If Belfast hasn’t been as popular a destination as, say, Dublin, it’s hardly without reason. But as we find in the emerging capitals of Eastern Europe (not to otherwise compare Northern Ireland with Eastern Europe, but bear with us), the effect can be a charming and slightly retro sensibility. The Merchant is, in many ways, exactly the sort of small, intimate, high-end boutique hotel that’s so common in England and Ireland; what they’ve left out is the hard-striving air of slightly ironic hipness that’s so universal elsewhere.
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Here, instead of wry modern furniture (trust us, furniture can be wry, and too often is) you’ll find classic interiors, the sort of thing that can only be described as “opulent.” It suits the building, a listed landmark, and it works for guests as well; despite the antique ambience, everything’s sparkling new, and such modern additions as flat-screen televisions will no doubt be accepted with grace. The exceedingly formal Great Room and the much more casual pub-style Cloth Ear make up the dining options, and there are three more bars besides. Your location in this compact town is absolutely central, but it may prove difficult to drag yourself out.