Originally published on suitcasemag.com
We closed our eyes and turned our faces towards the sun, the scent of sunscreen and salt floating through the air. We could have been anywhere in the world. A remote Greek island, maybe. Perhaps somewhere on the West Coast, or a sleepy Italian fishing village. Just as we allowed our imaginations to take hold, we heard it. “Shall we go inside for a cuppa, Angela?” We turned around to see a stout old woman in a string vest beckoning her friend. Angela, it seemed, had been enjoying the sunshine a little too much, and her arms, chest and face had turned a worrying shade of magenta. They packed up their stripy umbrella and plucked two British flags from the sand, waddling up towards a white hut selling fish and chips, pizza and kebabs. We were not in Greece, California or Italy. We were in Margate, Kent, on one of the hottest days of the year.
While Margate may have a little way to go before its tatty edges are cleaned up, it is hard to ignore its growing appeal. Londoners have been flocking to this town lately, lured by its low housing prices and short distance from the capital. They have brought with them speciality coffee, craft beer and ‘locavore’ dining. In the folds of the old town there is a wealth of curiosity shops, Scandi-style homeware stores and bright little cafes flanked by old, peeling pubs. With the Turner Contemporary gallery at its heart, Margate’s art scene is flourishing (Tracey Emin grew up here), with independent galleries hosting a year-round calendar of exhibitions. Seafood is everywhere, from pastel-coloured oyster bars to hip restaurants serving local catches with natural wine. But the old Margate of scruffy cafes, boarded up shop fronts and empty, flashing games arcades lives on. It is the England of photographer Martin Parr’s vision – one of dripping ice cream, dodgy tattoos, sagging sun chairs, battered cod and fading amusement rides. The sweeping beach is looked over by concrete tower blocks and ferris wheels. And the sunsets, which JMW Turner called the most beautiful in world, throw dusky pink light over the jetty and turn the sea dark blue. With more outsiders than ever jumping on the chance to live here, Margate continues to change and grow. But its old, gritty spirit is made of tougher stuff. With the two sides of this seaside town at play, there has never been a better time to visit.
The Reading Rooms
With its stripped, flaky walls, creaky floorboards, jewelled chandeliers and heavy wooden doors, this boutique B&B offers a chance to experience the grandeur of Margate’s golden era. Set inside a Georgian townhouse overlooking the leafy Hawley Square, each bedroom occupies an entire floor. The bathrooms have walk-in showers and deep roll top baths, while breakfast is a gloriously indulgent affair, with everything from salmon and cream cheese to fresh fruit granola and porridge with fresh compote brought to your room on trays. Combine this with silky sheets and waffled bathrobes, the sound of seagulls, and you can understand how we ended up rooted to the room all morning.
The bedroom at the top of the house looks out over Margate’s skyline, with the sea poking out behind the terracotta chimneys, church steeples and tall rustling trees. It is located just a few minutes from the maze of the old town and the beach, and is run by ex-East Londoners Louise and Liam.
31 Hawley Square, Margate CT9 1PH
TO EAT AND DRINK
Is there anything more quintessentially British than batting away the seagulls as you eat a cup of cockles with a toothpick? Manning’s takes this good old seaside tradition to new heights, selling freshly caught seafood from a small white hut opposite the harbour. Along with all of the classics – whelks, crayfish, prawns and the dreaded jellied eel, Manning’s also serves hot, garlicky green lip mussels, squid, fishcakes and plump oysters with lemon and tabasco, served with cold glasses of Prosecco.
The Parade, Margate CT9 1DD
Perched (thank you) on the edge of the former lido (now nothing more than a basin of concrete) overlooking the sprawling sea, Roost offers dramatic views alongside good old fashioned comfort food. This simple, modern space – all wooden floors and long sharing tables – offers succulent, locally-sourced rotisserie chicken in quarters, halves and wholes. Sides include Asian slaw, seaweed salt and pepper squid and truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, while two wooden barrels of “help yourself” house wine will keep you well and truly quenched.
19 Cliff Terrace, Margate CT9 1RU
This ‘moveable restaurant’, designed by architect Asif Khan and constructed with scaffolding poles into a giant minimalist tipi, is the brainchild of best friends Jackson Berg and Conor Sheehan. Berg’s culinary cv includes St John Bread & Wine and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. The name for the restaurant is taken from the Catalan name for the seasonal bars that open up in the summer. Its versatile structure means it too will be migrating from place to place with the seasons. For now, it is nestled on the seafront in Margate, beside the newly renovated Dreamland park. An inventive menu showcases all that is great about British produce, including seasonal fruit and veg, locally sourced meats, wines from independent suppliers, local ice creams and fish plucked straight from the North Sea.
This local hotspot revives an old seaside café, while retaining its no-frills charm. Out on the chequered front deck, which overlooks the sea, multi-coloured ribbons flutter in the doorway. Behind it, battered novels are hung up with bulldog clips on a seaweed green wall, while young creatives sit at linoleum tables sipping bloody marys and playing board games, nibbling on eggs benedict, ‘proper’ Welsh rarebit, smoked mackerel with bubble and squeak, avocado and smoked almonds on toast.
8 Cliff Terrace, Margate CT9 1RU
There is one thing no self-respecting gentrifying town can be without – a Scandi coffee shop. The creators of Mala have happily obliged, bringing a taste of Swedish ‘fika’ culture to Margate’s harbour. Looking out over the bobbing boats and the beach beyond, this hole-in-the-wall coffee shop has a scattering of tables and chairs outside. The interior includes a tiny kitchen, coffee machine, chalk board menus and plenty of greenery. As well as specialty coffee, there is a wholesome menu featuring things like a Copenhagen Brunch Board, open sandwiches filled with herring and pickles, gravlax and granola.
Unit 3 Harbour Arm CT9 1JD
Hantverk & Found
Blending local art and local catches, this gallery and ‘seafood café’ offers the freshest fish imaginable in the knotted lanes of the old town. Along with interesting natural wines, the menu changes every day, scribbled on a chalk board at the entrance to the small kitchen. There are dishes like pan roasted hake with chorizo and mussels, scallops with seaweed butter and rock oysters. Locals and visitors alike go mad for this place, so booking for dinner is definitely a good move.
18 King St, Margate CT9
The Grain Grocer
This spanking new café stands slap bang in the middle of Northdown Road, a formerly rundown area of Margate that is now home to a rising number of bars, cafes and antique shops. Floor to ceiling windows wrap around a bright, rustic dining room, which is stocked with the kind of books that tell you that bread will gouge out your eyes and pasta will run off with you husband. The creators started off selling whole foods at Crystal Palace Farmer’s Market, and this first permanent space still offers preserves, nut mixes, flours, oils and grains (obviously) for visitors to take home. The menu includes wholesome breakfast and lunch dishes, Monmouth organic coffee, loose leaf teas and big, hearty smoothies.
95-97 Northdown Road, Margate CT9 2QY
It’s hard to miss this beloved pub on summer evenings, when live music drifts out onto the street and locals fill its outside benches sipping craft beer. This place is a bit of an institution, with many of its original features still intact – brick walls, beer barrels and wood finishes. Yet its specialty brews, young staff and location in the heart of the old town draw in a wonderfully diverse mix of people.
1 Market St, Margate CT9 1EU
If there was ever any doubt of Margate’s rising cool, ETC’s selection of potted cactuses, palm leaves, hanging plants, bamboo furniture and pre-distressed notebooks has proven there are plenty of hipsters in town in need.
35 Hawley St, Margate CT9 1QA
This luxurious local company has found a way to tackle Margate’s problem of surplus seaweed – by creating fine, natural skincare products with it. Haeckels’ wares are sold across the country, but this exquisite flagship store showcases their dedication to local, ‘beach harvested’ ingredients. Oils, lotions and scrubs are displayed in brown glass bottles on illuminated wooden cabinets, while their fragrances are lined up beneath glass cloches. Visitors can also while away a few hours in the treatment room at the back.
18 Cliff Terrace, Margate CT9 1RU
This former pleasure park was saved from destruction by local campaigns – a first in British history. It is the oldest surviving amusement park in Britain, and while most of its original features have been reworked, its Golden Age charm still remains. Inside the Art-Deco building there are vintage arcade games, a 1950s-style diner, a cinema and a roller disco. Outside, brand new candy-coloured rides, kissing booths and ice cream stalls create a postcard-perfect image of the English seaside, while a rolling programme of live music promises to restore Dreamland’s former glory days.
Marine Terrace, Margate CT9 1XJ
Margate provided decades of artistic inspiration to the great landscape artist J.M.W Turner throughout his career, and a statue immortalizing his former lodger Mrs Booth stands proudly on the harbor. In 2011, the Turner Contemporary was opened, placing Margate firmly on the map as a serious art destination. The clean, modern lines of this ship-like structure have given Margate’s landscape a new edge, and its exhibitions hail international and British artists alike. This summer, ‘Seeing Round Corners’ explores the use of the circle in art, with works from Leonardo Da Vinci, Barbara Hepworth, Paul Klee, Marina Abramovic and Turner himself on display.
Rendezvous, Margate CT9 1HG