August 11, 2012
The Vulcan's stylish interior.
Old and new smoothly unite at a small hotel on the CBD fringe, writes Bruce Elder.
Historic hotels in the Pyrmont-Ultimo area on the western edge of Darling Harbour have been bought, modernised and turned into inexpensive boutique accommodation. Walk across Pyrmont Bridge to the city centre, or check out a hotel overlooking Darling Harbour, and you will be dealing with starting prices of $200-$250. Pyrmont-Ultimo hotels are half that. Some, such as the Woolbrokers Hotel, make no attempt to hide their 19th-century origins. Others, such as the Vulcan, on the corner of Wattle and Mary Anne streets, bring in the designers and get a makeover with buckets of charcoal, chocolate and taupe paint. They take to recessing the lights in the high ceilings; turning an open space into an elegant, stylish courtyard with palms and furniture; running the bedhead the entire width of the room; thinking creatively about the limited space; ensuring that cleanliness is far removed from 19th-century shabbiness; and producing a bargain. The 46-room Vulcan has rooms for as low as $129 a night, parking is a modest $20 for 24 hours and breakfast is a suitably boutique affair.
Our room is small but carefully designed, minimal but with everything: a desk with two chairs, double bed, bedside tables and lamps, a small and quiet bar fridge, modest-size flatscreen television and DVD player, tea and instant coffee-making facilities and a large cupboard. The bathroom is surprisingly spacious (shower, toilet, basin, floor-to-ceiling white tiles, black-tile floor).
One wall of the bedroom has two small pieces of "art" (actually they are simply boards covered with striped cloth in fashionable shades of grey and brown, chocolate, black and white). Two windows, high on the wall, offer glimpses of the laneway behind the pub.
And then we ate Vulcan Hotel is 10-minutes' walk from Chinatown and 15 minutes from the King Street Wharf.
We dine at the Malaya at Darling Harbour. In the 1960s and '70s the Malaya, then a dingy destination on George Street near Central Station, was deservedly famous for its laksa and beef rendang. Today, with Sydney's collective culinary palate sharpened, the Malaya's diners gaze across the bright waters of Darling Harbour and enjoy menu options unimaginable 40 years ago.
It is not necessary to list what we gorged on, suffice to say that every meal at the Malaya should start with an entree of popiah (thin pastry skins filled with sliced chicken, king prawns, shallots, vermicelli and bean sprouts served with sweet soy and chilli sauce) and finish with bite-size ice-cream balls dipped in chocolate.
The deal maker Vulcan's cafe, the Hummingbird Restaurant, offers a wonderful, cooked-on-the-spot breakfast with gluten-free and vegetarian options. Given that breakfasts in large hotels can cost up to $35, the Hummingbird breakfast special of bacon, eggs and toast for $10, and excellent coffee at $3.50 a cup, is good value.
Our French-speaking waiter-chef provides a certain je ne sais quoi elegance.
Stepping out Head to Chinatown to eat and mooch about. Visit the Maritime and Powerhouse museums. Catch a ferry from King Street Wharf to Circular Quay and head off on another ferry to walk around Cremorne Point, visit Taronga Zoo or cross the heads to Manly.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Address 500 Wattle Street, Ultimo.
The verdict A bargain with friendliness, intimacy and modern style.
Price From $129 a night for a standard double room; from $265 a night for a studio apartment.
Bookings Phone 9211 3283, see vulcanhotel.com.au.
Getting there Vulcan Hotel is on the corner of Wattle and Mary Ann streets, a 10-minute walk from Central Station and three minutes' walk from the University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway campus.
Perfect for Visitors who want a cheap, boutique stay.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Take in a show at the Entertainment Centre or the Capitol Theatre; walk three blocks and you're at the Sydney Fish Markets.