Friday, 6 January 2012

The Merchant Hotel

In one of his longer pieces, entitled 'How Things Even Out' (from What I'd Say To The Martians), Jack Handey makes this observation:

"Things tend to even out. Religion, some people say, has caused wars and fighting. Yes, but it's also boring to sit through a church service, so it evens out. One moment you're depressed because your doctor tells you that you have alcoholism. But then you cheer up when you go home and find a hidden bottle of vodka you had forgotten about..."

If life is about contrasts, then Lynn and I and our four guests have had our fair share in the last couple of days. After a challenging twenty-four hours of high winds and torrential rain, during which the rowing boat sank and was holed, the cabin roof developed a(nother) leak and the island's water supply failed, we found ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, luxuriating in hot tubs and huge beds, with hot running water, lights that come on without a visit to the generator shed, fine dining (well, we always have fine dining but this time Lynn could relax and leave it to others), and generally a level of pampering we haven't enjoyed for some time - and certainly not on our own doorstep.

By way of thanks for their New Year stay on Islandmore, our friends had booked us all into Belfast's finest hotel, The Merchant, in the city's Cathedral Quarter. It was our first visit, and it won't be our last - we should add a night in The Merchant to our list of requirements for visitors, which at present extends only to signing the visitor's book.

By virtue of a special relationship with two of Scotland's best city hotels - the Bonham in Edinburgh and the Blythswood Square in Glasgow, both of which always manage to get it right (in our humble opinion) – we enjoy making comparisons, and The Merchant, I have to say, gets it right too. Having had a good drenching crossing to the mainland in the morning, the girls were offered the use of the hotel's sauna, steam room and rooftop jacuzzi, despite the fact that they were checking in way too early. Our room was impeccable and enormous, as was the bathroom, and indeed the shower; there was a welcome note from the general manager Adrian McLaughlin, a (glass) bottle of water on each bedside table (complimentary chocolates later), real coffee in the dresser and best-quality cotton on the bed.

Most important, the staff managed to be professional, helpful and informal, all at the same time – an elusive combination even in the best hotels, which always seems to us to come from the top down: if the owners and managers have the right relationship with the staff, the staff will extend the same courtesy to guests.

As you can see, the public areas are sumptuous to the point of decadence, and another box was ticked when we found a blazing fire in the cocktail lounge – talking of which, the margaritas were up to the standard of the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that's high...

Back to reality now – but we know how to do blazing fires too, and I fix a mean margarita, if I say so myself. On the other hand, there's everything to be said for a rooftop jacuzzi. A person can dream...
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