Fresh and off-center: Conrads of London, Dublin

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Since its creation in 1985, the Conrad International group hasn't set records for growth. Indeed, at the beginning of 2001, the collection numbered only 12 hotels.

That number is set to increase, however, through a joint venture of Hilton Hotels Corp., the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company that launched and operated the Conrad brand, and Hilton Group, the U.K. firm that owns the rights to the Hilton name outside of the U.S.

When the venture was announced last fall, the new Conrad Hotels, based in Brussels, projected it would sign 10 deals over the next year in key international markets.

Meanwhile, the existing Conrad properties, named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, will continue to serve a mostly business clientele in some very diverse markets, including Dublin, Ireland; London; Singapore; Istanbul, Turkey, and Uruguay.

Here is a look at two of those existing hotels, the Conrad Dublin and the Conrad London:

Conrad Dublin

Although it opened in 1989 -- making it one of the oldest hotels in the Conrad group -- the Conrad Dublin is doing a good job in a tough hotel market.

Dublin's major league market includes such names as Le Meridien, the Merrion, Four Seasons and even the Clarence, the hotel in the city's Temple Bar district owned by the Irish rock group U2.

The Conrad isn't precisely in the center of it all; it's a few blocks away. Tucked in near the southeast corner of St. Stephen's Green, the hotel is across the street from the National Concert Hall.

Alfie Byrnes, the Irish pub -- what else? -- at the Conrad Dublin. It is a short walk from Dawson and Grafton streets, two of the city's main shopping thoroughfares, and the National Museum, Trinity College and some of the old Georgian neighborhoods.

The hotel is in the midst of a room renovation program, with all 191 rooms scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

In the refitted rooms, decor is on the modern side, with light-wood furnishings and a bit of chrome. Other elements include a large desk, two phones, data port, armoire, CD player and a television with lots of channels.

Lighting is good, with a torchere lamp doing most of the work. During daylight hours, a bay window can provide the rest.

The beds are great, but the pillows are extremely thick, almost too much so. Add the fluffy, heavy duvet, and it's possible to feel you're underwater while in bed.

A full-length mirror covers a wall outside the bathroom. The bathrooms themselves are a bit dull compared with the rest of the room. The faucet, in particular, is strangely domestic. But the marble floors, bright lighting and deep tubs are more than adequate compensation.

Rack rates start at about $240, double, with refurbished rooms going for about $270. Suites go for about $500, and the Conrad has a presidential suite with a price tag of around $950.

Dining options include the Plurabelle Brasserie and the hotel's pub, Alfie Byrnes.

The Conrad also features a selection of meeting rooms, ranging from a 12-person boardroom to a ballroom that can accommodate 260 people banquet-style.

Conrad London

You're either going to love this hotel's location or you're going to hate it.

The 160-suite Conrad London, an all-suite hotel opened in 1990, is part of Chelsea Harbour, a mixed-use development on the Thames River. It's a good distance southwest of the city center, and the closest Underground stop is a 15-minute walk.

The Aquasia bar at the Conrad London.If you're in town on business or attending a meeting, it's nice to be away from it all, but if you'd like to see the city while you're there, it can be a hike. (Unless shopping is the primary activity, then the boutiques of Chelsea are a short jaunt.)

The hotel's main clientele are business travelers, who account for 60% of the total. The other 40% consists of groups and leisure travelers.

The public areas are concentrated on the ground floor. The lobby is fairly small, but toward the rear the space opens into a cocktail area and the hotel's restaurant, Aquasia. As hip as any New York nightspot, the restaurant's windows also look out on the harbor area and the Thames.

A corridor connects the lobby to a few of the Conrad's 14 meeting rooms.

The largest of these, the Henley, can seat 200 people for a banquet.

The Conrad also has a number of smaller rooms.

Suites are huge, with a foyer, workspace, sitting room, bedroom and a balcony to play around with, and those are the standard rooms.

Decor, in general terms, is subdued and classy, with lots of softened blues and golds.

One of the neat perks is a fitness center accessible only to guests. The expansive facility features such goodies as a gym and a pool.

Rates start at around $290 for most standard suites, even though rack rates are higher.

The hotel has a presidential suite and some other penthouse suites, which go for several thousand dollars each.

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