Tuesday 24 October 2017

My lunch date disaster with the doyen of Irish hotels...

P.V. Doyle and his Berkeley Court may be gone, but one encounter ensured both are seared into the mind of Liam Collins

SMOOTH OPERATOR: P.V. Doyle outside The Berkeley Court
SMOOTH OPERATOR: P.V. Doyle outside The Berkeley Court
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Just 35 years ago the Berkeley Court hotel was what passed for the height of sophistication in Dublin and the jewel in the crown of P.V.Doyle, the patriarch of the family that would become so dominant in Irish business life.

The week before it opened in 1978, the editor of the Evening Herald, Vincent Doyle, was due to lunch with Mr Doyle to get a preview of the first five-star hotel in the city. Due to some routine newspaper crisis he wasn't able to go, and someone looking around the newsroom spotted me, the newest member of staff, skulking behind a pillar and said "you, out to the Berkeley Court for lunch."

Dressed in an open-necked shirt, corduroy jacket and a pair of jeans I didn't know enough to be embarrassed as I went through the revolving door and across the plush blue Voske Joyce carpet to the reception desk. There were marble columns, mahogany cabinets, gilt mirrors and the hushed smell of wealth and opulence.

Suddenly a ramrod tall, perfectly dressed man with slicked back black hair and a pencil thin moustache shimmered over and shook my hand.

P.V. Doyle made no comment when I explained that I was representing the editor of the Herald, but told the receptionist "hold all my calls" and led me into the dining room, adding to my terror when I realised we were dining alone.

We exchanged smalltalk about the weather and as a waiter hovered he handed me the wine list. My drink of choice, apart from a pint of stout, was Black Tower, but as I couldn't see any I decided to go for a Grand Cru something or other, at what seemed an enormous price. He then handed me the menu and I looked at it in a blur, selecting nettle soup and lobster thermidor, not having a clue what either tasted like, but hoping I would come across as a sophisticated man of the world.

I handed the menu to P.V. Doyle who snapped it shut and said to the waiter "a mixed grill and a bottle of Coke." I could have sunk through the floor.

At this remove I can no longer remember the conversation, but I know that P.V. treated me as an equal and gave me a story, too, when he revealed that no patron, no matter how famous or wealthy, would be allowed through the front door unless they were wearing a tie.

What I do recall is that 90 minutes later as we stood in the pillared porch surveying the exotic foliage, the remains of what was once the Trinity College Botanical Gardens in which the hotel was situated, he looked at me with penetrating eyes and said: "I don't think the Berkeley Court would really suit you, I think you would be more of a Burlington man" referring to his other Dublin hotel.

Now, 35 years on the Clyde Court Hotel, as it is now known, is to close at the end of the year, with 190 apartments being built on the site by its current owners, Chartered Land, although the complex will also contain a boutique hotel and a panoramic rooftop restaurant, as well as shops fronting a new public plaza.

In some ways it is fitting, as P.V. Doyle was an accidental hotelier. He was a builder who started with the Montrose Hotel on the Stillorgan Road when it proved unsuitable for his building plans.

Over those years the Berkeley Court has had its fair share of drama. There were the inevitable stories of tycoons turned away because they weren't wearing ties. The band Spandau Ballet once managed to secure a suite because the booking receptionist thought they were a 'ballet' troupe and they could not be ejected even when management found out about the hedonistic goings on, day and night.

Among the regular guests were Ben Dunne Snr and his wife Nora, who lived in the Shelbourne Hotel but came out most evenings to Ballsbridge for a bottle of champagne and their dinner.

The developer Gerry Gannon and Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton were regular lunch-goers and, after rugby and soccer internationals, the bar would be thronged with the well-heeled and well-connected business and political elites.

Charles Haughey, who was a close associate of P.V. Doyle, was a frequent guest for clandestine meetings with his 'bagman' Des Traynor. Another Fianna Fail leader, Albert Reynolds, who lived a half mile away in Ailesbury Road, used the penthouse suite and the 7th floor for meetings with Loyalist leader Gusty Spence when he was organising the first Loyalist ceasefire.

Spence wanted to meet near the border. "But I had another suggestion, I told him, a hotel in Dublin 'it's called The Berkeley Court, I explained', You can drive straight in, down to the underground car park. You'll see a private lift, press floor seven and don't take your finger off the button until it stops. It's a totally private situation and I'll be there to meet you.' Our first meeting was agreed."

It was also the scene of Doyle family battles. Beneath a massive portrait of their dead father, a final settlement was agreed after the family split over control of the hotel group that bore his name. Bernie Doyle and her sisters, Anne Roche and Eileen Monahan, wrested control of the chain, paying off their brother David to end his involvement in the family business. It was a family feud that fuelled a thousand headlines.

Skirmishes in the so-called 'Battle of Ballsbridge' were conducted in the grand foyer as developer Sean Dunne and his wife Gayle Killalea fought for control of the site and the nearby Jury's Hotel in one of the biggest, costliest corporate battle of the Celtic Tiger era.

The stuff of dreams and nightmares.

Of course, the 'no tie' rule eventually died. I've still never dined on nettle soup and, despite all that happened in the meantime, I still have fond memories of my lunch with PV.

Sunday Independent

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