A PITCH-PERFECT RENOVATION.
DUBLIN, Ireland - The Clarence Hotel was still a beloved Dublin institution in the 1970s when an aspiring rock singer hung out there, but by then it was far past its glory.
He returned some time later, with big ideas and deep pockets.
The singer was Bono, who enjoyed boundless success with the band U2. In the mid-1990s, he and band mate The Edge put together a group of investors and acquired the hotel, then shuttered the doors for nearly two years and launched a thorough makeover.
Today, the Clarence is a treasure of restoration, giving visitors a luxury boutique hotel experience in a convenient location - in the popular Temple Bar district, smack on the River Liffey.
The building dates to 1852, but in the 1930s it was refurbished in the Arts & Crafts style, a movement that was prevalent in Britain in the early 20th century. The revived Clarence wears the clean, simple elements of that design well, while also balancing modern upgrades with a few tributes to the hotel's past.
The wood used throughout the hotel is light-shaded American white oak, and ample windows allow natural light to wash into the public areas. This is particularly true in the Tea Room, the Clarence's excellent restaurant, which is housed in the original hotel's ballroom - with a soaring, 20-foot ceiling and a bank of two-story windows along a wall that faces southeast. It is a particularly airy room at breakfast.
At the front of the hotel, just off the small lobby, is an inviting parlor, called the Study, with original bronze-framed windows, oak paneling, a fireplace, couches and a great table where local newspapers are laid out.
Another popular gathering spot is the Octagon Bar, a pleasant pub topped by an eight-sided dome.
The guest rooms, meanwhile, are very comfortable, with linens - sheets, towels, robes - of extraordinary quality. The furnishings include wrought iron bedside lamps, Shaker-style furniture and an ocean of nickel plating on the fixtures. The floors are hardwood, with throw rugs.
The bed covering in our room was ... well, purple, which was initially perplexing amid all the Arts & Crafts subtlety. But further investigation revealed that the original clientele of the Clarence included a lot of clergymen, judges and government officials. In a whimsical tribute today, colors in various rooms are said to be inspired by ``ecclesiastical raiment'': amethyst (ours), crimson, gold and royal blue.
About the only drawback for this hotel is ambient noise - a trade-off for convenience, perhaps. The front door opens onto Wellington Quay, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Dublin, and it throws off the rattle and hum of countless trucks, buses and cabs. Our room was at the back of the hotel, on a little back alley called Essex Street East, but popular Bob's pub is located here, and the revelers generated a cacophony of merriment deep into the wee hours.
The Clarence's restaurant, the Tea Room, is one of the best in the city, whether it's serving up a traditional Irish breakfast (selections include porridge, black and white pudding, smoked salmon, kippers) or a gourmet dinner.
The dinner menu changes daily, according to the availability of seasonal ingredients. During an autumn visit, we delighted in roasted sea bass with a pumpkin puree and chestnut gnocchi, and slow-roasted duck breast with artichoke gratin, parsnips and a taquito-like spring roll. One starter course was a remarkable convergence of flavors: roast mullet, tomato, anchovy, sausage.
--The Clarence Hotel is at 6-8 Wellington Quay. Rooms from 330 euros. Wide variety of packages available, most involving dining at the hotel. www.theclarence.ie; (011-353) 1-407-0800.
With hearty breakfasts and gourmet dinners, the Tea Room in the Clarence Hotel ranks as one of Dublin's finest restaurants.
Eric Noland/Travel Editor