Located in the heart of Galway city, the Imperial Hotel certainly has an impressive location. It is in close proximity to the bus and railway station, which are both just just a short stroll away. There is a taxi rank right outside, and all the main bus routes leave from Eyre Square. Flanked on all sides by high profile shops, restaurants, and bars, it is at the centre of a hive of activity.
Inside, this 85 bed modern city centre hotel exudes a friendly atmosphere. Plenty of seating allows guests to relax wherever they are. The residents' lounge is an informal, cosy, retreat open till late, and the outdoor patio is perfect for sunny days. Plush purple and green are the dominant colors in the otherwise dark, cosy, dining space. Muted olive and brown seating contrast with the brightly patterned carpet, set against the stonework walls of the traditional bar grill, and it has long been known locally as the meeting place of Galway. Customers settle to watch live sports or meet friends for a coffee and scone. It is very child friendly (and buggy accessible ), the children's menu has a main course, dessert, and drink priced at €9.50 for the under 12s. They serve good quality affordable food all day, every day, and care is taken to ensure customers feel right at home.
Although the Imperial Hotel offers its patrons the convenience of free WiFi in all areas of the hotel, this is not the sort of place where people whip out their smartphones to take a quick photo of their food to post to Instagram. Neither will they be Snapchatting about their dining experiences. The hotel itself would not ever know anyway, they do not 'gram or chat. They are just about on Facebook, and have only managed one Tweet, back in 2009, before abandoning the virtual world for real life and real people. The Imperial Hotel is an altar to traditional values when such things are a rarity.
Until last week it had been many years since I had darkened the doors of the Imperial. It had become for me, as I suspect for a lot of other people, a place you pass by on your way to somewhere else. But darken the door I did, inside it was very busy, and that was 3.30pm on a Tuesday. It attracts a mixed crowd, some in from more rural areas on the buses, some local stopping in from shopping or after Mass — but all of them giving it a lot of love. The bar grill offers light snacks like homemade soup and salad, plus all day breakfasts, sandwiches, and steaks during the day. The carvery seems to be the big draw, available all week serving hot meals till four.
Bus and taxi drivers sit at the bar putting away carvery dinners with gusto. Groups of old friends, families, and girls in rugby jerseys are dotted around at other tables. The plates are full and the customers are happy. Waiters in smart black shirts dip in and out from the busy kitchen. Even with all of the new openings and improvements around Eyre Square, The Imperial is still a player in the city’s restaurant and bar businesses.
After four they switch to a slightly more refined evening menu. Not very much on the menu is a surprise, but then no one comes here for surprises, this is a menu designed around what the people that come here really want to eat. Starters of Caesar salad, garlic mushrooms, and chicken wings are classics. More up to date are the superfood salad and a slightly exotic dish of honey and sesame tempura prawns with mango and lime mayonnaise. This is a lovely thing, the batter crisp and the prawns perky.
For mains, steaks are cut thick and cooked as promised and burgers, chicken goujons, and battered fish all come with salad and fries. Carbonara, vegetable lasagna, curry, and sizzling fajitas round out the choices and provide something for everyone. Desserts are €5.25, some are bought-in but the strawberry cheesecake, made on site, is deliciously retro, not too sweet with a crumbly base and a thin layer of strawberry jelly on top encasing some slices of the first of the new season Irish strawberries. With a two course dinner and a glass of prosecco for just €20 per person, and three courses for €25, you can be sure that dinner in The Imperial is a popular add on for the hens and stag parties that come for the central location.
More important than all of this is the staff, some who have been here for years and who will doubtless be here for years to come. They are on first name terms with the regulars and even have their meals at the bar with them. John Gannon has been the manager here for over a decade and its clear he loves the industry. He cares about the guests, the brand, and his team. Their job is to let the Imperial Hotel continue to be itself and they deserve credit for carrying it on throughout all the hen party free recession years. Don't go changing, Imperial. But if you must, not too much — people seem to like you just the way you are.
The Imperial Hotel, Eyre Square, Galway. Tel: 091 563033. Email: [email protected].