24-hour room service: Hotel DeBrett, Auckland
A new take on the good old days
Saturday 30 October 2010
Fashion is a fleeting thing: one month you must wear military chic, the next it's floaty gypsy. And so it is with accommodation, which the DeBrett knows all too well.
A one-time legend in Auckland's shop-filled central fashion precinct, the historic Hotel DeBrett claims to be the city's first. There has certainly been a hotel here since 1841, though it was from 1925 – when a fire broke out and forced an overhaul – that the DeBrett's reputation as Auckland's finest took shape; over the years it's said that the Beatles, Queen and the Queen have all spent the night here. But tastes change, and the DeBrett – which even endured a stint as a dingy backpackers' hostel – fell into a state of curious shabbiness. That is until 2009, when new owners Michelle Deery and John Courtney reopened the place, having given a funky refurb to the grand dame. And it's very much back in vogue.
It's quite a design statement. A wide whirl of a staircase greets you on arrival, your first taste of the DeBrett's signature carpet – a bright barcode of teal-orange-black-red-green stripes – that dominates the hotel, and looks so much better than it sounds.
Away from the stairs, the mirror-tiled lift is like riding inside a disco glitterball. Art deco touches – the curve of the banister, chrome handles and retro light-fittings – nod to the hotel's glory years.
Stories abound from those good old days, when the house bar was the place to be seen. Within its snug but buzzy wood-panelled walls, romances were started, deals signed, children (so the rumour goes) conceived. Now not quite so raucous, it's still a big draw; an international celebrity or two may well be spotted working through the quality wine list. Meanwhile, the knowledgeable bartenders can whip up a mean cocktail. The current bestseller is the saffron rose martini, a gin swizzle with a hint of flowers and oranges.
Away from the bar, a cosy guest-only drawing room provides a peaceful haven, with a free-to-use Apple Mac for internet surfing, a well-stocked library of books and films, and an honesty bar for mixing your own G&Ts.
But the star of the show is the hotel's newest edition: its central atrium, an outside-made-inside space flooded with natural light. You can lounge under the unique chandelier – recycled from old fittings found about the hotel – and listen to live jazz every Sunday.
It's also the place to dine on contemporary New Zealand fare at the in-house restaurant. Watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen, making use of the best of the seasons. Current menu favourites include a seafood risotto starter, packed with local scallops, and pan-seared hapuka with crayfish tortellini.
The DeBrett sits amid Auckland's urban throng of museums, galleries and shops. It is in the shadow of the city's highest building, the 328m needle-like Sky Tower (off which adventurers can throw themselves if they feel the urge: skyjump. co.nz). It's also a short walk from Waitemata Harbour, departure point for ferries across the bay, and the Viaduct – a commercial-port-turned-hipster-hangout. Following a makeover a few years back, this is where to eat, drink and be merry like a millionaire yachtie.
The airport is 25km south of the city; the regular Airbus Express takes around 45 minutes to connect the airport with the ferry terminal, with a stop on Queen Street, handy for the DeBrett.
You could sleep on that carpet: bespoke, cool and 100 per cent New Zealand wool, its pile and luxuriance is off the scale. But the beds, with huge, goose-down mattresses covered in cushions, are so inviting. An extensive pillow menu makes the plumpness more personal.
There are 25 rooms in all: a mix of Classic, Boutique and Loft Suites. Boutique rooms are larger with lounge areas and sofabeds; the two suites are bigger still, and flooded with natural light. But all are distinctively designed. White walls are offset by bright and funky furniture, with smoothies and homemade snacks in the mini bar, and DVD players and flat-screen TVs to entertain. The bathrooms are special. They have black granite under-heated floors while Art Deco-style circular tiles surround deep baths and separate monsoon showers.
Insider tips? Owner Michelle Deery is hard-pushed to choose but, when pressed, admits: "I love room 2.7, which has a hint of the sea and a really great armchair. Or 2.3 with its spiral staircase. But then again, my favourite artwork is in suite 1.1..."
Hotel DeBrett, 2 High Street, Auckland, New Zealand (00 64 9 925 9000; hoteldebrett.com)
Double rooms start at NZ$290 (£133), including breakfast, a pre-dinner drink, and Wi-Fi .
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