Superstars and royalty have laid their heads in Sydney hotel with a tragic story, writes Lauren Quaintance.
Just about every city has a hotel made notorious by the exploits of its more famous guests. In New York, it's the now-shuttered Hotel Chelsea, a bohemian institution where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and where Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, met an untimely end.
At the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, James Dean once jumped through a window to audition for Rebel Without a Cause and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded his vocals for By the Way in his room.
Until the early 2000s, Sydney's most storied hotel was the Ritz Carlton in Double Bay, where Princess Diana stayed in 1996 and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke married his biographer Josephine Blanche d'Alpuget and lived for two years.
The hotel never quite recovered from the death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who accidentally asphyxiated himself in Room 524 in 1997. The 140-room hotel closed, was briefly reopened as The Sir Stamford, before shutting again a couple of years later and standing idle for half a decade.
In a way, the hotel's fate portended the decline of the once-genteel harbourside neighbourhood that surrounded it. Double Bay was one of Sydney's most prestigious suburbs in the 1980s and coiffed European emigres gathered at Double Bay institutions such as The Cosmopolitan cafe.
With its velvet seats and grand piano, the Cosmo in Knox St was modelled on the salons of Budapest and Vienna. But in the following decade, the suburb abruptly fell out of fashion.
During this time the ghost of the once grand Ritz Carlton loomed large over Double Bay; while developers haggled with the council over the site it was used for Russian dance parties, its rooms reportedly used by sex workers.
Then a proposal by the Singaporean company behind the Intercontinental group - which saw its potential as the only five-star hotel outside the CBD - was approved and late last year the hotel was reborn.
The faux-Regency facade remains, but some of the dark and opulent wood panelling has been banished in favour of a lighter but still conservative look. The new owners retained the structure of the old building and there are still 140 rooms - some overlooking the harbour and others overlooking the village. The rooms have been tastefully revamped except, strangely, the original narrow bathtubs remain.
The fifth-floor Royal Suite - where Princess Diana was famously photographed peeking out of the curtains and Madonna and Bill Clinton also stayed - is like a well-appointed apartment with its own study, eight-seater dining table and servery, as well as a wardrobe with space for 80 shoes.
An elegant bar just off the foyer called Stillery serves no fewer than 65 brands of gin including Rogue Society, Black Robin and Broken Heart from New Zealand. At the restaurant, Stockroom, the menu was inspired by Double Bay's history more than 200 years ago as farmland and market gardens and it namechecks a who's who of Australian providores and producers.
But the showpiece is undoubtedly the rooftop pool and bar. With four billowy cabanas and blue-and-white striped loungers around a shallow pool, the rooftop has a view across brick apartment blocks and Norfolk pines to Sydney Harbour. The rooftop is open to non-hotel guests (minimum spend of $250 after midday) and when we visited the pool was crowded with cocktail-drinking girls taking selfies, the music a little too loud for dozing.
The best thing about the Intercontinental, however, has to be the shock of life it's given to Double Bay. There are a clutch of new restaurants - including an outpost of the well-regarded modern Japanese Sake that has moved in underneath the hotel - high-end boutiques and a handful of small bars.
And if you visit The Cosmo you can still get a glimpse of Double Bay's recent past: bejewelled older ladies with tiny dogs and groups of men with piles of newspapers and ristrettos.
The Intercontinental represents the best of the old and the new in Double Bay, and gives visitors the chance to see Sydney through the prism of one of its most interesting suburbs.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies several times daily direct between Auckland and Sydney.
Further information: The Intercontinental Double Bay is 4.5km from Sydney's CBD and 14km from the airport.