If you’re anywhere between the ages of 28 and 40, chances are you spent a disproportionately large amount of time in your youth rifling through army surplus stores and dusty old vintage shops trying to find the perfect red British army jacket to emulate The Libertines’ iconic look from ‘Up The Bracket’. The band had everything post-Britpop rock’n’roll required at the time: attitude, wall-to-wall bangers and pretty public substance use. Not to mention a rocky relationship with the press and, later, the world’s coolest supermodel dating the lead singer. I’ve gone out with at least three boys in bands just so I could try and pretend I was the Kate Moss to their Pete Doherty.
When NME asked me if I wanted to go and review The Albion Rooms – the Margate hotel they bought in 2016 as ‘band HQ’ and which finally opened this September – I screamed “Yes!” and dug into my wardrobe to see what I still had from 2007 to wear. Then when they said there was a comedy gig on I weedled my way into that, too. Don’t worry: I’m a stand-up comic, I didn’t just want to humiliate myself in front of my musical heroes – I’ll leave the other NME staffers to that.
The Libertines’ love affair with Margate has been well-publicised, and not just because of that fucking massive full English breakfast Pete wolfed down in 2018. When NME first had a poke around the hotel last month, Carl Barat said that the hotel was a “physical embodiment of the band”, given that they now live across three countries. It might seem an odd move for a rock’n’roll band to open a B&B, but actually, maybe, it’s really cool? They’re keen to show off that there’s more than just beds to sleep in here – there’s a bar, a recording studio and a hidden door to a soon-to-be-built secret bar (but you didn’t hear that from me).
Margate is (sometimes reluctantly) known as Shoreditch-on-Sea on account of the burgeoning art and music scene and influx of Londoners seeking a quick escape. But it’s proper British seaside too: seagulls the size of dogs, vintage shops, old school cafes (pronounced caffs) and arcades as well as vintage theme park Dreamland and the Turner Contemporary gallery. I did a gig at their perfect tiny theatre (The Tom Thumb) last year and instantly fell in love with the place. I didn’t see a Pret the whole time.
The Albion Rooms stands out against the rest of the terraced houses it’s lodged between on account of being painted completely black and with a red neon sign. Inside the decor is typically rock’n’roll, but who knows how many tins of black paint they had to get through to do the whole thing. Anarchic, colourful art adorns the walls and the red carpets only add to the feeling that you’re in a goth’s wet dream.
We’re given The Loft to stay in, boasting a huge king bed, leopard print sheets, mustard velvet chaise longue and roll top bath in the en suite (the only thing white in a sea of black surfaces). It’s the perfect setting for raiding the mini bar and blaring ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ from the bedside speakers.
The hotel’s bar, The Waste Land, looks like all the best bars do: a sort-of-cool version of your nan’s living room. The comedy gig is sold out — which, in 2020, means there are about 20 people there — and those in attendance are all very up for some laughs before the world closes down again. Host Paul McCaffrey and the other two acts, Julian Deane and Seann Walsh, are brilliant (I’ve never laughed so hard at the analysis of a self-service check-out machine in my life). I did alright too, thanks for asking. But by the time the first show of two is over I’m slightly hazy. But fuck it, it’s called The Waste Land, so I’ll do just that. Super-strength cocktails add to the impetus to get shitfaced.
The second show passes in a blur as the landlord, er, Carl Barat, lurks at the bar, pouring a cocktail called the Witches Brew. What’s the mix, you ask? I have no idea, but it’s purple, tastes like a rainbow and I immediately lose all sense of cohesion and self-awareness. Nice one, mate.
This is clearly only the start, though. Carl takes Paul and I, by now both living out our indie dreams, to the recording studio at the back of the building. We’re informed that Jamie Reynolds from the Klaxons has just finished recording something in there, just to really add to my musical nostalgia. And if there was ever a time to pretend I was indeed Kate, it’s as Carl starts up on the piano to lead a rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’. My contribution is that of swigging Prosecco straight from the bottle.
After a while, a few drinks and losing the power of sight, I stumble up the stairs to my room and I order a cheese and salami toastie to my bed — the only evidence of which was the other half on a plate by the bed the next morning. I do remember thinking it was the best thing I’d ever eaten at the time, though.
Waking up to not find out who had won the US election and cracking open a full fat Coke from the mini bar at 6am is made bearable by the sea view and early morning light blaring through the windows. That and the other half of the toastie. It’s oddly peaceful outside, a nice antidote to the atmosphere of potential chaos inside.
Shades on and down for breakfast where Paul is suffering a similar fate, having stayed up much longer with a ‘nightcap’ of a full bottle of red wine. Yikes. Mainlining tea and a full fry-up (no, not that one) restores me to factory settings and the late autumn coastal sun is an apt hangover cure.
The walk back to the station eventually breathes life into me as I plop myself down on the train back to London and away from the night of seaside debauchery and nostalgic dreams coming true. As Paul says to me at breakfast: ‘I wonder what you’d have to do to get thrown out of this place?’ I said I didn’t know — but I’m coming back to find out.