The Star Grand, Sydney.
On Darling Harbour in Pyrmont, the Star Grand is part of the Star Sydney casino complex, with all its various entertainments and dining venues. It's easily accessible from the CBD via the Pyrmont pedestrian bridge or on the light rail. First opened in 1995, the Star remains Australia's second-largest casino, after Melbourne's Crown, since the enormous Crown Sydney isn't currently allowed to operate its casino facilities.
While the Darling Hotel, also part of the complex, has some degree of separation from the casino, the Star Grand is more closely integrated with it, with the reception adjacent to the escalators leading up to the casino floor. Formerly the Astral Residences, the hotel was rebranded in 2019 as the Star Grand and launched with the opening of a striking digital art display in the foyer, integrated with a two-storey-high water feature. There's a pool (now subject to capacity limits due to COVID-19) and gym. While there's no spa at the Star Grand, guests can access the labyrinthine spa at the Darling for all the usual treatments.
There are six different room types among the hotel's 309 rooms, ranging from "Superior King Room" (yes, the starting room features a king-sized bed) up to the two split-level penthouses, which feature two bedrooms, separate lounge and dining areas and your own butler.
I'm on the seventh floor, which is home to the hotel's premium suites - huge three-room spaces with separate bedroom and living areas. The bathroom is also spacious, featuring a large tub, shower with two settings, two sinks and toiletries from Appelles. There's also a second toilet and sink by the door. A kitchenette features a coffee machine, kettle and sink. The rooms feature large terraces though those at the northern end have their views blocked by the dome-like structure at the front of the building. The decor features black marble surfaces but there's been an issue in preparing them for the wear and tear of hotel use - the coffee table and bench tops are stained with the rings of dozens of coffee cups and spillages. While much of the decor feels geared towards the Asian market, the bathroom's tiles arranged into a simple mosaic offers a more Mediterranean feel.
There's a vast range of dining options available within the Star complex, including several new eateries that arrived during the rebrand phase. Highlights include Flying Fish and Black Bar and Grill. Both enjoy panoramic views to Darling Harbour, though the similarities end when it comes to the menu. As the name suggest, Flying Fish specialises in seafood and while there's an extensive menu, it's hard to go past the platter featuring oysters, ocean trout sashimi, Moreton Bay bugs, prawns, scallops and more. Black is all about the steaks and there are 11 cuts to choose from, including a Waygu tasting plate, which is fabulous. While both are excellent, they're also expensive, so if your budget is limited try one of the many more casual dining options in the complex.
Unlike Crown Sydney, its new rival across the harbour (where regulators have refused to allow casino operations to begin after an inquiry found Crown unfit to hold a gambling licence) Star's casino is open, 24 hours a day, if that's your thing. But the complex is also home to one of the city's major theatre venues, the lyric theatre. Starting this month, the theatre will host the hottest musical to come out of Broadway in many years: Hamilton. The story of one of America's founding fathers, told through a mix of jazz, hip-hop and R 'n' B, will star Jason Arrow, most recently seen on stage in Disney's Aladdin.
Sydney's original casino may have been overshadowed recently by the hype surrounding the new complex at Barangaroo, but it still feels fresh and fun.
Rooms at the Star Grand start from $219 per night. See https://www.star.com.au/sydney/hotels-and-spa/the-star-grand
The dining and entertainment options within the Star complex mean you never have to leave, but the location means it's a short walk or ride on the light rail to the heart of the city.
The bathroom is guilty of one of the most heinous crimes of modern hotel design - while the glass on the shower door is frosted, the glass on the toilet door isn't, meaning your roommate can see you from the bath or sink while you do your business.
The writer stayed as a guest of Star Sydney.