Hobart’s Storytelling Hotel: MACQ01
“Every villain needs a hero. Every story needs a start. Every traveller needs a pillow”. These leading statements – branded onto the timber steps that lead up to the entrance of MAQ01 – set the tone for what to expect from Hobart’s striking, contemporary waterside hotel. It’s a hotel that has taken the idea of storytelling and run with it – the kind of place that needs to be experienced to be truly understood. In the name of storytelling, though, I’ll see what I can do.
We arrived on a cloudy Wednesday morning, and the hotel’s facade – designed to mimic the footprint of the old wharf building which once stood in its place on the northeast edge of Hobart’s industrial harbour – cut a handsome, glass and timber silhouette against the sky. Through tinted sliding doors, a red, custom-made carpet runs across the dark wooden floorboards and a kelp-inspired ceiling feature forms a halo of silicone fins above a circular fireplace. Guests sip coffees from cushioned booths, and floor-to-ceiling windows open up to the harbour: old-world fishing boats sit bedside creaky wooden jetties stubbornly.
Behind a sleek granite desk, the reception team were each as willing as each other to help: offering brunch suggestions and local tips after handing us our keys and pointing us in the direction of our room.
While all of the 114 rooms feature a similar aesthetic – contemporary design features with pops of colour in the form of statement lamps and art pieces – each is named after one of 114 different historical Tasmanian characters, with a story on the door and artefacts housed inside to honour the individual namesake. Ours was “Marie Bjelke-Peterson”: a Danish-born novelist and physical culture teacher who emigrated to Tasmania in 1891. Inside the room, one of Marie’s novels is encased within a glass box, along with a plaque detailing the history of her passions and quirks, and the role she’s played in Tasmanian history. This commitment to celebrating (and in some cases, mourning) Tasmania’s complex cultural and historical landscape is seen not just through the uniquely dedicated bedrooms, but through the storytelling tours (complimentary for guests), venues (each which weave some element of storytelling into the experience) and through the energy of the hotel in general. It’s dark and moody with an element of intrigue, softened by a young, engaged, enthusiastic team.
Though the hotel itself is in a relatively quiet corner of the city, with most rooms looking out across the water, a good selection of Hobart’s cafes, restaurants and bars are within easy walking distance. At lunchtime, we walked across to Salamanca on the recommendation of the reception team and ate lunch from a cobbled square surrounded by bookshops and bakeries. If you’re looking to dine in-house at lunchtime, I’d recommend ordering from the room service menu and setting up on your balcony overlooking the water.
Our room – complete with a speaker system, writing desk and glass doors that dominate the far wall – was difficult to leave, the perfect office-away-from-office, opening up to the world in a way that reminds you that it’s there, without suggesting you need to be involved. Gentle rhythmic ripples pushed along the harbour, clouds folded down Mount Wellington across the hillside suburbs in the south, and the ambient sounds of the city floated up through the unseasonably icy air.
The spacious, stone-tiled bathroom housed a raindance shower, a deep bathtub and enough Appellees products and fluffy towels for a week-long spa-style stay. The minibar took a similar maximalist approach, with the menu card reading “don’t let the name fool you, there’s nothing mini about this minibar”.
Before dinner, we’d booked a table at Evolve Spirits Bar – the hotel’s marble-trimmed cocktail bar that looks out across the water. Jazz floods the space through surround-sound speakers, and tan leather seats are gathered around glass-topped tables that house fossils and rare artefacts. Again, this is a space that doesn’t stop at its function – there’s a piece of Hobart’s history housed in every inconspicuous corner.
The bottles of fine whisky that line the walls allude to the theme here: whisky is the drink du jour, but that’s not where the offering stops. Signature cocktails include a bourbon and apricot concoction and an indulgent mix of rum, amaro, creme de cacao and aromatic bitters, each (naturally) bestowed with a name that alludes to its story. I opted for a martini, mixed with Tasmanian gin and served in a perfectly ice cold glass with plump manzanilla olives. Food-wise, the all day menu at Evolve is a pleasing curation of perfectly salty drinking snacks: golden duck croquettes, plates of prosciutto, labneh and sourdough and Bruny Island Oysters in a shallot red wine vinaigrette. The Story Bar – on the other side of the restaurant – offers a similarly Tasmanian-focused drink selection, with locally made wines, draft beers and spirits all served in a setting adorned with newspaper pages reporting on Tasmania’s past. The Story Bar also plays host to daily Arras tastings (titled Arras in the City, and involving a flight of Tasmanian sparkling wine accompanied by paired canapes).
If you’re looking for something more akin to a full dinner, the hotel’s Old Wharf Restaurant sits in the middle of the two bars, offering a hearty but refined menu that puts Tasmanian produce front and centre. Standout dishes from our visit were the beetroot and stracciatella salad paired with a locally made riesling, and the crispy potatoes that arrived piping hot and crowned with a liberal layer of slightly melting pecorino. Food aside, it was the insight of the bar manager who made our experience at Old Wharf Restaurant – pairing each dish with the perfect wine, and sharing insights on the growing methods, tasting notes and flavour profiles of each with unpretentious passion.
Later in our trip, we swung by the hotel on our way past and found ourselves sitting by the fire with the master storyteller learning more about the hotel’s history. It’s this open, engaged approach that defines the energy of MACQ01 more than the complexity of the stories it tells. This “Tasmanian spirit” is summed up best by three of the five core character traits listed on each of the hotel’s room keys: grounded, yet exceptional, curious, creative, colourful and quirky.