For the past 15 months, the main public areas of the Grand Hyatt Melbourne have been a dusty, chaotic building site - fun if you like the sound of jackhammers. At its most disruptive, the Hyatt was recommending guests stay at nearby hotels, and the hotel's general manager David Mansfield even resorted to a blog to keep everyone informed. Given its stable and successful high occupancy, the makeover of the hotel has been a huge gamble. For starters, its staunchly loyal regulars have always loved the Art Deco feel of the hotel, the towering bronze sculptures and the acres of marble and brass courtesy of the hotel's original developer Max Moar.
Bar Studio, Billard Leece and Graphos Architects have completely overhauled the Grand Hyatt's bars, restaurants, shopping arcade and upper and lower lobbies. Yes, the renovation has been about upgrading hotel services, improving traffic flow, going green and all those other practical (though not necessarily exciting) features, but this renovation goes much further. Replacing the Art Deco-inspired/glam 80s feel is a more tactile, contemporary hotel. It's goodbye bronze, brass and salmon pinks and hello to a more subdued and stylish hotel interior. "It's a totally different world," says Mansfield.
One week into the soft opening of the new Grand Hyatt public spaces and already the place is humming - suits meeting for coffee, black-clad girls drinking lattes as they plan their shopping blitz, bizoids working on their laptops and a tour group eyeing off the large John Firth-Smith seascape that dominates the reception. This lobby is alive. Guests continue to arrive, up along the bluestone walkway from the new Collins Street entrance into the heart of the hotel.
Off to the right of check-in, past the new two-storey glass-bead and resin sculpture known as the 'curtain of light', the last breakfasts are being served. One of the brigade of 30 chefs in the new Collins Kitchen is making an omelette with vine-ripened cherry tomatoes to order. Another is carefully slicing prosciutto di San Daniele for antipasti. Food is very much the focus.
The new décor features beautiful surfaces, including sandy-coloured and dark Grecian marbles, carved cypress pine, recycled Australian timbers and hanging crystals, plus little sensory surprises such as overhead lamps lined in velvet, cheeky mirrored side tables and deluxe private spaces. Fine art includes works by Paul Partos and David Rankin, and sculptor Robert Bridgewater also has works on display. The interior designers clearly have a chair fetish, with more than 15 shapes and sizes filling the lobby, restaurant and bar, many by French designer Philippe Hurel.
On the hospitality side of things, chef Jason Camillo has overhauled the hotel's dining with Collins Kitchen. The new à la carte menu offers five different styles of food - grill, wok, sushi, deli and patisserie, all emphasising local, organic produce. Guests can walk the circumference of the open kitchen and are encouraged to come and watch their food being prepared. While there's seating for 180, Collins Kitchen is still a place for a tête à tête dinner. "We didn't want it to be a mess hall," says the hotel's marketing communications manager Danielle Van der Griend.
So what's on the menu? Roast blue-eye with peppers, shallots and garlic; a 120-day grain-fed beef sirloin, grilled, with a side of freshly cut chips; steamed Murray cod with ginger, soy and coriander are some examples. The club sandwich and classic burger have stayed on the menu to please creatures of habit.
The old Bar Deco has been replaced with the glam RU-CO bar, which feels like a cool stand-alone Melbourne bar rather than a hotel add-on. Oversized chairs, little leather stools, mirrored tables and tall bar stools all add to the mix.
The cavernous Hyatt food court has been replaced by two restaurants - Greg Malouf's MoMo and the Lucas brothers' mezze bar Spice Market. Guests can access these restaurants through the hotel or via Beaney Lane, a previously neglected alleyway that is now incorporated into the hotel complex - a nice nod to the city's lane culture.
Melbourne's 547-room Grand Hyatt has always punched above its weight. Arguably it has the best city location in the heart of the blue-chip business and shopping hubs, and the hotel has always managed to attract the clientele its more expensive sister brand, Park Hyatt, up near Parliament Square, is meant to cater to. Its three epic Diplomatic Suites (from about $2000 per night) are some of the most coveted in the city, and corporates love the views and the freebies in the hotel's Grand Club on level 31.
Throughout the 15-month renovation, the hotel rooms themselves have been given new flatscreens and beds with Egyptian cotton sheets. The old shopping arcade has been replaced with big-gun brands: flagship stores for Paspaley, Bulgari and Emporio Armani, a nice fit at the Paris end of Collins Street.
The last stage of the renovation is the completion of the Residence, a signature Hyatt feature already working in its Bangkok and Taipei properties. The concept where a 'grand residence is built within the hotel so guests feel like they are partying in a grand mansion rather than a bland hotel function room' was pioneered by New York-based designer Tony Chi.
During its messiest and noisiest renovations, regulars at the hotel were referred to other hotels. Now the dust has settled, it's time to crank things up. The Grand Hyatt has a new lease on life. Says Mansfield, "We are confident our customers will come back."
Grand Hyatt Melbourne, 123 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9657 1234. Rates from $300 per night.