If you cut The Old Clare, she’d bleed beer: the hotel’s handsome rooms, rooftop pool and top-chef restaurants occupy a former student pub and Carlton & United Breweries’ administrative HQ. Band posters, original features and the brewery’s intact boardroom raise a pint to the hotel’s history.
Double rooms from £127.38 (AU$247), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually exclude an à la carte breakfast of bacon and egg rolls, spelt porridge and eggs on sourdough with various toppings, or something different (chickpea pancakes, brown rice with broccolini) dishes start at AU$8.
The hotel gym is open round-the-clock, should you fancy a run in the wee hours. There's upmarket Technogym equipment and personal trainers are on hand if you need a little more motivation.
At the hotel
Rooftop pool; restaurant; two bars (plus a pool bar in summer); gym; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: smart TV, Bluetooth-enabled sound system, desk, minibar, Triumph & Disaster bath products.
Our favourite rooms
If your ideal city break involves wallowing in a bath, skip the Connell or Kent rooms, which have a shower (all the rest have tubs for two). The suites come with plummy heritage features, most notably the brewery HQ’s original boardroom, ceilings, timber panelling – even men’s urinals – in the vast C.U.B. Suite. If you’ve got a soft spot for pigs, book the Mary O’ Suite, named after Mary O’Shea: a local woman who used to maraud around Chippendale seeking slaughterhouse off-cuts for her pigs. (There’s nothing porcine about the suite, though.)
Sydney could do with more rooftop swimming pools. The Old Clare is helping to redress the balance with its lofty lap pool (open 6am to 9.30pm) set on timber decking – hot property in summer, thanks to the pool bar and city views.
Come thirsty, in honour of the hotel’s boozy heritage. (It’s safe to assume you won’t need to bring a bottle opener.)
Welcome. Rollaway beds ($75 a night) and cots (free) can be added to rooms (book in advance).
The Rooftop bar; open from 3pm to 9.30pm, Thursday and Friday, and from 12 noon to 9.30pm on the weekend.
Mrs Smith: match the hotel’s up-cycling by sporting reworked classics by Sydney designer Johnny Schembri (such as his digital-print patchwork dresses). Mr Smith: add beer-brown accents with vintage leather and tortoiseshell- or wood-framed sunnies.
Housed in the hotel's signature art deco-ed diner, casual Clare Bar's all day menu serves up sharers of the likes of marinated mount olives and lime-fried prawns before moving on to mains of burgers, barramundi, steak and more.
You’d expect most bars to be pro-booze, but Clare Bar takes things a step further: it’s kitted out in brown-hued light panels that nod to the autumnal hues of beer bottles. Naturally, there’s a solid selection of craft beer, as well as gluggable wine and clever cocktails, tossed and stirred by tatt-clad, bearded bartenders. The open-year-round, glass-canopied rooftop bar – a haven from the bustling city below – will quench your post-swim thirst with moreish cocktails. Be sure to order an array from the tempting bar-snack menu: black-pudding sausage rolls, Ortiz anchovies with cultured butter and pickles, and silverbeet and manchego croquettes make for satisfying stomach-liners.
Get tipsy till midnight in the bar; dine from 11.30am to 10pm in the restaurant.
Dine in your room any time of day or night. Fill up on an Angus cheeseburger or Wagyu steak with chips; for something a little lighter take your pick of organic hummus with roast peppers, or flatbread with truffled mushrooms.
The Old Clare occupies a prime spot in Chippendale, an inner-city suburb that’s recently had a lot of coin pumped into its regeneration: expect shiny new restaurants, galleries and shops for neighbours.
Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport (www.sydneyairport.com.au) is 7km away, a 20-minute drive. Big spenders might want to opt for the hotel’s limousine transfers ($115–$150 each way, depending on flight times).
Central Station, NSW’s busiest, is a short skip from the hotel. You can shuttle between suburbs, or get to the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley and the South Coast and Highlands (www.sydneytrains.info).
The hotel is a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Valet parking is available from the Kensington Street entrance for $70 a night (first come, first served).
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel organises art exhibitions, music nights and more, but it’d be a crying shame to miss out on the brilliant surrounding area. The Old Clare is part of the Central Park urban renewal project, which includes two new parks, a shopping centre, public sculptures and several skyscrapers. Locals already love Daiso, in the shopping precinct, which has 200,000-plus treasures from Japan, almost all priced at $2.80 (random, we know). Looking for something more local? Head to the Brewery Yard Markets on the first and third Sunday of every month and haggle for street art, jewellery and vintage threads. Don’t miss White Rabbit Gallery, Judith Neilson’s eye-bogglingly beautiful, non-profit temple to 21st-century Chinese art, housed in a former knitting factory on Balfour Street. But stop for dumplings at the gallery’s teahouse first – you’ve got four floors to conquer, after all.
Ester Restaurant and Bar serves show-off cooking in a deliciously relaxed environment. Order the hasselback spuds and the ‘three milks’ dessert. Get your smoke on at LP’s Quality Meats, which champions all things barbecue in a casual, canteen-style setting. (Even the mashed potato with gravy is worth writing home about.) Pizza, beer jugs and a sociable garden: pub life doesn’t get more mellow than at the Rose Hotel on Cleveland Street. If you’re a little green around the gills from the night before, fix up with the English-style fried breakfast. Spice Alley, just behind the hotel, has a lovely, lantern-lit courtyard and a selection of diners serving pan-Asian fare.
You’ll find some of the best bread in Sydney (a tall order, but we’re standing by it) at Brickfields, a café/bakery on Cleveland Street that belongs to two master bakers: Simon Cancio and Paul Geshos. Get in early to nab the window seats. Australians take their coffee very seriously; see why with a pit-stop at the Concrete Jungle Café.
Charcuterie boards, biodynamic wines, laidback atmosphere, crafty cocktails: if there’s anything not to like about wine bar Lil Sis, we’re yet to discover it.
Full points to Alice, Guest Services Manager (according to her business card) at The Old Clare Hotel. She’s left a handwritten note on a cardboard coaster in my room, propped up against a framed photo of my toy poodle, Jinkee, sadly left at home for this trip. ‘Hello Mrs Smith,’ it reads, ‘We know you love writing, food and travelling, but there is also Jinkee, and we are gutted that he can’t be with you.’ At this point I’d usually explain that Jinkee is a girl, but I’m so impressed it doesn’t matter. It continues, ‘So we prepared a belated gift for him.’ In a calico bag with ‘Jinkee’ stamped across the front is a novelty squeaky dog toy. For the humans: treats from nearby Kakawa Chocolates.
There are 62 rooms here in what used to be the Carlton and United Breweries Administration Building. A glass atrium links it to the pokiest-room-turned-reception with its retro posters, vintage barber chairs and amber glass-panelled desk. The atrium is a thoroughfare between Carlton and Kensington Streets, the latter lined with restaurants and a laneway of cheap eats called Spice Alley. My Clare Room is the priciest of three types, not including lofts and suites. If budget allows, the boardroom has been transformed into the 100-plus square metre C.U.B. Suite with restored timber panelling, an eight-seater table and slick bathroom featuring the original urinal. Each room is different and other than some plaster-chipped walls, mine feels a little newer.
I wonder if anyone has tried to pinch the lamp made from old engine parts, but for all the industrial touches the super king bed feels soft enough to swallow me whole. Blackout blinds make it difficult to rise, countered only by the unwelcome sound of garbage trucks. On the small desk an information manual titled ‘Random crap’ flaunts the sassy Old Clare attitude, which segues to the shower with Triumph & Disaster toiletries (read the labels for cheap entertainment). There’s Young Henrys beer in the minibar from a few kilometres away, but I opt for tea in a Le Creuset mug. Wedged between the city and grungy-cool inner west, Chippendale – once a neighbourhood known for brothels and bad behaviour – is now the place to be. Given its history I’m hesitant to find out what happens if I hang the ‘I’m lonely’ sign on the door. The reverse reads ‘I’m busy’, a no-bollocks interpretation of the standard Do Not Disturb.
Upon booking, my confirmation email urged me to contact #TheSuperConcierge and provided access to Porter & Sail, an invite-only website and app modelled on the concierge experience. I go with the former, explaining to the Super Concierge – more commonly known as Martin – that I haven’t been to Sydney for a little while and could he please recommend some places to eat because eating is what I do best. It’s an A+ for Martin, who bullet-points old favourites (Ester, Acme, Lumi Dining, 10 William Street) and sprinkles in some new ones (Saint Peter, Nour, Isaac). Automata at the Old Clare is as good as any, so I stay on-site. Inside, it turns out Automata is an old warehouse with an elongated communal table, open kitchen and mezzanine level, with mechanical features like cylinder downlights and an aircraft radial engine chandelier. Chef Clayton Wells offers a five-course set menu ($95 plus $65 for matched drinks) and a three-course lunch for $60 Wednesday through Saturday.
When I visit, his new all-day diner A1 Canteen is moments away from opening across the pedestrian laneway. That means breakfast at the Old Clare’s Kensington Street Social, which is open three meals a day. I’m smug about booking the breakfast set with the room for an extra $25 – for two it would have cost twice that on the morning. One evening after dinner out I return to the hotel for a second dessert. Kensington Street Social accommodates with an oversized dark chocolate flan specked with cocoa nibs. For something more casual, the Clare Bar beside reception is a rowdier, retro homage to the original watering hole.
The following morning I have chocolate flan on the brain and descend to the gym on level-1. It’s cavernous and feels a little like it’s there to tick an amenity box. My time is better spent beside the rooftop pool, with its stunning urban outlook among Chippendale’s multibillion-dollar redevelopment project. This includes a verdant backdrop courtesy of the world’s tallest vertical garden, cascading 150 meters down the reflective windows of One Central Park. This rooftop is clearly the place to do the Sydney socialite thing over summer – peacocking with beautiful people at the bar and attending pop-ups and events. Instead, I find peace in the middle of the city, first thing in the morning. The rooftop is a suntrap as water trickles over the edge of the infinity pool and muffled traffic starts up below. I think about the hotel. This is the fourth time The Old Clare has been accommodation since the mid 1800s, interspersed with other shops and dealerships. Here, I don’t need the walls to talk – in the face of gentrification you can feel the history.