For years, downtown hotels have felt like an endangered species.
These vibrant local centers were home to everything from street vendors to communions and nightclubs, but many closed or stagnated when towns were bypassed or hollowed out, their surrounding fields transformed into newer and better-equipped retail and four-star parks. .
Could their hour return? Instead of seeing the city’s hotels as relics, what if we looked at them in a new light as heritage properties in stunning locations, as ripe for design transformations as places to go for delicious food and drink Irish? Could they liven up the city streets for locals, while attracting a new wave of tourists and travelers?
This is the tantalizing prospect raised by John and Francis Brennan in Kenmare, County Kerry. The brothers bought The Lansdowne here last December, remodeling it just in time to reopen as the lockdown eased. The goal is to add “a new twist” to a historic property, says Francis. It could also help make the town halls themselves fashionable.
Arrival and location
Think of it as a little sister to the Park, the Brennans’ flagship hotel across the street. The Lansdowne dates back to 1790, when it was built as a town house for the Second Earl of Shelbourne, and its white facade, black sash windows (now Alu-Clad) and double-door entrance turn beautifully around the corner of the Main streets in Shelbourne.
It is an ideal location for short stays in Kenmare or tours in Kerry, but also a local institution attracting a lot of curiosity and excitement. As we arrive in the summer sun, happy punters have tea, pastries and pancakes outside of its continental-style LK Café. Inside, a small alcove reception almost looks like a check-in at a guesthouse.
Kasia Michalak, Managing Director, greets us with smiling eyes above her face mask and helps us with our luggage in an elegant but casual outfit of jeans and blazer. All of this corrects a sweet first impression.
Service and style
Simplicity is deceptive, of course. Originally intended as an overflow for wedding guests at John’s Dromquinna Manor, The Lansdowne is clearly a space with its own identity and potential, and the Brennans have worked with local design studio Edit on a relaxed mix of heritage, charm and contemporary class.
Like Kasia, the staff wear jeans and sneakers with fitted white shirts and designer aprons. The lobby is sleek yet welcoming, with airy colors, herringbone oak flooring, and a sultry centerpiece – a curvy, dark green lounge chair. The wainscoting is clutter-free, almost failing that. Some spaces (the first floor hallway, for example) could use art or flower splashes sparingly.
Twenty-eight guest rooms are clean touches of 21st century heritage and comfort. An open wardrobe stands against crèmes, blues and cool grays; simple bathrooms have decent rainfall showers and Handmade Soap Company toiletries.
Neat Bluetooth speakers appear alongside beds dressed in duvets from the Francis Brennan collection – crisp white with gold trims. Her “super soft” towels are also in the bathroom … placements that you can consider a smart step, or a little soft. ‘Super King’, ‘King’ and ‘Twins’ are the options, with no price difference – ask for larger spaces when booking; the fittings breathe a little better.
We stayed on a hot day and found it difficult to cool our rooms – there is no air conditioning and the windows open tightly. Opening them also lets in noise from streets and traffic – a compromise for location, I guess
The Dining Bar Terrace is the hotel’s remarkable space – a slim and elegant room ranging from a crisp marble bar counter to an old fireplace at the end. A vaulted stone archway fires the centuries, coppery pearl lights dip above the cabins, and an outdoor patio is a pandemic essential – though its view of the parking lot needs to be softened.
Dinner was a tasty showcase of modern Irish cuisine, with notable dishes including a pear and nut salad with creamy blue Knockatee cheese (€ 10.50), monkfish risotto (€ 28), a faux- perfectly cooked fillet (€ 33) and a small but tasty prawn starter with romesco and aioli (€ 12.50).
For dessert, don’t miss the Chocolate Chip Cookie (€ 6.50) – it’s a throwback to an old Lansdowne Arms staple, served hot and gooey in a skillet. A curdled creme brulee was our only disappointment but these are the first few days and the staff immediately offered to replace it or take it off the bill.
Breakfast is not included in the rates, but was served at 12:00 am brilliantly civilized during our visit. The 3fe coffee was a highlight for me (I had three cups), and a breakfast (€ 8) with Dempsey farmhouse bacon, a fried egg and ‘Dromquinna garden greens’ is a great start to the day. .
8.5 / 10
The bottom line
Can city hotels be trendy again? Few of them have a killer cadre like Kenmare, but the Landsdowne isn’t the only one leading the way. Historic properties like the Avalon House in Castlecomer, the Blue Haven in Kinsale, the Headfort Arms in Kells and Old Ground in Ennis have innovated in very different communities, and overall, a new taste for privacy, charm and Nostalgia can be seen from the reboots of From American Motels to Redesigned Country Houses from The Pig in the UK. Here’s a role model for cities and travelers alike.
Stay two nights between October and February and get a third night free (book direct). Oh you can order pancakes from the LK cafe in the restaurant for breakfast … yum.
Kenmare Butter Market is another reboot – a new exhibition and gallery space in a historic downtown building. A distillery is also in the pipeline.
Doubles from € 205 per night out of season, and € 225 per night in summer; room only. (064) 664 0200; lansdownekenmare.com. Pól was a guest of the hotel.