A new addition to Melbourne's seemingly unending stable of funky accommodations, Zagame's House is a renovation worthy of a TV show. Hotelier brothers Victor and Robert Zagame splurged $18 million to transfer the former motor inn on the site into a clever and colourful 97-room boutique hotel and, despite its insalubrious previous iteration as the Downtowner on Lygon, a few locals still refer to it by that name.
Residing at the southern end of cosmopolitan Lygon Street - Melbourne's Little Italy - there is no shortage of ristorantes, trattorias, cafes and pizza joints nearby. Cappuccino and cannoli, grappa and gelato, limoncello and linguini, negroni and Nonna food. You could spend a week just drinking, eating and shopping your way through this homage to La Bella Italia.
Whether it's a deliberate nod to the site's heritage or a directive from feng shui consultant Edgar Lok Tin Yung to maximise the Qi, the outlook from the interior car park still looks like a motel. But that's where the resemblance ends. The reception area is warm and welcoming with fires, plush lounges and a coffee bar. This is also where the Zagame's House art attack begins, a theme that continues throughout. Bright, colourful artworks, murals and installations by Karl Gordon, Ryan Foote, Rosie Wood and Robert's partner Lulu Zagame (who also designed the staff uniforms) vivify the digs.
Zagame's House offers four room options. Clever notes fill my sound-proofed 30-square-metre one bedroom and small living room Corner Room, including a Bluetooth sound system, coffee maker, unlimited Wi-Fi, Cowshed toiletries and pop up USB and power points. Behind a huge sliding door off the bedroom is a double shower and double vanity with variable-lighting and de-misting mirrors. But the highlight is the mini bar, which offers a cocktail-making kit, top-end spirits and a choice of no fewer than 18 bottles of wine.
Lord Lygon Wine Shop is a serious spot for a drink, with a wine list that extends to eclectic Australian, New Zealand and European varietals, fortifieds, cocktails, whiskeys and craft beers. A limited menu still provides diverse options, from share plates including a "toastie of the day" (think meatballs, Brie and/or truffle), plus duck sang choy bau and popcorn chicken to a choice of three mains - wet lamb with spatzle and gremolata, chermoula John Dory cooked in a bag and wagyu sirloin with trimmings. There's also a fine selection of cow, sheep, goat and buffalo milk cheeses and salumi. With LL-monogrammed plates, exposed pipes, heavily remixed music and a pumpkin tart for desert, Lord Lygon is fabulously and archetypically Melbourne.
1851 Coffee Kitchen, named for the year Carlton was founded, is the a-la-carte breakfast and coffee venue. Maintain the Melb-vibe and try the hemp seed hotcake or breakfast ramen.
Start with coffee at the hard-to-find-but-well-worth-the-effort Vertue Coffee Roasters and drop into Brunetti, Lygon's iconic Roman Pasticceria for a pastry and top-up espresso. For fine-dining lunch and dinner, make a reservation at Carlton Wine Room or Agostino, or just take pot luck and do the Lygon Street shuffle. Chances are, even if you wander into a less than five-star tratt, you'll still have a fun feast.
Alternatively, just pocket a supply of pistachio biscotti and take the 20-minute stroll - or even shorter tram ride – into the CBD for a taste of the nation's finest theatres, shopping, sport, museums and galleries.
Hospitable and sustainable, arty and smart, great location and glam accommodation.
House Rooms from $158 a night; Corner Rooms from $218 a night. See zagameshouse.com.au
Gorgeous rooms and a glorious bar.
For a desperate footy fan, no Foxtel was a howler.
Mal Chenu was a guest of Zagame's House.