The Merchant Hotel, Belfast

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am

Where is it? Nestled in a side street among the stylish restaurants, bars and galleries of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

What's so special about it? The small and exclusive Merchant is Belfast's newest luxury boutique hotel. With only 26 rooms, it provides five-star service in lavish surroundings.

Historic or contemporary? It's a historic hotel with a contemporary vibe. This grand, heritage-listed building is the former headquarters of the Ulster Bank and its site has links to Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift, who once courted the daughter of 17th-century merchant William Waring. Waring set up a tannery and was granted a lease in the street that was later named after him and is now home to the hotel. It is believed a nearby area known as Lilliput Farm in the 1850s may have inspired Swift's tale.

What's the vibe? In keeping with popular Victorian architecture of the day, the Italianate exterior includes sculptures of Commerce, Justice and Britannia. The lobby doubles as an art gallery, showing local contemporary works. The former main banking hall now houses the Great Room restaurant (far right) and its plush velvet chairs. Many of the hall's original features remain, including the gold-trimmed grand central dome and majestic Corinthian columns, and Ireland's largest chandelier dangles from a magnificent glass cupola. Look closely at the wall friezes for plump gold cherubs depicting science, painting, scripture and music.

What's on the menu? The stunning Great Room dishes up traditional delights such as roast halibut and duck a l'orange. The hotel's relaxed bar, The Cloth Ear, offers a menu of casual favourites such as Guinness pie and features quirky decor, including stags' heads and old sheet music on the walls.

What about the rooms? Guest rooms are compact but elegant, with rich furnishings, heavy curtains and marble en suite bathrooms. The beds are super comfortable and rooms are equipped with high-speed wireless internet access and flat-screen televisions.

Anything else we should know? Guinness World Records will soon verify whether the main bar's mai tai with a dash of 17-year-old Wray & Nephew rum - at GBP750 (HK$11,400) - is the world's most expensive cocktail. Sipping it beneath the bar's antique Baccarat chandeliers may add to the decadence.

What's the bottom line? Rooms start at GBP220 a night, including breakfast.

The Merchant Hotel is at 35 Waring Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, tel: 44 28 9023 4888;