Dublin Up: Two of Ireland’s Best Hotels
Take one of the great European destinations, pick two hotels and add a dose of unseasonably good weather. Craic guaranteed.
Here’s something I never thought I’d write: ‘I arrived in Dublin in the middle of a heatwave’. I didn’t see a spot of the traditional Irish rain. It was like being in Antibes, only with much, much better Guinness. And semi-naked, fair-skinned men asleep everywhere.
The heat, it’s safe to say, had driven most people crazy. When I first reached the city centre in the morning, the banks of the Liffy and the lovely St Stephen’s Green were already thronged with people who had clearly elected to take a day off, enjoying the sun and a few quiet drinks. By the afternoon, those drinks had grown considerably noisier – except where they had had the aforementioned soporific effect. And even though I spent a lot of the day working, it was hard not to get caught up in the party atmosphere. I had a few, too, and by early evening was feeling just as pleasantly woozy as everyone else.
It’s a good job then, that I was staying in the Dylan. This lovely boutique hotel is housed in an old nurses’ home (initially designed by the great Albert E Murray, if you’re a fan of Dublin Victorian architecture) on Baggot Street, only a pleasant walk from the city centre, but still far enough away to feel secluded and calm.
Yes, you might have missed it earlier in that long sentence, but I did just write “lovely boutique hotel”. There’s a part of me that cringes at those words. And it’s the part that knows that “boutique hotel” nearly always translates as a place where there will be room features made out of glass and painted sticks, and I won’t understand how the phone works. This part was richly rewarded in the Dylan. The sticks were there, painted in fetching ochre shades. The first time the phone rang, I missed the call because I couldn’t find the answer button. It was an astonishingly fancy Bang & Olufsen that came with its own instruction manual and it looked like… well… Let’s just say it was about 12” long, relatively thin and silver and you wouldn’t normally want to put it up to your face. Not without dislodging your teeth.
Mind you, there is another less cynical part of me. And that part enjoyed having a shower with all kinds of different nozzles, a TV over the bathtub and a Bose dock for my iPhone. I was impressed by the fact that all this technology sat so comfortably in an airy old-fashioned Dublin room with sash bay windows and an absolutely huge bed – in which I was soon snoring happily.
Things only got better the next morning when I spent a lovely sunny hour on the ground floor terrace, kicking my hangover into touch with the aid of several espressos and an Irish breakfast. An Irish breakfast is just like an English breakfast (which is to say, bacon, egg, sausage, black pudding and mushroom) with the welcome addition of soda bread and white pudding. I’m not going to tell you what’s in white pudding, because I don’t know. I’m not going to google it either. When I found out what’s in black pudding I couldn’t eat it for a year. I’d hate that to happen with its paler cousin because that stuff is delicious – or at least, it is the way they serve it up in the Dylan. It was crispy and oaty and melty-in-the-mouthy and by the time I finished, I felt like a new man, ready to tackle the Irish capital all over again.
I was ready also, to sample another hotel. The Dylan is great if you want to get away from it all, but you have to go to The Merrion if you want to live like a king. Or even better, live like a hip-hop star. When Jay-Z was in town, not long before me, that’s where he stayed. It’s a building on his kind of scale. A bling palace. If you like marble fittings and gigantic gold picture frames, this is the place for you. And even if you don’t, you’ll probably quite enjoy it anyway. It may be a monument to bad taste, but it’s comfortable bad taste.
Okay, I had a couple of grumbles. The air-conditioning in my room was wheezy, clearly unused to the unseasonable summer heat – but then, this is Ireland and they’re hardly used to it. The swimming pool, in spite of boasting a joyfully tacky mural on one end wall was also looking a bit down at heal. But there were excellent little touches everywhere. There were freely available disposable razors and shaving kit in the changing rooms, complimentary slippers placed by the bed (in their own bag!) when I left the room after 5pm, and the service was universally wonderful. This extended right down to providing me with a free bike, and helmet, when I wanted to take a quick tour of Dublin.
The bike I was given was huge, heavy, solid, with big fat tires. I discovered why it was so reminiscent of an armoured car (albeit with peddles and an incongruously jaunty basket) when I rode out into the Dublin streets. That traffic moves fast. In all directions. At once. And there are lots of lorries. It was really quite bracing. No, scrub that. That’s like saying the Arctic’s a bit cold. It was outright terrifying.
Most of my friends from the city laughed when I later told them I’d been riding around for fun and several questioned my sanity. But actually, give or take a few brushes with death, it was fun. The hotel is close enough to the Liffy that you can soon escape the roads, and whizzing up those famous river banks on a hot day is a joy. As long as you know to look out for sleeping fellas. Even so, I was mighty glad when I arrived safely outside the Merrion again and the doormen helped me from the bike. Even gladder to get back to my ostentatiously large room, take a shower in the marble glittering bathroom, put on my hotel-supplied robe, look out of the window over the Irish government buildings and feel once more like hip-hop royalty. Word.
Dylan Hotel, Dublin 4, Ireland. Tel +353 1 660 3000. www.dylan.ie.
Merrion Hotel, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel +353 1 603 0600. www.merrionhotel.com.