Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trashing a Hotel – Praising a Hotel

Perhaps the worst trashing of a hotel room was by F. Scott Fitzgerald & his flapper wife, Zelda. They torched the whole place. It beat having to face the unpaid bills they had run up while living the life of jazz age icons.

Decades later, in 1972, Keith Richards tossed his hotel TV out the window. That one was filmed and became iconic. Then there was Keith Moon of The Who. He nailed and strapped all the hotel furniture to the ceiling, and claimed: It requires physics and a sense of art. Before her untimely death, the much troubled Amy Winehouse had an evening in a hotel room involving blood and platefuls of spaghetti Bolognese. Don’t ask. The cost of the clean-up totalled $18,000, including a new paint job.

I am in quite a different class, in more ways than one, but let me explain. A couple of nights ago, jet lagged and after a long day of work, I decided to enjoy a glass of Chapelle de la Trinité, 2009. Unfortunately, the cork broke, leaving the bottom half of it stuck in the neck of the bottle. It was now The Moi versus The Cork. I attacked it with my Swiss army knife and managed to carve out a few more crumbles, but it became clear that my only option was to drive the remainder deep into the bottle. I wedged it between my knees, and pushed downwards with all my might.

My reward was not what I had hoped for. Counter pressure ensued and my face was instantly splattered by a fountain of red wine. My white top absorbed a good half glass of it and a six foot swath of the walls behind me were totally Jackson Pollocked.

I ran to the bathroom and sloshed water over my face, threw my white top into the sink to soak, and returned to the bedroom to start attacking the walls. Unfortunately, bathroom soap and towels are no match for the tenacity of Chapelle de la Trinité, 2009. Later as I enjoyed – so to speak - a glass of my cork-flecked wine, I had some sympathy for why Amy Whitehouse hadn’t even bothered with clean up.

The next morning, I got dressed and crawled down to reception to confess my sins. The ever-stellar Caroline was on duty, and heard my sad tale. Listen, she said, don't worry about it, these things happen and it was a genuine mistake. Later she said, I've spoken with the builders and they said it would be best to paint over it. They are due tomorrow …

It is time to correct a myth. In Canada, we keep hearing about the poor toes-up condition of The Celtic Tiger. We keep hearing that restaurants in Dublin are closing left, right, and centre. Everyone is boarding up their windows, and no one is spending any money. Well, going from what I can see, it isn’t true, not a bit. In fact, the Fleet Street Hotel is a good example of how Dublin is readying for a brighter future.

About a year ago, this hotel had already begun a massive refurbishing. Since I was here last, there is new carpet in the rooms, a new paint job, and updated linens. My room was significantly upgraded, even though the way that it was had been fine by me. It is, after all, an affordable hotel. Also since last year, an outdoor terrace has been added on the fourth floor. Every day, when I return after a day doing my research, there is always someone out there. Some are enjoying a glass of wine with friends; others are pecking away at laptops; some are having a solitary contemplative smoke.  
James - Manager of The Fleet Street Hotel & Caroline - also a manager, on the new Outdoor Terrace.
 Plans are afoot for even more improvements. In about three weeks’ time, breakfast will be available, as it used to be years ago. Until then, the hotel offers a coupon for a reduced price for an excellent breakfast served just across the street at the Ruby Duck Cafe. Within a year, they also plan to serve dinners. Very soon, a bar facility will be added on the terrace so that guests can host a private event, weather permitting. It is quiet out there, so unlike many other places in Temple Bar, it will be the kind of space where one can actually hear oneself speak. There is also O’Sullivans, a pub connected to the hotel but entered off Westmorland Street. The plans are that it too will be upgraded and expanded. Finally, although security has never been an issue, at least in my experience, the hotel will be introducing card locks rather than the current key system.

Much of this is pleasant, and much appreciated, but the main reason I keep returning here is that I am always made to feel at home – even when I blow it with a bottle of wine. Sure, the rugs used to be a little worn, but I never needed better. The fact that there were no phones in the rooms connected to the front desk in the rooms never bothered me. What has always mattered is that the staff were friendly, the place was clean, the beds were comfortable, the location couldn’t be beat, and the price was a fit with my wallet.

The professionalism and warmth of the staff has always been where the Fleet Street has really shone. Most importantly, Caroline, the reservations manager and front desk guru, has an Emotional IQ that can’t be beat. I learn just by watching her.

A few days ago, I stood behind a young man who was struggling with two things: his English, and the concept of a Visa imprint. As he was explaining his concerns to Caroline, he paused between each word as if he had to consult an inner dictionary before the next word was allowed to start. The hotel had taken an imprint of his credit card, yes, but he was paying in cash. His fear was that he was being doubly charged.

Obviously, a Visa imprint and a payment are two separate things – a complicated concept even when one speaks the language. Like a sustained, slow motion, tennis volley, he and Caroline went back and forth. She listened attentively as each carefully calibrated English word followed another. In the end, the young man was not only enlightened, but was also clearly comforted.

Over the years, I have found that Caroline is also superb when it comes to advice about where to find a place that can handle the vagaries of mobile phones, money changing, buses and the like. A high end concierge couldn’t do any better. All of which makes me feel beyond grateful. I do hope they’ll take me back next time. Especially since this is what I left behind:

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