The verdict on notorious Melbourne prison’s $1 billion hotel conversion

The hotel

The Interlude, Coburg, Victoria

Check-in

Melbourne’s 170-year-old bluestone prison has been skilfully and sensitively converted.

Melbourne’s 170-year-old bluestone prison has been skilfully and sensitively converted.

Historical records indicate that outlaw Ned Kelly’s cell at HM Pentridge Prison, during his three-year term for “feloniously receiving a horse”, did not feature thick, white high-thread-count sheets, an espresso pod machine or indeed a container of Ylang Ylang Mindful Mist essential oils spray.

What was once one of Australia’s most feared correctional facilities has gone from being all about the term of your natural life to having the time of your natural life, with a price tag to match. Melbourne’s 170-year-old bluestone prison has been skilfully and sensitively converted to a $1 billion (such is) lifestyle precinct in the city’s northern suburbs, 20 minutes from both the airport and the CBD.

It now includes a 106-room Adina Apartment Hotel and, most notably, The Interlude, a recently unveiled 19-room, or “heritage suite” filled (sub)urban wellness retreat located inside the former historic B Division block, where your reviewer is about to serve an all-too-brief sentence.

The look

The hotel’s subterranean pool.

The hotel’s subterranean pool.

Convict chic. Cooler cool. Penal panache. Call it what you will (and this place sure is rich in pun potential), the effect on arrival inside B Division is breathtaking, if not initially unsettling. Those responsible for the spectacular adaptive reuse of the prison, from a place you don’t want to be to a place you don’t want to leave, have performed a truly remarkable, gimmick-free feat.

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Any residual grimness has been exorcised by the talented interior designers via splashes of vibrant colours – yellow hues are ubiquitous – in soft furnishings, rugs and carpentry as well as in contemporary artwork. It’s all been perfectly executed (sorry) while eschewing a white (yellow?) wash of the former correctional facility’s essential dignity and, importantly, the memories of the poor interned wretches who went before.

Although conversions of erstwhile prisons into hotels, there being 40-odd of them around the globe, are not exactly rare internationally, what distinguishes The Interlude is the fact that cells have been turned into suites with the scary screws of yore replaced by the most kindly and accommodating five-star hotel staff. At those other three dozen digs or so, few, if any, have attempted to turn former prison cells into genuinely luxurious guest rooms, often electing instead to contain the accommodation in a separate wing.

The room

Rooms have been coverted from five prison cells.

Rooms have been coverted from five prison cells.

B Division was constructed in a cruciform format with cells radiating from a semi-octagonal central hall featuring a soaring atrium. Your inmate, nay, reviewer’s elongated room, vaguely reminiscent in shape of an uber-luxurious rail carriage compartment, was carefully and painstakingly crafted from five cells.

The suite’s marble bathrooms, some featuring oval-shaped tubs, include designer hair and skincare products while the complimentary minibar is filled with items sourced from the local northern suburbs. Each of the quintet of spaces has its own, still fully barred, near ceiling-height window, in case you forget where you’ve ended up.

Food + drink

Olivine is a showstopper.

Olivine is a showstopper.

Fine food and wine, and especially wine, play an important role in any interlude at The Interlude with the centrepiece North & Common restaurant, a recipient earlier this year of a hat from The Age’s Good Food reviewer. But the showstopper, in this reviewer’s notebook, is Olivine, the chic and beautifully designed in-house bar with a 500-plus international wine list. Guests can imbibe in Olivine’s wine cellar-like cells that have been turned into cosy, if not ingenious, bluestone-encased quaffing nooks that are proving a big hit.

Out + about

The Reflection Garden is the prison’s former exercise yard.

The Reflection Garden is the prison’s former exercise yard.

Yes, you are allowed out of your cell for visits to such amenities as The Interlude’s striking subterranean lap pool. Guests also have a choice of seven signature activities including a (local brand) Impala-Peacock artisan tea appreciation class, charcoal drawing classes with an in-house Pentridge precinct artist and premium wine tastings with The Interlude’s ebullient and erudite sommelier.

Soon after check-in (no, you’re not required to empty your pockets at reception), guests are led, in a nice way, to the prison’s former exercise yard, now a gathering place and tranquil, native plant-filled space known as The Reflection Garden where preprandial stories, sans the more gory details, are related over wine and cheese. (A white painted cross on the bluestone wall indicates where Ronald Ryan, the last person to be hanged in Australia, made his escape in 1965 during which a prison warden was shot dead.)

If that’s not enough to fill your interlude at The Interlude, you can take a spin around the local area astride the fancy Dutch-brand Lekker bikes available for guests.

The verdict

Pentridge’s former B Division restoration gets an A-plus for scrupulously avoiding any prison puns (unlike your reviewer) while, on a more serious note, also preserving the building’s invaluable heritage and integrity. Ned Kelly would be astounded, and a bit baffled, but surely impressed.

Essentials

Suites from $699 per night. The Interlude, 1 Pentridge Boulevard, Coburg, Victoria. See theinterlude.com.au

Our score out of five
★★★★★

Highlight

The first glimpse of how B Division has been dramatically morphed into a luxury retreat is goose-bump inducing.

Lowlight

Some guests may find the combination of the various signature activities and food and wine-a-thon, albeit outstanding, a wee bit taxing.

The writer stayed as a guest of The Interlude.

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