I really struggle to find somewhere in Melbourne that I’d go
back to again and again. My most constant choice is the Westin because of its
proximity to loads of good stuff in the city – Fed Square is across the road,
Flinders Lane and Degraves Street just a few strides away. But I’m the first to
admit that aside from the Bill Henson photography adorning the walls, it’s a
fairly dull choice.
Enter a quirky contender – the Middle Park Hotel is located on busy Canterbury Road, about 5 minutes drive from the city and handily just opposite the tram stop (and local café of choice Mart 130) and a short stroll to the village strips of Middle Park and Albert Park, with their upmarket cafes, wine bars, bookstores and quirky boutiques to cater to the young urban family demographic.
The hotel is another of Melbourne’s grand old pubs and this one is a cracker, in the mould of The Prince in St Kilda but a lot more pubby. It’s had a full makeover by wunderkind architects Six Degrees who have managed to incorporate 29 sleek little rooms into the top two floors of the pub, most with views out over Albert Park and the lake, or onto leafy Armstrong Street.
The standard rooms are small but very well designed with black tiled bathrooms, white plantation shutters and khaki vinyl sofas. Original Rennie Ellis prints provide a splash of colour and a little Melbourne history. Luxurious they are not, but the rooms are well thought out, comfortable, and best of all, an absolute bargain. They are equipped with everything you could want, including a locked “X” drawer containing an intimacy kit and polaroid camera for the very frisky. I’m not sure where the key was, which is probably a flaw as you wouldn’t really want to ring down to reception to ask for it.
The King Suites and Apartment have the same palette but are much more spacious and flooded with natural light. These are a great alternative to a hotel room if you don't mind being out of the city.
The ground floor of the pub houses Melbourne’s largest freestanding bar, a European style beergarden, and a very popular restaurant headed by Paul Wilson (ex-Botanical) and David Marshall. We dined in one night and were offered a steak of dinosauric proportion, and aged nearly as long. Impressive.
There’s a real focus on sport, and big events see the hotel packed out for live telecasts, or, in the case of the Melbourne Grand Prix, live action as the Red Bull Team use it as Team HQ. The sporting emphasis is just part of the hotel’s retained history, which is also evidenced in the paraphernalia decorating the public spaces, old school (but newly designed) monogrammed carpet and creaky staircase. Staff (who are some of the loveliest ever) get about in rugby tops and jeans and make everyone’s life pleasant.
I’ll be back there sometime soon without a doubt.