Margate – aka Shoreditch-on-Sea – has reinvented itself in recent years, upping its arty roots to draw in a hipster crowd, says Abra Dunsby
When my dad used to holiday in Margate as a teenager it was, in his words, “a rundown, rather bleak British seaside town”.
What a difference a few decades makes. I recently visited Margate and was taken aback by the Old Town’s arty homeware shops, cafes serving vegan “fish” and chips and vintage clothing stores.
So trendy is today’s Margate that it’s been nicknamed Shoreditch-on-Sea, thanks to the hipsters who have moved to the area and set up shop, enticed by affordable house prices and a relaxed pace of life.
Patricia Yates, VisitEngland’s director, believes Margate’s gentrification is just the start: Kent’s nearby towns of Whitstable and Ramsgate are also experiencing a revival, helping England’s coast to feel cool again.
“It’s no wonder we are seeing a regeneration of the English seaside, as exemplified by Margate,” she says. “Not only does it have a great beach, but a museum by the sea and a burgeoning foodie experience with great cafes and restaurants, and food producers in the covered markets.”
The town has always had an arts association ever since painter JMW Turner attended school here and famously dubbed Margate’s dramatic skies “the loveliest in all Europe”.
Controversial artist Tracey Emin is also from Margate, her work displayed in the glass-fronted Turner Contemporary, which launched on the seafront in 2011.
The opening piqued the attention of the press and arguably kick-started Margate’s revival. Then in 2015, designer Wayne Hemingway refurbished amusement park Dreamland Margate, with a vintage, nostalgic feel that appealed to art lovers and hipsters alike.
Margate’s contemporary art credentials will be celebrated further this year as the town gears up to host the Turner Prize, presented at the Turner Contemporary from September 28, 2019, until January 12, 2020.
Foodies have plenty to get excited about in Margate too, with several award-winning restaurants opening up. Standouts include Hantverk & Found, a seafood restaurant and commissioning art gallery in Margate’s cool Old Town that’s been listed in the Michelin Guide 2019, and Angela’s of Margate, which won a sustainability award from the Good Food Guide 2019 for its eco methods.
While vegan cafes and ethical eateries continue to pop up, they stand alongside traditional seaside stalls serving fish and chips, jellied eels and Mr Whippy’s.
This is an old-school British seaside town, after all – and it’s one whose working-class roots happily remain, bestowing today’s trendy Margate with a unique vibe.