At some point we’re going to have to confront the idea of whether the Libertines’ new venture The Albion Rooms is a hotel or not, so we may as well do it now and I am going to argue not. Sure, the place has all the markers of a hotel – lush-smelling locked-to-the-wall handsoap in the bathrooms (Haeckels bladderwrack + fennel, in case you were wondering), a miniature fridge in every room, large room keys tied to a massive wooden pellet as a keyring. A bunch of things that convincingly make the argument that The Albion Rooms is a hotel. But then you go through a door and a band is merrily recording a single in there. Then you open your wardrobe and there’s a quite frightening picture of Jesus painted inside. There’s tea and coffee facilities but there’s also a curated box of Libertines-endorsed vape juice, sitting by the teabags. At some point during the night, the mask of “hotel” slips, and The Albion Rooms becomes something other: an escape room just for goths, an afterparty from a very sumptuous music video. It’s less a boutique B&B, more a place you happen to sleep in while having the luckiest bender of your life.
This is sort of the point. Though the building was previously a bed and breakfast – one of the worst-rated in the country, everyone here will cheerfully tell you – it was originally acquired to turn into studios and as a sort of “stay here when you need to” place that seemingly has, at some point in its three-year history with the band, housed each of the Libertines for a while in turn (ask the right people about The Albion Rooms’ dining area and you’ll provoke a haunted look and the memory that it previously housed Pete’s many dogs, or “six wild wolves”). The fact that it’s a hotel that provides clean towels and allows people to sleep here then eat a hearty breakfast feels more like luck than judgment. Less a hotel, more a sort of “gentrified flophouse”.
Obviously it feels like a strange venture for a band that everyone watched crash around Camden for two hot years in the 00s. I personally have an unusual relationship with the Libertines: their emergence in 2003 caused a significant number of boys at my sixth form to save up their pocket money and use their allotted one-a-month trip to the city to buy a drummer boy jacket; my early 20s were spent observing from afar as Pete Doherty embarked on his Icarusian relationship with the tabloid press. Now I’m 33 and have just woken up to a gorgeous grey view of the sea, it feels like I missed a crucial sequel in the series. At no point, looking at that photo of Carl Barât and Pete pouting with their tattoos on the cover of The Libertines, did I think, “they look like hoteliers”.
But here we are. The room I’m in, The William Blake room, (obviously – it is impossible to escape this place without have the word “Albion” thudded over your head like a brick; the whole place has a cultivated “writing out poetry by hand” feel about it) has lush black crocodile-effect wallpaper, gold-painted window frames and leopard-print cushions. Part of you creeps up the stairs to The Albion Rooms and expects something squalid – a mattress flopped artlessly on the floor, a man with zero body fat looming toplessly in the corner, a feral cat running around that nobody has thought to name – but what you get instead is considered rock star chic: neon crosses, gothic carpets, a tile mosaic in the bathroom that reads “you pissed it all up the wall”. The team recruited out-of-work set designers displaced by Covid, and you can tell – the rooms have the kind of flourishes and thought that makes them completely Instagram-worthy, but not so pristine that you feel bad about drunkenly throwing up on the floor of them. And yes, that is a hyperspecific example taken from my own personal life.
If you’ve lived in London for more than six weeks you’ve known someone who has “moved to Margate”, the Kentish town essentially a de facto zone 10, a sort of seaside Hackney Wick, evolving from shambolic civilian grot to “place with more than one nice coffee shop” in the same way almost every vaguely easterly district of London has over the past 15 years. This hotel feels like a very firm step towards that: the Margate of Dreamland and the Turner Contemporary sits only semi-comfortably with the Margate of retirement homes and voting for Ukip, all of which sits squished up next to the Margate of beachside arcades and queueing for fish and chips. It’s impossible to know what direction Margate is heading in – how long can a town maintain its identity as people realise “you really can get more for your money by moving here”? – but this feels very much part of the new Margate rather than the old. I think everyone has a couple in their life who are “thinking about upgrading from a houseboat to a three-bed”. Once they move to Margate they are going to spend a lot of happy nights down in The Albion Rooms.