My kids are scooping out a couple of strawberry and cream lollies from a jar in the foyer of Canberra’s East Hotel. Breakfast had consisted of a hearty Asian-style plate of brown rice, sprouts, avocado, beef, fried egg and chilli washed down with good coffee and freshly squeezed juices. The rest of the family followed the more English breakfast route at Muse downstairs at Canberra’s East Hotel.
I hesitate to call Muse a café as it’s also a wine bar, fine diner, small music venue and has an old-style book store attached. Old-style in the sense it’s a retail outlet that encourages browsing. So much so that the whole family purchased some weekend reading ranging from John Le Carre’s Night Manager to a greatest hits from Australian cartoonist First Dog on the Moon. We were all in our happy place.
The night before we had battled Friday night traffic out of Sydney (three hours away) and had arrived tired, hungry and a little irritable from a long week. Wandering into an inviting, softly lit reception area alive with the happy buzz of the adjacent Joe’s Bar was the ideal welcome.
Owners Dan and Dion Bisa have created a modern apartment hotel exuding the warmth of a grand family home. It’s a pretty special offering considering many of Canberra’s other properties seem to channel the aura of the worthy monolithic architectural brutalism spread around Australia’s capital. Most of them are comfortable but you kind of feel they don’t want you there and the only homely feeling comes from stepping back into your own car or even the cab to the airport.
East is altogether different. Little touches like the lollies in the foyer and Australian-made Appelles toiletries in the bathrooms find the right mix between luxury and casual homeliness. In the modern foyer, Apple computers provide instant access to the internet and the work of local artists such as photographer Heide Smith are projected 10-metres high onto the wall. Super comfortable low slung designer swivel chairs and free magazines sit on a huge inlayed colourful rug. With the lollies and flavoured water on hand, mixed with the buzz of Joe’s Bar (just off the foyer) the urge is to settle in.
Upstairs the rooms aren’t gilded luxury but they’re super comfortable and designed for both the solo business traveller as well as those with families in tow. Teenagers are catered for with X-box games and to my son’s surprise – new releases rather than FIFA 06 or Doom. Great Wi-Fi ticks an important box and in the kitchen, a few essentials including a Nespresso maker as well as a washing machine if you’re so inclined.
Owner Dion Bisa says the goal of her and brother Dan was to shake Canberra up.
“We wanted to up the ante in Canberra and create something cool exuding comfort and warmth. It was all about the attention to detail and if a guest wants something – we do it.”
“For families we wanted to give the kids something as well. There’s beanbags, bunk beds and even a kids mini-bar.”
And like the best of independent hoteliers, they’ve borrowed and stolen ideas from their favourite hotels around the world. Importantly, it all hangs together - an eclectic art collection, attentive service and the lolly jar idea borrowed from the Qantas Club.
For Canberra, it’s a massive step-up. In a city where a couple of the luxury offerings are about as welcoming as an ATM foyer, the East Hotel is a clear standout. Close to the vibrant Manuka hub, the up-and-coming Kingston Foreshore precinct as well as business and leisure attractions, it’s the capital’s must-stay digs. An artfully cool combination of warmth and style.