At your service: working at the Shelbourne
It’s not glamorous, and it’s hard work, but at least Conor Pope discovers how to get an upgrade when he goes behind the scenes, and front of house, at the Shelbourne Hotel
To the Obama visit: he plays it down. “Everything went without a hitch and after it was over it was a bit of an anti-climax,” he says. “In the run-up we had meeting after meeting with embassy staff and just when we thought everything was in place, we had another round of meetings. Nothing was left to chance.”
Hanley met the First Lady and presented her with a 1926 copy of Ulysses and a copy of the Constitution which was drafted in Room 112 by Michael Collins and his fellow Free Staters in 1922.
The rare copy of Ulysses was sourced by Dennis O’Brien (no, not that one). Dennis is the concierge. He’s a real Mr Fixit. “My main strength is my contacts,” he tells me. “I have been 26 years in this business and while I may not be able to guarantee a guest a table at Chapter One with an hour’s notice, at least I know Declan – the restaurant manager there – well enough to give him a ring. If he can possibly accommodate me, he will.”
Dennis is discreet, too discreet for my liking and he won’t divulge the peccadilloes of any of the famous people he has sorted things out for. He’s disappointingly discreet about shenanigans in the Horseshoe Bar, too. For decades the Horseshoe was at the centre of much intrigue in Ireland and a place where “women with a past met men with no future”. All the drama and all the late night assignations (and drunkenness) have switched to the front of the hotel and now standing room is hard to find in the L-shaped Number 27 bar most nights. It may be buzzing, but some of the magic is gone.
I go back to work. JD is talking earnestly to his assistant. Something important, no doubt. “I need you to get me some Maltesers, some Partegas and a can of beer,” he tells her. A very special guest is checking in later. He has spent more than 700 nights in the Shelbourne since 2007 and because of his loyalty he is getting two of his favourite things – Cuban cigars and Maltesers. The beer is for another guest.
I am sent back to the door and given a top hat and tails. I look more Charlie Chaplin than Great Gatsby. A couple come out and ask for directions to Dunne & Crescenzi. I know the Italian restaurant well, but my mind goes blank. Rather than say I don’t know, I point vaguely down Kildare Street. They want me to be more specific, so I am. Specific and quite wrong. They’re probably still looking for the place today. Sorry.
I retreat to the staff room where I read that the four keys to a high guest rating are room cleanliness, room maintenance, breakfast and the internet service. “The internet is not something that will bring someone to the hotel, but if it is not there, they will miss it,” JD says.
JD doubles as the butler for the Princess Grace Suite. Tomorrow night someone will shell out €2,500 to stay in the suite. For one night only. So we have to get it ready. Well, I say we, but JD is all over it. He puts the flowers in place, checks the Nespresso pods, fluffs pillows and stocks the free bar. I carry a tray.
When the suite is occupied tomorrow he’ll be on 24-hour call. Before then, he has much to do and he needs me out of his hair. He hands me my cards and as we stand in the lobby we make idle chit chat.
“My great, great, great, great grandfather was Charles Dickens,” one of us says. It is not me. I am flabbergasted.
JD Flynn is a direct descendent of one of the finest novelists the English language has ever seen? And he mentions it only in passing? His colleagues don’t even know. Well, they might now.
I hope he didn’t have any great expectations of me as a colleague and whether he thought it was the best of times or the worst of times, I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty certain it’s still the age of The Shelbourne.