Inside the empty world of Ireland's zombie hotels
Hundreds of rooms but nobody staying, our vast hotels have to serve their time as the living dead before investors get their tax break, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE
ZOMBIE HOTELS. Zombie hotels. It just seems too good to be true. What next – the zombie BB? Actually, we’ve all stayed in the zombie BB in our time. But zombie hotels are bigger than zombie BBs. Too big to fail. Whoah, missus.
Is the zombie hotel now going to join Hotel California, Hotel Du Lac and Hotel Babylon in the lexicon of good tourist accommodation gone bad? A zombie hotel sounds much chillier somehow than its foreign cousins, and darker. The strip lights are fizzing in the hallways.
In reality, the Burlington looks bright and busy early on a Friday evening. The film director John Boorman is being interviewed, probably for this very newspaper, in the lobby. In the ladies’, the pretty wives of photographers are smoothing their dresses for the AIB Photojournalism Awards, which are being presented on the premises.
The Burlington always had a slightly Soviet air about it – I think it is that chandelier in the lobby – even though our own political parties were fond of it, and held their jamborees here. Now you can get a room for €79 (remember this is a Friday, peak time) without breakfast, and for €105 with breakfast, for two people. You could revive your marriage. The receptionist has that post-boom charm about her. How many rooms does she have? “Five hundred,” she says.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels. Uncle Fester on the piano every afternoon for the tea dances.
The Berkeley Court is much quieter – old men are being helped to the bar, the executives are gone. In the function room white tables sit waiting for some rugby dinner – a big match beckons.
The Berkeley Court is still hiring out smaller function rooms – a lawyer friend of mine worked here last week. If you wanted to sleep here you could have the Double Deluxe type of room for €69, €89 with breakfast, and you could have a junior suite for €119 – less during the week.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels – they stalk our landscape, no one is safe. There is no dining room in a zombie hotel: you are the dining room, baby, because zombie hotels feast on live flesh and, sad to say, the flesh of other non-debt encumbered hotels.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels. They came from outer space . . . er, no, sorry, they came from a tax break. Same thing really. Zombie hotels have to serve their time as the living dead for seven long years, or else their investors won’t get the tax break.
Yes indeed, it’s a horror story.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels. Lizards on the window frames and alligators in the bath, waiting for the tourists to come. Ah, the tourist. Now there is a mythical creature.
Round the corner at the D4 hotel – formerly Jury’s, formerly New Jury’s, formerly the Intercontinental, a young man is dragging his little wheelie case towards the lift. Where is he from? “England” he says mildly. I think he is from Manchester, but the young man is not saying. His party contains a large number of elderly ladies.
They are on holiday, he says. Later on, a coach whisks them off to the city.
The D4 is very busy, and the baseball cap quotient is high. In the corridors of the ground floor a young couple, he in tracksuit and baseball cap, she in shorts with lovely legs, walk hand in hand.
The D4 must rock with democratic passion these days – the receptionist very nicely offered me a room for less than €50, which is cheaper than a couple buying each other drinks for the evening. In the new shopping area you can buy your own alcohol in a section called DGargle.
You can buy hot food in the DeliD4: a small breakfast roll is €2.49. A large breakfast roll is €4.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels. Charlie Haughey used to come to New Jury’s to drink his bull shots – a vodka drink like a Bloody Mary but made with beef consomme, long before the BSE scare. A hangover cure. The hands might have trembled out of the cuffs of a Charvet shirt. They loved him here. The Coffee Dock boasted that it was open 23 hours a day – as if you were in America. Now, a dark young woman tells us, the Coffee Dock does not open until 10am.
Zombie hotels, zombie hotels. Young men roam the corridors in groups. Are they here for the match? No, no, they say. They are here for the poker tournament. As if in a dream, a large door opens and you are in the roar of an enormous room, engulfed by the clicking noise of thousands and thousands of poker chips. This is another world. The sign on the television screen says that this is European Deepstack, or Chilipoker Deepstack. You have no idea what this means.
Most of the women here are waitresses. The tables stretch into infinity. There are maybe 500 people here, all playing poker. It’s battery poker. Quite a few of the younger men play poker plugged in to their iPods. The white flex falls to their chests, sealing them from the sounds of the room as they watch the cards, and they look like . . . zombies.