Eager to avoid some of the worst paparazzo this side of West Hollywood, stars visiting Sydney tend to bunker down in private residences when they arrive in the Emerald City these days. But through the ’90s, you could find most of them hanging out at the Ritz Carlton in Double Bay. It’s here that Bob Hawke honeymooned, Princess Diana soaked up the sun and perhaps most infamously, where Michael Hutchence died. It’s also the site of one of the fastest, most ambitious transformations in Eastern Suburbs history. The mighty estate at 33 Cross Street has has opened its doors again, this time as a completely revamped InterContinental. It’s a big deal, both for the city and the local community. So naturally, I’m walking through it in thongs.
The way general manager (and most-dapper tour guide) Frederic Brohez tells it, this choice of footwear isn't considered a cardinal sin in the new hotel. For unlike the Ritz – and its short-lived follow-up, The Stamford – The InterContinental Double Bay isn’t only here to serve the well heeled. The Stillery, which backs onto the lobby, is a magnificent gin bar that sources local examples from places such as the Yarra Valley and Tasmania. Stockroom serves breakfast, lunch and dinner by chef Julien Pouteau and uses local suppliers such as Victor Churchill meats and Iggy’s bread. Both are open to the general public. If you're really feeling flush, you can flip-flop those thongs right up to the brand new rooftop infinity pool and cabana bar, previously reserved for those with room keys but now open to anyone who enjoys cocktails while looking at a stunning view, and can afford the $250 minimum spend.
It’s this that Brohez is perhaps most proud of. “Coming to the hotel is really about experiencing what Sydney does best,” he says, as we gaze upon unobstructed views of Double Bay, Redleaf Beach and beyond. “There’s more to it than the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. If you really want to experience Sydney as a Sydneysider, you come to this place.”
While architects Bates Smart (Rockpool, Four Seasons) ripped out most of the guts of the Ritz, “What’s great about being able to renovate these places is that you can keep some of the legacy and central features,” says Brohez. The bathrooms might have rain showers installed, for instance, but they’ve still got the original marble, as does the lobby.
But they’ve also knocked out windows, added balconies to every room and faced the suites towards a central courtyard, which doubles as a Club Lounge area. That’s complemented by a bold new colour scheme that does away with the deep maroons, greens and heavy drapes of its predecessor. “It had good structure, good bones,” says Brohez. “It was about turning it inside out and opening it up, allowing the light to come through.”
Undoubtedly, the place has scrubbed up considerably since closing in 2009 . Although facing demolition and being totally out of action, the Stamford somehow still managed to see plenty of it. Allegedly, this ran the full gamut from squatters and illegal film shoots to prostitutes entertaining clients in abandoned suites. DJ Kato was part of the line-up for the inaugural Seasoned Music Party in 2011, at which 1000 guests cavorted through the former Ritz on a two- day bender. “It’s pretty surreal to play in a ballroom like that,” Kato recalls. “I still have no idea how they [secured] the venue, but everyone came through the front door. Nobody was hiding anything.”
Brohez remembers the first time he stepped inside the building. “It was like walking into time capsule.” He makes no mention of the rumoured sordid activity of the past five years – and who could blame him. Besides, he has no problems with dance parties in the ballroom; they’re called weddings and he already had one booked the week the hotel opened in early November.
As the skeleton of the Ritz has been transformed, Double Bay has also undergone a renaissance. Brought to its knees by the opening of a mega-Westfield up the road in Bondi Junction in the mid-noughties, which crippled its cinema, local stores and eateries, a defiant change is in the air. “There’s a real story here about how Double Bay reinvented itself, as opposed to collapsing or just getting a mega mall,” says Brohez. It isn’t hard to see it. Property prices are booming. A raft of new food retailers and cafes has opened in the area, and safe from the grip of recent lockout laws, clubs and bars are opening even faster.
Perhaps most exciting is the newly minted Royal Suite, which is where you stay if you’re Bill Clinton, or exit stage left if you’re the lead singer of INXS. It’s bigger than a luxury suburban apartment, with an enormous balcony from which you can see a pathway that leads straight to the beach.
It has its own spare room, a walk-in wardrobe, office, full-sized bar and, unbelievably, a butler’s kitchen. Kanye West could write an album in here. It costs a cool five grand a night, so he’s probably one of the few who will get to.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a rockstar or a head of state, you’re going to be wearing those thongs in the lobby and having a more intimate experience,” says Brohez, gesturing toward my feet. “It’s about opening those public areas to the locals and making it feel it’s their hotel, but also hosting guests in private areas that are only for them.”
Time will tell if the InterContinental has the staying power its staff is hoping for. In the meantime, it seems everyone in the local area is literally willing it into being. Simonne Logue, who’s fine-food business has been a Cross Street stalwart for 10 years, has just signed a lease for another decade. “I have great hopes for Double Bay,” she says. “The hotel is just the icing on the cake. It brings the romance back! It’s so exciting to have tourists staying in the Bay again.”
“It’s a great building with a great legacy,” says Brohez of the hotel. “Now it’s just an open book.”
InterContinental Sydney Double Bay
33 Cross Street, Double Bay
(02) 8388 8388