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The Metropole Hotel Cork

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The Metropole Hotel Cork

Ireland’s Finest Unlicensed Hotel

Cork has many fine hotels. The city centre alone boasts four world class hotels. And none are as steeped in as much culture and history as Cork’s Metropole Hotel. It has stood proudly on McCurtain Street since it was built by John Delaney & Co Builders in 1897. It’s noble facade was an intricate part of Arthur Hill’s architectural design. The original owners of the hotel were the Musgrave family. They have been merchants in Cork since the Musgrave brothers, Thomas and Stuart, founded the food distribution business in 1876. They were the ones to commission the design and build of this magnificent hotel.

When it was originally built, the basement and ground floors were let as retail units and the upper floors were the hotel rooms. At the front of the building were four units, two units flanking either side of the main entryway. Hadji Bey Et Cie was the sweet shop. Owner and confectioner Hadji had located to Cork in the early 1900s. His Turkish delight was a specialty and a popular choice with both the locals and hotel patrons. Lawson’s Outfitters was another of the unit occupants. Their sign still adorns the hotel façade to this day. Many of the rich and famous were rumored to have stayed in the Metropole Hotel through the decades. Edward VII was said to have “taken tea” on the roof terrace.

Jimmy Musgrave ran the hotel during the 1930s and 1940s. He was as much associated to the Metropole as he was to his beloved game of rugby. Cork’s primary rugby stadium is named for him, Musgrave Park. Jimmy Musgrave brought in a general manager, Douglas Vance, in 1942. Douglas Vance remained in the job until 1982 – now that is commitment. He decided his staff would uphold impeccable hygiene standards and their service would be second to none. He set about educating and training his staff in personal hygiene, hygienic work practices and in high quality service for their guests. 

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It must be stated that the hotel had been a “dry” hotel since it opened. It was marketed as “Ireland’s Finest Unlicensed Hotel.” Alcohol would have been served on the premises but by an independent publican. The independent publican would be hired to serve the alcohol he would bring stock with him to the function. He would be paid accordingly. There was very little profit to be made by the hotel – a pittance for corkage. Vance wanted the Musgrave family to apply for a liquor licence. They refused his request. The reasons he had were to cash in on serving alcohol at functions and also to control the sale of the alcohol at these same functions.

On one Saturday, Stuart Musgrave joined Vance in a tour of the Metropole Hotel. This particular Saturday had five functions booked in, most were weddings. Stuart Musgrave saw first-hand the behaviors and effects of alcohol on the function guests. He also saw the amount of money the publicans were taking in over his counters.

The Metropole Hotel acquired a liquor licence in 1956, shortly after that particular Saturday.

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The early 1970s saw a massive down-turn in the Irish Tourism Industry. The Metropole Hotel was as badly affected as other hotels. The advantage they had over those other hotels was they had a deputy general manager, Jim Mountjoy. Along with other Cork businessmen, Jim Mountjoy founded the Cork Jazz Festival – laterally known as the Cork Guinness Jazz Weekend. The shrewdness of Mountjoy saw the entire festival revolve aroun Folllow us on Facebook d the Metropole Hotel, as it still does today. The Metropole was and is the heart of the Jazz weekend. 

Every October Bank Holiday Weekend sees thousands of people descend on Cork city and suburbs to listen to music. What began as a jazz festival weekend has grown and evolved into a music festival that incorporates jazz, blues, swing, funk, groove and Dixieland music. Bands and artists love the Cork Jazz Weekend; many book for the next year before they check out!

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  • denis@leevalley.ie (Denis Hurley)
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