As I step foot through to the eccentric entrance, it feels as though I’m in a different, albeit more glamorous time. This is no doubt thanks to the intriguing decor choices and crackling jazz music played over the speaker.
Old dial-up telephones, red velvet curtains, taxidermy butterflies in jars, and staff dressed in silk robes, poised and ready for their close-up set the scene and I’m absolutely digging the vibe.
I feel as though I’ve stumbled into the dressing rooms of an elaborate bohemian theatre, and that’s pretty much the intention. In this world of muted tones and minimalism, it’s rare that a hotel’s lobby will blow you away.
QT Sydney straddles two iconic institutions, the State Theatre and the former site of the Gowings Building, both of which opened their doors in 1929.
Although the State Theatre continues to entertain Sydneysiders today, the latter unfortunately closed its doors for good some 20 years ago.
As I wander through the dimly lit halls on my way to dinner, my heels clicking against the dark wooden floorboards, everything feels somehow familiar. I haven’t stayed here, nor visited the restaurant. And then it clicks – I have been here before.
Many years ago, at the end of the building’s first life, (January 29, 2006, to be exact), I was spending the day in the city with my dad visiting his favorite department store for the last time. It’s quite a distant memory, I do recall the store being packed with dads and clearance baskets filled to the brim with Hawaiian shirts and knick-knacks.
For years the building struggled to find its place, opting for the personality of a 14-year-old girl as Supre in 2006 and later being taken over by the short-lived British retailer, Topshop. No brand or company has managed to honor the legacy of Gowings until the QT stepped in.
Although you won’t see any quirky keychains and there are noticeably fewer dads dressed for Honolulu, the hotel’s intention to honor the fallen men’s department store doesn’t go unnoticed.
Accents from the original building are featured in rooms, with heritage floorboards and doors still in use and quirkier touches, like bowler’s hats as lamps, a nod to the milliners and designers who used to occupy these walls. The store’s original barbershop is also still intact, opening as the hotel’s spa with a few enhancements including treatments, massages, and facials on offer.
I stayed in a deluxe king room on the Gowings side. Unlike the State Theatre half of the hotel, there is intended masculine energy created with the dark fabrics and painted walls. The bathroom however brings back that dressing room glamour found in the lobby with double vanity (perfect for getting ready for a night out).
I try out the walk-in rainwater shower and Kevin Murphy amenities before pouring myself one of QT’s famous espresso martinis with the ready-made cocktail kit. I look out my window to the buzzy views of the Queen Victoria Building and Market Street. People are everywhere and it’s a sight that feels so good to see after months of empty streets.
A flight of stairs later I make my way to the Gowings Restaurant and Bar which has recently been injected with a whole lot of flavor and flair thanks to head chef Sean Connolly.
Like many of us, Gowing’s restaurant realized it was time for a makeover during Covid. Reborn in March 2022, the former menu of predictable hotel-restaurant meals was replaced with flavor-driven dishes you’d expect to see on a menu at New York’s finest steakhouse.
Black and white photographs of rock stars adorn the walls, while fabric chandeliers that resemble hoop skirts hang above – another nod to the building’s past.
The waitstaff are just as playful as the decor, embodying the vibey energy of a Friday night on the town, and are insisting I try the caesar salad. I’ve never really gone for a caesar salad on a menu, but I conceded.
A roaming trolly pulls up alongside my table with a bowl and pile of ingredients. Chef Sean Connolly rocks up and starts to chop, toss, and mix away as I sip my champagne. I watch as he carefully creates a dressing from scratch, transforming anchovies and eggs into alchemy. Who doesn’t love a bit of theatre with dinner?
Once the salad is sprinkled with parmesan and seasoned to perfection I get to taste the creation I had to film with my phone. To put it simply, it was almost a “When Harry Met Sally” deli scene moment for me. It’s not every day a salad blows your mind, but if there was one thing you try when you come here, it’s this.
Beyond the life-changing caesar salad, the mains and dessert are just as scrumptious. I go for the pesto gnocchi and it’s a dream. But it’s hard to not fill up on entries. Following the seasons and variety of produce, the menu is ever-changing but vows to treat your tastebuds.
After a perfect night’s sleep in the hotel’s heavenly Dream Beds (I learned that you can purchase one for home after enquiring), I make my way down to Parlour Cucina right next door to the State Theatre for a croissant and coffee, via a stop in the lobby.
Although the hotel prides itself on honoring the past, there are advanced touches I notice throughout my stay that keep it contemporary. In particular, the hotel’s signature talking elevators which infamously play appropriate songs depending on how many people are riding (a bit of Dua Lipa for two and Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself for one).
A one-night stay in your own city is scarcely enough time to have a transformative experience. For me, QT Sydney was the exception.
The writer stayed as a guest of QT Sydney. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com