Elegance and Excellence in The Westin, Dublin
A stay in The Westin is like travelling through time because you live through different centuries on any given day.
“You should try Guinness,” recommended my Dublin cab driver. It had taken me two flights to fly from the tropical end of the world – India to the maritime climate of Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. December—the month I attribute to red and white colours—was coming to an end, and I was looking forward to ringing in the New Year in the city of literature.
By the time the cab driver drove me to my hotel in Dublin, it was late afternoon. It was my maiden journey to the Emerald Isle, and I had expected to catch sight of the sun, but the sky was a dull ashen colour, the trees were bare, and there was a nip in the air. As I stepped out of the cab I didn’t take a moment to look up at the façade of The Westin Hotel, preferring instead to rush inside to get out of the cold. The fireplace in the reception with wooden flooring, tall columns, and antique furniture was inviting and cosy, and perfect to warm oneself on a chilly day.
A quick check-in later, as I took the elevator to my room, I noticed a poster on the wall advertising the afternoon tea served in the hotel. The invitation did sound tempting, and an afternoon tea in the city which was the ‘second city of the British Empire’ was something I didn’t want to miss. After all the British were the inventors of the concept of afternoon tea in the 19th century. It is said that Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, would get peckish by late afternoon, as no meal was served between lunch and dinner, and there was a long gap between the two meals. She introduced and popularised light finger food served with tea called afternoon tea every day around 3 pm. Soon it became a regular custom in the salons of London’s aristocratic society to enjoy afternoon tea.
After freshening up in my simple yet chic room, I was ready for tea. I was weary after my long trip and looking forward to a hot cup of tea with delectable finger foods. By the time I arrived at The Atrium Lounge most of the tables were occupied. Women were seen enjoying their tea with friends, while a few families were also present. The lounge itself was bright, thanks to the natural light flooding into the space through the five-story-high glass ceiling. Comfortably seated in a plush chair, I decided to opt for their Signature Afternoon Tea while sipping prosecco in a flute. Very soon, a tiered serving plate of sandwiches, scones, and desserts was placed in front of me. There was hummus and cucumber on white bread with mint and chive sour cream, oak smoked salmon with lemon cream cheese on a brown scone, roast turkey and sundried tomato paste on wholemeal bread and egg and rocket cress in a mini brioche roll to choose from the sandwiches. After savouring a few of these I moved on to the very traditional scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. As I took a bite, I remembered the good old days when —as a software engineer working in London —I had visited Cornwall and Devon. The streets in the villages of these counties had restaurants selling the famous scones with all the fixings. I turned my attention to the sweets. There was carrot cake with walnuts and cream cheese, vanilla butter macaroon, red velvet cupcake, and white peach pannacotta, all washed down with some hot tea.
I ate the delectable treats and headed to my room for some rest. It was late that evening that I was infamously hit by jet lag, but this did not deter me from meeting Ellaine, one of the hotel’s employees, at the hotel’s Moreland Grills restaurant. Over casual conversation, I learned that the hotel had a long history that I was completely unaware of.
The Atrium Lounge - Photograph courtesy The Westin Dublin
This luxury hotel that I was staying in is set in a series of historic Georgian style buildings. Dublin is well-known for its Georgian architecture since the reign of King George I in 1714 till the end of King George IV’s reign in 1830. Built in 1813 by the Royal Irish Institute to promote arts in the country this building was transformed into a bank by 1863. It was no wonder, then, that the different areas in the hotel were named in line with the various functioning units of a bank. There was the Banking Hall, The Teller Room, The Reserve, and the Mint Bar. I hadn’t given the names a second thought until then.
It was architect William Murray, who is credited for his other designs in Ireland like the Royal College of Physicians and the Freemasons Hall, who restored the building to its former glory. This magnificent edifice reopened as the Provincial Bank of Ireland’s flagship branch. The vault of the bank in the basement today functions as The Mint Bar and carries the sophistication of the art deco era. Their signature cocktails like the Foreign Exchange, Behind the Counter, and Banker’s Order are in line with the history of the bar.
But the jewel in the crown is the hotel’s Banking Hall. This huge room once saw lively activity as the bank’s tellers, cashiers, and front office staff attended to its clients. With its marble pillars, mahogany doorways, exquisite detailing on the ornate salmon orange ceiling, and white walls, the showstoppers are the huge chandeliers with 8000 pieces of Waterford Crystal. The bank shut its doors in 1998 and in the early 21st century reopened as The Westin Hotel. The newly refurbished Reserve Room and the Banking Hall today serve as a venue for weddings, conferences, and events.
The Banking Hall - Photograph courtesy The Westin Dublin
The next day, after a good night’s sleep followed by a traditional Irish breakfast, I walked across the street and looked around. To my right, I could see the famed Trinity College with its well-known alumni – Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Osborne Davis, and many more. Behind me was the windowless Bank of Ireland. The Westin Hotel rose in front of me in a series of white and red buildings. The façade of the hotel looked like a hotchpotch of different styles; this is probably because the complex saw new sections added to it over the years. I wondered about the days when it saw Irish men in their traditional suits and women in their long-pleated dresses sashaying through its corridors as art aficionados and later as banking clients. A stay in The Westin is like travelling through time because you live through different centuries on any given day.