Andrew Murfett catches unbeatable views of the city and its sporting shrine from a revitalised Hilton.
It's a balmy Friday afternoon in Melbourne and the city's army of office workers is abuzz with the possibilities of the weekend ahead. At Riverland, a bar below Federation Square on the Yarra, ties are loosened and the drudgery of the week's work is jettisoned in favour of Friday night beers.
It's here that we find ourselves - unencumbered of the usual commute home - enjoying a drink. We eventually wander up the road to Hilton on the Park. With the AFL finals and the interstate visitors they delivered to the city now just a memory, there's a congenial, unhurried mood at the Hilton, as a mix of tourists and interstate business travellers make their way back to the hotel.
Hilton on the Park's brown brick exterior has long been a fixture of East Melbourne's skyline. It was once one of the city's premium accommodation options and although those halcyon days appear to be over, it retains its impeccable location, rendering it convenient for working travellers and locals looking for a city getaway.
After a long day in the office, all we want to do is put our feet up and order room service. However, we decide to splurge on an executive room at check-in, which gives us club lounge access, free cocktails and nibbles for two hours nightly, plus breakfast.
The lounge is warm and cosy, providing a spectacular 180-degree view of the city that takes in the Yarra, Port Phillip Bay and the southern suburbs. At sunset, it's a sight to behold.
Our 12th-floor room is a bit larger than the standard, with a comfortable king-size bed and a snug armchair - an ideal vantage point from which to take in the incredible view of the MCG and its surroundings. The bathroom includes a generous bath-shower and a separate toilet.
Although the hotel is showing its age in the lobby, our room is modern and appears to have been upgraded recently.
Having packed runners in anticipation of a jog around the city, we awake to grey skies and pouring rain. Disappointed, we head upstairs to the lounge for our continental breakfast. The view is good enough for us to overlook the bitter coffee and modest selection of toast, cereal and fruit.
Stepping out Borrowing an umbrella from the concierge (a steep $50 refundable deposit), we brave the rain and amble up to Smith Street, Collingwood, in search of good coffee. We end up at hipster haven Proud Mary. Being Saturday, there's a wait, but the strong lattes and scrambled eggs are worth it.
Next we board a tram and head to Collins Street to another wet-weather refuge, Kino Cinemas. After our film, we're back in time for evening cocktails and pastries in the hotel's lounge. The crowd is what New Yorkers would describe as "the bridge and tunnel set". Dressed in suits and cocktail dresses, many are in town for work functions or family weddings and are splurging on a night's accommodation. As with the rest of the hotel, the staff are patient and friendly. The view, now dominated by glistening city lights, is glorious.
And then we ate We settle in for room service, which, for comfort food, is pricey (more than $30 for my cheeseburger), but is delivered promptly and is delicious. The room-service menu is typical: pizzas, toasted sandwiches, creamy pastas and other generic dining options. This particular weekend, though, it proves rather enticing. Braving a cool, blustery morning, we get our jog in on Sunday, after which we wisely opt for tea instead of coffee in the club lounge, and breakfast is a much better experience.
The deal maker For all the charm of boutique accommodation, when done right, the chain experience is just as comfortable and satisfying.
Address 192 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne.
Phone 9419 2000, see hiltonmelbourne.com.au.
Price Standard room from $228 a night; Executive room $339; Suites $459.
The verdict A superb location and excellent staff ensure a comfortable night in.
Ideal for business travellers or those looking to escape into town for a night.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Enjoy a picnic in the adjacent Fitzroy Gardens.