Melbourne’s Famous Grand Heritage Hotel
Brimming with old world charm and the grandeur of a bygone era, The Hotel Windsor is an integral part of Melbourne's cultural and historical fabric. Established in 1883, it predates many other great Victorian hotels world wide, and is the last remaining grand heritage hotel of its kind in Australia.
Over its rich history, the hotel has hosted royalty, distinguished guests and celebrities, and continues to charm today, with its acclaimed Traditional Afternoon Tea and exceptional service.
Staying at The Hotel Windsor is a step back into a more gracious time, with the hotel's rooms reflecting the quirks and charms of its Victorian era architecture, and the suites replete with beautiful antique furniture. We invite you into a destination that is distinctly and iconically Melbourne.
A Rich Heritage and Exceptional Guests
The Windsor is Australia’s most loved and renowned grand hotel, pre-dating The Savoy in London, The Plaza and The Waldorf Astoria in New York, The Ritz in Paris, and Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Established in 1883, it combines the classic beauty and architecture of the Victorian age with the graciousness of that bygone era.
Located across the stately Parliament House and next to the famous Princess Theatre, The Windsor is only steps away from Melbourne’s luxury boutiques, theatres, laneways and Chinatown, with the picturesque Treasury, Fitzroy and Carlton Gardens a short walk from our doorstep.
On 3 June 1923, with renovations complete, the hotel hosted a luncheon attended by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. In honour of this occasion, the hotel was appropriately renamed The Windsor.
The Windsor has been a home away from home for many famous Australians during their stay in Melbourne. Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies kept Suite 306 at The Windsor for many years; it is now known as the Sir Robert Menzies Suite in his honour. Notable international guests included members of the English cricket team, who were frequent guests at the hotel, despite patriotic local factory workers’ efforts to disrupt their sleep by ‘accidentally’ knocking over the empty milk churns in the laneway.
Stars from the world of film and theatre have always been drawn to the elegance and style of The Windsor. Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh) stayed during their 1948 season at the Princess Theatre; Sir Robert Helpmann was introduced to the hotel as a child and stayed regularly throughout his life. Celebrated opera performer Emma Calve occupied a suite during her tour of Australia in 1910, and Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Everage are regular guests whenever they are in town.
Keith Michell once made a late-night request for the collected works of Shakespeare, which was promptly fulfilled when a set was found on display in the lobby; Meryl Streep set up a personal gym in her accommodation during the filming of Evil Angels. Renowned actors Sir Anthony Hopkins and Gregory Peck have occupied Suites at The Hotel Windsor whilst in Melbourne, as has sporting legend Muhammad Ali.
The Early Years
In 1883, shipping magnate George Nipper built his magnificent dream, then known as The Grand Hotel. It was designed by famous architect Charles Webb, and was soon recognised as the most stylish and luxurious accommodation in Melbourne.
The Honourable James Munro acquired the property in 1886. In association with the Honourable James Balfour MLC, Munro embarked on a massive expansion project that doubled the size of the hotel and saw the addition of the Grand Ballroom, the Grand Staircase, and twin cupola-capped towers. Visitors to the towers enjoyed views over Williamstown, the You Yangs, Mount Macedon, and the Dandenong Ranges. The original 200 rooms grew to 360, and The Grand Hotel boasted the latest amenities and five star conveniences: hot and cold water, electric lights, electric bells, and elevators.
At this time, the Temperance Party’s teetotal ideals had achieved a considerable following. The Honourable James Munro is famous for his flamboyant gesture of setting alight the hotel liquor license with the statement: “Well, gentlemen, this is what I think of the license”. And so the property became known as The Grand Coffee Palace.
This change did not prove successful, however. Just 10 years later, in 1897, the liquor license was reinstated, and the name The Grand Hotel was restored.
With its close proximity to Parliament House and Melbourne’s government offices, The Grand Hotel rapidly became associated with politics and politicians. So convenient was this relationship that in February and March 1898, the Drafting Committee for the Federal Constitution worked out the document’s final details from a suite within the hotel.
In the 1920s, a new company was incorporated. A group of investors, including Sir John Monash, purchased the property and began a major renovation. The Grand Ballroom’s unique high Victorian character, considered unfashionable at the time, was hidden, and would remain so for the next sixty years; leadlight windows at each end were replaced with clear glass, the ceiling domes that illuminated the room with natural light were concealed, and the richly patterned Victorian colour scheme was replaced with light pastels.
Art at The Windsor
The Windsor enjoys a long connection with the family of renowned artist Ernest Buckmaster. In 1958, Mr Richard Nesbitt, General Manager of the hotel, happened to walk past Ernest Buckmaster’s last city exhibition and purchased three paintings for the hotel. This was the beginning of a strong connection between the hotel and the family – a connection that continues today, over five decades later. A brochure recounting the living history of Ernest Buckmaster is currently available at the Concierge.
Under threat of demolition in 1976 – a time when developers were rapidly demolishing many historic buildings and skyscrapers began to dominate the Melbourne city skyline – the Victorian Government bought The Windsor, in order to ensure the conservation of this grand Melbourne landmark.
The original 1883 construction featured colonnades in the vestibule, which were later removed in 1959 as part of remodelling. These three original arched Victorian colonnades have been reinstated, and feature elaborately painted and gilded columns. The entrance from the foyer to the Grand Ballroom features a large arched entrance, with etched glass panes and cut ruby glass.
The Grand Staircase
Rising 75 feet above the lobby toward the skylight, the cantilevered Grand Staircase is remarkable both for its scale and its elevation. It is built of Stawell stone, and the landing is decorated with handmade Minton tiles imported from England. The tiles, which had been hidden under old carpets for decades, were rediscovered during the 1983 renovation.
The Grand Ballroom
The original domed skylights, the framing for which was still in the ceiling, have been re-glazed with stained glass, illuminating the Grand Ballroom with natural light. Modern craftsmen adopted traditional skills to make the fixtures as authentic as possible; the magnificent brass gasolines have been so faithfully reproduced from photographs that they even include a gas tap on each light.
The Cricketer's Bar
The Cricketer’s Bar is a city institution; it features an outstanding collection of cricketing memorabilia, courtesy of the prestigious Melbourne Cricket Club, which has honoured The Hotel Windsor by appointing The Cricketers’ Bar custodian of many precious sporting treasures.
Photographs of both English and Australian teams from the 1800s and 1900s adorn the walls, and an autographed Sir Donald Bradman bat occupies pride of place.