Sydney's newest hotel, the QT, could just as easily have been called the OTT, writes Angie Kelly.
You know a hotel is going to be a bit on the kooky side when you're met at the door by a staff member with the title "Director of Chaos".
Kitted out in a Rocky Horror-esque, military chic get-up, the flouro-haired Ms Chaos is the sunny meeter and greeter at the brand-new QT's Market Street entrance, where she and her equally chatty colleagues whistle for cabs, take care of valet parking and direct guests to the foyer on level two. Make sure you check out the glass-encased gown made entirely from nana-knickers in the ground floor coffee shop while you wait for the lift.
The scene is presided over by an army of pretty young things in sharp, skinny-legged suits, little black dresses and perfect make-up.
The lift has sensors that actually detect the number of passengers. Solo guests may or may not get a laugh when the Muzak switches to cheesy songs about loneliness. Couples get love songs, while groups get party tunes.
Nursing a case of multiple personality syndrome, the design vibe in the reception area of the $420 a night digs is an amalgam of art deco eccentricity and Gen-Y attitude – pop-coloured sofas meet look-at-me art. Digital LED installations meet classic wood panelling. Add some stage lights, screens showing old movies, bowler hats and retro collectables (baby rhino statue anyone?).
In short, there is a lot going on.
Some impressive pieces such as hot pink and yellow chairs, a group of old-fashioned seamstress mannequins and a must-see wall created using vintage suitcases with a couple of retro TVs and record players thrown in would be perfect as stand-alone statements. Together, it borders on design overload.
But is it fun? Definitely. Sexy? Sure. Too much? Possibly, for those who prefer to unwind after a day at the office amid quieter, more traditional surroundings. If nothing else, it's one of the few five-star hotels in Sydney to depart from chocolate-and-neutrals corporate chic as an interiors theme.
The design team behind the project spent 18-months gathering objets d'art at auctions, on eBay and even council clean-ups to achieve the quirky look designed to reflect the original use of the heritage buildings as well as adding an in-your-face modern flourish.
The scene is presided over by an army of pretty young things in sharp, skinny-legged suits, little black dresses and perfect make-up. The Virgin Airlines approach to employment was in evidence the night we dined in the main restaurant, with good-looking girls in high heels and even higher ponytails seating diners and cool boys behind the bar chatting to us.
We're told the staff was "cast" rather than hired, using an Australian Idol-style audition process of elimination, with the judges looking for personality plus polish, not necessarily experience.
And despite their zany work environment, the staff we encountered at every stage of our overnight stay were professional, with just the right dash of friendly.
The slightly chaotic design theme continues in the guest rooms with a giant asymmetrical red bedhead dominating ours on the seventh floor above George Street. There was a multicoloured rug, odd little animal head figurines on the wall (coat hooks maybe?), a metal artwork, a round yellow table and a black hand sculpture on the bathroom sink. There are retro games of pick-up sticks, marbles, an array of old-fashioned lollies, everything you need to make your own cocktail and black towelling bathrobes. Everything that isn't nailed down is for sale.
Despite being above one of the city's busiest intersections, the room was quiet. We slept blissfully and heard only the slightest rumble from early morning busses below.
Across the 200 rooms, there are 12 unique styles. There are two wings, with half the rooms above the State Theatre in Market Street and the other half in the shell of the old Gowings building, on the corner of Market and George streets.
Converted from a rabbit warren of former offices, the rooms we saw were on the small side except for the apartment-sized, expensive suites on the top floors. The bathrooms are funky and spacious with the giant stand-alone bath the highlight.
Someone with a more classic eye won the argument when it came to designing the main restaurant, Gowings Bar & Grill, where a calmer, sophisticated ambience prevails. Though our mains weren't delivered at the same time, we couldn't fault the meals, with our Black Angus rib-eye steak and beef bourguignon truly memorable.
The writer was a guest of QT Sydney.
Where QT Hotel, 49 Market Street, Sydney,
(02) 8262 000
How much Rooms from $420 per night.
Top marks Its youthful sense of humour and good service. The food was impressive – we will certainly be back to sample more from the brasserie-style menu
Black mark The bed: Too soft for my firm-mattress taste. And when did it become unfashionable to have a door on the toilet? Brighter lights in the bathroom would also make the morning zhuzh much easier.
Don't miss The cocktail bar: Closed on the night of our visit but a cool, cushion-littered space likely to become a popular spot for after-work drinks and tunes.