views. Heritage Sydney Observatory (maas.museum/sydney-observatory) offers an alternative evening out, but check for reopening, as it's currently closed for renovations.
Pier One combines heritage vibe and contemporary chic and sits in an arty enclave that hovers under the radar, despite being so well located for city sightseeing. Though it could do with a bit of TLC, the hotel has a cheerful vibe, and staff are exceedingly pleasant and helpful.
Rates from $439 a night, including breakfast for two. Drive & Discover package from $699 including two nights in a Heritage Room, valet parking and breakfast for two. Pier One Sydney Harbour, 11 Hickson Road, Sydney, NSW. Phone 1800 780 485, see pieronesydneyharbour.com.au
The asset that all Sydney real estate craves: location. Even better is that, despite being so well positioned, Pier One feels as if it's hidden away.
Parts of the heritage wharf are currently undergoing restoration work, with some construction noise during working hours, though not in the evenings or at weekends.
Brian Johnston was a guest of Destination NSW, see visitnsw.com