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Brisbane's Coolest New Boutique Hotel

Rather than steam clean their graffiti-filled grounds, Tryp wrapped their first hotel in Australia around the exuberant art. The result, Ron Gluckman reports, is a raw and raucous hotel in a reenergizing Brisbane neighborhood.

Published on Jan 21, 2016

at Brisbane's Tryp Fortitude Valley hotel. During my stay, I shared my suite with a gorgeous woman with big, beautiful blue eyes. She was painted on a wall two stories high, peering into my windows. Which, admittedly, may sound creepy. But this is Brisbane's first street-art designed hotel—a unique boutique property that justifiably has garnered international acclaim for its avant-garde style that includes massive murals on outside walls, spray painted hallways and graffiti bedecked interiors. Practically every corner of this brand-new 65-room downtown hotel is slathered in colorful art. In a world of cookie cutter hotels endlessly embracing the latest buzzy design, it's surprising nobody thought of this catchy theme before.

Tryp's rooftop bar.

Of course, the owners at Tryp missed it too, 'til they practically tripped over it.

Maybe it makes sense that it took a 12-year-old boy to recognize the potential in a playground for taggers and graffiti guerillas. Jeff Pilkington, who bought the site with a few partners six years ago, shares the story, and beers, on a brisk Brisbane night in the outdoor terrace at the hotel's signature restaurant, Chur. "It was a rundown neighborhood," he explains, "but we thought it would pick up." Though Fortitude Valley now abounds with bistros, bakeries and shops, the group's original plan to renovate the property into offices was derailed by the global economic crisis. So they locked down the site. While they focused on other projects (like kitting out hotels with their Bespoke Interior Solutions), the area steadily morphed into just the kind of still gritty-enough-to-be-cool emergent neighborhood that wound up with plenty of neo-industrial office space and sufficient buzz to support a boutique inn with lively bars and restaurants.

King with Internal Spa

Right in the middle of this gentrification sat the developers' dilapidated one-time backpacker hostel, so they switched tracks, and reached out to Tryp, Wyndham's urban brand looking to expand to Australia. But days before an important meeting, Pilkington says, they still hadn't pinned down the design. They had lots of ideas, but nothing they thought was sensational. Pilkington decided to seek inspiration by osmosis, and took another spin around the site with his family. As surrounding Fortitude Valley had moved upscale, their property had regressed further in the other direction. Abandoned for years, it was littered with trash, walls covered in graffiti. Then Pilkington noticed his son, Judd, excitedly snapping photos. "He was going crazy, taking pictures of all the art. That's when it hit me: that was the theme." The place had become a mecca of sorts for Australia's creative underground. "It was pretty unusual," the Sydney-based contemporary artist Elliot "Numskull" Routledge recalls. "I'd visited the site a couple times. It was a popular site for street art, with big walls and great location that was easy to get into, right in the heart of the city."

Outside, looking in.

Pilkington spotted some signatures. Judd posted pictures on Instagram. Word circulated on social media, and they tracked down several artists. In the end, four were given complete creative freedom to decorate an entire floor each: Numskull, Fintan Magee, Beastman (a play on his name, Brad Eastman) and Tyrone "Rone" Wright. The divergent styles of these now internationally recognized painters complement each other while making every vantage point different. Numskull specializes in graphic designs—colorful lines and patterns. Beastman, also based in Sydney, creates vibrant kaleidoscopic abstracts. Magee and Melbourne's Rone have both traveled the world, from Tunisia to Mexico, splashing up gigantic portraits, but whereas Magee does lifelike full-body people in absurdist situations, Rone mainly focuses on female faces, like the sad-eyed lady seductively spying into my room. The A$20-million renovation not only highlights contemporary art, but the heritage of an old building that had once hosted the local chapter of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, one of those long-ago international secret societies. A bull's head is mounted in the lobby stairwell, above an original society plaque salvaged from the building. The hotel also asserts irreverent authority in its dining. Chur, the fine dining restaurant, and Up, the rooftop, are run by chef Warren Turnbull, who has a few Chef Hats to his name while also being beloved for his bizarre burgers. Persuading people whose lives are dedicated to coloring outside the lines to go corporate took some doing, Pilkington admits: "It was a little bit like herding cats." But wooing the artists was only one step in a process filled with surprises. "When we talked to Tryp, we were nervous. We didn't know if we'd last two minutes." He nearly despaired when people dashed out of the meeting, but they soon returned with colleagues. "All of a sudden, there were 25 people in the room. They really got it. It was the funniest half hour of my life."

It made sense. Tryp embraces urban centers with the motto: "Own the City." Having street artists reclaim the site encapsulates that philosophy, in bold colors.

Tryp's rooftop bar.

"The concept was really great," says Rone, who hadn't painted at the location prior to being hired. "But I knew of it. That's a Brisbane graffiti landmark, like the Graffiti Hall of Fame." And thanks to a keen-eyed 12-year-old with a camera, you and that two-story blue-eyed beauty can be the newest inductees.

Tryp Fortitude Valley, Brisbane; 14-20 Constance St., Fortitude Valley, Queensland; +61 7 3319 7888



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