PEOPLE AND PLACES: Gorgeous George hotel. Where heritage meets urban cool

gorgeousgeorge2bedroom69.jpg Cape Town inner city heritage hotel Gorgeous George combines focused, fabulous local interior design talent with inner city cool in its bedrooms and social spaces. The formula is casual food, a bar and deck leading to a pool up high. A few months after opening, it is already a Capetonian drinks hangout favourite.

If you’re suffering from creative block after staying in too many hotel rooms that are boring in their nondescript, impersonal uniformity, make your next business or leisure reservation at Gorgeous George. Old window frames in this new hotel open to overlook Cape Town’s St Georges Mall pedestrian walkway and bring in the hum of a city. It’s where heritage cleverly meets urban.

From the friendly reception on street level where Lucie De Moyencourt’s handpainted tiles form a mural map of Cape Town, to buzzing rooftop Gigi Rooftop restaurant/bar that introduces a tropical jungle feel against a backdrop of urban low-rises, Gorgeous George celebrates everything that is inner city, individualistic and slick. Two heritage buildings were cleverly combined to produce the 32 rooms and suites.

The hotel is Cape Town’s first Design Hotels? member; an association with 300 privately owned/operated international boutique hotels rooted in design, architecture and hospitality.

gorgeousgeorgeexterior03.jpg GERMAN-OWNED
Gorgeous George hotel’s German owner Tobias Alter is the head (and primary shareholder) of real estate development company Formhaus in Munich. He believes more travellers are looking for an authentic experience “outside of what the cookie cutter large scale brands” offer.

The common denominator is inner city and innovative locally designed,” says Alter. “With the consolidation of larger hotel chains, there’s a gap for a personalised experience that only smaller, independent boutique hotels can fill.”

Tristan du Plessis of Plessis Studios was brought in to add colour, flair and local artisanal design flash in the interior spaces. “We came up with a concept that was a reaction to other Cape Town hotels,” says Du Plessis. “We didn’t want beachside or seaside. We wanted an unashamedly downtown and urban focus.”

gorgeousgeorge2bedroom65.jpg SOUTH AFRICAN DESIGN SHOWCASE
“From an aesthetic perspective we wanted a showcase for South African design,” says Du Plessis. They’ve achieved it. My one-bedroom linked to a lounge with Gregor Jenkin’s Quaker chair propped at his narrow black steel workdesk, near a mural handpainted by David Britz.

A distinctive drinks trolley by Douglas & Co had an outsized pink wheel against a black metal frame. A velour couch ended at a brass pill mirror “inspired by the Cape Dutch arches of a neighbouring building”. Du Plessis’s oak and steel storage unit doubled as a refreshment station, with seventies ribbed glass panels and De Moyencourt’s tiles as splashbacks.

I loved Jenkin’s bathroom vanities too: marble topping a black base on narrow legs, creating a luxurious touch against the wet room’s white and black penny tiles and black accessories.

Du Plessis’s Eurocentric library/bar at Gigi Rooftop uses only locally sourced furniture including leather Chesterfields to his own design. A barman made us cocktails on a leather counter, on stained walnut wood with brass trim. David Krynauw’s large oak table and chairs infused an Afrikaans farm-style element.

Smaller dining tables with more handpainted tiles weren’t terribly practical for balancing wine glasses alongside executive chef Guy Bennett’s accessible food. Small Plates (oysters to tasty BBQ sticky lamb ribs) suit afternoon poolside drinks or dinner starters. A creative mushroom risotto is an alternative to fish and steaks.

Continuing the casual theme, Du Plessis designed the rooftop to be an urban garden oasis, with loads of hanging baskets of plants linking the indoors with the decked pool area. “We turned the old machine room into the indoor section of the rooftop pool.”

gigi_restaurant_interior_11.jpg LIVING ROOM FOR THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Alter was adamant about introducing European hotel culture as a community social hub in his design brief to Du Plessis. A space not only for sleeping; a haunt for locals to meet. It’s why Alter refers to Gigi Rooftop’s restaurant as the “living room for the neighbourhood”.

It makes the sixth floor rooftop space unusual. On a weekday winter evening a mix of ages were chatting, ordering glasses of wine plus snacks to eat. There were quieter dining areas too. “That was a core component of what we wanted to create: a social space not just for hotel guests,” says Du Plessis. “It adds to the experience for the guest too. It’s nice to be part of that community and not just check into a room.”

GORGEOUS GEORGE 118 St Georges Mall, Cape Town City Centre.
Tel 087-898-6000, Gorgeous George

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in June 2019