The Lord Monck Suite at The Merrion in Dublin has a boat-shaped ceiling and decor motifs featuring flowers and birds. // © 2015 The Merrion
Feature image (above): The luxury property is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and is composed of four restored Georgian townhouses. // © 2015 The Merrion
Celebrities from President Barack Obama to singer Rihanna have chosen The Merrion hotel as a home base in Dublin, but it’s not just the opportunity to name-drop that makes this 142-room hotel so desirable.
The Merrion is home to one of the largest private art collections in Ireland. Original works by Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Mainie Jellett and Nathaniel Hone grace its walls, and Martin Mooney, one of Ireland’s top young painters, was commissioned to paint a series of works for The Merrion’s Front Hall.
The sheer size and scope of the private collection is dizzying. Fortunately, guests who feel overwhelmed can arrange a private tour with a guide from the National Gallery of Ireland, who will explain the context and significance of The Merrion’s artwork. For those who don’t want to shell out the extra $108 for a private tour, the hotel plans to debut a free audio tour this summer that will weave stories through its paintings, drawings, sculpture and objets d’art.
The Merrion’s collection also sets the scene for Art Tea, a daily high tea presentation that’s almost too pretty to eat. Art Tea offers a witty interpretation of the surrounding paintings and portraits as well as showcases the creative talents — and sense of humor — of the in-house pastry chefs.
The most impressive allusion you can eat might be the pastry chef’s version of William Scott’s “Frying Pan, Funnel, Eggs & Lemons.” The chef uses a table-shaped vanilla biscuit and covers it with orange curd, then painstakingly draws still-life objects with chocolate and vanilla icing. Similarly, the necklace and headscarf worn by Saurin Elizabeth Leech in her “Self Portrait 1912” are artistically echoed in a cake of lime sponge, orange chiboust and lemon jelly curd. Guests tend to linger in the drawing rooms for about two hours as Art Tea is served course by course.
The Royal Treatment
Like Art Tea, my guestroom paid tribute to the great artists of the 19th and 20th century as well. There, I discovered illustrations by Jack B. Yeats, the younger brother of poet W.B. Yeats, adorning the walls. In fact, all guestrooms feature unique art pieces from prominent Irish artists — in addition to providing modern conveniences such as a plasma-screen television and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Georgian palace design and ultra-high ceilings made the room feel both spacious and regal – a gorgeous chandelier as a centerpiece didn’t hurt either. Gold sconces framed a white marble fireplace (although the fireplace was for decorative use only), and my minibar was stocked with an extensive selection of champagne, wine, mixers and spirits.
Since I travel for work, I tend to have my laptop, a smartphone, a GoPro, a selfie stick, an iPad and other equipment in tow. During turndown service, after seeing all of my gadgets and converters fighting for juice, the maid must have taken pity on me. I returned to find a power strip and an additional U.S. voltage converter, plugged in and ready for action.
Around the Property
The hotel is made up of four Georgian townhouses — formerly private residences — and a specially commissioned Garden Wing, which encircle nearly a half-acre of landscaped 18th-century gardens. The courtyard area was a highlight for me, featuring the labyrinthine Lady Mornington’s Garden and a stately sculpture of Dublin-born James Joyce.
During my stay, construction on 12 new private residences was visible from the garden, although I never heard a peep from the construction workers. In the coming months, the Cellar Restaurant — where breakfast is served by a doting waitstaff — will shutter. The space will become an extension of the on-site Tethra Spa, which already features a 60-foot infinity pool and a gym. A new garden restaurant, the concept kept under wraps at press time, will open its doors in 2016.
“Like all great hotels around the world, we realize that change is necessary,” said Peter McCann, general manager for The Merrion, of the 22-month renovation. “But no matter how much we change physically, our commitment to our guests remains steadfastly the same.”
Wining and Dining
Another standout feature of the hotel is the cavernous Cellar Bar. Its original vaulted rooms were once the playground of the Duke of Wellington, one of Britain’s most significant military figures and one of the only Irish-born British Prime Ministers.
Original 18th-century bricks, which have been reconditioned and left exposed, are still visible from the ceiling. The floor and bar are decked out in native Irish oak, while subtle lighting, old furniture and terracotta flagstones help set the mood. In addition to a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness, guests can order from an informal menu created by executive chef Ed Cooney. Expect to see both local favorites — such as oysters, smoked salmon and Irish stew — and international dishes.
For an unforgettable evening, guests should reserve a table at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, located in The Merrion’s main house. Ireland’s only two-Michelin-starred restaurant offers a la carte dining as well as multicourse degustation menus, which have something for just about every foodie, from chestnut and walnut tortellini to croquettes of suckling pig.
A member of The Leading Hotels of the World, The Merrion earned The Platinum Circle 2014 distinction from Conde Nast Traveler for making “The Gold List” five years in a row.