When Marriott International purchased Spanish chain AC Hotels in 2011, it was in service of a vision: premium, stylish and intuitive accommodation that combined the best of both brands with a less-is-more aesthetic. In words from AC Hotels Marriott itself, it is the "perfectly precise hotel".
There’s a heavy emphasis on style at AC Hotels Marriott locations, both inside and out. The design of AC Hotel Melbourne Southbank catches my eye as I approach along the West Gate Freeway. It’s one of a handful of impressively tall buildings sprouting up in the former industrial precinct and its black glass and angular design make an instant impression.
AC Hotel Melbourne’s unique view
The AC Hotel Melbourne Southbank location also means that, whatever you’re in town to do, you’re never too far away from the activity. In fact, set back as it is from the city proper means the hotel has a unique perspective of Melbourne, which is reflected in its stunning views.
Every level of the hotel enjoys a towering, full-frame view of the Victorian capital. Heavy grays throughout the hotel’s hallways draw your eyes to the vista, particularly in the contemporary rooms.
Floor-to-ceiling windows are a constant invitation to the city outside (as are the binoculars on the desk).
This is AC Hotel’s first Australian location and it seems determined to make sure you’re always aware of where you are. Even from the bathroom, dominated by an enormous tub, it’s possible to bask in the cityscape.
But as arresting as the view is, upon entering my signature suite, my eyes are immediately drawn to the Bluetooth turntable sitting in the corner. The quirky addition (and its eclectic selection of vinyl) shifts the dynamic of the room from functional to a place to hang out.
The multitude of space also helps. The room’s amenities seem to be practicing their own brand of social distancing. The room is uncluttered by pointless odds and ends and looks closer to a contemporary apartment than a hotel room (and rightfully so, given the upper floors of the building are indeed private units).
Plenty of reasons to stay in
Combined with the floor-to-ceiling windows, this stylistic choice and the AC’s multitude of experiences make the hotel seem like a bubble floating on the edge of the city. AC Hotels and Marriott have made sure there’s just as many reasons to stay in as to go out.
The AC Lounge, Bar de Buceo poolside bar and the Sorolla restaurant draw heavily on the company’s Spanish origins for their cocktails and seasonal menu. Highlights of the latter include jamon gitano (served here with rockmelon and sourdough), cauliflower, pine nut and chimichurri empanadas, a full-flavored bacalao and los pepinos, which provide a creamy-yet-crisp palate cleanser between courses. Alfajores helado (dulce de leche ice cream sandwich) and a generous serving of burnt orange crema catalana rounded out the meal.
While the view is an exception (even the wait staff sometimes pause to admire it), the Sorolla’s employment of the hotel’s beige-gray color scheme provides a low-key, functional feel that serves to focus diners’ attention on the food.
AC Hotels is also big on aromas. The reception features a lavender station, where guests can collect small sacks filled with lavender that help improve sleep quality.
And the chain’s signature gin and tonic is served with slices of dried orange in a bespoke glass designed to highlight the drink’s aromatic scents. Curiously, at least in my room, the minibar is bereft of any drinks at all.
When you leave the hotel to head into the city, the Southbank location reveals its drawbacks. Getting to the central business district is more than a short walk away, but trams and taxis are readily available. Parking is also an issue. The street outside fills quickly and the hotel’s off-site lot, located a street away, incurs a US$6.80 (A$10) fee. But once you’ve settled on a mode of transportation, returning to accommodation that’s not right in the heart of the city isn’t so bad.
A peaceful and luxurious respite
The distance, service and experience at the AC Hotel Melbourne Southbank make it a bubble, offering the kind of peaceful and luxurious respite a hotel should. This perception is assisted by the generous 1pm checkout time and dog-friendly policy (up to two pets per room for a fee), which allows guests to bring more of their world inside AC Hotel’s fold.
As the evening arrives, as you’d expect, the heated infinity pool on level six offers fantastic views of the city and all its bustle.
The vista truly comes to life at night, with bursts of flame erupting from the adjacent Crown Casino as West Gate traffic whizzes by beneath the glowing skyline unabated.
Behind me, the outdoor area is pulsing with an energy of its own: a group of girls light up Instagram by the deck, while at the bar a woman shows off her new engagement ring to friends over a glass of bubbly. Such is the economy of space and thoughtful design that there’s no overlap between all of this activity and my solitary swim.
Within hours, I’ll be back on that freeway – once again, a part of the order of things – but for now, this bubble will do quite nicely.