Cork’s Landmark Hotel locally known as the “Met”
The Metropole Hotel Cork was opened in 1897 was owned by Cash and Carry Group Merchants Musgraves. The property was designed by architect, Arthur Hill and built by John Delaney & Co Builders, who were previously awarded the building contract to build the sweetshop behind the hotel. The Metropole Hotel was built to the highest standards and opulence of the day. The hotel is known locally to Corkconians as the “Met” and most of the guests at that time were travelling salesmen and business men.
When it was originally opened in 1897, the hotel occupied the upper floors of the premises, with the ground floor and basement being retail units that were let out. There were four shops two on each side of the main entrance. One of the most famous these units was ‘Hadji Bey Et Cie’, one of Cork’s most famous sweet shops, that specialised in Turkish Delights. It’s owner Harutan Batmazian arrived in Cork from Armenia in 1903 and had his own sweet stall at the Cork Great Exhibition. He set up his sweet shop at the Metropole and started selling his sweets. It quickly became a Cork institution and The Hadji Bey products became very successful and much sought after all over Ireland. After his retirement the business went into decline and eventually closed in the 1980’s. Hadji Bey Turkish Delight was relaunched in 2010 using the original ornate packing and is now produced in Kildare. Another unit was Lawson’s Outfitters and its name can still be seen over the shop door today.
Edward VII is reputed to have had tea on the roof of The Metropole when he visited Cork in 1903 for the city’s Great Exhibition. Down the years many more famous personalities have been guests of the Metropole, and included Gregory Peck, James Mason, Frank O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Vittoria de Sica, John Huston and Walt Disney. However it was Dawn Adams, the 1950’s British film star, who created the greatest stir when she stayed at The Metropole. When she was attending the Cork Film Festival she requested a bath of milk. Douglas Vance, the famous hotelier of the Metropole refused such a request as the people of Cork were finding it hard to makes ends meet. The story made headlines around the world at that time.
In the 1930’s and the early 1940’s the hotel was run by Jimmy Musgrave. Jimmy was the president of the Irish Rugby Football Union and it is because of him that the Metropole is largely associated with Rugby. Indeed Musgrave Park is named after him. In 1944 Douglas Vance was appointed manager and was then a young man in his twenties. He ran the Metropole Hotel until he retired in 1982. In that time he transformed the Metropole Hotel into a top class venue. He moved to raise standards that demonstrated remarkable attention to detail and a commitment to the highest standards of service. Porters were instructed that great care should be taken at all times to avoid noise. Cleanliness was also stressed with porters having to change their dark socks and wash their feet daily. Bar staff were reminded to wash their hands after using toilets and to “never put your fingers into the glasses as it is filthy habit guaranteed to lose customers”
The Metropole Hotel at that time was a “dry” hotel as he Musgrave family were of the belief that alcohol should not be served in their hotel, and as such the hotel was advertised as “Ireland’s Finest Unlicensed Hotel”. However, by the middle of the 20th century, social morals were changing and Douglas Vance believed that the hotel needed a liquor licence. However the Musgrave family were reluctant to agree. Undeterred Vance set out to change their minds. Before it had its own licence, the Metropole allowed alcohol to be served at functions such as weddings. Generally, those organising a function would arrange for a publican to serve drinks and the hotel would charge a modest corkage fee. However the Metropole had no control over how much alcohol guest drank and then it would have to deal with the consequences, while the only revenue it generated was a small corkage fee. Douglas Vance pointed this out to Stuart Musgrave Junior one Saturday when there was five or six weddings taking place and people were getting very drunk. Stuart Musgrave Junior was appalled and the Metropole got its licence in 1956.
Like the rest of the Irish Tourism Industry, the Metropole was hit hard after the downturn in visitor numbers when the Northern Ireland troubles began in 1969. Interviewed by journalist Maeve Binchy, Vance estimated that with the British tourists staying away in their droves, it would cost the Metropole between 5,000 and 6,000 bednights in that year alone. The Metropole, and in particular Jim Mountjoy, the deputy general manager, came up with the idea of starting a Cork Jazz Festival in 1978. This festival has grown into a world renowned occasion held every year on the October Bank Holiday Weekend. It is one of Ireland's flagship arts and cultural events, attracting visitors from all over the world. The festival continues to go from strength to strength with a superb programme of world class jazz and jazz related sounds in over 90 venues. It is renowned as one of the best jazz festivals in Europe.
In 1977 the Metropole Hotel in Cork was sold to a consortium of local businessmen and a Leisure Centre was added. In 1999 it was sold to once more to Ryan Hotels and it underwent a €9 Million refurbishment. In 2001 it was rebranded to The Metropole Hotel and as a historic landmark, it continues to play a major role in the commercial and social life in Cork.
Fast forward to the present day and the hotel is under new ownership since 2015 and has purchased an adjoining site with plans for upgrade and extension of the hotel.