A wonderful way to wakeup: A review of the W Melbourne
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On a recent return to Australia after two years away from friends, family and my hometown of Adelaide, I spent a weekend in Melbourne to see how the city had changed during the pandemic. My hotel of choice? The W Melbourne, which officially opened in February 2021 before going through several openings and closures due to the pandemic.
Despite all that, it remained one of Australia’s most-anticipated hotel openings in years, joining another W in Brisbane and preceding a mammoth sister property in Sydney, which is set to open later in 2022.
Like Melbourne itself, this iteration of the W brand provides a nice balance between high design, a sort of casual luxury, and good, old-fashioned Aussie hospitality. Here are my impressions from my recent stay.
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With 294 guest rooms and 29 suites, this outpost of the globally recognized W brand is an overdue addition to Melbourne’s increasingly diverse hotel scene. Often considered Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne proudly celebrates art, music, fashion and nightlife in venues throughout the city. I just wish more of that local joie de vivre were on display at the hotel.
Designed by Australian architecture and interior design firm Hachem, rooms feel less like discotheques than at some other W properties, but the mostly restrained colour palette of black tones balanced by greys and creams doesn’t display many references to the city’s character and favours sleekness over kitsch of any kind.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t eye-catching elements around the property, though. Case in point: a stunning installation above the reception desks by Melbourne artist Rus Kitchin, highlights a profusion of Australian flora and fauna that shines through the otherwise cramped and uninspiring space.
The W concept won’t be for everyone.
It seems to be designed for travellers looking to promptly start the party with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine on check-in, or who want to be close to King Street bars and clubs and enjoy guest rooms perfect for hosting an afterparty.
During my stay, however, the clientele seemed to be seeking relaxation more than dancing until dawn, so some of the hotel’s features are more of a novelty than a necessity. It’s one of Melbourne’s more expensive weekend hotels, so couples or families looking for quiet romance or just relaxation may find more sensible accommodation elsewhere, rather than paying top dollar for the convenience of 24-hour room service, minibar cocktail-making amenities and being only a stumble away from late-night venues.
One pandemic-era note: Under the current government guidelines in the state of Victoria, in-house hotel guests are not required to wear masks within the property, regardless of vaccination status, though staff will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Capacity limits have been removed so venues can be filled to their maximum numbers.
The W Melbourne is located on Flinders Lane in the southwest corner of the city’s central business district (CBD). An Uber ride from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport (MEL) costs between AU$45 and AU$55 ($33 to $40) and takes around 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
You can also catch the Skybus to the Southern Cross train station for AU$19.25 ($14) each way in around the same amount of time. You can then take a tram to the hotel; Melbourne has the world’s largest tram network and they are free within the CBD.
The location isn’t the most picturesque part of the city — the so-called Paris end of Collins Street this is not. As the sun sets and office workers head home, you’re more likely to find strip clubs and kebab shops than high-end boutiques in this corner of the CBD. It’s convenient if you want to dance until dawn but if you’re an early riser you might want to avoid nearby King Street, where the party will still be going long after the sun is up.
The hotel is an easy walk to the Bourke Street Mall and its fancy shops, Federation Square with its museums, the Melbourne Aquarium and across the Yarra to Crown Casino and the wealth of dining and nightlife venues in the Southbank district.
Nightly midweek rates at the W Melbourne start from AU$352 ($259) in the coming months for the base level 375-square-foot Cozy rooms, with prices rising sharply during weekends and special events.
I was staying over a weekend and booking on relatively short notice, so my two-night stay was an average of AU$417 ($306) per night for the base room.
As a Category 6 Marriott Bonvoy property, I could have redeemed 50,000 Bonvoy points for a standard award night, worth around $400 since TPG currently values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.8 cents each. Thus, using cash or points for my dates was roughly the same value, so I booked with cash.
I have mid-tier Gold elite status in the Bonvoy program thanks to my Platinum Card® from American Express and was upgraded from the Cozy room to the slightly larger and more expensive Fabulous room, which would have cost an additional AU$30 ($21) per night had I paid for it.
- The most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in with a super soft mattress, high-quality linens and pillows plump enough to properly support my neck and head.
- A careful balance of moodily lit spaces with splashes of colour throughout the property including references to indigenous flora and fauna like the fairy wren, a bird native to Australia.
- The basement speakeasy, Curious, serves cocktails grouped together under the themes of three Melbourne obsessions: coffee, fashion and art.
- The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance and cramped, awkward lobby are missed opportunities for a luxury brand in a new building, and make for an underwhelming start to the guest experience.
- Saturday night room rates are expensive for Melbourne. Midweek rates are around AU$350 ($250) while prices jump upwards of AU$550 on weekends.
- Even on weekends, the 14th-floor pool saw more toddlers in floaties than celebrities popping bottles, and the pool bar feels like an afterthought with a few cafe tables scattered randomly around the exposed space. It seemed less like a swanky day club than a community swimming pool.
- The Aussie breakfast classic, avocado on toast, was drowning in unnecessary, creamy sauces that weren’t even on the menu.
As Melbourne’s nightclubs continue to recover from “Footloose”-style bans on dancing, singing and even drinking, the W Melbourne might not draw the partying crowds other W hotels often garner.
During my stay, the guest registry seemed to include a mix of couples out for a night of romance away from the kids, but also a fair number of families with small children. I also caught sight of a bridal party preparing for the big day. In general, the tone was unusually restrained; basically, it seemed like folks were just happy to be out of the house.
I did catch a palpable sense of excitement checking in on Friday afternoon. There were grins and a few sly remarks from the laid-back Aussie guests as we boarded elevators up to our respective floors. Whether it was kids begging to go straight to the pool, or couples ready to order room service and perhaps investigate the minibar intimacy kits, everyone was eager for a proper break, even in their home city, after so many lockdowns.
I was nervous opening the door to my first-ever W guest room. Travelling alone and looking for a comfortable sleep in between work meant I didn’t need a disco ball light fixture or hash-tagged pillows some of the brand’s flashier franchises tout.
Stepping inside, though, I found myself in a spacious room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a relatively muted grayscale colour scheme, and just a few grin-inducing cheeky touches such as wall-panelling peeled back like a newspaper being opened (a nod to the street-level news kiosks Melbourne is known for).
As I usually spend at least 50 nights a year in hotels around the world, I can confidently say the bed was the most comfortable hotel bed I have ever slept in. (Though maybe that was partly the jet lag of having travelled from Abu Dhabi the day before.)
Still, the combination of a cloud-like mattress, 300 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, plump pillows and dark and quiet conditions made it difficult to get out of bed each morning.
Less enticing was the mysterious fur hat atop the bed: I still don’t know what this was supposed to be used for and doubt it was cleaned between guests. The minibar listed it as a fascinator that guests could take home for the pricey sum of $299. I can only imagine how it’s used after too many cocktails before being tossed on the floor.
The standout feature of the room was a dramatic, perforated metal fixture, also inspired by the city’s curbside kiosks. It opened up into a wardrobe, while its reverse side shielded the bathroom’s freestanding sink and vanity. The artwork of a female face spray-painted onto the metal grating reminded me of my favourite record label, the disco-inspired Glitterbox, and was just the sort of memorable Club Kid you’d love to meet on the dance floor of a nearby nightclub like The Toff in Town or Brown Alley.
The comprehensive minibar, a W signature, was stocked with full bottles of spirits as well as a sturdy black cocktail shaker, a strainer and glasses ready for an impromptu afterparty. Also for sale were “intimacy kits,” with everything couples might need for an amorous night together, plus “recovery kits” with pain killers and hydration tablets for morning hangovers.
The bathroom featured a wet room with both the shower and bathtub, plus Momo toiletries in small bottles. Graffiti scrawled on the back mirrored wall gave the space a faux-gritty feel, and I appreciated the reference to Melbourne’s Instagrammable (and likewise graffitied) laneways.
The separate water closet with the toilet was the only private space in the room with a door you could close to be alone.
Food and drink
The W Melbourne has a range of food and beverage outlets that keep confusing hours.
The hotel’s ground-floor restaurant, Lollo, is headed up by nearby Coda’s Adam D’Sylva, and currently serves a la carte breakfasts on weekends only; lunch on weekends only; and dinner from Tuesday through Sunday. I assume this is because of reduced demand as the property slowly increases occupancy, but it was bothersome to have to check whether it would be open for one meal versus another.
My first morning, I went for a Melbourne staple: smashed avocado on rye toast with goat cheese ($18), expecting to tuck into a typically fanciful Aussie breakfast plate. When it arrived, however, I was disappointed to find it swimming in creamy pink and white sauces, neither of which added anything to the dish beyond drowning out the other flavours with their similarly heavy cream taste.
At least the coffee was up to scratch.
Dinner at Lollo was a more successful affair. My cousin joined me for a long-overdue catch-up and we shared a perfectly cooked and seasoned rib-eye steak ($62) and a special of cheesy gnocchi ($21).
Warabi is the hotel’s high-end Japanese omakase restaurant on the ground level with a set menu for dinner starting at AU$245 ($180) per person for food only. With just 29 seats surrounding a single live cooking station, it was an intriguing concept, but beyond my budget.
The basement speakeasy, Curious, is hidden behind an unmarked door on Market Street. A dramatic canopy of timber beams adorns the ceiling while the cocktail menu celebrates Melbourne’s famous art scene, coffee and fashion.
I won’t spoil the surprise but recommend the Smoke On The Runway from the fashion menu ($18) and get the camera ready for its arrival. Bookings are essential even for in-house guests since the bar gets busy.
For my final service, I ordered the Skip the Sugar set menu via room service for AU$36 ($26), which included a cup of crudites with charcoal hummus and a tomato-avocado tartine, which was thankfully free of the previous day’s sauces, and overall a far more satisfying offering.
Amenities and service
The hotel’s 14th floor houses the hotel’s FIT gym and WET pool. I was expecting Nikki Beach-style party scenes at the pool, especially on weekends, but the DJ booth was empty, and children splashed around excitedly, making enough noise to drown out the soft soundtrack playing over the speakers.
Given the W’s traditional focus on drinking and frivolity (each morning saw empty glasses and bottles strewn around the pool area), I was surprised to see the pool remained opened and unsupervised throughout the night; this seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Given its location and views through the windows, this pool area could have been a stunner, but instead, it just felt staid and standard. The handful of cafe tables at the pool bar didn’t feel inviting, and other guests seemed to feel the same since no one sat there during my visits.
The spacious gym contained new weight and cardio equipment and boasted the same dramatic views of the city skyline as the pool.
The staff I encountered around the property were enthusiastic and seemed genuinely happy to finally be helping real, live guests after the hotel’s complicated opening, closing and reopening drama.
That said, the front desk agents did struggle to process a gaggle of guests all arriving at the 3 p.m. check-in time because of how cramped and awkwardly shaped the lobby was and how little seating was available for guests or space for their luggage.
Out and about
The W Melbourne is located near what is usually considered the “less desirable” end of Collins Street near King Street, where there are plenty of nightclubs, late-night bars and even strip clubs. Here, police keep a close eye on revellers late into the night.
For a more upscale evening, head directly across the Yarra River to Southbank where you’ll find plenty of buzzy restaurants and bars on the waterfront with great views of the CBD. For a cheap and cheerful Vietnamese banh mi on the go, one of my favourite takeaway spots is N. Lee Bakery at 422 Collins Street.
With the city’s proud history of excellent cuisine, exciting nightlife, classic art and avant-garde fashion, Melbourne is a natural fit for the W brand.
That said, while convenient for nighttime entertainment and sunrise takeaway orders, the hotel’s location is probably at the wrong end of Collins Street for a hotel trying to establish itself as a luxury lifestyle landmark.
The Living Room lobby is not somewhere to linger due to the lack of space. However, the mix of dark tones and colour in the guest rooms is sophisticated and inviting.
For now, the guests seem to be mostly families enjoying the pool, and exhausted parents looking for a proper night’s sleep in those fantastic beds. Nonetheless, this still felt like an excellent addition to Melbourne’s hotel scene, and one where I’d stay again.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy.
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