I just got back from a week at a gay festival in sunny Dublin. (They tell me it's like that all the time. I suspect they lie.) If you're thinking about heading over to Ireland to spend some of your pink dollars, here are some very fine ways to empty your wallet. The euro was trading at about $1.57 when I was there, so when I say a price is reasonable, always assume the parenthetical phrase (for Dublin).
1. Hotels Fit for Queens and Drag Kings
I stayed at each of these places and all are gay-friendly. Also check out the last-minute specials on www.visitdublin.com, where you'll find some great rates, including at some of the hotels mentioned below. When you're booking, try to find places where breakfast is included, because a full, cooked breakfast can hold you most of the day.
For gays who want to be treated like rockstars: The Clarence (6-8 Wellington Quay; tel. 353 1 407 0800; www.theclarence.ie) is owned by Bono and the Edge of U2, in the trendy Temple Bar. The staff is genuinely hospitable and treats all its guests with great courtesy. Look for mid-week specials that include a full breakfast for less than €300 per night on the website.
Also in Temple Bar, for gays who like luxury at a reasonable price, including floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Liffey, and Jacuzzis, check out the cozy Eliza Lodge (23/24 Wellington Quay; tel. 353-1-671-8044; www.dublinlodge.com). You can bag a room for prices ranging from €90 to €240 a night per person including breakfast. Another good Temple Bar choice is the Temple Bar Hotel (Fleet St.; tel. 353 1 612 9200; www.templebarhotel.com), which has a nightclub and a restaurant, and is next door to the Hard Rock Café. The rooms at the back are blissfully quiet, and with web specials, it's possible to stay for as little as €99 a night (with breakfast).
If you always wanted your own Georgian townhouse, try Number 31 (31 Leeson Close; tel. 353 1 676 5011; www.number31.ie). Each morning you get a homemade breakfast with organic, seasonal ingredients that is (justifiably) famous. Cross the sort of Irish/Zen garden from the carriage house to the manse, and you'll find high-ceilinged rooms that have retained many original touches, and added modern amenities Wi-Fi, and high-end linens. Rates vary from €75 to €160 per person, and the managers told me they were considering scaling back the prices a bit for hard-hit North Americans.
For gays who want to stay in a hotel with a concierge who wears tails, check in at the newly-refurbished Shelbourne (27 St. Stephen's Green; tel. 353 1 6634500; www.marriott.com), which has been welcoming guests since 1824. The refurb by Marriott has restored the place's luster in a period setting, and added a few twists, such as a Geneology Butler, who will look up your ancestry. Summer package rates start at €199 a night to way, way up.
For gays who just have to work out, head for the Clarion IFSC (tel. 353 1 4338800; www.clariondublincity.com), where the Sanovitae Health & Fitness Club offers exercise classes, cardiovascular equipment, and weight training, as well as the only indoor hotel pool in Dublin (as well as a sauna and steam room). Rooms facing front have a wonderful view of the Liffey and Dublin skyline.
For gays who don't have a lot of money, head for Abbott Lodge Guesthouse (88 Lower Gardiner St.; tel 353 1-836 5548; www.abbottlodge.com). It's also in an old Georgian mansion that still has some original touches, and is cheery, bright, and well-kept by a staff that's as house-proud as anybody at The Clarence. Best of all, you can usually find a room for under €70 a night including breakfast, served by Irish ladies who have been there forever.
2. Gaylightful Restaurants
The art of dining: If I lived in Dublin, the Mermaid Café (69/70 Dame St.; tel. 353 1 6708236; www.mermaid.ie),would be my hangout, for its ambience, menu, and general attitude, which is artisan-style everything (including the décor). I can vouch for the glorious brunch, which you could probably get away with for under €20. But why not have what my friend called "the best Bloody Mary I've had in ages" as well?
Molecular, schmolecular. Bring me the chocolate sphere! It's on the dessert menu at The Tea Room at the Clarence Hotel, and a bit of performance art as well as scrumptious. The cuisine is in the style of molecular gastronomy, which means interesting combinations of tastes and textures, ranging from a pea soup shooter (topped with foam) to a tiny blue cheese pudding topped with nuts (as an amuse bouche). Keep an eye out for the Market Lunch (€26), Market Dinner (€39) and a "Signature Menu" tasting menu for €55 at dinner.
3. Gay Bars on Both Sides of the Liffey
The Dragon (South Great Georges St.; tel. 353 1 4781590; www.capitalbars.com) is the biggest, shiniest gay bar in Dublin. It's a two-level affair with a dance floor, and cozy nooks upstairs to sit in and chat. You can also sit in the lower level as well, while watching an all-ages crowd try to make themselves heard over the music. Just down the street is The George (South Great Georges St.; tel. 353 1 4782983; www.capitalbars.com), a much-loved, slightly beat-up two-level club with events and entertainment ranging from Drag Bingo to comedy hosted by Shirley Temple Bar. Nearby is The Front Lounge (33 Parliament Street; tel. 353 1 670-4112; www.frontloungedublin.com), a smaller place with subdued lighting, where you can hear yourself talk over the music, and where they can make a civilized mixed drink. It's also noteworthy for a lunch menu that comes in under €10. Dublin's newest gay bar is PantiBar at 7-8 Capel St.; tel. 353 1 8740710; www.bebo.com/pantipanti) run by Pandora "Panti" Bliss, a drag queen with a great affection for Dolly Parton. It's a smallish place, with a sort of rec room in the basement, and with various events ranging from Panti's search for a new assistant and a craft night, called "Make and Do Do."
4. Fabulous Festivals
I was in Dublin for the fifth annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (www.gaytheatre.ie), which presented nearly 3 dozen productions from all over the world. Next year's dates are already set (May 4-17, 2009), so if you want to take the stage, get your application in by Dec. 1.
This year is the 25th Annual Dublin LGBTQ Pride Festival (www.dublinpride.org) from June 13-21st. Festivities include The Bingham Cup, an international rugby competition named for American Mark Bingham (who died on United Flight 93).
From July 4-6, it's time for aLAF, (www.alafireland.com) a festival celebrating LGBTQ women's art, film, music, comedy and a pub quiz hosted by Licki Rake.
5. An Outhouse That's a Community Center
Since 1994, LGBTQ people from Ireland and aboard have been able to stop by the Outhouse (105 Capel St.; tel. 353 1 873 4932; www.outhouse.ie) for information, advice, and a cup of coffee. There's a café, meeting rooms (groups from AA to Gay Trekkies meet regularly), a library, free internet access, and all kinds of information and referral services. It's open seven days a week, and is a vital resource in gay Dublin.
Talk with fellow travelers on our Ireland Message Boards.