Decidedly boutique in spirit, the Blackman has a fairy-tale quality about it that doesn't end with its eye-popping decor.
Hotel insider: The Blackman, Melbourne
Somewhat out on a limb in the business district, on first impression it can feel as though this art hotel is in a poor location. However, a quick look at the map shows that in fact, it is within easy reach of some of Melbourne's best bars and restaurants. Part of the new and fantastical Art Series Hotels, the Blackman is named after Charles Blackman, one of Australia's best-loved figurative painters. A huge backlit Blackman image lights the way to the reception where, behind the counter, more of Blackman's works are framed. Two smart and buzzy eateries sandwich the hotel, with some branded bikes, scooters and even a smart car parked out front.
Located just off St Kilda Road, which is home to the fantastic Botanic Gardens - where entrance is free and hours of tree-shaded cool awaits - and the National Gallery of Victoria. At the end of the road many tram lines run into the Central Business District and great shopping around Flinders Lane and Collins Street. A well-known and popular running track curiously referred to as "the Tan" is perfect for an early morning jog, and Albert Park Lake is nearby too.
This is Australia, so naturally the service is extremely friendly and smiley. Local, branded maps are on hand and staff are knowledgeable about local transport and dining options. Service is perhaps less thorough and professional compared with more traditional luxury hotels - but it just about works with the relaxed, bohemian, artistic vibe. Best of all, there is a charming in-house art curator who organises in-house art tours so that you can understand the significance and history of the paintings - by doing this you will get more out of your stay and understand the relevance of the common motifs within the paintings.
The interior design is a huge draw for guests staying at the Blackman. I stayed in a twin studio that came with a decent-sized balcony and fabulous decor as well as candy-coloured headboards, negligee dividing curtains for one of the queen sized beds, Philippe Starck ghost chairs, a mini love seat and no less than two large flat-screen TVs. The bathroom - with its door of frosted glass with a transfer of one of Blackman's paintings on it - was adequate but small, with a decent-sized square sink and a good drench shower. The bathroom amenities didn't have the luxury cachet guests might expect.
When in need of refreshment, or indeed breakfast, which is not included in the room rate, head to Fleur, the attached French patisserie. The excellent baguettes, omelettes, mueslis and coffee will set anyone up for the day. The attached bar and Italian restaurant, Classico, serves tasty thin, Neapolitan stonecrust pizzas for 17 Australian dollars (Dh63).
Easy, cosmopolitan lifestyle with a slightly bohemian vibe. Even with its convenient-for-business location, the atmosphere is more evocative of theatrical flair than financial sobriety.
The mini-art book collection in the room, the huge mirrors, thoughtful touches such as cooking facilities in the room (even a dishwasher and a chopping board) for long-term stays and supremely comfortable beds. The balconies are also of a decent size and come with stylish furniture so that you can sit outside, and get fresh air into the rooms - something that's often impossible in larger, chain hotels.
The bathroom doors - made of frosted glass and with a not-insignificant gap between the door and the wall either side, guests can feel a little overexposed. Also, we had to call reception to work out how to turn off one of the lights (the hob above the stove) and were told everyone has this problem, which begs the question - why not change it?
Decidedly boutique in spirit, the Blackman has a fairy-tale quality about it that doesn't end with its eye-popping decor - very different to many of the cookie-cutter chain hotels in central Melbourne; soon after checking in you forget about the world beyond the front gates. The artistic, creative atmosphere is like a mating call for the local modelling and design crowd, so pack your best attire to fit in.
The bottom line
Rooms from $199 (Dh700) per night for a Studio Suite, not including breakfast. The Blackman, 452 St Kilda Road, Melbourne ( www.artserieshotels.com.au; 00 61 3 9039 1444)