The new art hotel in Margate where Tracey Emin is already a regular

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

In the decade since the Turner Contemporary Gallery opened its crisp white doors on Kent’s seafront in 2011, Margate has developed a thriving art scene, attracting many Hackney creatives to come and settle on the coast.

The Fort Road Hotel, which opened just behind the Turner Gallery on September 1, is Margate’s first truly hip boutique hotel, and in many ways its arrival marks a coming of age for the seaside town .

“We opened a hotel by accident,” jokes Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover, who teamed up with developer Gabriel Chipperfield and artist Tom Gidley to buy the building at auction four years ago. The decision to become hoteliers was taken quickly over a coffee in Soho: “Separately, the three of us had thought about bidding,” continues Slotover. “We bumped into each other the week before the auction and had no idea the other was about to bid. So we thought, let’s do it together.

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

All three had connections with 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 derelict building. While architect Gabriel Chipperfield, whose father David designed the Turner Gallery, was working in Margate to build Tracey Emin’s new free art school.

With the help of Fleet Architects, the trio sensitively rebuilt and reinvented the property, which had been a hotel since 1820 before lying derelict for 30 years, adding an additional floor and a rooftop terrace for guests only.

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

They are adamant it’s not a “Frieze hotel”, although the locals call it that. “Frieze is a big part of my story and Matthews even more so, but there are three of us. This is not a Frieze project,” Gidley says on our four-way Zoom call. he building in ruins, its former glory consisted in “bringing something back to life”.

They are 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 that is painted on the facade, for example, is almost a direct copy of the lettering that existed before. “It was about preserving its identity as an inn,” says Chipperfield, who explains how they looked at numerous archival photographs to figure out what it once looked like and functioned as a hotel. “We felt that for it to be successful it would have to look like it always has.”

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

“It was such a big building with a big name, big lettering,” Slotover agrees. “I think the character of a lot of the rooms, the restaurant and the bar, you’ll only get that with something old. We just wanted to do something really personal and small, not corporate fundamentally.

Unsurprisingly, art abounds. Common areas downstairs are dotted with pieces by contemporary artists with ties to Margate: works by local artists Lindsey Mendick and Hannah Lees hang in the downstairs restaurant, a colorful mural specially commissioned by Sophie Von Hellermann fills a staircase and one of Tracey Emin’s neon signs hangs above a cozy nook in the underground bar, where Emin herself (Margate’s most famous resident) is already a regular three times a week.

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

The 14 rooms, which come in soft pastels with linen curtains, Hay kettles and mid-century furniture, house an edition of 20th-century abstract and oil paintings, gouaches, watercolors and paintings. prints from all over the UK, Europe and Scandinavia. and the United States. “We were toying with this idea of ​​a boarding house owner putting up artwork that he liked wherever he was,” says Gidley, who mostly chose works by local female artists. of the century previously unknown – “a very nice coincidence,” he explains.

“There aren’t many hotels that do art properly,” Slotover says, “using original works that are basically good.”

In addition to the aforementioned bar, which is already a hit with locals and crowded from dusk to close on both nights of my stay earlier this month, the hotel has a 35-seat restaurant serving breakfast. lunch, lunch and dinner headed by Chef Chef Daisy Cecil, who had just returned from a three-year stint at the River Cafe.

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

It’s a popular addition to Margate’s burgeoning food scene, which has improved markedly in the four years since my last visit. The arrival of excellent restaurants is, says Chipperfield, a major factor in the explosion of Margate led by their new hotel. “No one can live on art alone, and when artists started moving there, the big question was where to eat? Where can you socialize? And indeed, where can you stay? A Covid exodus of restaurateurs from London has been Margate’s gain, as many have moved to open joints on the more affordable coast.

    (Fort Road Hotel)

(Fort Road Hotel)

“There’s suddenly a whole handful of restaurants that have really serious owners,” Chipperfield continues. “Now you can spend four or five days there and eat at a really good restaurant for every lunch and dinner.” From Michelin-starred Italian Bottega Caruso, to excellent vegetarian pizzeria Ralph’s, to chic seafood restaurants Angela’s and Dory’s and Sargasso, the seaside sister to Shoreditch favorite Brawn, it’s certainly possible to eat as well in Margate as in East London.

    (Ed Reeve)

(Ed Reeve)

“It’s quite amazing what happened,” admits Slotover, who considers Margate to be the UK’s third-largest art center after London and Glasgow. After the Turner Gallery, there is the Carl Friedman, and then of course the Tracey Emin effect. “It’s one of the most beautiful skies in Europe according to Turner, and it’s cheap, so it feels like it’s just the start of something.”

Is this the first of many Frieze hotels, ahem, Fort Road, I wonder? “Next stop Fort Road Ibiza!” jokes Slotover. “I’d be willing to do more,” says Gidley, “but maybe the next one doesn’t have to be a completely abandoned building. One of them feels like a lot for a lifetime!

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