Shabby, the charming maître d’ (and former ‘Big Brother’ housemate), is taking us through the menu. Sourdough from a local baker, scallops with cured egg yolk on a bed of squid ink rice, Whitstable oysters with pickled sea herb, foraged on the Thanet foreshore: just what you’d expect from a fine-dining establishment with a locavore bent smack bang on the Margate seafront. Not quite what you’d expect from a hotel run by The Libertines.
Pete, Carl, Gary, John: indie rock’s most chaotic band are now hoteliers one and all. And though you might suppose ‘hotel’ would be a euphemism for ‘squat’ – or something worse – The Albion Rooms turns out to be smart, fully-functioning, even the sort of place you might take your mum or dad on holiday to. So, to quote the obvious, how come THIS is what became of Camden Town’s likely lads?
The front room and restaurant space. Photograph: Jason Knott
It started with a record advance: rather than spunk it on time in someone else’s studio, the band decided to build their own. They bought this five-storey Victorian terrace, formerly a rundown B&B, for that purpose back in 2017. Since then, they’ve all lived here at one point or another. For a few months, Pete Doherty’s pack of huskies even occupied the now-swish dining room I’m eating my elderberry and sake trifle in.
Slowly, their plans turned grander – partly because they needed some money to offset the very expensive studio equipment installed out the back. The Albion Rooms would eventually become what co-frontman Carl Barât calls his ‘Warholian factory’: the studio, two bars and, yes, an upscale (and not very rock ’n’ roll) restaurant run by Joe Hill, a former head chef for Gordon Ramsay and Tom Aikens.
And then there are the hotel rooms, each of which Barât says ‘reflects the insides of our heads’. Mine is the chic, semi-gothic ‘Emily Dickinson’. ‘You’re lucky the walls don’t talk,’ Barât adds, as he pulls me a pint of their in-house IPA. ‘Peter spent a long time up there.’
The ‘Emily Dickinson’. Photograph: Jason Knott
He’s certainly made it his own. There are Victorian nudes on the walls, a surprising amount of gold lacquer and a battered typewriter belonging to the musician, who is now based in Normandy. There’s also a huge heart Doherty himself painted on the plaster, placed behind glass. The centrepiece, a super-king bed with brass embellishments, is probably the most opulent thing I’ve ever slept on.
The restaurant is superb, as good as you get in this fast-regenerating seaside town. The studio currently hosts friends of the Libs, Trampolene, audible from the corridors. And the basement bar, The Waste Land, is already a buzzing local hangout, with a packed events programme of poetry readings, live music and life-drawing classes (all currently on hold due to Covid).
After dinner, I meet a woman down here who recently moved to Margate after the collapse of an abusive relationship. ‘Every friend I’ve made in this town has been through this place,’ she says. ‘It’s changed my life.’
In opening a boutique hotel and fine-dining restaurant, you might argue The Libertines have lost a great deal of their authenticity. The free-flowing booze and friendships being forged in the basement suggest otherwise.
Rooms at the Albion Rooms start from £115 a night.
The Wasteland Bar. Photograph: Jason Knott
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