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Hotel Review: Zanzibar Locke turns an old nightclub into a new aparthotel in Dublin

A new aparthotel aims to cater for an era of ‘hybrid travel’ in Dublin, from studio stays to hot desks, craft cocktails, and room requests by WhatsApp...

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The exterior of Zanzibar Locke on Ormond Quay, Dublin

The exterior of Zanzibar Locke on Ormond Quay, Dublin

One of the studio beds in Zanzibar Locke

One of the studio beds in Zanzibar Locke

The kitchen units in a Riverview Studio

The kitchen units in a Riverview Studio

Baraza, the restaurant at Zanzibar Locke

Baraza, the restaurant at Zanzibar Locke

One of the rooms at Zanzibar Locke

One of the rooms at Zanzibar Locke

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The exterior of Zanzibar Locke on Ormond Quay, Dublin

Do you remember Zanzibar on Dublin’s Ormond Quay?

If you do, perhaps you weren’t there. The 1,200-capacity superpub opened in 1998 as the Celtic Tiger began to roar, and its burly bouncers, shot-sinking customers and blingtastic barn of an interior became a lightening rod for a contentious, turn-of-the-century cultural debate. Was this the future of Irish nightlife, or the death of the Irish pub?

Today, the space is transformed again. 160 studio apartments now form the sixth aparthotel (and first outside the UK) from Locke, a self-described “home-meets-hotel” brand. There’s hot-desking and a coffee dock in the lobby, small plates and craft cocktails served at Baraza upstairs, and room requests can be pinged off via WhatsApp — a technology the original Zanzibar crowd couldn’t have imagined (and maybe for the better).

Welcome to Zanzibar Locke.

The Rating: 7.5/10

Arrival & Location

Whether you’re checking in for the weekend, or for several weeks, the location is plum. Set right by the Ha’penny bridge, you can skip over the river to Temple Bar, up to Henry Street or down to Capel Street within minutes. Dublin is literally on your doorstep, though decent soundproofing also means you’ll get a good night’s sleep.

Buzzing through a security gate, I step past the Georgian façades into a lobby bundling the café, work spaces and a small, funky reception area. I could picture the next Collison brothers tapping on laptops by the exposed brickwork, Roisín Murphy sings on a playlist that feels curated by humans, and a hip receptionist in shorts, out-sized suit jacket and facemask hooks me up with a keycard. 8/10

Service & Style

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One of the studio beds in Zanzibar Locke

One of the studio beds in Zanzibar Locke

One of the studio beds in Zanzibar Locke

Thankfully, this is not a cookie-cutter effort. Locke aims to set itself apart from competitors like StayCity by leaning into design, and its Dublin edition was created together with Irish studio O’Donnell O’Neill.

There’s art by NCAD students, music by DJ Mona Lxsa and a locally-led cultural programme to come as restrictions ease, country manager Osgur Ó Ciardha (formerly of Dublin’s Jacobs Inn and Generator Hostel) tells me. Expect vintage fashion evenings, or new street art pieces, for example. “There’s a cultural tax, and we’re happy to pay it,” as he puts it. I like Locke’s talk of “social fabric” but we’ll have to see if it walks the walk too.

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Elsewhere, you’ll find a small workout studio and cool courtyard terrace. I see several young couples coming and going — guests are about 30pc leisure and 70pc longer-stay, I’m told, including corporate and some for relocations. 7/10

The Rooms

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One of the rooms at Zanzibar Locke

One of the rooms at Zanzibar Locke

One of the rooms at Zanzibar Locke

You have two options — 25sqm City Studios or 40sqm River Suites, which are bigger and with better views. Both shoot for a pared-back mix of Scandi meets industrial and mid-century, with touches like board-stamped concrete, marble counters, contemporary prints and pings of gold in handles, bars and faucets.

“Loft” is the word I can’t get out of my mind. At first, the blush pink feature walls and divider veils feel a bit insipid, but I soon start finding functional layers to the design. There’s a small, L-shaped couch; a yoga mat, hairdryer and iron. A smart TV has a short but solid list of neighbourhood tips (Pantibar and The Winding Stair, for starters). Wi-Fi is speedy at 100mbs (“buffering is not welcome here”), and logging on creates your own SSID or network that you can use to run your devices, gaming consoles or printer from anywhere in the building.

You can cook in, but foodies may find the kitchen units on the tight side — Smeg appliances include a small fridge, dishwasher, microwaveable oven and two-ring induction hob. The cutlery was hard to find in my studio, but there are handy QR codes to scan if you have problems with appliances, and housekeeping is available by request. Oh, and there are eight generously-sized accessible rooms too. 8/10

Food & Drink

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Baraza, the restaurant at Zanzibar Locke

Baraza, the restaurant at Zanzibar Locke

Baraza, the restaurant at Zanzibar Locke

Baraza is the bar and restaurant on ground, mezzanine and first floor. If you’ve ever eaten in the Winding Stair next door, you’ll know what to expect of these lovely first floor views over the Ha’penny Bridge — it’s a super room, with a mix of arched sash windows, a curving emerald-green tiled wall, and a mezzanine level that will be a neat nook once indoor drinking and dining resume.

Small plates range from grilled, sweetheart cabbage (€7) to “seared scallops” (€14) and pork belly with Asian greens (€12) — though my favourite dish is actually a crisp side of polenta parmesan fries with yummy aioli.

I’d like to see more provenance on the menus, and a “Dublin Mess” dessert (€6.50) is disappointing, with stodgy cream and no sign of the promised “seasonal raspberries”, but a space like this needs more time (and customers) to evolve before a full verdict.

Many guests will breakfast in their apartments, but I take mine in the lobby — a fairly basic selection of pastries, juice from a plastic bottle and tub of yoghurt and granola. It feels a bit limited, but hot breakfasts will follow at weekends, I’m told, and there’s a decent cup of coffee to send me back into the city with a pep in my step. 6.5/10

The bottom line

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The kitchen units in a Riverview Studio

The kitchen units in a Riverview Studio

The kitchen units in a Riverview Studio

At times, Locke’s “hybrid travel” look feels like a hip TV set, but it’s done the homework, partnered smartly, and recruited a team with a genuine grá for Dublin. Occupancy is around 70pc, which is stratospheric in a city of empty hotel rooms, and I can’t wait to see it connect further with the community once restrictions allow. Another aparthotel, Beckett Locke, opens in the docklands later this year.

Insider tips

Room 2.30 is a “riverside studio” combining Liffey views with the studio look and feel. Late checkout can be booked for €10, and it’s also pet-friendly.

Local 101

Head to Capel Street for outdoor dining. Brother Hubbard, Musashi and Hilan are just three options offering new tables along the street.

Rates

Lead in rates start from €125 per night. Pól was a guest of the hotel. lockeliving.com


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