The Clarence hotel review - a beautiful day for revamped U2 hotel
An ongoing refurb (and some smashing cocktails) are infusing new life into a hotel now run by the Press Up Group
The Clarence has come a long way since U2 performed on its rooftop for Top of the Pops.
After Bono and The Edge bought the Dublin hotel in 1992, this riverside spot was a bolthole for visiting celebrities and known for raucous parties in the rooftop penthouse.
By the 2010s, it had lost its lustre and glam factor, however, with the U2 pair selling the hotel leasehold in 2019 (though they still own the building, with developer Paddy McKillen Sr).
Ireland’s Press Up Group (run by McKillen’s son, Paddy McKillen Jr) has since bought the leasehold and been giving the place a much-needed spruce-up. But has the snazzy new makeover brought it back to its former glory?
I checked in to find out.
The rating: 7.5/10
Arrival & Location
The new lobby is as slick as it gets, with pastel-pink furniture, Art Deco turquoise wallpaper and a gorgeous herringbone wood floor. Over the reception desk, the phrase ‘let love in’ is scrawled in neon, and light streams in through giant windows overlooking the Liffey. So far, so sexy.
Look at the building from the other side of the river and you’ll see how striking it is, with a Georgian redbrick facade (it dates back to 1852) and a rooftop dotted with turquoise tiles and curves. As a city-centre hotel, the location in Temple Bar can’t be beaten, but bear in mind that rooms overlooking the Liffey or Essex Street East can be noisier at night (see insider tip, below). 8/10
Service & Style
At a time when service around town can be extremely hit or miss, every staff member I happened upon was warm and pleasant. In fact, I’ve popped in and out of The Clarence on numerous occasions, and always found the staff to be friendly and helpful.
You do see a bit of a blurred line between the hotel’s older, unrenovated areas and the refurbished spaces — when walking up the stairs, for example, the change in aesthetic is clear. But the new areas are as stylish as you’d expect, with the vaguely 1920s vibe that’s become synonymous with Press Up hotels like The Dean, The Mayson and Glasson Lakehouse (and a few copycats). 8/10
At this stage in the refurb, 24 of 58 rooms are complete, with the rest due to be finished by autumn. I stayed in a renovated room (a deluxe double) and the decor was subtly stylish, with a soft padded headboard in a deep rust colour, abstract art (much by Irish artists) and the all-important rotary telephone on the marble bedstand. The bathroom was sleek and monochrome, and I loved having shower controls positioned away from the showerhead itself, so you can get the temperature right before stepping in.
I also loved the somewhat higgledy-piggledy room arrangement that reminds you of the original Georgian layout. There was a little hallway and a couple of steps leading to the room itself, which overlooked a peaceful courtyard — hello, undisturbed sleep. However, if you book an older room, the decor isn’t quite as swish: think functional but dated, with black leather seating and magnolia walls.
Of course, the (now infamous) Press Up ‘Munchies’ minibar is in place, stacked with treats like Skelligs chocolate (€6), Tayto (€2) and jellies (€4). A mini Smeg fridge comes with cans of Wicklow Wolf beer (€6).
Another big plus? Sanitary products are provided free of charge for guests and staff, as they are in all Press Up properties and restaurants. They’re from eco-friendly Irish company Riley, too. That’s good to see. 7/10
Food & Drink
After lots of switches and changes, the building is home to several different food and drink options. The newest is the Curious Mister lounge (formerly the Octagon Bar), an intimate and cosy nook where exceptional cocktails (€13.50) are made with unusual ingredients like pandan, an earthy, spicy plant from Southeast Asia. I loved their spin on a whiskey sour, using Jameson Black Barrel, hibiscus and a splash of Guinness for a smoky, velvety-soft finish. The red-pepper margarita was a smash hit, too.
The hotel’s official restaurant is Cleaver East (run by Oliver Dunne), though Tomahawk and Roberta’s are still on the go. The space is a beaut, with tall, industrial windows peppered with cleavers, a high ceiling with wood beams and a cool bar in the middle. It’s where an a la carte breakfast is served, but the bigger deal is the bottomless brunch at weekends (served from 11am to 4pm) — think dishes like fried chicken and waffles alongside a generous free pour of bellinis and mimosas (€45).
Downstairs, what was previously the Dollard & Co food hall is now the Giddy Dolphin, remodelled to look like an old pub (another regular feature of Press Up hotels), but in a cavernous space. They’ve kept an outlet for Wowburger and Dollard Pizza in the mix, but otherwise the whole space is taken up by seating. To me, it feels a little forced and tourist-centric, designed to pull in the Temple Bar crowd with loud live music and not much else. 7.5/10
The bottom line
The Press Up group divides opinion, but this is where they’re at their best — taking over a beautiful and neglected building, and turning it into something stellar.
In comparison to some other four-star hotels in the city, The Clarence sits comfortably at the same par of properties like The Morgan and The Alex, but punches well above its weight when it comes to the aesthetics. When the final rooms are finished, I think it will be up there as one of the top hotels in the city centre, striking the perfect balance between character and style.
If you’re a light sleeper, book a room overlooking the courtyard. There’s still plenty of light, but none of the street noise.
The Workman’s Club (theworkmansclub.com) is right next door, a handy spot for gigs — throw in a slice of pizza from the Dollard hatch, open until 4am from Thurs-Sun.
Just over the road you’ll find the Oxfam Bookshop (oxfamireland.org), which is a great place to pick up some cheap second-hand paperbacks.
Rooms from €150 for two, or €200 for a deluxe double. Nicola was a guest of The Clarence. theclarence.ie