The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Where to Stay in Dublin Now
May 11, 2017 -- Dublin is not an inexpensive place to put your head on a bed.

The good news? There are several fabulous choices, including some top-notch hotels that can be claimed with your frequent guest points.

THE BIG DEAL IN DUBLIN
Once upon a time, when you went to Dublin, you checked into the Shelbourne on St. Stephen's Green. The Shelbourne is a Renaissance now and both the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton have lost their Dublin properties. Which brings us to The Merrion, opened in 1997 inside a series of 18th-century Georgian townhouses across from the seat of Irish government.

With 123 rooms and 19 suites, The Merrion is where the power crowd stays. Public rooms are lush, but intimate, with cushy furniture and big log fireplaces. Guestrooms in the Main House are classically elegant. Guestrooms in the Garden Wing are more modern, but quite plummy. Dublin's best dining room (Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud) and an extremely attractive pub (The Cellar) are on the premises. There's a lovely series of courtyard gardens, a spa with a stunning swimming pool and an exceptionally helpful staff.

The bottom line: The Merrion is what classically styled modern luxury hotels should be: Big enough to have everything you need on the road, but cozy enough to feel like home. You'll pay for the privilege, of course. Published rates currently start at US$350 a night. Overnight packages with dinner, Champagne and Irish Breakfast start at around $475.

HILTON'S BIG LONDON HITTER
Michael Matthews wrote in 2015 about how few "amazing" hotel experiences he's had in his career. I am happy to report that one of my "amazing" hotel experiences happened in Dublin at the Conrad, the best Hilton property in the Irish capital.

My flight from New York/Kennedy arrived at Dublin Airport about dawn on a Saturday morning. Even after walking both terminals and spending an hour in the Aer Lingus arrivals lounge, I found myself in the lobby of the Conrad at 8:15 a.m.

The front-desk clerk quickly found my reservation, waived the 3 p.m. check-in time and assigned me an upgraded room. He handed me a breakfast chit and another for a drink at Alfie's, the hotel's adjacent pub. When he heard I would be checking out before dawn the next morning, he booked a cab for my 4:30 a.m. departure and offered to arrange a wake-up call and delivery of a cup of tea. When I told him I'd be back at the Conrad for another night's stay just 36 hours later, he summoned a bellman--and he volunteered to come to my room at any time and collect whatever baggage I might want to leave behind. When I hit the empty lobby next morning, the same bellman was waiting for me at the check-out desk with a cabbie in tow.

Service that sterling makes up for a lot of weaknesses, but I can't find much fault with the 192-room hotel. An extensive renovation last year updated the guestrooms and the public areas, so no complaints there. The Conrad's location, across from the National Concert Hall and steps from St Stephen's Green, is impeccable. If forced, I suppose I could complain about the higher-than-they-should-be prices in the lobby bar and the hotel's brasserie. But I tend to hang in Alfie's, part of the Galway Bay Brewery chain, so even that quibble is just a quibble. Nightly rates start at about $300 and include free WiFi and complimentary soft drinks in the minibar. Hilton Honors award nights are usually 60,000 points for standard rooms.

THE DUBLIN CLASSIC
The aforementioned Shelbourne is the city's classic hotel. Smack on St. Stephen's Green, it can boast top-hatted doormen, 200 years of history, a recent restoration and all the services of an old-fashioned luxury hotel. (There's even a beauty salon on the premises and a traditional men's barber shop in the basement.) It's run as a Marriott Renaissance now and is, in fact, the only Marriott property in the heart of town. But I find the standard guestrooms small, the prices high and the service unnecessarily pompous. Prices start at about $275 a night. It's a Category 8 redemption in Marriott Rewards.

WORLD-CLASS LUXURY, FANCY NAMES REMOVED
Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton both had fine hotels in greater Dublin, but both have lost the properties. The former Four Seasons, located in the Ballsbridge neighborhood, is now an InterContinental. The Ritz-Carlton, located in the village of Enniskerry, about 25 miles from Dublin Airport, is now an independent called the Powerscourt and a member of Marriott's Autograph Collection. Both remain formidable--if the geography works for you.

The InterContinental is set on two leafy acres in Ballsbridge, Dublin's nearly suburban district that is home to many foreign government facilities, including the U.S. Embassy. The 197 guestrooms are among the largest in Dublin. There's a spa, a pool, a fitness center and all of the facilities you'd expect from a five-star former Four Seasons. Nightly rates start at about US$200 a night or 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points. The hotel is about a 50-euro cab ride from the airport or the 8-euro Aircoach Bus Route 702 will deposit you in front of the property. A short walk to the Sandymount DART rail station will connect you to Connolly Station in downtown Dublin.

The Powerscourt in Enniskerry has 102 rooms and 92 suites and offers a superb resort experience just 30 minutes or so by car from Dublin. Guestrooms start at 500 square feet and offer mountain or garden views. Suites are quite spacious. There's a spa, three restaurants and two nearby golf courses. If you're interested in a car-free urban experience, however, this may not be your perfect property. Nightly rates start at about $200 and it is a Category 7 redemption in Marriott Rewards.

OTHER WISE CHOICES
The Morrison overlooks the River Liffey and its nicely decorated rooms are now marketed as a DoubleTree by Hilton. ... The Westin sits opposite Trinity College and is quite nice, but beware the so-called "classic" rooms, which are classic only because they are very small. ... The Holiday Inn Express City Centre is perfectly located, relentlessly modern in design and a comparative bargain. ... The privately owned Aberdeen Lodge is an impossibly cute bed and breakfast on a residential street in Ballsbridge. Guestrooms are smallish, but the breakfasts are legendary. The staff is gracious and helpful, and, of course, there's a requisite house cat.


This column is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.