By Jacqueline Lang and Peter Rigby
The moment you open the front door at Simpsons of Potts Point, you’ve stepped back 120 years.
Inside, the 14-room hotel is decked out in classic Edwardian style, with antiques, period prints and an extensive library.
One of three mansions built by acclaimed architect John Bede Barlow, this elegant boutique hotel is ideal for travellers seeking an intimate place to stay close to Sydney’s heart.
The hotel sits in leafy Challis Avenue, a small road decked with historic townhouses and a smattering of eateries.
Parking can be tricky: but thankfully Simpsons is fronted by a circular driveway where guests can leave their cars.
As we arrived at night, our host, Keith, had emailed us a door code to let ourselves in. Too easy.
We wandered into the sitting room, where a warm fire was blazing, and helped ourselves to a welcoming sip of port.
The room includes photos of the original owners, and pictures of the property taken about 115 years ago.
Hugh Jackman, Paul Keating – who lives a few doors down – and other famous Australians sometimes use this elegant room for business meetings and interviews, one of the regular guests later confided.
“We love coming here on special occasions – this is our wedding anniversary,” another gent informed us over a nightcap one evening, as we bonded by the fireplace.
“It’s so handy being based here. We can walk to the botanical gardens and the art gallery in ten minutes: perfect!”
Every nook and cranny of the hotel features a charming curio or antique, adding colour and character.
Many of the rooms and halls feature paintings of Australian flora painted by artist Ellis Rowan during the late 1800s.
And each bedroom is decked out differently. Ours, The Victoria Room, was a charmer, bedecked with nine portraits of bewigged British and Australian judges. (Even honeymooners have been put off their first marital embrace, intimidated by nine pairs of judicial eyes peering down!)
It’s a spacious room, cheerily lit thanks to a north-facing window, with a comfortable bed and en suite bathroom.
Next day, at breakfast, (a tasty continental buffet with good coffee, enough to tide you through to lunch time) we met our chirpy co-host, Ree.
She knows Potts Point and the CBD intimately and was able to suggest good eateries and attractions close by. She also has a fine repertoire of wicked jokes which if pressed, she’s happy to impart.
Feeling lazy on our first night, we strolled just metres up the road to enjoy a fine feed at The Fish Shop (22 Challis Avenue), a buzzing eatery sporting fantastic seafood.
Just across the road, in Macleay St, were plenty of cafes and other eateries. It would be easy to stay here a week and never eat or sup at the same place twice, within a five minute radius.
Simpsons, built in 1892, was originally known as Kilountan and actually consisted of two buildings: the main house, and a servant’s wing at the rear.
In the 1930s, the internal grand staircase was removed, archways were bricked in, and the property divided into six apartments.
Thankfully most of the original stained glass windows survived the renovations intact. In 1987, a year was spent restoring the place to its original grandeur, and removing any unsightly relatively recent additions.
The original entrance port was recreated as it was originally.
The property is listed by the National Trust of Australia as a Heritage building, and, as its website boasts, “it’s one of the very few, privately-owned, free-standing Victorian mansions in the Potts Point area.”
Some guests have returned to Simpsons many times. When we shared a cab back to Potts Point with a friend after an evening in Bondi, he was pleasantly surprised to see we were staying there.
“I lived here for weeks when I first relocated from Perth,” he told us, helping himself to a port. “Keith won’t mind.”
Next week: read about our other adventures in and around Potts Point.
Simpsons of Potts Point
8 Challis Avenue, Potts Point.
Rooms starting from $255, including breakfast. Reduced stay and off-season rates are also available.
Starfish Pictures: Peter Rigby