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Michael O'Doherty: Cheeky Four Seasons have only themselves to blame for their demise

FROM a galloping horse, the rise and fall of the Four Seasons Hotel can be seen as a parable of Celtic Tiger Ireland. A heady cocktail of opulence, five-star service and wealthy guests driving flash cars to black-tie balls, which rode the good times like a champion jockey, only to come crashing down at the first sign of heavy going.

The hotel opened just at the start of the boom, back in 2001. Yes, it was posh, but not jaw-droppingly so. You could have been in any Four Seasons in the world, but that was good enough for Dubliners who'd been brought up on salmon or beef flung down in front of them by the battleaxe waitresses of the Burlo.

Shimmering

A couple of years later, it cemented its place in Dublin society with the opening of the Ice Bar. A striking blend of polished white marble, black leather and shimmering mirrors, its cool interior made you feel you were in Monte Carlo or Miami, rather than a stone's throw from the Embassy Grill chipper.

It became my regular haunt during that time -- for the legendary Friday nights in the Ice Bar, which almost single-handedly brought the Mohito to Ireland, the almost weekly black-tie balls and also as a venue for photoshoots.

Disaster struck in early 2007, however, with the reopening of the refurbished Shelbourne. Not only did it now boast a magnificent and, crucially, city centre bar, it also set about winning back the balls which the Four Seasons had claimed a monopoly over in the intervening years.

And, to be honest, this task was made easy by the Four Seasons' behaviour. Perhaps it was the demands imposed by its parent company who, in rigidly enforcing the 'five star' ethos, lost touch with the more laid-back nature of its Irish clientele.

Rumblings had already started about an air of snobbery, the high cost of even the smallest thing, and the laborious, interminable way everything had to be served to you on a silver tray, even if it was only 50c in change.

I gloated a couple of weeks ago about how an unnamed hotel was 'dying on its arse' -- I was referring, in fact, to this very one. The Four Seasons had, for four years, been on a very cushy number with VIP, hosting our Style Awards each year, during a time when we thought nothing of paying €75 for a chicken dinner, and €25 for the privilege of the waiter opening a bottle of champagne which our sponsors had provided.

But despite all the money and prestige that our event brought, there was still an unmistakable snottiness in the hotel.

The red carpet we laid at the front door, which would be flanked by photographers as the guests arrived, was considered a nuisance and, we were told, it 'inconvenienced' the regular guests.

Ran

And when they ripped us off once too often -- a €150 charge for internet access for our photographer -- I ran into the arms of the newly reopened Shelbourne. And never went back.

I can safely say that in the past three years, I've been in the Four Seasons maybe five or six times, either to meet someone who was staying there for coffee, or to attend the Irish Magazine Awards, one of the few ceremonies I would be bothered going to that the hotel still hosts.

And my story is not unique.

Many of the people who contributed to the Four Seasons during the good times have deserted it. Not because we ran out of money. But because we didn't want to spend it there.


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