Remember that moment in F•R•I•E•N•D•S when Ross’s suitcase explodes in the hotel lobby and spills the loot he has mooched from the minibar? If that happens at the Ovolo Hotel, count on the cheery front office staff to help you repack. Embarrassment isn’t on the cards unless, perhaps, you attempt to lug away the minibar itself. Then again, consider you’d have no room left once you’ve stuffed everything that the hotel actually wants you to take away.
Be warned, Ovolo’s peculiarly agreeable no-questions-asked service will spoil you rotten. But it won’t stop your inner creature of habit from wasting the first hour hunting feverishly for the fine print charging your credit card for your excesses.
Relax, there isn’t any.
Swept into the southern hemisphere in the dead of night, I totter time-addled through a bright green door to stare at a hand-scrawled welcome note on a blackboard. An REM song unspools in a shiny, happy corner of my head (I have the option, if I wish, to stream it off YouTube or my iPad via the Apple TV — every room has one). Thoughtfully placed universal adapter plugs breathe life back into my gadgets. In a smartly designed office-like alcove sit a desk, chair and desk-lamp. Wall sockets are distributed generously. Wi-Fi is free, fast and sumptuous.
The room is warm and cheerful, cheeky but not cocky, cosy but not homely, informal but not lax. The staff is friendly and attentive (and, happily, not ingratiating). I call for help with the blinds. In a trice, the night manager arrives to fix them.
Peckish, I eye a plump ‘loot bag’ on the mantel. Eat Me, it exhorts. Obediently, I tuck into dark chocolate Tim Tams and drain two glasses of white wine before sinking into bed.
I part the drapes and morning inundates the room. Melbourne’s Central Business District is stirring awake. Silver gulls float like outsize confetti among citadels old and new. I brush, mentally going over my hotel bathroom cheat-sheet. Water temperature: check. Shower pressure: check. Clog-free drain: check. Fragrant towel: check. Luxury toiletries (by Malin+Goetz): check. Hair drier: check. Should I need a shaver (or even an iPad), I’m encouraged to ring the front desk. At the end of the hall, several beautiful launderettes hum away contentedly. There’s even a free knapsack to shop with.
It gets better. My 463 sq ft one-bedroom suite is one of six room types; there are studios (194 sq ft), city studios (269 sq ft) and two-bedroom suites (560 sq ft); there are two variants of penthouses — with terrace (753 sq ft) and with spa (872 sq ft). Both are equipped with kitchenettes and fridges, pinball machines and punching bags — great for groups that want to turn a gallivanting night on the town into an epic weekend.
In Hong Kong, where it is the largest independent hotel and serviced apartment operator, the Jhunjhnuwala family-owned Hind Group’s four Ovolo properties are each served by a hip Café O. In Melbourne, where Ovolo made its first international foray in September 2012, it compensates for the lack of a deli with a complimentary grab’n’go platter of fruit and pastries. Mostly sinful sugar and gluten, yes, but the locally sourced Granny Smith apples are fresh and succulent. A microwave and an electric kettle flank the minibar (emblazoned with the command: Enjoy). Replenished daily, no questions asked. Scratch that. I am actually asked if I’d like more wine.
Stepping on to the rain-washed sidewalk of Little Bourke Street, I am struck by how much the hotel’s décor is inspired by Melbourne’s charming streetscapes — “ bright rooms and bright ideas,” as CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala describes them. The snazzy art in the dimly lit lobby and bright rooms is the work of emerging artist and designer Ashley Ng, who has emulated Melbourne’s vibrant street culture on the hotel walls. “Our designs think about the traveller, while most hotels just think about themselves,” Jhunjhnuwala says.
Central Melbourne’s delights — restaurants, bars, lounges, bookstores, shopping arcades and clubs — are a stone’s throw (illegal) or a tram ride (legal) away.
Glad to be in my Hush Puppies, I hoof it. When I tire, I hop on a free City Circle tram and take in the sights. Across the street is China Town; the stately Parliament building is a few steps away. By day, alfresco dining stirs up the alluring scents of ale, coffee and food. Dusk draws the famous Palace Theatre out of hiding, its façade all neon-laced coquettishness.
I spot a placard introducing Ovolo to curious but famously sceptical Melbournians. A boutique hotel advertising “effortless living” is a newish concept in the upmarket CBD dominated by Hyatts and Hiltons. “In Australia there’s a dearth of hotels like ours but a great acceptance of them,” Ovolo Group COO Dirk Dalichau tells me. “Here you’re a person, not a room number.”
In Australia’s cultural nerve centre, there is no paucity of swank hotels, or preppy ones, or hotels that sink you in opulence. What’s rare are hotels that relax strictures, which are informal yet stylish, and which appeal equally to young, tech-addicted business travellers as to groups of young people seeking a no-fuss pad to stay, celebrate and check out any time they like (and perhaps never leave). And, yes, be totally encouraged to raid the minibar.
Which I did, by the way.
Where: Ovolo Hotel, 19 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Accommodation: 8 Studios, 8 Studio Suites, 16 1-Bedroom Suites, 8 2-Bedroom Suites, 2 Terrace Suites, 1 Penthouse; all include Apple TV, FoxTel channels, free wi-fi, free self-laundry facilities, free minibar, Grab’n’Go breakfast, flexible check-out, Loot Bag (generous helpings of snack foods like crisps, candies, nuts, biscuits and chocolate), happy hour from 6 to 8pm
Tariff: A$209 (Studio), A$225 (Studio Suite), A$245 (1-Bedroom Suite), A$359 (2-Bedroom Suite), A$549 (Terrace Suite) and A$699 (Penthouse)
Contact: +61-3-86920777, ovologroup.com