The Commercial Boutique Hotel, Tenterfield, New South Wales
Most Australian pubs offer basic accommodation for travellers. For a long time, that’s meant creaky beds and shared bathrooms, but things are beginning to change.
By Katrina Lobley
The pub stay is nothing new in Australia – most pubs have maintained a few rooms since the settlement era, when tired travellers on horseback needed safe havens from bushrangers. Today, however, thanks to the rise of non-traditional providers such as Airbnb, and a new generation of travellers demanding slick, modern accommodation at accessible prices, these basic, affordable lodgings (usually upstairs from the bar) are being reimagined. Stay at a modern Australian pub, and you might find anything from in-room Nespresso machines and zebra-print rugs, to individualised wall art – often at a fraction of the cost of a traditional hotel room. Here are some of the best examples of the trend.
Cheers to the revolution
Pubs have been at the heart of Australian townships since colonial times, and today’s best pub stays have combined their architectural heritage with modern creature comforts. At the Commercial Boutique Hotel, a sprawling country pub in the town of Tenterfield (easily reachable from the Gold Coast and Byron Bay), original Art Deco architecture has been updated with a comprehensive interior renovation, featuring private balconies, freestanding bathtubs and the building’s original ornamental fireplace. Flat-screen televisions, air-conditioning, ensuites and wi-fi bring the hotel into the present, against a stylish black-and-white palette, which extends from the carpets and tiles to the soft furnishings. Similarly, at the bohemian town of Bellingen (a six-hour drive north of Sydney, near Coffs Harbour), the Federal Hotel is a pub that has retained much of its Federation-era charm. High ceilings, timber-lined walls and wrought-iron lacework have been preserved from the pub’s 1901 opening date. But renovated bathrooms, a slick new paint job and bright, airy rooms have updated the original incarnation. Not bad for less than AUD$100 per night.
Visit a pub on the water
Pubs are dotted across the Australian continent, from the outback to the beach – and that means some pub stays are right on the water. At The Royal Hotel, a one-hour drive south of Melbourne on the upmarket Mornington Peninsula, you can enjoy uninterrupted water views from your bedroom balcony. Just across the road from Royal Beach, the bayside hotel offers four economy rooms and suites with features such as a claw-foot bathtubs, king-size beds and leather armchairs. Also near Melbourne, in the stylish town of Daylesford (a 90-minute drive north-west of the city) is a hidden gem by a lake: the Daylesford Hotel. Its pub-style rooms are light-filled, with shared bathrooms down the hall. The pub also offers a one-bedroom hotel apartment suite with polished timber floorboards.
Slip in to a city inn
Real estate is always a hot topic of conversation in Australia’s big cities, but the demand for pubs has skyrocketed in recent months, a phenomenon that has featured heavily in the media. Take a look at Hotel Harry in Sydney’s cosmopolitan Surry Hills to see why: this Victorian-era pub, formerly known as the Macquarie Hotel, has 20 rooms and suites complete with premium mini-bars, coffee machines and solid oak desks, as well as a rollicking bar that packs with locals towards the end of the week. The Hotel Palisade, in the newly developed Barangaroo precinct, is just as popular. You’d never guess it has eight rooms tucked into its middle levels, with hand-painted marine murals, marble-tiled ensuites and coffee machines – as well as a view of the Harbour Bridge in some cases. In Adelaide’s city centre, The Franklin Boutique Hotel has just seven rooms, with stand-out features ranging from stained-glass windows to freestanding tubs, along with coffee machines and iPod dock radios.
See the sights of a regional city stay
The trend of developing designer pub-stays has caught on in regional cities as well – so much so that unrenovated pubs are sometimes the source of hotly contested auctions, with buyers migrating to regional areas after being unable to break into the highly competitive capital city markets. In Newcastle, a vibrant coastal city a two-hour drive north of Sydney, you’ll find two refurbished pub-stays referencing the urban style of bigger cities. In 2014 the Lucky Country Hotel re-emerged from a multi-million-dollar makeover as The Lucky Hotel, going on to pick up a swag of awards for its food, rooms and redevelopment. Each of its 30 rooms features a hand-painted slogan about luck, along with luxury L’Occitane products and ensuites that channel the same vibe as luxury hotels. The Junction Hotel, in a vibrant precinct south-west of the city centre, has also picked up awards for its funky reinvigoration. Each of the nine quirky rooms is decorated differently – who could have predicted that a pub stay could feature so much zebra print?
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