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The similarities between Sydney and Los Angeles have been well-documented except for one: When it rains, nobody goes outside. It doesn't help if the rainfall occurs on Christmas Day, when practically all shops, attractions and restaurants are closed.
So imagine my dismay that one of only two nights spent in Sydney was on an uncharacteristically dreary Dec. 25.
Fortunately, I had passed up Sydney’s harbor- and beach-side hotels to test out a newcomer in the heart of Sydney’s central business district (CBD), a neighborhood full of high-end shopping and cuisine. Knowing that most attractions would be closed, I had opted for a property that promised to be a destination onto itself.
The only Design Hotel in Sydney, QT Sydney is the flagship property of Australia’s QT Hotels & Resorts, a fast-growing, design-forward brand that launched in 2011 with QT Gold Coast and includes QT Port Douglas, QT Falls Creek and a few more in the hopper (QT Canberra, QT Melbourne and QT Perth).
Like hip hotels cropping up in other major downtown areas — such as the new Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles — QT Sydney is not located in any ol’ building. The property occupies two historic structures that opened in 1929. One is the still operational State Theatre, the other is the once bustling Gowings department store, which shuttered in 2006.
While the past inspires QT Sydney, it’s no throwback hotel. A three-year renovation restored the gothic features of the facades, but the interior features modern-day technology and a bold, eccentric aesthetic that embraces everything from LED lighting and art deco patterns to wood paneling and pop art color.
When designing the Sydney property, QT waved a quirky, tech-savvy magical wand to history. Like a sprawling department store or a well-staged theatrical performance, each dazzling detail vies for the guest’s attention, creating an exciting and stimulating atmosphere for guests to explore.
The lobby, for example, contains a “furniture wall,” an installation of wooden and vinyl cabinets, drawers and suitcases — including a baby blue Pan Am trunk — that are mashed up into something decidedly contemporary.
QT Sydney is eclectic, fashion-forward and often cheeky, as reflected by the property’s doorperson, or “Director of Chaos.” // © 2014 QT Sydney
The Directors of Chaos escort guests to the lobby, which is located on the second floor and away from the bustle of Market Street. // © 2014 QT Sydney
QT Sydney occupies two of the city’s historic buildings: the former Gowings department store and the still-operational State Theatre. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Pricy and stylish, the Gilt Lounge is one of Sydney’s most impressive cocktail bars. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Gilt overlooks the Gowings Bar & Grill, a European-style brasserie and open kitchen equipped with a wood-fired oven and a wood rotisserie. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Daily live oysters, wood roasted garlic snails and chilled organic chicken salad with quail eggs are a few of the options at Gowings Bar & Grill. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Find a treatment on the SpaQ website by selecting how you feel: “Run down,” “like a boss,” “hungover” and “like getting dolled up” are options. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Men are a target demographic for QT Sydney, which features the old-school style SpaQ Barber Shop. // © 2014 QT Sydney
QT Sydney rooms reflect the brand’s focus on bold and eclectic design, as well as luxury. // © 2014 QT Sydney
Curated by the QT’s food and beverage staff, items range from top-shelf liquor and organic beet chips to an emergency bowtie “for all formal emergencies.” // © 2014 QT Sydney
The state suites feature a curated art collection and balconies that overlook Sydney’s CBD. // © 2014 QT Sydney
At check-in, I even heard a pair of business travelers remark that though they didn’t get to explore much of Sydney, they felt like they had seen a piece of the city — just by staying at the QT. By that point of my stay, a young porter in suspenders, a black cap and a bright blue shirt had taken our bags, and I had met the QT’s “Director of Chaos,” a pretty girl outfitted in black dress, tights and hat and a bright red wig. Responsible for hailing cabs and escorting guests from the busy Market Street entrance, our perfectly made up Chaos girl led us through the downstairs cafe — where the legs of the swivel chairs are clad in fishnets — to the upstairs lobby.
And, not to be outdone, the elevator transporting us to the second floor greeted us in song. Since we were a group of four, we swayed to “Groove Is in the Heart,” though the elevator also plays fitting tunes for duos (“Just The Two of Us”) and singles (“All By Myself”).
Most of us haven’t considered how much better our elevator experience could be, but who hasn’t bemoaned the sad contents of a minibar? QT had us covered with a quirky selection that included organic snacks and an emergency bow tie. As I explored the in-room cocktail set-up in a cozy black QT robe, my brother was text messaging with a local. He asked for a dinner suggestion that had the best food, a hip atmosphere and excellent craft cocktails: He was told to go to the hotel’s own Gowings Bar & Grill — seriously. Of course, we visited the European-style brasserie — headed by creative food director and Australian celebrity restaurateur Robert Marchetti — several times during our stay, loving the dinner scene the most.
A hip, stylish, tech-savvy young professional who loves good food and great cocktails, my brother was right at home at QT Sydney. Even my baby boomer parents — who are not necessarily the target demographic — enjoyed the property’s luxurious rooms, which feature a bespoke signature king bed with a QT king gel mattress and a massive ensuite bathroom with a large bath and separate stand-alone shower.
Though my family and I tried to make the most of our rainy day Christmas — navigating uncharacteristically empty streets equipped with our umbrellas — we were happy to return to our hotel. The Conde Nast award-winning SpaQ and the property’s old school-style barber shop were closed, but the Gowings bar was open. It didn’t feel like a last resort — it felt like one of our favorite hotel experiences abroad. Amply-stocked with craft beers and top-shelf liquors, stylish people and a hot pink, electric Christmas tree for holiday cheer, it’s the one-of-a-kind scene you hope to find when visiting any major city.