Hotel Review: The Cullen remains one of Melbourne’s most unique hotels

It all started here for Art Series Hotel Group, the boutique hotel brand renowned for dedicating each of their properties to an individual Australian artist. Opened in 2009, The Cullen was the first for the group, and has arguably remained one of their finest achievements, thanks to the late great Adam Cullen and his grungy collection of witty, wry and unique works.

As an artist, Cullen was unafraid and often unrelenting, and so too is The Cullen: an homage to his fearlessness and colourful personality, walls plastered with the Archibald winner’s unruly characters and big personality. Though it’s façade may not be as vibrant as the hotel’s interiors, with its deceptively dull grey-brick, asymmetrical windows, and protruding balconies wrapped with lime green, there’s a loud and bold style creeping across the hotel, bringing life to the designer fit outs that make the hotel pop with character.

A Deluxe Studio Suite | Image supplied.

Walking into my Deluxe Studio Suite bought the kind of excitement only the best kind of hotels can manage. This is where character matters, moving away from the expected comfortable-but-standard aesthetic of bigger chains and presenting guests with boutique accommodations loaded with charming details and Art Series’ narrative throughlines: the supremely comfortable signature bed custom designed by A.H. Beard; the unconventional minibar packed with local treats alongside a small pallete to encourages guests to create their own masterpieces; the premium EVO bathroom amenities; the stack of art books highlighting the hotel’s endlessly interesting muse; the large flat screen playing a documentary on Cullen on-entry; the designer furniture curated to fit with the artist’s aesthetic. Then you’ve got the vintage Lekker bikes or tiny smart cars for hire, as well as bookable tours of the hotel with an art curator, designed to contextualise Cullen’s pieces and his often sharp, subversive statements on masculinity and crime.

Cullen’s work is proudly displayed here. And we aren’t talking one or two framed portraits hanging above the bed. A gun-toting Ned Kelly looms over guests as they sleep, for example – the most sightly nod to Cullen in the room; though, there are plenty of smaller details which capture the artist’s raw and expressionist spirit. Most are seen in the hotel’s few public areas, from the colourful side-street entrance to the hallways showcasing a retrospective of Cullen’s life.

Image supplied.

A generous kitchenette is also featured in the room, highlighting the hotel’s popularity for long-term guests and staycationers. It may be a bit of wasted space for short-term guests, but the hotel’s location justifies its inclusion. The Cullen is located on the more populated end of Commercial Road, just a short walk from the seemingly endless mish-mash of Chapel Street. There’s everything you could want here, from casual to fine eateries, cinemas and a multitude of bars. But the most attractive is the historic Prahran Market, one of Melbourne’s finest, and home to plenty of the state’s best produce; The Cullen is diagonally opposite it’s main entrance. If you’ve got a few nights and aren’t looking to splurge on Chapel Street’s diverse scene, then this is where you want to go, and as such having that kitchen handy is very valuable.

The historic Prahran Market.

An often overlooked but appreciated detail for Art Series is the pocket-sized guide included in each room, at each property. It features a very valuable neighbourhood map for surrounding restaurants, cafes, bars and galleries on one side, while the other is a print of one of the artist’s best known pieces. In this case, it’s the Minotaur painting from 2007: a nice little souvenir for those will no doubt fall in love with Cullen’s bold, poppy style.

The hotel’s two dining options feel detached from The Cullen’s artsy vibe, but both present some fantastic options. Gramercy Social, your go-to for American diner fare, handles 24/7 room service and a la carte breakfast for the hotel and sports a large, inviting space where you’d find many a local hipster sipping premium coffee and scoffing down a juicy burger in the afternoon or a ‘Big Apple Benedict’ in the morning. The scene couldn’t be any more different from the refined and consistently raved-about Cantonese cooking over at HuTong Dumpling Bar, a must-eat spot where you’d spot groups of locals sharing a whole Peking Duk with various san choi bao and dim sum spread haphazardly across the table.

Though not much space is dedicated to common areas beyond the lobby, the hotel features a small, but well-stocked, gym, and a hair & beauty salon that seems popular with locals.

Nightly rates at The Cullen start from $199 AUD

FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE

Address: 164 Commercial Rd, Prahran VIC 3181
Contact: (03) 9098 1555
Website: artserieshotels.com.au

The writer stayed as a guest of Art Series Hotel Group

Feature image supplied.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review, an obsessive hip hop nerd, a whisky drinker, and a lover of all things travel. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter with @chrisdsingh.