Written by Roderick Eime
Photography by TFE Hotels
22 June 2023
The brutal bluestone walls of HM Prison Pentridge in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg once contained some of Australia’s worst convicts.
Names like infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, gangster Squizzy Taylor, standover man Mark ‘Chopper’ Reid and contract killer Christopher Dale Flannery as well as many others.
All that is history now the 150-year-old penitentiary was closed permanently in 1997 and redeveloped and restored by the Brisbane-based Shayher Group, which acquired the derelict site in 2013.
It should also be remembered that the land on which the original prison sat is traditionally a gathering place and source of water, plants and animals for the Wurundjeri people. Nearby Merri Creek has been rehabilitated and is the perfect peaceful location for a walk or bike ride along the kilometres of sealed pathways.
Finally opened to the public in 2020 after painstaking remediation, the rejuvenated Pentridge is now a vibrant, billion-dollar lifestyle precinct featuring a retail centre with supermarket and fashion stores, an art gallery, a cinema complex and even a BrewDog craft beer brewery.
For my visit, I’m staying in the sparkling new Adina Apartment Hotel Pentridge Melbourne, a TFE Hotels brand Australians are very familiar with. This 106-room 4.5-star property is a standalone building constructed within the prison walls and incorporates the North & Common restaurant (with Chef Mark Glenn at the helm) and Chapter Place with its eight events (think weddings, conferences) discrete venues.
At the opening in May this year, Local MP for Pascoe Vale, Anthony Cianflone, took the opportunity to inspect the nearly complete project.
“Wine bar, cuisine, wellness, accommodation, entertainment, history, culture, and tourism – all of which means a growing visitor economy, more jobs and skills for our community,” he said.
“Attracting a whole new and unprecedented market of international, interstate, and intrastate tourists to Pentridge will have significant flow-on benefits for surrounding small businesses.
“While it’s hard to describe the exceptional experience this new destination in the heart of Melbourne’s north has to offer, it’s not as hard as a real night in the original B Division.”
General Manager, Jesse Kornoff, a man of considerable hospitality experience and acclaim, was recruited from Mount Lofty House last year to open the property.
“We’ve had people coming in and staying because they’re genuinely interested in seeing what’s been hiding behind the bluestone walls; others were part of conferences or held events in our unique event spaces;” he said, “others were simply attracted to the sheer convenience of our brand-new hotel being located half-way between Melbourne’s CBD and the airport.”
While I could easily expand on the very comfortable Adina Pentridge property, readers will be eager to learn about the extra special experiential accommodation built within the sombre walls of B Division to be launched under TFE’s new brand, The Interlude, billed as “the world’s first urban wellness retreat in a converted prison”.
B Division, by the way, was just one of several divisions from A to K within the sprawling Pentridge complex, each with its own specific prisoner profile. B Division held the true hardcore offenders serving lengthy terms, many of whom were afflicted with any number of psychological and behavioural problems.
Situated in the heart of the former B Division, Olivine wine bar seats 100 guests and showcases the adaptive reuse of the former prison cells. With much effort, the bluestone walls have been opened up to create cosy and intimate booths.
One has even become a perfect walk-in cellar where many of the 500 local and international labels curated by one of Australia’s most exciting sommeliers, Liinaa Berry, can lie in complete security.
I was able to see one of the 19 exclusive heritage suites, each created out of four or five original cells with vaulted brick ceilings, original cell doors and bluestone walls. The Interlude Suite and the Interlude Sanctuary Suite will be the two showcase accommodations worthy of true five-star-plus ratings.
Apart from the plush decor and fittings, all suites enjoy a personalised itinerary curated to suit your stay, a choice of two inclusive Signature Experiences per night, a la carte breakfast and tea/coffee each morning, welcome drinks upon arrival, in-suite welcome amenities, premium tea selection, complimentary minibar items and turn-down service.
These Signature Experiences have been devised by the hotel working closely with local artists and personalities to bring a range of experiences that highlight Melbourne’s North. For example, choose from wine, tea, art, history, gourmet, exercise or mindfulness activities.
For my mind, anything that includes time in the otherworldly subterranean swimming pool has to be on the list. This most unusual retreat-within-a-retreat’s centrepiece is a candle-lit interior lap pool encased in the historic bluestone confines of the original B Division.
To summarise, The Interlude not only sets a new standard for urban wellness retreats, it creates an entirely new category, one that will both fascinate the curious traveller and satisfy the luxury craving hedonist.
The Interlude will welcome its first guests any day now.