I’ll admit that my finger hovered over the ‘Book now’ button on the Sydney Capsule Hotel website for quite some time. I mean, I’m a long way past my twenties. Do I really want to go back to my backpacking and hostel days? Aren’t I too old for this? Do I really want to sleep in a coffin? Then I looked at the average price of a mid-range hotel in the centre of Sydney on a Friday night. That was enough for me to drop my finger onto the enter key. After all, it was only for one night. It was going to be a bit of a change from the lovely suite at The Sebel Quay West that work had booked for me the night before, but this one was coming from my pocket. It appealed to my sense of adventure too. I’d wanted to stay in one decades ago when I lived in Japan, but women were not allowed at that time. Really, how bad could it be?
I walked past it the first time. Despite the address being on George Street, the entrance is tucked around the corner on Liverpool Street. The entrance is lit up with a row of naked bulbs, movie-star-mirror style. The sign reads VIP lounge. Capsule Hotel is in much smaller writing. It looks like a poker hall or a gambling den.
Inside, a circular staircase winds up several levels. There’s a screen shaped like an iPhone that’s bigger than me. It’s not working. A sign on the elevator proclaims it is an historic piece of equipment and suggests patience. I think historic might just mean slow.
Reception is on the third floor. It’s a pleasant surprise. There’s a small reception desk and a lounge nook with a small kitchen area and a door out to a fake-grassed terrace. I’m too early to check in, but the woman on reception efficiently tags my bag to go into storage and gives me the Wi-Fi password so I can work in the lounge.
At 2pm, when check-in opens, I collect my bag and sign a page of terms and conditions. There’s a $20 deposit required as a bank card hold in case you don’t return the keycard or the towel. No aerosols are to be used in the capsules. No smoking. No vaping. It all makes sense. Within moments I’m back at the elevator, waiting for it to trundle me up another floor.
The Capsule Rooms
On the fourth floor, there are two bathrooms and a couple of doors that lead to the capsule rooms. I’ve opted for a female room and click open the door with my keycard. The room is quite cold, with the air conditioning on high. There is no evidence of human life.
I store my belongings in my clearly marked, designated locker, accessed using the same key card. My bedding and towel are inside the locker waiting for me. They look freshly laundered, impressively white and crisp.
There are eight capsules in the room. The two to the left of the door are stacked on top of each other and have doors on the side for entry. The other six are stacked in a row of three and have end openings. It brings to mind a bank vault. Gold-framed oval steps provide access to the upper berths. I am in a ground-level berth on the far end. I throw my bedding in and pull the hinged door closed. There are no locks on these doors, supposedly due to emergency evacuation requirements. Hence, the lockers. I think I prefer the idea of not being locked in anyway. I’m due at a meeting so I dash back out and jump on the tram that runs conveniently close by. Capsule exploration will have to wait.
Capsule by Night
I don’t return until after 10pm. The room is very quiet. I spy one pair of shoes neatly lined up outside a capsule, so I know I’m not alone. That is the only sign of habitation.
I drag my suitcase out of the locker and prepare for bed. As I clean my teeth in one of the unisex, shared bathrooms, a young man emerges from the shower. He looks somewhat surprised by my presence. I wonder how many people are in residence.
Finally, it’s time to explore the rather futuristic-looking capsule. It’s surprisingly spacious. I can easily sit cross-legged with plenty of space between my head and the ceiling, which, by the way, has a big red light fitting that I assume is an emergency beacon. It doesn’t inspire confidence.
There’s a mirror, an electricity socket and two USB ports on the side panel and the casing also flattens out into two small shelves, with enough space for a book and a bottle of water. There’s a slot for the key card that controls the electricity, including the lights, which have a dimmer function. I like knowing exactly where the keycard is, as if I need the bathroom in the middle of the night I’ll need to take it with me to get back into the room. There’s also a jack for a headset, but I’m not quite sure what it connects to. Capsule radio?
The mattress is fairly thin, but not uncomfortable. If you’ve ever slept on a thin futon on tatami mats, it has that kind of feel. The bedding is thick enough to provide the initial warmth I need, although overnight, the capsule does warm up a little, so I end up kicking the blanket off. I suspect this is why the room is maintained at sun-Arctic temperatures.
When it comes down to it, I have everything I need in this little space and rather than feeling claustrophobic, I feel cosy. Whether it’s the two large glasses of wine I consumed earlier with friends or the level of comfort in the capsule, I sleep exceedingly well.
When I emerge in the morning, I’m surprised to note several additional pairs of shoes by capsules. That’s how deeply I slept. I didn’t hear anyone else enter the room.
I retrieve my towel from my locker and head to the bathroom, securing a shower immediately. This is the only downfall of the hotel. The shower could do with a good clean and a refurb. The paint is peeling and there’s a little too much hair around that’s not mine. The water pressure is good though and the handbasin looks new.
Clean, packed and refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I patiently wait for the aged elevator to transport me down one floor. I drop my key in the express check out box while the lift waits for me. I might be a similar age as this slightly rattling contraption, but I realise that much like this piece of machinery, I’m not too old for this kind of travel. It’s a reminder that an adventure is never far away. You just need to have the right mindset for it.
The final question is: would I stay here again? The answer is: Absolutely!