Ambition comes in many forms. At Jackalope, a boutique hotel looking to shake up the Mornington Peninsula's desultory accommodation options, it comes in the form of a seven-metre-tall sculpture of a jackalope by Melbourne artist Emily Floyd.
What is a jackalope, you ask? The giant horned jackrabbit of North American legend, of course. In this context, Jackalope is a 46-room hotel that hits the buzzwords of "boutique" and "luxury" and hopes to inject glamour, sophistication and just a touch of the surreal to the Willow Creek vineyard when it starts taking guests from 1 April.
The work of 28-year-old Louis Li, originally of Kunming in southern China, and latterly of Melbourne, where he moved nine years ago to study filmmaking, Jackalope is an attempt to meld his passions - art, design, food and storytelling - into one package. "I want Jackalope to be a different voice in the hotel industry," says Li, "[and] challenge the luxury hotel landscape in Australia. By reimagining the role art, design and storytelling can play in the guest experience, I hope Jackalope will develop into a hospitality landmark, offering guests a transformative experience - an interplay between the ideal and the surreal."
Li has translated his vision with the help of a host of Melbourne creatives. Carr Design Group came up with the sleek black modern building stretching dramatically above the vineyard, as well as the interiors; Zuster created the furniture, with most of the pieces one-off designs. Taylor Cullity Lethlean is responsible for the landscaping, in grounds that include a yoga lawn and a black 30-metre infinity pool designed to create the illusion the water is lapping over the vines. And as well as Floyd's giant jackalope, there will be other site-specific art installations spread across the public spaces
Food-wise, Jackalope is spreading its purview beyond its guests, aiming to become a destination restaurant: two, in fact. Headed by chef Guy Stanaway, recently of Noosa's Bistro C, the 80-seat Doot Doot Doot will be the headline contemporary restaurant with a four- or eight-course dégustation menu; Rare Hare is the more casual option, a 100-seater with all-day dining.
Inside a room at Jackalope.
This might be the first Jackalope, but it certainly won't be its last. Li, who bought the Willow Creek vineyard in 2013 for a reported $9.5 million, more recently added Flinders Lane's Maria George building to his portfolio, with plans already under way to turn it into the second Jackalope. "Beyond the two Melbourne hotels, I would like to take Jackalope to my other favourite cities, Shanghai and Los Angeles, in the next five years," says Li.
To gauge his aspirations, perhaps one should look to group general manager Tracy Atherton, who was headhunted from Canberra's happening Hotel Hotel to take up the role. "Louis loved Hotel Hotel and contacted me. The Mornington Peninsula is crying out for a boutique like this. There's really nothing to this scale." With 10 years' experience at Aman resorts before Hotel Hotel, Atherton is aiming for the same level of service (as for the price, rooms start at $650 a night).
"We'll be offering unique experiences for guests as well, such as private cocktails and canapés at the edge of the vines. Jackalope is not just a hotel, it's a memory.
Jackalope, 166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North, Vic; (03) 9519 8900, jackalopehotels.com
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