The Wren is a small new hotel in the heart of Dublin. But it’s aiming big when it comes to eco-friendly credentials...
The wren is a tiny bird. It’s also smart. In winter, dozens can huddle together for warmth. It weighs little more than a euro coin, but is hardy. In the battle to be king of the birds, legend says the wren hid under an eagle’s wing, overtaking it at the last minute to soar the highest.
You can see where Wren Urban Nest, a new hotel squeezing 137 rooms on to the site of the former Andrew’s Lane Theatre, is going with its branding. ‘Cosy’ and ‘Snug’ rooms are billed as 12sq.m and 10sq.m “nests” in the heart of the city. Wicker lightshades also evoke nests, and the little hub is taking a big swing at sustainability, claiming to be “Ireland’s most sustainable hotel”.
How you’d measure that, I don’t know. But it goes way beyond paper straws and encouraging us to reuse towels. The hotel uses 100pc renewable electricity, captures most of its heat, has an organic wine list and features oodles of local products. While the eagles aim for net zero carbon by 2050, The Wren has already achieved it, without purchasing offsets. Guilt-free getaway, anyone?
The location is plum, within steps of Temple Bar and College Green. You could walk to the Olympia in four minutes, or stagger back from the Stag’s Head within two. It’s also a bit grimy — prepare for wheelie bins, a multi-storey car park and pencil-thin footpaths on the approach.
Designed by BDP architects, the nine-storey building is definitely eye-catching — its entrance is scooped out of the corner brickwork and, unusually, guests descend into the basement to check in. Reception is sardined inside the door; a small desk in a space barely big enough to swivel a suitcase. But the bar is buzzy and service friendly — I’m walked around the corner to the lifts. Be warned that checkout is early at 11am (don’t sleep in!), though you can save a little time by paying on touchscreens. 7/10
ALT is the hotel’s heart, a bar and restaurant space where you might eat, meet, tinker on a laptop or down cocktails like a ‘Nest Negroni’, made with Dingle Gin. It’s a squeeze, but the Scandi-style design feels cosy, with oak, pampas grass and earthy tones (from pottery plates to sisal rugs). A loungey nook features coffee-table books and sheepskins draped over chairs. There is no pool, spa or other chill-out spaces — the idea is a smart, efficient, uber-central base.
Debates about development and its impact on community and culture are raging in Dublin, and staff I speak to are acutely aware that new hotels are in the firing line. The Tivoli theatre is gone, The Cobblestone under threat, and The Wren replaced Andrew’s Lane Theatre. But painstaking work has gone into sourcing Irish, Tracey Moran of operators Moran Hospitality tells me — from architects to food, drink and Handmade Soap Company products (in glass dispensers).
A short guide by Weekend contributor Nicola Brady lists spot-on tips like the Blind Pig speakeasy and Sweny’s Chemist, and events like acoustic gigs, urban art and chef masterclasses will be held in the future. “Minding” our tradition and history is important, Moran says, adding: “I’m also a realist. We need to create jobs, keep the economy going, build for the future. It’s how you do it that matters.” The proof will be in the pudding, but for now, it doesn’t feel gimmicky to me. 8/10
Cramming 137 bedrooms into such a small footprint means sacrificing on size, and room designs echo other cool-yet-compact spaces like The Dean’s Modpods. “We believe big hotel rooms are overrated,” its website chirps — whether or not you agree, there’s plenty of choice in Dublin.
I’ll admit it took a few minutes to figure my ‘Cosy’ puzzle out. A desk dropped down from the wall; the stool was under the bathroom sink. Panels controlled lights, A/C and blackout curtains, and under-bed storage was good for shoes and bags. Queen-size beds take the full width of the room, meaning one person will be hemmed in, but Respa mattresses are comfy, you can ogle 43in flatscreen TVs, and soundproofing and showers are high-spec.
If space is an issue, book a ‘Cosy’. Two square metres doesn’t sound like much, but smaller ‘Snugs’ have less clothes-hanging space and sinks in the room. Both come with free filtered water in Cuilin’s recycled cartons, and sachets of Roasted Brown’s Contour Coffee. 7/10
South African chef Ronato Palmer has created a short but tasty menu with liberal use of Irish ingredients and a note of fusion flair in dishes like a Malaysian fish curry (€23.95) or herb-crusted lamb rack (€24.95), which plays a slightly spicy vegetable tagine off cool cucumber and mint raita and perfectly pink meat.
Pride of place is given to “ugly and wonky” veg, and the kitchen uses no gas (a fossil fuel) and reduces waste by using the TooGoodToGo app, which sells surplus meals for low prices, among other measures. I got tasty Albariño and Languedoc wine tips, and the triple chocolate brownie (€8.95), I’m told, is the devil. 8/10
Request a room high on the east side for the best rooftop views. Seventh floor ‘Cosy’ rooms also come with four-metre ceilings over the beds.
Pichet is across the road for an easy dinner option. Shop local at The Irish Design Shop on Drury Street.
The Wren takes off at a tricky time for hotels in Dublin. Affordable living and thriving community and culture are critical for the city’s future, and balance needs to be won back from developers. But it’s important to remember that not all development is for hotels, and not all hotels are the same. Cities are a process — if everyone took sustainability this seriously, we’d all be in a better place.
Rooms from €99 or €118.95 for B&B. Car parking at Trinity Street is €20 a night. Pól was a guest of the hotel. wrenhotel.ie