The Merrion, Dublin
The Merrion occupies a row of four understated 18th century Georgian townhouses in Dublin with brass signage so discreet you might mistake it for that rare private investment firm that hadn’t lost its shirt during the Celtic Tiger years.
While it’s in the heart of the Irish capital, The Merrion does not feel remotely like an urban hotel. In fact, it resembles an exceptionally comfortable and rambling Irish country house. The check-in desk, where you’ll encounter a well-trained staff who exude a singularly Irish blend of coddling service and professional reserve, is also in the first of a series of sitting rooms. Each of those rooms is outfitted with elaborately mantled fireplaces exuding the welcoming smell of a smoldering peat fire.
There are arrangements of plush chairs and couches designed for conversation, as well as small tables capable of handling morning coffee served on a silver tray, the hotel’s signature afternoon Art Tea or a pint of Guinness sent from the bar. Paintings by the Irish master Jack Yeats (the poet’s brother) hang matter-of-factly, part of the important private collection of Irish art on display throughout the hotel. There are plaster work ceilings and crystal chandeliers, all elegant and well-restored but not overly fussy. It all adds up to some of the most welcoming, relaxing and comfortable rooms you will find in any hotel in the world, free of pretension, even if locals like Bono or Gabriel Byrne are at the next table, or fellow Yanks like Bruce Springsteen. When the Obama family stayed in 2011, they took over the place.
Looking out at the central formal garden, designed by legendary Irish gardener Jim Reynolds, you’d be hard pressed to know you were steps from St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square, where Oscar Wilde lived for more than two decades. His quip — “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is” — rings rather true here. The Merrion exudes the effortless luxury that so many hotels strive for but fail to reach, in part because they lack the wherewithal to properly fund it. Behind The Merrion is Irishman Martin Naughton, #831 on the Forbes Billionaire List and co- owner of the property. Naughton made his money with Glen Dimplex, the largest global manufacturer of electrical heating appliances. In a profoundly damp climate like Ireland’s, that seems like sound business sense.
The 143 bedrooms and suites are divided between the Main House and the Garden Wing. Go for the older rooms in the Main House if you have a choice, done in classic Georgian style, with elaborate plaster work ceilings, marble fireplaces and bathrooms that are five-star Carrara-marble sanctuaries. The rooms are done in cream, gray, and slate blue and offer what are among the very best hotel beds in the world, a comfortable dream to sink into particularly after an Atlantic crossing, swaddling you in high thread count linen.
Patrick Guilbaud’s restaurant (allegedly Dublin’s best, and proud of it two Michelin stars), is located within the Merrion. But many visitors make a beeline for the Cellar Bar, in the original wine vaults, for a comfortable drink before dinner. It’s a favorite of Dublin hacks as well as the inhabitants of Leinster House, the seat of the Irish parliament, which lies across the street. Insider political chatter and pints go hand in hand here.
Now this hotel that redefines “sublime” is undergoing a multi-million euro expansion that will include a new hotel restaurant, an extension to Guilbaud’s restaurant and 20 new suites on three floors with a penthouse and garden terrace. Naughton says that it should be done within a year, which seems a tad ambitious. But the new building is unlikely to change the tone of The Merrion, where sipping a whiskey in front of a peat fire is still likely to feel more Celtic Twilight than Celtic Tiger.
Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2, Ireland