- Spacious room with quirky art and fantastic views
- Alibi restaurant a vegan gem
- Public spaces very cold
- Complimentary minibar
- Daily ‘Social Hour’ drinks
Sydney is home to an above average share of historic buildings – some filled with a century or more of intriguing tales and fascinating secrets.
Ovolo Woolloomooloo may not be the first to spring to mind, yet this five star hotel is bursting with stories.
As a history buff, and a fan of quirky hotels that prefer to dance outside the cookie-cutter mould, I jumped at the chance to step inside the hotel, nestled within the cream and turquoise walls of Woolloomooloo Wharf, which stretches over 400-metres atop the waters of Sydney Harbour.
From its origin as Sydney’s first fish market in the 1910s to a major woolstore and launch pad for soldiers bound for wartime activity, the property was converted into luxury apartments and a hotel, operating today as Ovolo Woolloomooloo.
The wharf-top hotel with a passion for social drinks and vegan fine dining is one well worth checking into.
There is one small trade-off to its unique heritage appeal though, and it’s one you’ll need to dress accordingly for. More on that later.
Location & Impressions
Positioned between the Royal Botanic Gardens and Garden Island naval base, around five minutes drive or 20 minutes walk from Circular Quay, Ovolo Woolloomooloo appears at first glance to be a sprawling mega hotel.
However, only the first third of the building is the actual hotel – the remainder is mostly residential apartments.
Some of Sydney's finest restaurants, including China Doll and OTTO, stretch along one side of the wharf, while classic pie cart Harry’s Café de Wheels is immediately next door.
Entering from Cowper Wharf Roadway, the reception and concierge are at ground level, while the hotel’s bar and restaurant ‘Alibi’ fills the soaring central atrium, just up a flight of stairs.
If you're bringing your own car, valet parking is available for $90 per night, however the front door is not well attended, meaning you'll need to find a space at the front or pull into a driveway to the side of the hotel and notify staff for assistance.
This area is also the convivial heart of the hotel, home to cosy lounge spaces known as ‘The Living Room’ – ideal for catching up with friends or colleagues – and where a complimentary sundowner drink of beer or wine can be enjoyed during Social Hour every evening.
The pre-dinner tipple is one of several included perks at all Ovolo Hotels, which range from ultra-high speed Wi-Fi (clocked at a download speed of an incredible 214Mbps) and unlimited in-room minibar, to a self-service laundry and ‘Loot Bag’ of snacks.
Our visit during the height of Sydney's wintertime spectacular Vivid Festival saw the hotel’s stunning public areas adorned in electric blue and violet light, adding an extra dimension to the already-colourful space – particularly at night, when gas fire pits and twinkling fairy lights created an enchanting atmosphere.
However, there was one big downside to the atrium space: it was incredibly cold. Jackets, scarves and beanies were all standard apparel for fellow guests, even at breakfast and dinner.
As a heritage listed site, no changes are permissible to the atrium’s internal structure. In winter, lack of insulation on the ceiling and the wharf’s open air design combine to leave the space very cold. The opposite is likely true in summer, although its 'Big Ass Fans' would no doubt help.
Ovolo has done its best to counteract the temperature issue – you could call it an ‘historic charm’ – with bar heaters, but it was still essential to rug up each time you left your room.
My Cityvoo King Room (412) was spacious and well-appointed, with a sensational view to the city.
Immediately to the right of the entrance was a small nook with a table to drop your room key and empty your pockets, followed by a monochromatic bathroom with sleek black tapware, a white vanity and bathtub, grey-tiled bath area and separate shower.
A circular mirror, waffle-weave bathrobe with slippers, and amenities with names riffing off hit songs – the Aerosmith-inspired ‘Wash This Way’ body wash and TLC-centric ‘Ain’t No Scrub’ shampoo – added a bit of playfulness to the otherwise fairly standard bathroom.
Moving deeper inside, the room opened up to a king-size bed with wraparound bed head, smart TV with Chromecast and Harmon Kardon speaker on the left, and round dining table with two chairs, which also doubled as the only workspace.
The room’s namesake city view was revealed beyond, with a trio of comfy square lounges and a chaise with built-in drinks table providing a perfect spot to witness the skyline blink into life.
Spinning around, a large built-in mirror and bright red bench space contained the minibar – restocked daily and comprising two bottles of beer, two cans of Coke, an apple juice, milk and a bottle of pinot grigio – with an assortment of teas and coffee available too.
The complimentary minibar is a nice touch, one helping Ovolo stand apart from other five star brands in the city, such as Hilton, Four Seasons and the Shangri-La, which all charge. While it would be preferable to have more than one of each item, it’s still more value than you get elsewhere.
Ovolo prides itself on its quirkiness. The room itself was surprisingly reserved compared to the rest of the hotel, yet there were a few welcome sparks of personality – the most notable being its artworks and bedhead, which sported a below-the-waist shot of men in swimwear.
Different images feature in other rooms, such as a shot of glamorous ladies dressed in elaborate hats for a day at the races.
On the surface our room was clean, modern and equipped with everything I needed for a couple of days in the city, but closer inspection showed a bit of wear and tear.
For example, drawers next to the minibar and the small cupboard containing the safe didn’t open easily, with the latter directly on the ground and the thick pile of the carpet stopping the door from swinging open. These were minor issues that could be easily fixed.
Aside from that, it was a quality room and one I’d happily check into again.
Ovolo Woolloomooloo is one of a growing number of hotels opening their doors to guests with pets, offering the creatively titled ‘V.I.Pooch’ package, however there are some rules associated with this.
As the name suggests, this package caters for dog owners only (sorry, owners of cats, birds or reptiles). Guests can bring up to two dogs with them, each at a charge of $80 per night.
Inside the room on arrival, guests will find a cute nautically-themed bed set up for their furry friends along with food and water bowls, a plate of treats and a selection of toys to keep them occupied.
Pets must remain on a lead when outside of the room and are only permitted in limited spaces, such as in a special ‘Inner Circle’ at the front of the restaurant (a good 40 metres from the breakfast buffet) and are not allowed in the pool or gym areas.
For a daily walk, guests and their pups are spoiled for choice, with the Sydney Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie's Chair parklands accessible within a 2-3 minute walk.
While it is certainly pleasant to see happy pups enjoying the hotel, access restrictions do make it difficult for human guests to make use of hotel facilities.
The hotel doesn’t offer any pet-sitting services, but is able to arrange for this if guests wish to visit a less pet-friendly place during their stay.
If you’re after a hotel that balances work and leisure, Ovolo Woolloomooloo is a fine choice.
There’s no executive lounge, but there are ample spaces dotted around the main atrium – casual lounges and booth seats – where you could happily settle in for a day’s work, or meet with clients and colleagues.
The lounge nearest the lobby became my de facto office.
Up in my Cityvoo King, the circular dining table is the default office desk. A desk lamp on the table added some light to the space but was more ambient than direct lighting.
The rattan seat itself wasn’t overly comfortable for extended periods, but a nearby cushion worked a treat.
Internet speeds during my visit were 60Mbps download and 68Mbps upload, although a later test saw downloads leap to 214Mbps - one of the fastest hotel connections we've ever encounted in Australia.
Veganism is a lifestyle choice which has so far passed me by. I’m not against it, but I haven’t gone out of my way to explore it either – that is, until I stayed at Ovolo Woolloomooloo.
Alibi Restaurant and Bar is the hotel’s only dining venue. In the mornings, it offers vegetarian breakfasts with a rotating menu of dishes such as scrambled eggs, tomatoes and hash browns.
This, the most important meal of the day, is another of the hotel’s complimentary benefits.
But by night, the creativity is unleashed in the kitchen, resulting in a destination restaurant with a choice of à la carte or a signature shared tasting menu with paired wines.
Under the deft leadership of Executive Chef Tom Liang, Alibi offers an elevated take on vegan cuisine, one which challenges any preconceived notions of what the cuisine is and can be.
Dishes like a ‘beetroot tartare’ topped with a delicate nest of shoestring potato, chargrilled okra with eggplant and a mushroom XO sauce, and the ‘Ispahan’ raspberry lychee rose semifreddo are just a few of my personal highlights from the share menu.
While I admit my knowledge of vegan cuisine was somewhat lacking at the start of the evening, I think I left with a better understanding of what’s possible – particularly thanks to the excellent service.
Needless to say, I will definitely be returning for a second helping.
A 24-hour gymnasium and swimming pool located halfway between the hotel and residential area of the property is shared between both guests and residents.
You’ll want to listen to the reception staff when they mention the location and opening hours of the pool at check-in (hint: follow the buoy stickers on the atrium floor) as there’s no compendium listing the facilities and directions.
I know compendiums are a bit old-hat these days, but I feel they do still serve a purpose, even if it’s just a static PDF accessible via the hotel’s website or a QR code in the room.
After looking at the hotel from afar for many years, I finally got my chance to step inside – and I’m glad I did. What I found was a boutique Sydney hotel full of character and heart, with an appreciated mission to make hotels social once again, not just mere places to stay.
While the temperature issue wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t a deal breaker either. That’s just part of life in a historic building, where the design quirks and ghosts of the past are all part of its DNA.
The writer stayed as a guest of Ovolo Hotels. Additional reporting by Matt Lennon.