If you had found yourself in the Salamanca area of Hobart, Tasmania, in the mid 1900s and been brave enough to venture into the Esplanade Hotel, you would have been mingling with the city’s underbelly in a den of debauchery.
The venue, dubbed ‘The Blue House’, was a rumoured brothel, filled with unsavoury types who were kept in check by the formidable Elizabeth ‘Ma Dwyer’, the landlady and madam.
I know so much about old Ma because my room at Hobart's newest hotel, Macq01, which occupies a site just nearby, was named after her. In keeping with her ‘colourful and quirky’ character, my room has pops of bright hues and vibrant artwork and there are also old beer tankards in a glass display unit, a tribute to her boozy legacy.
New digs: The newly opened Macq01 hotel sits on Hobart's waterfront precinct and gives guests an insight into Tasmania's past as a 'storytelling venue'
Prime location: Macq01 is perfectly situated on the edge of the waterfront precinct in Hobart
The hotel occupies a site that used to be punctuated with brothels and seedy pubs – but now it's rather swish
All 114 rooms in the newly-opened hotel are named after characters who have influenced and shaped Tasmanian culture throughout history, from native people to inventors, and from explorers to convicts.
And while the hotel might look to the past for inspiration, the sheer presence of the sparkling and shiny new venture is indicative of the growing tourism trade in Tasmania.
While the country's rugged wilderness has always attracted explorers, the growing and diverse food scene, with Tassie's thriving whiskey, chocolate and seafood industries, along with the expanding list of cult events like the festival Dark Mofo, are drawing more of a discerning crowd.
Incredible views: The hotel boasts impressive views of the River Derwent
Room with a view: Most of the hotel's rooms boast views of Mount Wellington – and the comings and goings of the harbour
Macq01 caters to this demographic of visitor, with rooms starting from $400 a night. While the rooms might take inspiration from the past, the luxury of each suite is the best of modern design and each room is generously spacious.
I spent a weekend in a premium waterfront suite, which at $900 is on the pricier end of the spectrum, but the cost is well worth it. From the size of my bed (it was ginormous), to the spacious balcony, there was plenty of room to stretch out and make it a home away from home for the duration of my stay.
The gigantic bathroom, complete with a huge standalone marble bathtub, double sinks, separate shower and walk in wardrobe, is big enough for a whole party of people to get ready, never mind just me.
Spacious: The premium waterfront suites boast a spacious bedroom and living area as well as a generous-sized terrace looking out onto the water
Plush: While the bedroom area is large, so too is the luxurious bathroom with a sizeable stand alone marble bathtub and separate shower
While my room is said to reflect Ma Dwyer’s personality, the mini-bar reflects the best of modern Tasmanian fare – with locally produced wines and whiskey to sample.
I found the sparkling wine was best enjoyed on the roomy balcony admiring the stunning view – with Mount Wellington towering over the city to the right and the vast River Derwent stretching out to the left. The majority of the rooms at the property benefit from the incredible water views.
In fact, Macq01 is perfectly positioned on the edge of the waterfront precinct, allowing guests to watch the comings and goings of the harbour.
Eat up: The restaurant is led by Saffire Freycinet’s former Head Chef Simon Pockran and you can sample Bruny island oysters shucked right in front of you
Drink up: You can enjoy a tipple in some style in the Lounge or The Story Bar
Food for thought: You can enjoy delicious seasonal fare at the Old Wharf Restaurant
The hotel is also a short stroll from Salamanca Place, where you'll find cosy pubs, stylish bars and lots of art, and it also has a proximity to the Hunter Street neighbourhood, which boasts some of the best restaurants and shops in Tassie.
The ferry to the Mona art gallery, a 'must-do' when visiting Hobart, is just a five-minute walk from the hotel too.
While there's plenty to explore on the doorstep, the hotel also gives you many reasons to stay put. You can curl up on a sofa in front of the fire in the Lounge, enjoy drinks in The Story Bar, or sample delicious local fare in the Old Wharf Restaurant.
While all three offer incredible views of the Derwent, the eatery also boasts an open kitchen where you can see the local seafood and produce being prepared first hand.
Stylish from top to bottom: The lounge area features an eye-catching ceiling and open fire
Led by Simon Pockran (formerly head chef at luxury hotel Saffire Freycinet) you can sample the likes of Bruny island oysters shucked right in front of you, yellow-tailed kingfish served with beetroot, rye, pink lady apples and smoked yogurt, or a Spring Bay mussel chowder filled with pink ling, local scallops and winter vegetables.
I enjoyed a delicious lazy Sunday lunch at the restaurant feasting on grilled squid, creamy orecchiette pasta and perfectly cooked ocean perch, with a glass of local bubbles for good measure.
The staff are on hand to guide you through the tasty seasonal menu, and talk you through the daily catch – and it's testament to the eatery that it's popular with guests and locals alike.
Experience the wilderness: While Tasmania has always attracted explorers thanks to its incredible landscape, now more discerning visitors are also flocking to the area
Given the focus on the history of the area it is perhaps no surprise the hotel employs two full time 'Master Storytellers', who take guests on daily journeys through the hotel and the surrounding area, sharing dark and salacious secrets from the past.
I've no doubt that Ma Dwyer and the Esplanade Hotel are the subject of many of the racier stories, although my limited time at the hotel meant I was unable to squeeze in a tour.
I'll have to investigate the madam's salacious past in more depth on a return visit.
Rooms at Macq01 hotel start from $400 per night. For more information click here.