Designed by Sydney-based practice Alexander &CO., the new three-level Imperial Hotel Erskineville is a ‘palace of pleasure’. This project represents the relaunch of one of Australia’s most revered LGBQTI safe havens. As a cultural icon, it was the birthplace of the movie Priscilla and plays a pivotal role in the greater Sydney community as a historic theatre and event space. It is dynamically programmed and responsive, turning from dining to dance floor with ease.
The ground floor is made up of a 250-seat restaurant called Priscillas and has been conceived as a lost palace, a cabaret dreamscape of haphazardly replaced stone floor tiles and detailed timberwork. Various hand forged steel-framed glass houses and skylights throw shadows over broken brickwork, hand laid masonry arches and bespoke tile patterns. The melted wax from the central fireplace and hearth in contrast to the vivid colorways of the furniture and the dirty pink tones of the detailed ceilings and walls.
The project is illuminated by various repurposed lampshades and brass wall sconces. Carefully curated fringed pendants throw shadow upon table settings whilst the main entry is notably illuminated by broke-down chandeliers. The space also features a private dining area with large paper sculpture and open kitchen. The main bar features a bespoke cathedralesque/Biblical fresco ceiling mural with the adjoining theatrical cocktail bar opening out onto a glazed enclosure to an inner courtyard and winter garden.
The project is careful to reimagine this cultural building icon into a place of fantasy whilst respectfully acknowledging its LGBQTI custodians. It is outrageous, inclusive and fantastic but not light. Amongst its array of color and shape is the gravity of its legacy, the shadow of history cast upon its many surfaces. This is a place to celebrate and rediscover, but also a place with significant legacy, grit, sometimes even heaviness.
Although the project feels immediately decorative, it is in fact a collection of robust building materials faced in makeup. Brickwork, concrete, steel, all represented in color and high fidelity. Something in the metaphor of Priscillas restaurant is the ability for this rawness to never feel like a construction site, but instead a theatre of color, a visual outrage.
The upper-level pizzeria and bar is called Imperial UP and features an outdoor golden pizza oven, bar and an indoor cocktail bar, private dining room, lounge and seating. Conceptually, the space is conceived as an ‘Arts Social Club’. A public salon which references Studio 54 and the distant memories of Andy Warhol. Think quirky collector with an Art Deco flair – our contemporary version of Gertrude Stein’s salon.
Light and Bright with a ‘funtown Matisse’ aesthetic, the color scheme is big and camp, with a reference to mid-century Miami Art Deco. Sun-bleached pinks cavort with mustards and burgundy, a wild Mardi Gras of idiosyncratic shapes, furnishings and color.
Quirky retro collectibles include brass palm tree console, geometric brass table lamps and cross stitched fabric bucket chairs. A custom carpet inspired by the geometric avant-garde and featuring pastel shades brightens and adds character to the dining room. A 10-seat private dining room invites guest into an intimate celebration space with fringed mirrors and custom-made brass wall lights. The irregularly shaped main bar finished in colored laminate and mirror services the main room.
Historically, the upper level housed the color, costume and character of the Drag Queen’s dressing rooms as they prepared for their evening shows. This legacy is translated into the lighthearted energy and kaleidoscopic material palette of the space. There is also a lower level nightclub and Australia’s first same-sex marriage Cathedral is due to open in 2019 on the rooftop.