Making Its Mark
Published on Apr 22 2013 9:34 AM in Hotel
As The Marker opens on Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, Emily Hourican talks to general manager Charlie Sheil about plans for the future, and asks whether the city really needs another five-star hotel.
"We originally considered developing the hotel as a high-end four-star, but once we looked at positioning, the type of clientele and business, and especially at the rooms, we realised that this was in fact a five-star," explains Charlie Sheil, general manager of newly-opened Grand Canal Dock hotel, The Marker. He continues, "It is really only Ireland that is so caught-up in the question of star-ratings. In London, for example, the question is whether a hotel is good or not, not whether it has four or five stars."
Estimated to have cost €130 million, The Marker is a joint venture between Brehon Capital Partners and Midwest Holdings and will be operated by Interstate Hotels & Resorts. The city centre hotel can also boast the coveted title of being one of the family of Leading Hotels of the World. Sheil, who trained at Shannon Hotel School and has worked in France, Switzerland, the UK and in the US, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, has been on board since August, "following a three-month period of gardening leave". Sheil joined The Marker after a stint at the Gibson Hotel and previously was opening general manager of the Clarion in Cork. "Three consecutive hotel openings," as he points out. Accompanying him are "one or two managers" from the Gibson, "a lot of people" from five-star properties in other parts of the city, and a food and beverage manager who comes straight from the UK, where he worked in top-class restaurants with Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.
The hotel has 187 rooms over six floors, nine meetings rooms, of which the largest has capacity for 230 sit-down dinner and will host the VIP Style Awards later this month. All conference rooms have built-in audio-visual capabilities, and business, Sheil anticipates, will be local as well as coming from Britain and US. "Each part of the hotel will be both independent and interdependent," he explains. A spa and wellness centre includes a 23-metre pool, steam room and sauna as well as treatment rooms, and it too is intended to function both as part of the hotel and autonomously, with access offered on a membership basis.
Perhaps it is in the area of food and beverages that the hotel is offering the greatest departure from the usual five-star model, in that the proposition has been deliberately designed to be a little more informal than the sort usually available in such establishments. "Rather than going with the regular fine dining, formal concept, we have decided to focus on something more relaxed," says Charlie. "Our focus is the local market primarily, with a corporate emphasis during the week, and something more brunch-y at the weekends. The trend in the last few years has been towards a less formal emphasis, while offering great value and quality. We source locally as much as possible, with Irish and seasonal produce very important. We wish to establish strong relationships with our suppliers."
The jewel in the crown of the Marker - literally - is the glamorous rooftop garden bar, which will open at the end of April, where craft beer, a good wine list and cocktails sit alongside sharing plates. The bar serves an all-day menu from 12pm-10pm of burgers, club sandwiches and other barfood staples, while the Brasserie will offer a more traditional dining experience, although still catering for those wishing to eat speedily pre-theatre, or lightly. For example, the raw salad, with rainbow carrots, celeriac and fennel, Boilie goats cheese, sunflower seeds and Newgrange Camelina oil is likely to be a big hit with a certain type of lunching lady. Chocolate mousse with cinnamon donuts and Bourbon vanilla ice cream will be just as big a hit with the rest of us.
The Marker - named for the cast-iron markers that counted down each mile of the Grand Canal (the hotel is situated at the 82nd mile) – has been open just a couple of weeks when I speak to Charlie. What kind of reception has it received so far? "We have pre-booked groups from May onwards," he says. "We have been taking individual reservations from about a month ago. Our business will be corporate during the week and leisure at the weekends, coming from the domestic market as well as Northern Europe, the US and the UK. The bar has been full since we opened," he laughs. "Most of our food and beverage business is local at the moment, but word is getting out and people are starting to come from further afield. Once the rooftop bar opens, we expect that to fly. That will become a destination in itself and a focal point. The rooms business is picking up also. At the moment we have an introductory rate of €169 for a standard double room, but that rate will change subject to seasonality, volume and so on."
So, one year from now, where does he hope to be with The Marker? "We'd like to be very successful financially and to have a very high standing both domestically and internationally. Our relationship with the Leading Hotels of the World will ensure this." In addition, Charlie has a commendable plan to band together with some of the local businesses around Grand Canal Dock, to promote the area together. "There is no direct competition for The Marker within the area. In fact, we have very good neighbours in Ely, for example, with whom we have plenty of synergy. Over the next couple of months, I would like to look at partnering with other businesses locally to work together and get people from around the country, who might not yet be aware of Grand Canal Dock, to hear about it." So far, such projects are at the ideas stage only - when I ask Charlie if he has thought about branding the area, a kind of Grand Canal Dock idea (GrandCan-Do, anyone?), he says "its still just conversations. We'll see..."
Given the energy he has already brought to the launch of The Marker, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the idea were to take off in a big way. After talking to Charlie, the question as to whether Dublin needs another five-star hotel is one I am happy to park for the moment. As he says, it isn't a question of stars really. There is always room for another well-run, well-conceived, beautifully-designed hotel. Welcome, The Marker.