These are exciting times at the Malone Lodge Hotel in Belfast as it gears up to unveil sweeping changes and an array of plush new facilities in the spring – not to mention the prospect of a recruitment drive. Director, Gareth Macklin, has been talking to GO…
Already regarded as something of a unique proposition within the Belfast hotel market, the four-star Malone Lodge Hotel on Eglantine Avenue is currently in the midst of an extensive refurbishment programme that will introduce sweeping changes at the well-regarded family-run venue.
With a price tag of £3m, a detailed programme of works got underway four months ago and will be completed in three distinct phases.
The first phase, which was completed last summer, incorporates a 75-space underground car park for hotel guests.
For phase two, property was acquired adjacent to Malone Lodge and work began around three months ago to create nine additional executive bedrooms including two luxury suites. That will bring the room tally at Malone Lodge to 120, divided between conventional hotel accommodation and 33 luxurious self-catering apartments within easy striking distance of the main building.
Phase two also includes the provision of a striking new, stand-alone 90-seater restaurant at the hotel – a very deliberate addition to the offering and designed to capitalise on the hotel’s exceptional reputation for food.
The last portion of the refurbishment will require the hotel to close its main building for two-and-a-half months while keeping the remaining properties operational. During that time, a new function suite for 250 guests will be created alongside new kitchen facilities, new bars and a re-designed lobby.
Promising a recruitment drive at the hotel in the new year, director, Gareth Macklin, told GO recently that these latest refurbishments – which have taken five years to plan – were deliberately designed to move Malone Lodge onto the next level:
“I think this perception exists among some people that have never visited us that what we have is this little family-owned, city centre hotel, but that’s not true, it’s a misperception and it’s something we want to get rid of,” he explained. “When this work is complete, we will be offering extensive facilities which will be first rate and we believe that will set us up as a key player in the marketplace here in Belfast.”
The Macklin Group, which owns the hotel along with a series of private nursing homes in Coleraine, Ballycastle and Belfast, was formed more than 30 years ago by Gareth’s parents, Brian and Mary Macklin.
First opened in 1991, the Malone Lodge was originally a 33-bedroom, purpose-built guest house. It officially became a hotel two years later when the Macklins obtained their drinks licence and the first self-catering apartment block – Malone Mews Apartments – was added in 1996.
In 1998, another block of apartments was added in an adjacent building, after which the hotel was closed for 18 months for major refurbishment work, re-opening in the format in which it still operates today. Further apartment blocks were added in 2005 and 2010.
Reviewing the latest improvements at the hotel, Gareth Macklin says that the family is very excited about the prospect of unveiling its new facilities in the spring. He’s chary, however, of being regarded as a ‘boutique’ hotel:
“A boutique hotel means different things to each of the people who use it and it’s a term we have steered away from,” he remarks. “We’re focused on offering the same high level of service to everyone who stays here and we’re conscious of the need to offer people value for money.”
Currently, the Malone Lodge team is focused on the completion of phase two of the ongoing refurbishments, the biggest part of which will centre on the 90-seater restaurant that will be deliberately positioned to appeal to customers from outside the hotel. It’s due to open in mid-March and although a name has been chosen, Gareth isn’t willing to reveal it just yet.
“The restaurant is a particularly exciting development in the long term,” he says. “Our head chef, the NI Chef of the Year, Dean Butler and his second chef, Liam Rooney, have helped us maintain a reputation for food that is second to none and it’s on the strength of that name that we’re opening this new eatery.”