Margate perches on the raw edge of Kent's Isle of Thanet like a forgotten rhinestone necklace at the bottom of a woman's wardrobe: semi-lost, bright-gaudy, chipped at the edges, still lovely if you know where to look. Once the destination of a thousand London day trippers, the town collapsed into poverty in the '80s, only being reclaimed in the last few years by artsy folk attracted by the cheap rents and gorgeous Georgian houses just waiting to be turned into vintage shops, B&Bs and cafes.
Embarrassment by Madness
Wild World by Cat Stevens
Hot dogs, jerk chicken, falafel salad
Margate Old Town now boasts some lovely places to eat, great shops and a funky vibe that's hard to beat. The silver-clad art museum opposite the harbour arm adds a touch of class, while the town's cultural heritage – TS Eliot, JM Turner – is being celebrated ever-more widely. The Old Town is a warren of worn brick, lovely side streets and dark corners, with Market Square its central hub; a charming place to wander and stop for drinks while contemplating the huge Kent skies and the ever-present threat of rain.
It's the town’s darker side that gives Margate its edge. As Eliot wrote in The Waste Land (penned supposedly in a seaside shelter overlooking the beach), 'On Margate sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing' and so it remains to this day. The town centre is struggling under the weight of pound shops and charity shops. Dreamland, the once-glorious funfair home for holidaymakers, is under renovation. But in Margate, we can forget that for a moment. The sands are flat and perfect for making sandcastles. Tankers bob on the horizon like toys. The music plays while coins rattle in the penny arcades. Today, we are on our holidays – and everything is lovely.
Fez: This is a tiny jewel-box of a place, just up the hill from the beach. Crammed with cool neon, '70s pub signs and unusual chairs (Brad sat on a reconditioned lawnmower seat), the vibe is pure microbrewery run by enthusiastic owners. The patrons are too cool for school (high ratio of flat caps and urban workwear), but it's friendly with a great jukebox and the lowest prices ever (£1.50 for a half of craft cider – in 2017. Yes, really).
The Lifeboat: Smallish pub which is trad on the outside, modern on the in – genuine sawdust on the floor and a zinc bar balanced by old-fashioned bar stools and a massive fireplace. Mind-boggling selection of ciders (avoid the chili flavour), plus Brewdog ales. Great staff and cheerful service.
Olby's: On cool King Street sits this rather lovely soul food cafe and bar, with a relaxed feel and sweet staff. The food is delicious – hot dogs, jerk chicken, falafel salad were all yummy, and great value. Plus, their live music line-up in the evenings is great – everything from raw soul to The Who cover bands.
The Botany Bay: A couple of miles out of town and overlooking the stacks and cliffs of gorgeous Botany Bay is this large, generic pub / hotel, serving decent grub to sandy-footed holidaymakers and locals alike. The fish and chips are delicious.
Get sucked in to Paraphernalia and you’ll never want to leave. An army greatcoat hangs next to a selection of vintage cameras. Old books and newspapers rub shoulders with French schoolroom posters and a set of ’60s chairs. If you spend less than an hour poking around in there, we’ll be amazed.
Vintage vinyl abounds in the second-hand shops along King Street. I wanted to buy a genuine LP of the Oklahoma film soundtrack for £1… forgetting I don't have a record player (yet). Go and rummage and see what you find.
What we did:
Walked down the beach to check out Dreamland, which is mid-renovation and pretty much closed up in February (the roller rink and Macari's ice cream bar were open, though). Wanted to buy a very cool New York Dolls T-shirt from Madam Popoff's (it wasn't for sale). Wanted to buy a fairground sign saying 'The more you show, the faster we go' from Margate Retro (£60 – too pricey!). Went out to Botany Bay and got our feet wet before heading up to the top of the cliffs for fish and chips.
Embarrassment by Madness. Played loud and proud in Fez, where the hipster regulars forgot their cool demeanours for a moment and sang along in glorious recognition of the song's genius chorus.
Wild World by Cat Stevens. Melancholy enough to remind you that Margate is still a town on the edge; cool shops washing up against a semi-derelict high street. Here's to the town's continuing regeneration.
What we bought:
From Madam Popoff's Vintage Emporium: a necklace by Little M for £13 that says 'Pat Butcher Is My Spirit Animal'. A new motto for those off-days at work. Now I just need the giant shoulder pads and 20 Embassy Reds.
What we almost bought: Also from Madam Popoff's: giant earrings shaped like a phantom dick. In rhinestones. Go here for more amazing Little M goodies:
House Of The Dead / Crazy golf?:
Yes, there's crazy golf but we didn’t find out about it until after we’d headed home. No HOTD to be found (what?), but we made up for it with vintage pinball and a game of fussball in Dreamland. Brad won the babyfoot 3-2 with a cheeky toe-poke past my static goalie. About as successful with my backline as Liverpool FC are these days.