A Love Letter to Britain’s Top Ghost Town
Sharp’s Atlantic in Margate
Six years ago, Margate, a seaside spot on the Kent coast and formerly a family favorite for summer holidays, was among Britain’s top ghost towns.
Guesthouse rooms were given over to asylum seekers rather than holiday makers, the amusement park was shuttered, and around a third of shops were boarded up after the recession hit hard. Many of Britain’s old-time coastal resorts do a nostalgic line in faded seaside glamour, but this was more spectral than sentimental.
Now the lights are back on: the Turner Contemporary gallery and an influx of artists and designers have helped drive a renaissance, and Dreamland, the amusement park, is back open for business following a trippy, camp, technicolor makeover. Old shops have new incarnations, many of them selling old things that are newly fashionable again.
This doesn’t feel like somewhere that hipsters and long-time residents divide or where there’s a bisection of what’s available to newcomers and what’s accessible to those already there; it’s a place whose people are united in their excitement about the second coming, pleased they’re no longer the poster child for the decline of the British seaside.
Here in a twinkly boite in Margate’s Old Town, I am drinking a pint of Sharp’s Atlantic. To my right there’s a guy with a mustache dressed like it’s 1880; the woman tending bar is a punk rock star in a torn up t-shirt; at the table across the narrow room are two retirement-age couples on a double date. Shining on the walls are signs straight from the fairground: Funky Swirl, Helter Skelter, The Love Tunnel.
In London, it’s the kind of bar that makes some people roll their eyes: repurposed bits of hairdresser kit, fairground signs, old posters, part of a carousel sporting that curly, gold-trimmed script reserved for seaside towns. Here it’s what now, gloriously, a local looks like: both a little bit now and a little bit then. It’s for cool kids, for grannies, for the holidaymakers like us once again in Margate for the weekend.
We finish our pints and I get up out of the salon chair. It’s a cold night and there’s a warm light from pub windows and restaurant doorways. Out by the harbor arm there’s a rosy glow, a message written in pink neon across the front of the visitor center by British artist Tracey Emin, who grew up in Margate. “I never stopped loving you,” it says.