In the decade since Turner Contemporary Gallery opened its glossy white doors on the Kent waterfront in 2011, Margate has developed a thriving art scene, attracting many Hackney creatives to the coast.
The Fort Road Hotel, which opened its doors just behind the Turner Gallery on September 1, is Margate’s first truly trendy boutique hotel, and in many ways its arrival marks the seaside town’s coming of age.
“We opened a hotel by accident,” jokes Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover, who partnered with developer Gabriel Chipperfield and artist Tom Gidley to purchase the building at auction four years ago. The decision to become a hotelier was quickly made over coffee in Soho. “Separately all three of us had thought about making an offer,” continues Slotover. “We met the week before the auction and we had no idea the other was going to bid. So we thought, let’s do it together. “
All three had connections to Margate. Artist and writer Tom Gidley, who co-founded Frieze magazine with Slotover in 1991, had moved to nearby Ramsgate in 2019 and had long admired the abandoned building. While architect Gabriel Chipperfield, whose father David designed the Turner Gallery, had worked in Margate to build Tracey Emin’s new free art school.
With the help of Fleet Architects, the trio carefully rebuilt and reinvented the property, which had been a hotel since 1820 before it lay abandoned for 30 years, adding an extra floor and a rooftop terrace reserved for guests.
They strongly believe it is not a “Frieze hotel”, despite the locals referring to it as such. “Frieze is an important part of my story and Matthews is even more so, but there are three of us. It’s not a Frieze project, “Gidley says during our four-way Zoom call. Instead, the mission to restore the dilapidated building to its former glory was to” bring something back to life. “
They were invested in the idea of preserving the history of the building. “We foolishly thought the value was in those four walls, so we kept it at great expense,” says Gidley. The Fort Road Hotel sign painted on the facade, for example, is almost a direct copy of the writings that existed before. “It was about preserving its inn identity,” says Chipperfield, who explains how they looked at many archival photographs to understand how a hotel looked and functioned. “We thought that to be successful it would have to look like it always has.”
“It was such a big building with a big name, big letters,” agrees Slotover. “I think you would only get the character of many of the rooms, the restaurant and the bar with something old. We just wanted to do something really personal and small, not corporate fundamentally. “
Unsurprisingly, art abounds. The common areas on the ground floor are imbued with works by contemporary artists linked to Margate: works by local artists Lindsey Mendick and Hannah Lees hang in the restaurant on the ground floor, a colorful mural by Sophie Von Hellermann specially commissioned fills a staircase, and one of the Le Tracey Emin’s neon signs hang above a cozy corner of the underground bar, where Emin herself (Margate’s most famous resident) is already a regular three times a week.
The 14 rooms, which come in soft pastel colors with linen curtains, Hay kettles, and mid-century furniture, house a modification of 20th-century oil and abstract paintings, gouaches, watercolors and prints from Gidley from around the world. United Kingdom, Europe and Scandinavia and the United States. “We were playing with the idea of a guesthouse owner putting up art he liked wherever he found it,” says Gidley, who mostly happened to choose previously unknown works by mid-century artists – “a really nice coincidence, “he explains.
“There aren’t many hotels that do art properly,” says Slotover, “using original works that are fundamentally good.”
In addition to the aforementioned bar, which is already a hit with the locals and was busy from dusk until closing on both nights of my stay earlier this month, the hotel has a 35-seat restaurant serving breakfast. , lunch and dinner led by head chef Daisy Cecil, who came from a three-year stint at the River Cafe.
It’s a popular addition to Margate’s booming food scene, which had greatly improved in the four years since my last visit. The arrival of great restaurants is, Chipperfield says, a major factor in the Margate explosion led by their new hotel. “No one can live on art alone, and when artists first built their homes there the big question was: where can you eat? Where can you socialize? And in fact where can you stay? ” A London exodus of restaurateurs to Covid has been Margate’s advantage, as many have moved to open establishments on the more affordable coast.
“Suddenly there are a whole handful of restaurants that have really serious owners,” continues Chipperfield. “Now you can spend four or five days there and eat at a great restaurant for every lunch and dinner.” From the Michelin-starred Italian Bottega Caruso and the excellent vegetarian pizzeria Ralph’s to the elegant seafood restaurants Angela’s and Dory’s and Sargasso, the seaside sister of Shoreditch’s favorite Brawn, it’s definitely possible to eat in Margate as well as East London.
“It’s really amazing what happened,” agrees Slotover, who believes Margate is the third largest art center in the UK after London and Glasgow. After the Turner Gallery there is the Carl Friedman, and then of course the Tracey Emin effect. “It has one of the most beautiful skies in Europe according to Turner, and it’s cheap, so it just feels like the beginning of something.”
Is this the first of many Frieze, ahem, Fort Road, hotel I wonder? “Next stop Fort Road Ibiza!” jokes Slotover. “I’d be ready to do more,” says Gidley, “but maybe the next one doesn’t have to be a completely abandoned building. One of those seems in abundance for a lifetime! “