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Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - lounge Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - lounge bar
The Taj BLUE, Sydney

Denise Hummel discovers an historical warehouse transformed into the chicest of modern hotels in the heart of Sydney

Text Denise Hummel
Photography Courtesy the Taj Blue, Sydney

Sydney buzzes with the vibrancy of a true city of the world – the largess of New York's skyscrapers, the warmth of the cafés and bistros of Paris, the sparkling skyline of Tokyo. Uniquely, all its own, it boasts one of the most beautiful natural harbors of the world, fixed by the stunning architectural feat of the Sydney Opera House, its white roof rising like the sails of the foreign ships that grace the bay. There is no doubt; it's quite stunning.

As a home base, I chose the BLUE Sydney, primarily since it just celebrated its one year anniversary, having recently changed hands from the ‘W’, a Starwood Group, to Taj, under the genteel auspices of General Manager Kottarapurath Mohanchandran (‘Mohan’ for short), whose last posting was Udaipur, where he served as GM for the Taj Lake Palace. For those of you who have not seen the property, it is a brave and ambitious choice for Taj. Structurally, it is quite different from any Taj I know, having been converted from a warehouse, that once processed and stored wool. As it is a Heritage Landmark, the base structure remains unaltered, a modern hotel, reflecting its historic wharf roots.

My attraction to the BLUE as a business traveler is that its business services are individualized. Although there is no "business center" in the classic use of the term, there are "computer pods" on all of the guest room floors with internet access and printers attached which can be used free of charge. Highspeed connection is also available in all rooms as a wireless or wired broadband service. The wireless system also extends to all of their function rooms and public areas, so you may sit with a well deserved gin and tonic of the evening in the "Water Bar" while checking your emails on your laptop. The telephone lines in the rooms are separate from these systems, so there is no loss of contact while you are on-line, and they have a mix of cordless and traditional phones to allow for connection to our 24/7 service. They also have secretarial services available on call, and faxing and photocopying are also available as a full service via their 24/7 department, or you can request that a fax machine be sent to your room for your own individual use.

The first thing that strikes the visitor when they arrive at the BLUE, is, ‘What is this?’ By that, I mean that despite the 11-meter ceiling, exposed corrugated iron and timber from the original frame of the building and defunct conveyor belts, there is a rather funky, chic bar in a vast space that is the very first hint that the purpose of the structure includes recreation and imbibing. It does not, however, appear to be a hotel, as the reception area is out of sight to the right as one enters and up a flight of stairs. Not exactly the curb appeal that screams, ‘hotel’, and perhaps that is part of its mystique and appeal, but for the traditional among you, be advised.

The hotel sits on Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo (no, I did not make a mistake, it really has eight ‘o’s) and is thus on the outskirts of the Commercial Business District or ‘CBD’ as it is known. The wharf was constructed in 1910 during a period of expanding wool, wheat and import trading, which lasted from late 19th century until the 1930s depression. Changes in the nature of international shipping after WWII rendered this once modern facility increasingly redundant for cargo handling. In 1956, Shed No. 7 was modified to handle the growing passenger trade, however this too diminished with the completion of the Circular Quay Passenger Terminal. With the exception of minor modifications, the wharf structure remains in its original condition. In the 1990s, perceived as redundant as a passenger terminal, the wharf was redeveloped as a luxury marina, entertainment and apartment complex (now hosting the likes of Russell Crowe, John Laws, and Lang Walker) and in 2000 the warehouse was converted by ‘W’ into a luxury hotel and the surrounding space into boutique restaurants that line the marina, offering indoor and outdoor dining with a lovely view.

Not much has changed since the hand-over to Taj, although the hotel may close for a short time to give the place a Taj lift, adding hanging silk draperies in the massive café area to soften it with a touch of décor from the Indian Ocean, if only in the nature of the fabric chosen. They'll also expand the bar menu, which is fairly limited at the moment, although the cocktails offered are quite unique and inspiring, even before your opinion has been influenced by the generous alcohol pour. They also intend to move the lobby from its out of the way location, to front and center, which I believe will be a logical and welcomed change. If there are additional changes in mind, Mohan is not saying, and we'll just have to wait for the unveiling.

The BLUE has 100 deluxe guest rooms, including 36 loft rooms with city and harbor views. Be careful to request the marina side of the hotel, as it is clearly more picturesque, facing the lovely yachts, park, and city. The rooms on the other side of the hotel, while technically facing a harbor, have relatively unexciting views, except when the occasional naval vessel is docked.

The rooms are a modern, sophisticated design, with muted beiges and white, accented with blue chairs and couches, brown linen and the occasional red pillow. There is an oversized work desk in most of the rooms, wireless high-speed access, cordless phone, 27" T.V. (soon to be converted to Plasma), Bose CD Player, VCR, king-size beds with pillow-top mattresses, 250 thread count sheets, goose-down comforters and pillows. There are even some pocket-sized office supplies in the work area – a tiny stapler, scotch tape and highlight pen in a sleek brown leather box came in very handy as I wrote my article and organized my materials.

There are seven different room categories: The Wharf Room (575 AUD), the Woolloomooloo Room (675 AUD), the Pier Rooms (775 AUD), the Marina Rooms (875 AUD), the Pier Lofts (775 AUD), the Marina Lofts (875 AUD), and the Ultra Loft (2000 AUD). I stayed in the Ultra Loft, a huge duplex with skylights and windows running the entire length of the room and overlooking the yachts below and a bedroom above with a small bathroom (Aveda travel-sized products), but managing a bath, separate shower and a small closet, the latter being inadequate in relation to the largeness of the room.

I personally didn't care for the separate space, going up and down the stairs continuously for something or other I forgot to bring up or down, or trying to turn off 12 lights without a master switch. I preferred instead, the Marina Room, with equally panoramic views (marina side) and much larger bathrooms, despite the fact that there is no separate living space and the overall space is considerably smaller.

Without doubt, it is the best value room, with identical amenities to its big brother counterpart. Rates may vary during high season (December to April – remember you're in the southern hemisphere). Guests I met were charming and demographics are approximately, 50% Australian, followed by the United States, New Zealand, India, and Asia, in varying percents and in descending order.

In short, the staff are friendly and efficient, housekeeping, including turn-down service, quite sufficient, Mohan is a soft-spoken, sophisticated treasure and the anticipated changes in softening the ambience will be welcomed.
Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - swimming pool Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - bedroom suite top view
Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - suite bathroom Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - bedroom suite
Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - reception   Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - reception
Guests may be put off only by small bathrooms and closets in huge suites, the ultra-modern and somewhat disorienting entry and the lack of an on-site restaurant, but there are plenty of lovely restaurants just outside the front door, lining the marina, a reasonable room alternative for guests in which a large en suite is desirable, and as for the historic roots as a warehouse for wool, one can either reject it as an architectural concept, or revel in man's capacity to adapt structures for alternative use, when the initial function no longer suits.


Style Converted Historic Warehouse

Setting Just outside the CBD (Commercial Business District)

Why you'll appreciate it Stunning atrium entrance

Business Facilities

Type of Internet Connection
Wireless in the room and public areas
Number of in-room phone lines
Varies, but usually 2
Type of Desk Space
Very ample
Fax Machine
Multiple options, including an in-room fax on request
Printing Facilities
On each floor and nearby in the local community

Good to know The bar is a happening scene after 8pm

Address The Wharf at Woolloomooloo, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Sydney, NSW 2011, Australia

How to Get There

From North
Take Warringah Freeway or Pacific Highway South to the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. Take the Woolloomooloo exit on the left hand side to Cowper Wharf Road. The hotel is located on the left side.

From South
Travel north on Southern Cross Drive and South Dowling Street to the Eastern Distributor. From the Eastern Distributor take the Kings Cross Exit. Continue through across William Street to Palmer Street. Turn right on Cathedral Street. Turn left on to Bourke Street. Turn right on Cowper Wharf Road. The Hotel is located on the left, approximately 1 block from the corner.

From East
Travel west on New South Head Road and continue to William Street. Exit onto William Street and continue north to Bourke Street. Turn right onto Cowper Wharf Road. The hotel is located on the left, approximately 1 block from the corner.

From West
Travel east on the Western Distributor to the King Street Exit. From King Street, turn left onto Elizabeth Street. Then turn right onto Hunter Street. Turn left on Macquarie Street. Turn right onto the Expressway. Take the Woolloomooloo Exit and the hotel is on the left.

Taj BLUE Hotel, Sydney, Australia - boardwalk