The Darling:

The Star 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW
1800 800 830 or www.thedarling.com.au
Sydney’s ‘most lovingly detailed hotel and spa’ shakes up the Australian scene with an international splash.

It’s hard to recall such an utter transformation. The old Star City has been quietly retired (a ‘red dwarf’ perhaps?) and, supernova-like, The Star has exploded. There’s now very little of the old left to recognise, as The Star is a sophisticated new precinct that now has Sydneysiders wondering what they every did without it. The Star has had high-quality hotel and apartment accommodation but now it has something else again. The Darling is a five-star hotel that embodies all that is cool in top-tier accommodation worldwide. It’s classy without being stuffy, it’s edgy, without being kitsch.

The ‘new broom’ approach to the whole property carries through to the operations of The Darling. The new owners, Echo Entertainment, has contracted one of the world’s best hotel ‘fixers’ to ensure the hotel got the best start in life. His name is Drew Schlesinger. He’s an American with plenty of experience in hotel launches. In fact, he’s a specialist: “This is my ninth opening. I just finished opening a property in Manhattan when I got the call from [Echo Entertainment CEO] Larry Mullins asking me if I would open The Darling.”

The stakes are high with any hotel launch, but Echo is pinning plenty on the success of The Darling. A no-prisoners Vegas-style approach pervades The Star, and Drew wasn’t coming to Sydney for a holiday. “We’re a rare breed,” noted Drew. “I think that’s because it’s very intense, you have to have nerves of steel, and you have to have some patience.

…But not too much!

“You’ve got to get things done, and you have to pick the best possible team because when you’re running at a million miles an hour you cannot be looking over your shoulder every two minutes.”


With a CV that includes working with Ian Schrager on the Mondrian Los Angeles, along with stints at IHG and others, Drew Schlesinger has an eye and a nose for superlative hospitality. But this isn’t a ‘make it so’ autocratic, Drew’s reputation is based on his fastidious attention to detail.

“Knowledge is power,” noted Drew. “Throughout my career I’ve asked a million questions. I know about maintenance, I know about plant and equipment, EVAC systems, fire alarm systems, I know about timbers, furniture, paint. I create the linens for my properties — I work with a vendor to come up with a thread count, the hem, dyes…

“It’s all in the detail. If you’re not detail-oriented you can’t do this job. Ever wondered why most hotel rooms have the same drinking glass in the bathroom? It’s not important enough to worry about. But the properties I’ve done, we work with a company to create a unique glass for the bathroom. So does everyone notice it and go, ‘Ah ha!’. No, but do some people notice? Yes.

“Even the coathangers. We’ve created a colour and a thickness different to everyone else’s. You have to be creative and passionate. If you don’t have a passion for it, you’re dead.”


The Star is a 171-room hotel, but to continue the Vegas high-life theme, a whopping 57 are suites. Some of the suites are 220sqm behemoths with kitchens and butler service. The interiors were taken care of by DBI Design, while responsibility for the design for the penthouses was given to LA-based, and casino hotel specialist, Laurence Lee. Photographer Russell James sets the tone in the guest rooms with his edgy work that has been heavily influenced by Aboriginal artists in this case. The quality of the fitout is obvious. The very best in materials and finishes have been used, and the Schlesinger attention to detail is just as obvious. Or as Drew puts it: “The finishes are phenomenal, it’s just totally unique. Echo has created something that Sydney hasn’t seen before.”

The look also recognises the phenomenon (arguably first identified by Starwood’s ‘W’ marque) of affluent 40-60 year olds eschewing the safe and stodgy experiences of more traditional five-star hotels. Drew Schlesinger picks up on the theme: “I worked for Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager in the early days. I opened a couple of their hotels and their whole philosophy was: build these hotels for the 20 to 30 year-olds, but it’s the 40 to 60 year olds — people that are still ‘with it’ who want to be where cool people congregate — who will be your core market. Already, The Darling has become popular in entertainment circles. We’ve had the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, staying and have loved it.”


Engaging exciting world-class architects and designers is one thing, staffing a hotel to ensure it follows through on that world-class promise is another entirely. And without the human resources pool afforded by being a part of a global hotel chain, The Darling’s ‘culture’ was very much a blank canvas. “Hotel staff are used to associating a brand — like a Hilton or a Sofitel — with a look, and a culture,” observed Drew Schlesinger. “Without any of that as a grid of reference, I became adept at painting that picture to get the new staff energised. Once we started hiring, it wasn’t that difficult, but creating the culture, that takes time, takes training, takes a lot of effort.” And according to Schlesinger The Darling credo is ‘Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Focussed’. “When we went to hire people — and I probably interviewed 90 percent of the staff — I actually didn’t look for people who had previous experience in hotels or restaurants. To me it was about their authenticity and the smile. We can train anyone to check a guest in, to serve or to bring, I cannot teach or force someone to genuinely smile.”


The Darling represents the first significant hotel build in Sydney for 10 years. And for The Star complex it’s an exciting, edgy accommodation option that contributes to putting it on the international map. In fact, The Star’s international visitor numbers have exploded. Ultimately, the success of a hotel is down to occupancy, and The Darling has been close to capacity since its launch. As for Drew, he’ll stay on for a period of time before he rides off into the sunset to launch another high-profile property. This period of fine-tuning is called ‘rafting’ in the industry. From here, it looks like plain sailing.— Christopher Holder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *