Turns out Jerome Borazio, of St. Jerome's Laneway Bar fame, has achieved that. The hospitality entrepreneur stood on the rooftop of Melbourne Central and thought, 'luxury camping' (...as you do). The result is St. Jerome's - The Hotel (Level 3, 271 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne), a five-star camping experience (Borazio is apparently not a fan of the term 'glamping') on the astroturf-laden rooftop of the shopping centre. Borazio adds the accommodation venue to his already impressive list of bars (1000 £ Bend, Sister Bella, Ponyfish Island, The Workers Club, The Kelvin Club), pizza restaurant (Slice Girls), wedding venue (The Church of Bang Bang Boogaloo), and multi-city music festival (St. Jerome's Laneway Festival). His original CBD namesake bar closed in 2009 to make way for the new Emporium building.
That's right - essentially, this is camping, in tents, on a rooftop, in the CBD. The good news is, if you're not a strong camper, like me, the tents come equipped with 'luxury' features like a super comfortable queen-sized bed, decked out in Linen House bedding; a heater and electric blanket (thank the Lord!); bathrobes, thongs and large towels; a stocked 'mini bar' in the form of a small Esky; a Samsung Galaxy tablet hooked up to free wifi; plus small touches like designer lighting, a storage trunk, tissues (hey, not every hotel room has them - take it from a serial sniffler), and eye masks... even your very own outdoor deck area.
Design was entrusted to Borazio's good friend and former industrial designer, Deon St. Mor, founder of MOR Cosmetics. I particularly liked the coated wire items: Deco-style side tables, light shades, even the animals perched around the site (ours was a polar bear; next door had reindeer).
Each tent is numbered by an outdoor post and sign which you can manually turn from "Happy Camper" to "Sleepy Camper" (like "Do Not Disturb") at your will.
Our sheets sported soft blue-and-white cloud patterns - so we were literally sleeping under the clouds, twice :) There is a 'gallery' at one end of the site: basically an enclosed room with a few modern looking artworks you can view through the window. (Meh.)
A bit of random fun was the books casually strewn on one of our little tables - Meditation & Martini, Reader's Digest, or Halsbury's Laws of England, anyone?
The astroturf and prolific pot plants around the site made what could have been a very barren feeling rooftop, seem inviting and lush.
The tents themselves are Homecamp bell tents, apparently designed to cope in any Australian weather situation. The 'Luxe' tent (2.5m high and 4m in diameter) is the 'Flinders' model; the 'Luxe Plus' (3m high and almost 5m in diameter) is the 'Simpson' model. Both are a beige canvas tent shaped like a teepee, with a zipper entrance and windows able to be closed up completely, tied open completely, or left open save for the flyscreen layer. I was surprised at how roomy the tent felt - a tall person could easily stand inside, and the bed only took up perhaps one third of the floor area.
Any concerns I'd had about the tents ended up not being problems. Heating is well catered for, in the form of an oil bar heater inside the tent, a double-sided electric blanket on the bed, ample/high-quality bedding, and a heater in each bathroom ensuite. I would have appreciated some outdoor heating on private deck and communal areas, so that we could have made better use of these areas in the middle of the Melbourne winter. However, the rooftop itself is relatively low compared to surrounding buildings - which not only gives you a nice skyline view, but also ensures relative wind protection.
I wasn't sure how much noise to expect, being exposed to the elements on a CBD rooftop, with only a canvas separating you from the outside world. But despite the odd truck horn or ding from a tram, the noise level was comparable to what you'd hear from inside a regular hotel room in a CBD building. I could barely hear anything from surrounding tents - and the hotel was fully booked that night.
Also worrying was that perhaps revealing silhouettes might be visible from outside the tent. (Minds out of the gutter, please - you don't really want to be watched whilst undressing, even in silhouette form!) But sensible placement of lighting inside the tent (at the top, in the middle) meant that light streamed downwards, not outwards, thereby avoiding shadows on the tent walls. In the morning, natural light coming into the tent was filtered by its thick canvas, so it wasn't too bright to wake up to.
There hadn't been much mention of bathroom facilities at the time we made the booking. So it was pleasing to discover that 12 ensuite bathrooms (including one disabled) were available for the 20 tents onsite. Yes, they are shared facilities, and essentially jazzed-up Port-A-Loos, but they were surprisingly clean, heated, and well-equipped with Toni and Guy shampoo and conditioner, Swisse hand/body wash and lotion, and various facial cleansers. The showers are quite large, each ensuite individualised with a bright shower curtain.
Tariffs per night are based on which size tent you book: we paid $390 for the Luxe Plus on a Saturday night in June. A little steep, perhaps (I'd normally look for rooms around the $200 per night mark) - but the regular Luxe tent was only about $50 cheaper, so we thought the perks were worth it. Also - just the novelty of the whole thing! There are two rows or 'wings' of tents, stretching between Lonsdale St and the infamous Melbourne Central dome.
All tents come with breakfast included, which is delivered to your tent at a time you specify (dietary requirements can be catered for). We received one regular and one vegan breakfast box, each containing a few small items, none hot or terribly fresh, unfortunately. It would have been nice to have had the option of a hot breakfast delivered (eggs, I'm lookin' at you!). I was personally very excited that freshly-made espresso-based coffee was also delivered to the tent; but despite it being a hip specialty brand, the coffee was unfortunately not great (in my opinion, probably due to the tiny one-group coffee machine).
The mini bar in the Luxe Plus tent contained complimentary water, beer and flavoured nuts. I appreciated the water, found the nuts a bit strange, and am not a beer drinker, so sadly did not partake in that. Perhaps a selection could be offered in future, or preferred drinks specified at the time of booking.
One nice touch is the daily afternoon tea provided in the communal space, 'The General Store' - mini cupcakes and coffee/tea between 3pm and 5pm.
The General Store also stocks beverages, travel essentials, and merchandise, for those interested. It's quite a nice space in itself - a sort of converted shed, containing a rustic communal table, heaters, fridges, tunes.
Bicycles can be rented by guests - but why would you, with trams, trains and buses literally at your doorstep?! The 'tent hotel' (as I have taken to calling it) happens to be on the same level of Melbourne Central as the Hoyts cinemas, the Lion Hotel, and Strike Bowling. As a guest of the hotel, you are entitled to a free game of ten-pin bowling at Strike - just take the pin from your tent to the bowling alley and use it as your voucher.
Guests are also entitled to a free slider from Grill'd, if desired. Naturally, being within the Melbourne Central complex, its many stores and services are utilised and plugged by the tent hotel - including beauty services, city tours, homewares products, food/drink items, and so on. Upon the hotel's opening, there was a promise of free meditation and tai chi classes for guests, but we could see no evidence of these when we stayed. Shame - I would have liked the chance to take part in a bit of rooftop meditation! Maybe the idea was scrapped for seasonal reasons.
Service was relaxed and helpful - apparently the Concierge desk is open 24 hours. On arrival, our Samsung tablet was only charged to 23%, but the front desk were helpful in providing a charger. I had also forgotten to print a voucher for an external activity, and the staff were kind enough to print it for me.
It is unclear exactly how long St. Jerome's - The Hotel will be trading. It opened on 20 May 2015 and it is said it will be in operation for at least six months. The Melbourne Central website mentions a 'limited time only', and other articles indicate it is up to the GPT Group, which owns Melbourne Central, as to what the rooftop space will ultimately be used for. However, the hotel's website suggests similar ventures are 'coming soon' to Hobart and Auckland - which implies longevity. Perhaps, like most other hospitality ventures in Melbourne, it will all be determined by demand.
Time will tell - but in the meantime, there's this really cool rooftop tent hotel in the city that you should check out while you can. Especially if you're not a camper.