The rough, poor town by the sea that has become a sign of bohemianism

Margate – Alamy

How did Margate happen? How a rough, poor town by the sea became the multifaceted symbol of Bohemia – a mix of fancy buildings, seaside nostalgia, the occasional beautiful sunset, Mr Whippy, artists, British architecture, mansions (and still plenty of poverty ) side by side with time – a growing group of fancy boutique hotels?

The choice of Margate as the location for Sky Atlantic’s latest comedy drama Dreamland, starring Lily Allen and Freema Ageyman, is just the latest release to bring the spotlight to the District’s coastline.

Social media was abuzz with shots of the town’s historic theme park, also known as Dreamland, earlier this year; not the big wheel or the helter skelter, but instead the abandoned bingo hall that filmmaker Sam Mendes remodeled back into a gorgeous decorative cinema for his recent film with Olivia Colman, Empire of Light.

The first performance at the Carlton in Westgate was followed by tours of the set, which many Margatians marveled at its temporary shape becoming permanent.

Which, at this point, is not possible. Over the past 15 years, almost every scrap of real estate in this seaside town has been turned into a delight for east Londoners who have traded two-bedrooms in Hackney for huge houses.

lily allen dreamland margate - Natalie Seery/Sky UK

lily allen dreamland margate – Natalie Seery/Sky UK

In 2002 author David Seabrook published All the Devils are Here, which would become a cult book about the strange, often dark side of Kent’s seaside towns. In it, he recalls how, at the end of the 18th century, “Margate lost its noble image and was the first choice to cater to the working classes. A large number of Cockneys descended on the town having just sailed free from London. They came to bathe, to drink, to drink it.”

It also records that TS Eliot was in the midst of something of a nervous breakdown while living here in the 1920s which contributed to The Waste Land.

Then, for the rest of the century, Margate felt like it was slipping into the sea. The Cockneys went on holiday in Spain. There were anomalies: Mick Jagger had a wedding reception with Jerry Hall at the Nayland Rock Hotel in 1990. Jagger may have been ahead of the curve, but then he’s also very careful with his money.

Real ale shops and pubs in Margate Old Town - Monica Wells

Real ale shops and pubs in Margate Old Town – Monica Wells

The hotel itself fell into disrepair in the nineties, and is now barely operational but rumor has it that it is preparing for a new life. In December, he hosted an event with Queer Tango London and a gold-themed Roman Saturnalia ballroom to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

The LGBT+ scene is very important to the town’s recurring media comments. It is a creative clique that is constantly expanding. That, and Tracey Emin – who was raised in Margate – opened her new studio and gallery space. When every new restaurant, bar and gallery opens, more day tourists, weekenders and of course residents come.

It’s easy to satirize, but there’s also plenty to say, including the mini disco and backyard cocktail bar at Margate Arts Club (

Vintage shop in Margate Old Town - Alamy

Vintage shop in Margate Old Town – Alamy

The town is a strange social place – artisans handcrafting marble paper in their rent-free studios, and teenage boys with police tags on their ankles drinking cheap beer at the Mechanical Elephant. It’s like a remixed Morrissey song. It’s also a fitting setting for a dystopian future – as depicted in Rosa Rankin-Gee’s 2021 novel, Dreamland.

Although Margate has been a trendsetter for over a decade now, culminating in the opening of Turner Contemporary in 2011, its success continues.

The 14-bedroom New Fort Road Hotel ( opened last year. The founders of Frieze bought a building that had been abandoned for 30 years, gave it a facelift, filled it with art and installed chef Daisy Cecil, an alumnus of the River Café. You can’t fault the concept and execution. In June, GuestHouse Hotels will open No.42 (, a 21-bedroom property with interiors by local designers and artists including Margate Design Collective and Laura Ann Coates.

The Albion Rooms, the B&B owned by The Libertines - Jason Knott

The Albion Rooms, the B&B owned by The Libertines – Jason Knott

Margate House Hotel ( is also promised to open before then, and of course the B&B owned by The Libertines, the Albion Rooms (, is a blackwashed landmark, neon-celtic. The historic, kitsch-from-hell Walpole Bay Hotel ( will open in March.

Margate seems to have a new bar or restaurant opening every week. Sargasso (, on the Harbor Arm, is a sibling of one of London’s best restaurants, Brawn, and sits next to DIVE (, a top spot for margaritas and tacos posh.

Angela’s ( is one of the country’s fanciest seafood restaurants (with upstairs bedrooms), while the eponymously named Margate Off License ( is on iconic signage The 1930s Lido, one of the largest. great cocktail bars anywhere. Tell the bartender your favorite flavor profile and he’ll mix something up for you.

The sea front and main beach in Margate - Paul Hayward

The sea front and main beach in Margate – Paul Hayward

Nearby, Stingray ( is part wine/craft beer shop, part bar. On a sunny day, interspersed with all this, perhaps over a negronis at pohed-up pub the Rose in June (, some retro tenpin bowling at Bugsy’s ( uk) in Cliftonville, or dancing at the old-school gay bar Sundowners (01843 229420), is a delight. If you can.

If you can’t, the beach is still there. There’s nothing artisanal about it, and it’s free for everyone. If you haven’t been to Margate and have been intrigued by the latest spin on both the big and small screen, you’ll find there’s a lot to love.

Are you a fan of Margate? Tell us in the comments

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