The Encore Building is synonymous with views, design and luxury.
Its 15 floors of cutting edge design is perched in the sought-after location of Elizabeth Bay Road – close to all of the conveniences that the 2011 postcode is known for.
Inside, are resort-like facilities with a gym, spa, sauna and indoor pool.
The 78 units in the block are tightly held, often inhabited by young professionals. There’s even the odd socialite, like fashion-curator Francesca Packer Barham, who set up camp in the block in 2016.
But back in its heyday, this was The Sebel Town House, a venue for sex, drugs and debauchery like no other. Anyone – and practically everyone – has partied behind its doors.
In the 1960s Harry Sebel, a furniture emperor who made his fortune by producing chairs from moulded plastic, bought a block of land in Elizabeth Bay. He planned to build a cluster of bachelor-pad style units. Thanks to a planning dispute, or perhaps destiny, this never came to be.
In 1963 he opened The Sebel Town House. It became famous many things – its modern design but also the fact that it was Australia’s first hotel to take credit cards.
A who’s who of celebrity
Sebel’s plan was for intimate, European-style accommodation but something about its unpretentious charisma drew international celebrities into its rooms. Some of the guests who stayed here include: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Betty Davis, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Boy George, Phyllis Diller, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, ABBA, Led Zepplin, Brett Whitely and the pelican who starred in Storm Boy.
Sebel later courted these guests by calling promoters of musicians.
Those employed at the hotel were expert at both customer service and discretion. And The Town House developed a reputation for staff who were able to simultaneously meet any client demands and turn a blind eye to the resulting excesses. This winning combination ensured that many of the events which occurred at the Sebel remain unpublished.
In fact, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald after its transformation into apartments in 2003 said “the best stories are even now unpublishable and people still joke about selling the carpets for their cocaine content”.
Of the more savoury shenanigans it’s known that:
- Frank Sinatra was the biggest tipping guest.
- Harry Secombe loved the acoustics of the lifts so much that he rode the elevators singing as they travelled up and down.
- Celebrity-chef Keith Floyd raced remote-controlled cars in the lobby
- Elvis Costello often got drunk at the bar.
- Elton John gave staff just four days’ notice ahead of his 1984 wedding reception to Renate Blauel.
- Musician Ian Dury was so intoxicated while on tour in 1981, that his manager took him to his room and confiscated the caliper that Dury required for walking.
Nevertheless, Dury crawled to the lift, slithered to the bar and ordered drinks whilst abusing other patrons.
The Sebel Bar was so often jam-packed with the rich and famous that autograph hunters – often still in their school uniform – would line up across the street screaming for their idols.
In 1981 Harry Sebel sold the establishment and in the late 1980s it was traded to Mirvac Group but it continued to operate as a hotel until 2000.
End of an Era
In the ‘90s Kings Cross became grittier and the glamour of The Sebel began to fade. Celebrities stayed elsewhere, choosing to reside in the City or near the Harbour.
Towards the end of the decade The Cross began the process of renewal. Hotels in the suburb became less economically viable and The Sebel along with The Landmark, The Gazebo, The Talk of the Town and The Rex were all transformed or slated for redevelopment into luxury apartments – a trend we’re still seeing today.
In 2000, The Sebel Town House closed its doors for good. But not before it went out with a bang. Playwright Louis Nowra and his publishing friends booked a room in the hotel the night it hosted the ARIA Awards party.
In an interview, Nowra recalled seeing his friends surfing on an iron board in the corridor, fellow party goers trying to push a television out the window and scrawling on the room’s walls with textas supplied by staff. The ARIA after party was tame in comparison aside from Fat Boy Slim attempting to take an axe to a board room table – but not getting away with it.
The Encore Today
By 2003 The Sebel Town House was transformed into The Encore building, named after the hotel’s restaurant. Architect Michal Wiener cleaned up The Town House’s act physically and metaphorically. Wiener utilised the modernist outlines of the former establishment and injected it with a sense of whimsy. The planar foyer has red and yellow coloured accents and a bright and a three-storey curved screen on the exterior greets the street.
Inside, the apartments look contemporary with white and grey interiors. The kitchens and bathrooms possess all the modern amenities and the extensive use of glass opens the interiors up to the glorious views.
One thing that’s missing from The Encore is noise. If only those walls could talk.