There’s this guy, Bono, and he owes me a beer.
So, I figured if I stayed at his hotel, he might wander in and I could put it right on him.
When I was a student here at Trinity College, I would invariably skip class whenever a good band was doing the midday gig at the Junior Commons Room. One day, it was this fledgling group of Dubs who had a local cult hit, “Boy.” They were good.
So, after the gig I bought the lead singer a beer in the college bar. He was appreciative, asked me where I was from, asked a few questions about the Cars, a Boston band that was then the rage, then politely thanked me for the beer and excused himself. These guys go on to become U2, and they’re all gazillionaires now.
I figure, with interest, Bono owes me about $40,000, but I don’t want to be a jerk about it, so I went and stayed at his hotel, The Clarence.
The Clarence used to be a dump on the Liffey. Now it’s the most prestigious, most expensive boutique hotel in Dublin. In fact, it’s the only boutique hotel in Dublin. Whether it makes it will be a measure of whether Dublin is, as many contend, as hip as any other European capital.
The Clarence is also the first of what is expected to be a steady influx of newer upscale hotels in Dublin, where the gracious but old-fashioned Shelbourne remains the crown prince of high-end hostelry. Modern hotels are a relatively new phenomenon in Dublin, where some of the older hotels, like Buswell’s, across from the Irish parliament, and the Gresham on O’Connell Street, retain turn-of-the-century Joycean charm and remain enormously popular with tourists, especially Americans.
I’ll give Bono, U2 guitarist The Edge, and the $8 million they’ve pumped into The Clarence this much: They’ve hired a discreet staff. I couldn’t get any of the hotel workers to give me dirt on drunken rock stars engaging in anything that might be considered untoward.
The Clarence sits on Wellington Quay, on the edge, no pun intended, of the River Liffey and Temple Bar, Dublin’s hip left bank of galleries, trendy bars and restaurants. Originally built in 1852, The Clarence had grown old and tired. By 1992, when a group of investors led by Bono, The Edge and local entrepreneur Harry Crosbie bought it, The Clarence had 70 rooms and a mere two stars in the guidebooks. In 1994, the owners shut the hotel down and began a redesign and refurbishment. When it opened last June, The Clarence had 50 rooms, five stars, and, because of its owners, instant cachet.
Of the 50 rooms, 46 are superior or deluxe, ranging in price from about $275 to $315. There are three suites, which cost between $660 and $880. And there is a penthouse suite, which, at $2,400 a night, is apparently the domain of Bono’s rock star pals. The rooms are like none other in Ireland, decorated with contemporary furniture, a mix of leather, oak and stone. All the rooms have the sort of extras you don’t find in most Irish hotels - VCRs, with a selection of films to choose from, 24-hour room service, and cellular phones for guest use.
Each room has a safe. I didn’t have any valuables, so I put my socks in there, just so it wouldn’t go to waste. But then I checked out the laundry and dry cleaning prices and realized that keeping socks in there wasn’t such a stretch. I had a pair of pants, two shirts, a pair of socks, and some underwear laundered. Approximate cost: $35. I have stayed all over Ireland and never saw laundry prices like this. If the outrageously inflated prices benefited the Dublin women who do the laundry, I wouldn’t have minded so much. But these millionaires should be ashamed of themselves, price gouging on the back of working-class women who don’t share the profits.
The hotel restaurant, The Tea Room is, apparently, the place to be seen in Dublin these days. Although, one of the nights I had dinner with some old friends from Dublin, in the dead of winter, there weren’t many to be seen. A waiter assured us that, in warmer months, the place is crawling with celebrities and gawkers. The food stands on its own. Michael Martin’s cuisine is innovative and exceptional, drawing on Thai influences. His risotto is unparalleled in Dublin.
The Octagon bar, so named because it has eight walled alcoves, is woody and modern and unique. But far more appealing is The Study, reserved for guests. With an open fire, comfy chairs, paneled walls, and huge windows that let light in from the quay, The Study is the perfect place to quaff a Guinness and peruse The Irish Times.
The Clarence is pricey, but it is a study in understated elegance, a small, intimate hotel that, despite bouts of pretentiousness, retains a certain Dub charm. A real plus is its young, earnest staff.
The Clarence seems destined to become a prestige address in Dublin for Americans.
If the Clarence makes money, expect its concept to be duplicated, much like the bistros that have sprung up all over Dublin.
By the way, I never did hook up with Bono. But given his hotel, I’ll be big about it. Forget the beer, Bono. We’re even.