Hotel basement hits the heights

A "giant tomb" of concrete has been given a new lease of life, writes Stephen Crafti.

A "giant tomb" of concrete has been given a new lease of life, writes Stephen Crafti.

Renovations to this basement, directly below the Newmarket Hotel in Inkerman Street, St Kilda, were on the drawing board well before the hotel was completed.

Initially conceived as a band venue, changes in liquor licensing regulations meant this cavernous space remained a concrete shell for a couple of years.

"It felt like a giant tomb, with only the concrete walls, floor and ceiling," says architect Mark Healy, a director of Six Degrees Architects.

After the hotel was complete, with a cafe and bar, the owners were looking for a more decadent environment for the basement.

"We wanted something quite plush, not dissimilar to what you'd find in a 1920s nightclub," says Tom Walker, one of the owners of the venue.

Six metres below ground, the Cellar Bar is a sharp contrast to the hotel. Featuring Persian-inspired carpets and gold mosaic walls, it's an "Aladdin's cave" of decadence. Red velvet drapes usher guests into a different world, with marble bench tops and buttoned leather clad bars. Rose-coloured mirrors accentuate gold mosaic tiles, used on walls and columns. And for added glitz, gold beads frame alcoves, as well as customised lights.

While the decorative touches are impressive, including a sculptured timber ceiling, Six Degrees was also mindful of the sight lines to the stage.

"You really can see the stage from anywhere you choose to sit," Healy says.

There are a series of seating levels. Those wanting a little more privacy can sit in one of the leather-padded booths above the main seating area. And those who want to be closer to the band can relax in one of the armchairs surrounding the stage.

"The design is tongue-in-cheek, something you might find in a '60s Vegas nightclub, as much as a 1920s burlesque bar," says Healy, who recalls some of the great bar scenes in movies.

Although senses go into overdrive on first arrival, the "ride" continues at the back of house. The green room, where performers prepare, is closet-sized and tucked behind the stage. Florence Broadhurst's fabric wallpaper of peacock feathers is cheekily combined with a gold tap basin, complete with Hollywood lights around a mirror. There's even a secret door leading to a bathroom, with a translucent glass wall in the shower.

Those wanting to see some of the most adventurous bathroom designs around should make a point of visiting these gems. The Six Degrees office came up with the various schemes by holding a competition among its staff, with six designs shortlisted for implementation.

One bathroom resembles something you might find in a Paris subway. Another features saucy black lace curtains.

A little further down the passage, patrons will find the bathroom known as the "birdcage", with copper pipes lining the walls. And although barely more than a square metre, it appears to go on for infinity, with the multitude of steel tube ceiling lights reflected by the mirrored walls.

For those with a passion for luxury cruises, there is a bathroom with leather-padded walls embedded in oak and walnut panels.

Everything seems to go in this place, even though there is a broad range of references from the 20th century. And with great panache, every detail has been considered to the nth degree, making The Cellar Bar a place that must be experienced.

"It's a fantastic result. You feel like you're in a little oasis," Mr Walker says.

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