In 1854, Thomas Mooney opened the National Hotel on a site in Bourke Street, Melbourne, near the elegant Victorian state parliament building. 

This was "the year that helped make Melbourne marvellous", according to the Age newspaper.
Things were booming, and the streets were bustling with prosperous traders, often accompanied by their wives in the wide-skirted but austere dresses of the age. 

If you were to take a walk through the city that year, you’d also see the beginnings of the state library, the museum, Melbourne university, the Victorian railways and the Melbourne cricket ground.  

Fast forward 169 years and there’s a hotel on the site in Bourke Street again. 

This time, it’s the Le Méridien, part of the rapidly growing Marriott Group. 

There's no trace left of the Victorian building, but history lives on throughout the hotel behind its refreshed art deco facade.  

Spot those past lives

Step into the new Le Méridien today and it becomes a game to spot all the details that celebrate those past lives. 

Over the years, the site has been a variety theatre, a cinema in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the swanky Metro nightclub in the 80s, and a church. 

In 2007, a different kind of worship took over. It became the city’s premier music venue, where international acts drew huge crowds. 

The first clue to the site's past is the bar. It could be a cinema counter but it’s serving cocktails, the coffee that makes Melbourne proud and, of course, ice-creams. It's called Intermission. Of course. 

It’s truly theatrical 

The mid-century decor invites you to sit in your velvet theatre-style seat and take a mini carton of popcorn to nibble with your cocktails.

Feeling like a little post-theatre refreshment? Wind down the spiral staircase to Dolly restaurant, named for the device used by Alfred Hitchcock, the camera dolly, a wheeled cart that gives smoothness to moving shots. 

The curtains, the velvet padded banquettes and the fluted 50s glass around the bar all hint at the building’s movie-theatre past. 

The meals are classics from the 80s, reinvented for Australia and modern palates. (Image: Le Méridien)

Here you'll find a menu that’s a flashback to the 80s and the dishes that were de rigueur when the Metro nightclub was the hottest place in town. 

We try the beef wellington, the tenderest beef fillet lovingly wrapped in pastry with an optional French sauce. 

As you’ll find everywhere in Melbourne, there are cocktails to match each course – and everyone’s drinking one.

But the dining experience is just like the shorts at the movies. At Le Méridien, the feature is your room, and the scene is set for your own life story. 

My queen room had a sweet pairing of velvet chairs with a round table, and retro shelving with some well-chosen books. Some were about Melbourne, others about Parisian life. 

French chic is part of the Le Méridien theme, because it’s grown from a company founded by Air France to provide hotel destinations for the airline around the world. 

My fifth-floor windows looked down on the hotel’s delightful pool deck and beyond to some of Melbourne's most striking Victorian architecture. 

Spectacular at sunset but inviting in full sun, the pool, Splash!, overlooks Melbourne. (Image: Le Méridien)

Next morning, exploring Melbourne before the morning rush hour, I found coffee shops in all kinds of tucked-away places – down laneways, in office courtyards, in a stairwell. But, all A$9 (NZ$9.70) a cup. Oh, dear. 

But why venture out?

I headed back to the hotel to get the coffee creme de la creme from Anthony Douglas, the reigning world barista champion.

Melburnians are coffee snobs, so you won't be disappointed in the brew from the hotel bar. (Image: Le Méridien).

● Brenda Ward was hosted in Melbourne by the Marriott Group.