For the St Patrick’s Day Bank Holiday it seems customary we should run with something suitably fitting. And ‘fitting’ is an understatement when it comes to one of Dublin’s oldest, and finest, properties. Rebecca Lipkin had the luck of the Irish as she found out…
I have a confession to make. I had never been to Dublin before last month and I didn’t fancy reaching middle age without experiencing a pint of Guinness (or at least a half) in a Temple Bar pub, or at the world famous Shelbourne, the city’s original five star hotel, majestically situated on the historic St. Stephen’s Green. Okay, the latter probably appealed more.
The so-called ‘Grand Old Lady of St. Stephen’s Green’, when you see her you can understand why. Dignified and regal, having stood for almost two hundred years she has witnessed everything from the 1916 Easter Rising to the drafting of the Irish Constitution in 1922 under the chairmanship of Michael Collins (The Constitution Room is now a private event space). An enduring landmark throughout the great Irish political unrest of the twentieth century, The Shelbourne still has the ability to make you feel more reassured inside her walls than when you entered.
Despite being extremely proud of their heritage and reputation (there’s even a hotel museum and a dedicated genealogy butler for those hoping to trace their ancestors), when you step through the revolving doors you’ll find a luxury hotel very much with its finger on the pulse. I love the constant buzz of the lobby, from business folk off to lunch meetings at No. 27 Bar & Lounge to families heading for a gourmet celebration in The Saddle Room, or a traditional Irish knees-up in the famous Horseshoe Bar with its original Hogarth prints, where it’s quite respectable to drink a drop of the Irish day or night. The Lord Mayor’s Lounge, the hotel’s relaxing afternoon tea and informal supper space, is also soon to reopen following an extensive refurbishment.
Dublin’s great and good are proud to be patrons of The Shelbourne. The equivalent of Claridge’s or The Dorchester, it’s constantly evolving but remains very much the place to be and be seen, something confirmed by Michelle Obama’s recent visit and talks of a suite being named after her. There are already suites dedicated to former guests Grace Kelly (an obsession of the Irish), Michael Collins and John F. Kennedy, so you get the idea of the kind of people they are familiar with. If you need any help just take a look at the screen by reception as you check in, highlighting at least a couple of my favourite stars, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin.
With 265 rooms including 19 suites, our stylish green Heritage Suite overlooking St Stephen’s Green recently underwent a full refurbishment by renowned designer Guy Oliver, who has worked on the likes of Claridge’s, The Connaught and Number 10 Downing Street; his own Irish heritage making him extremely keen to use local suppliers, not least the glinting Waterford Crystal chandeliers and crystal glassware, along with striking black and white photography by Irish artist David Farrell. With a separate living area and a black and white Art Deco inspired bathroom with a large bath, a standalone shower and Elemis toiletries, my first trip to Ireland was shaping up to be rather special.
We decided to lunch in No. 27 overlooking the green, for why go anywhere else when you’re in the best place already? Dinner in The Saddle Room, with its lavish menu of steak and seafood, only confirmed this view, especially when I saw the impressive oyster bar serving up the finest Irish shellfish and champagne. Not only do they serve a variety of oysters, Carlingford, Lambay and Galway straight up, but their hot rocks are simply sublime, particularly chef’s signature Oysters Shelbourne featuring Liscannor crab meat and lobster glazed with Hollandaise and Gruyère. I recommend you order at least half a dozen.
My husband was astonished when I rose at 7am to enjoy a swim before breakfast, but I had a feeling that I would never get around to it the other way around. The Health Club at The Shelbourne features an 18 metre heated swimming pool, sauna and steam room, along with state-of-the-art gymnasium, while I was also delighted to discover the adjacent hair and beauty salon, perfect for sorting out frizzy chlorinated locks. The Salon is extremely popular with bridal parties, with in-room services available, while their ‘Hollywood Legends’ hair and nail packages (from 59 Euros) are fun any day of the week. Offering a choice of classic ‘dos’ inspired by Grace Kelly, Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot, all with a glass of champagne, I could only hope that I resembled any one of those lovely ladies.
After such a busy morning, I felt fully justified in ordering a stack of pancakes besides making a dent in the continental buffet. I was bracing myself for a serious day of sightseeing, The Shelbourne being well placed for pretty much all the major attractions such as Trinity College, Dublin Castle, The National Museum and The National Art Gallery. Our first stop was the nearby Little Museum of Dublin, for one of their hourly insightful 30 minute talks on the history of the city, and then it was off to Grafton Street for designer shopping.
Instead of visiting a public house, I surprised my husband by booking a table at The Vintage Cocktail Club in Temple Bar, an unmarked door leading to a candlelit den that celebrates the history and evolution of cocktails, from on the rocks to straight up, or in our case non-alcoholic. Rather brave eh? And they were surprisingly accommodating due to so many Dubliners apparently turning to temperance. Too much of a good thing perhaps. It’s not the city it used to be, or he might just have been joking. Our good behaviour didn’t last (why or why did I book a trip to Dublin during Dry January?) and we succumbed to a few last night nightcaps back at The Horseshoe Bar. I am yet to try a Guinness, one of the few alcoholic beverages that’s supposed to be good for you.
The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel, 27 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. For more information and to book telephone +353 1 663 4500 or visit www.theshelbourne.ie.