A boarding house and hotel born in 1820, the Fort Road Hotel was already on its last legs when it closed around 1990, to be turned into a squat and then left to decay – another unfortunate metaphor for a town blighted by foreign holidays and government neglect. Almost five years ago, the artist and author Tom Gidley and Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover walked past a for-sale sign and saw possibility. After enlisting the help of Slotover’s friend, Gabriel Chipperfield – a designer and developer, and son of the architect David Chipperfield – they found themselves buying the near-derelict hotel at auction for a reported £360,000, and going in as equal partners. “Many gremlins” later (Gidley’s words), having added a sympathetic fourth floor, the Fort Road Hotel has now emerged as a smart 14-room hotel with serious food and drink, filled with eclectic art and design nods to the history of both building and town. Its revival feels like a symbolic echo of Margate’s rising fortunes. With an outpost of the youthful Selina brand opening up the road in Cliftonville (a few doors from the Libertines-owned Albion Rooms) and the seafront Sands Hotel due to reopen under the GuestHouse brand, there’s a sense of Margate tourism shifting up a gear – even if more serious investment will be needed to revive other neglected buildings such as the Winter Gardens or seafront Nayland Rock Hotel.
The 14 rooms have an understated mid-century vibe; a tactile sense of Denmark, from Louis Poulsen PH5 pendant lights to 1960s upholstered teak chairs and Kvadrat felt curtains, made by the local Margate Design Collective. There’s a Boomer-friendly level of comfort that’s sometimes missing in contemporary hotel rooms: ample storage, 400-thread beds, large teak makeup mirrors, unobtrusive TVs in some rooms. But also cute touches like Roberts smart speakers and Hay kettles; coolly branded house guides to Margate, and apposite books on bedside tables (Rosa Rankin-Gee’s Dreamland, Franny Moyle’s chunky Turner biography). Bathrooms have pleasing Mexican tiles, with local seaweed-based Haeckels bath products. We stayed in number 14, on the newly added level, with teal bathroom tiles and knockout views: one window looking up the curving road towards Cliftonville; the other sliding open to views right over the almost Alpine angles of the Turner Contemporary, and through the buildings to the harbour arm. Oh, and there were crumbly fresh cookies on arrival.