Above the crowds

ALTHOUGH a feature of Dublin life since 1852, the Clarence Hotel was taken over by Bono and The Edge of U2 in 1992.

Since the subsequent re-vamp, the hotel has established itself as Dublin’s premier boutique luxury hotel, winning numerous awards along the way for virtually all aspects of its service. Its most recent accolade was being voted 9th out of the Top 25 hotels in Europe, Asia Minor & Russia by readers of Condé Nast Traveler Magazine.

First Impressions

Having arrived at the rear of the hotel, I mounted the substantial steps into what initially feels like a tall, dark interior — tight on space and light. But it also conveys a feeling of intimacy; like you’ve stumbled upon something interesting by accident while wandering the lively Temple Bar streets and something that has more than a passing feeling of inter-war Germanic art deco about it.

Amenities

A friendly valet whisks your car away to destination unknown (a car park under the hotel, presumably) for a fee of €25 per night. There is a conference room — the Clarence Suite — with conference and banqueting facilities for up to 120 people. A Fitness Centre is on offer and a comprehensive menu of massages is available by booking in advance at the Therapy, with prices from €100 to €150.

The Study Café to the front is a room in which to chill, read or meet for a chat whilst looking out on Wellington Quay through tall restored bronze-framed arts-and-crafts style windows. The beautiful and the opinionated of Dublin seem to gravitate to the groovy Octagon Bar to the rear.

The Rooms

The hotel got its first major refurbishment in the 1930s and had become something of a grand old dame of faded beauty by the 1970s when Bono and his pals were amongst its loyal and affectionate clientele.

It’s now 15 years since the Clarence had its last substantial makeover. At the time, an additional fifth floor was added to accommodate the Penthouse Suite and the Garden Terrace Suite. Here, you can see why so many visiting guests fork out €2,800 a night to crash out at the top. The décor features the signature custom-designed oak furniture and fittings, and the huge airy space includes an open-air hot tub, spiral staircase leading to a large sunlit upstairs living room, complete with baby grand piano and private bar.

The three River Suites are laid out with bedroom, reception with bathroom off and living room, each with a conjoined additional bedroom. Again, it’s hard to fault the excellent quality of the décor and fittings, although one might expect something less austere-looking. There was minor evidence of tiredness, but it can’t take away from the relaxing simple elegance of the room.

The bathroom — complete with quality atmospheric fittings and five-star-level complimentary products — is arguably the most impressive. The bright living room is a pleasure to relax in and the simplicity of the design contrasts nicely with the busy original Guggi artwork, the views of the Liffey and the Dublin commuters scurrying past below.

What to see

If you can bear to leave the cool surroundings of the Octagon Bar, a tantalising array of great pubs is within a short stroll; whether it’s a grand old Victorian-era Dublin boozer like the Palace Bar (200m), a Central European hops-and-barley haven like the Czech Inn (150m), an extended super-pub with a traditional taste like the Temple Bar (50m) or The Porter House — a super-pub with a truly unique service offering the best in beer.

The Gate and the Abbey theatres are within walking distance, while the Olympia is literally around the corner, as are a whole plethora of other well-funded theatres such as the New Theatre, the Project Arts Centre and the 17th-century Smock Alley Theatre.

If you prefer cinema, then an un-missable attraction is the Irish Film Institute, which is again just a short pleasant stroll through Temple Bar’s bohemian and sporadically cobblestoned streets.

If you fancy an excursion beyond Temple Bar, it’s worth investing in a Dublin Pass (www.dublinpass.ie). For €35 a day (€55 for two days/discounts for children), you have free entry to 32 Dublin attractions, including the Croke Park Experience, Christchurch Cathedral and Dublin Zoo.

The Restaurant

The Clarence has forged a strong reputation in serving up the best food in an uncomplicated and simple manner and their French-born executive chef Mathieu Melin is a graduate of the Michelin-starred restaurants at the Radisson Hotel and Patrick Guilbaud’s.

Meals are served in the elegant surroundings of the Tea Room. The urge to provide a buffet breakfast service is resisted and the experience is all the better for it. There’s nothing like having bacon, eggs, sausage and pudding cooked perfectly and specially for you in the sumptuous surroundings of a former ballroom, flavoured with a tangible air of Joycean allure.

The bottom line

Nightly room rates start from €129 for superior rooms up to €2,800 for the Penthouse Suite. The Clarence also offers some great value packages, including the “Guinness Package” that offers accommodation with tickets to the Guinness Storehouse (pint of stout included) for two, starting at a room rate of €140.

Anything to add

The Clarence’s initial tone of austerity soon warms to one of charm. There’s no doubting its quality where it really matters and there’s no better location for a weekend in the Fair City.

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