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Palace of pleasure

Updated: Apr 18, 2020


Photos by Anson Smart

Shaping the three-level Imperial Hotel Erskineville into a ‘palace of pleasure’ and relaunching it into one of Australia's most revered LGBQTI safe havens was the goal that the designers of the hotel set out to achieve.

The Imperial Hotel is now reborn as as a cultural icon and stands tall in the design fraternity of bustling Sydney. It was the birthplace of the movie Priscilla and plays a pivotal role in the greater Sydney community as a historic theatre and event space. It is dynamically programmed and responsive, turning from dining to dance floor with ease.

This project is designed by Alexander &CO, the firm is a multidisciplinary design practice with a global reach. At the core of Alexander &CO's DNA is the ambition to create timeless and market leading design. The studio provides a client journey that is focused on highly effective relationships and outcomes. Their people and culture are recognised by an empathic, social and team focused communication.

This hotel was designed to be multifunctional, the ground floor is made up of a 250-seat restaurant called Priscillas and has been conceived as a lost palace, a cabaret dream scape of haphazardly replaced stone floor tiles and detailed timberwork. Various hand forged steel-framed glass houses and skylights throw shadows over broken brickwork, hand laid masonry arches and bespoke tile patterns. The melted wax from the central fireplace and hearth in contrast to the vivid colour ways of the furniture and the dirty pink tones of the detailed ceilings and walls.

The hotel is illuminated by various repurposed lamp shades and brass wall sconces. Carefully curated fringed pendants throw shadow upon table settings whilst the main entry is notably illuminated by broke-down chandeliers. The space also features a private dining area with large paper sculpture and open kitchen. The main bar features a bespoke cathedral-esque/Biblical fresco ceiling mural with the adjoining theatrical cocktail bar opening out onto a glazed enclosure to an inner courtyard and winter garden.

The hotel is careful to reimagine this cultural building icon into a place of fantasy whilst respectfully acknowledging its LGBQTI custodians. It is outrageous, inclusive and fantastic but not light. Amongst its array of colour and shape is the gravity of its legacy, the shadow of history cast upon its many surfaces. This is a place to celebrate and rediscover, but also a place with significant legacy, grit, sometimes even heaviness.

Although the hotel feels immediately decorative, it is in fact a collection of robust building materials faced in makeup. Brick work, concrete, steel, all represented in colour and high fidelity. Something in the metaphor of Priscillas restaurant is the ability for this rawness to never feel like a construction site, but instead a theatre of colour, a visual outrage.

The upper level pizzeria and bar is called Imperial UP and features an outdoor golden pizza oven, bar and an indoor cocktail bar, private dining room, lounge and seating. There is also a lower level nightclub and Australia’s first same sex marriage Cathedral which was due to open in 2019 on the rooftop.

Surely, a vibrant spot like this in the heart of Sydney is inviting to all!

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