First look inside Belfast's new Grand Central Hotel
Hastings' £53m venue welcomes first visitors
One of the most anticipated hotel openings in Belfast has taken place as Grand Central Hotel on Bedford Street checked in its very first guest.
The 23-floor venue is the seventh hotel in the Hastings portfolio and was launched after a spend of £53m, the costliest hotel construction here yet.
A four-star property, Grand Central has been two years in the making and has completely transformed the former office block that was Windsor House.
The once-dowdy 1970s exterior has been covered in charcoal panels and seahorse logos that acknowledge Belfast's maritime heritage.
Hastings' investment has also created 200 new jobs and given way to a luxurious two-storey high marble-clad lobby and three dining venues including the top floor Observatory overlooking Belfast and beyond.
There are 300 "opulently appointed" bedrooms with starting prices of £80 per head per night with the most luxurious price tag of £,2000 per night reserved for the 21st-floor suite poignantly named after Hastings founder, the late Sir William Hastings, who passed away last December.
Neil Devlin, general manager of sister hotel The Everglades in Londonderry, took guests on a tour of the hotel and described the suite as a "spectacular and unbelievable tribute" to the hotelier.
"I know that he would be exceptionally proud," added Grand Central's general manager Stephen Meldrum.
"I've worked for the company for over 16 years and I know if he was here today, he'd say 'make sure you're reassuringly expensive'."
While grand in stature - Windsor House was once the largest building in Ireland before it was overtaken by the Obel Building - Grand Central welcomes all.
"This isn't a stuffy venue," reassured Mr Meldrum, who has worked at all seven Hastings venues. "The ground floor Grand Cafe is open from 6am until midnight. It offers early morning breakfast, a takeaway offering and moves through the day with a range of dining. It has that urban, street approach and it's a place where you can feel comfortable."
Other dining options include the Seahorse Bar and Restaurant overlooking Bedford Street, with its "mid-range, bistro-style menu" and luxurious furnishings.
The Observatory, due to open next month, will offer guests stunning views of the city where afternoon tea will be served at a cost of £40 per person.
The first guest to arrive in the hotel yesterday was an international corporate visitor, attending the sixth annual Hosts Global Forum which held its first event outside of the US here.
Three years ago Hastings paid £6.5m for the Nama-owned property and embarked on a "no-expense spared" renovation designed by Belfast-based architects RPP and built by Graham's of Dromore.
It was named after the original Grand Central Hotel which was located on Royal Avenue. "Back then it was very much known as a leader so we want to mirror that really, taking Belfast into the next part of its evolutionary journey," said Mr Meldrum.