Sara Colohan visits Kent seaside town Margate that is rapidly reinventing itself as an artistic hotspot, property boomtown and, happily, vegan-friendly destination.
Pardon the pun, but the seaside town Margate is causing quite a splash in the UK property market. It’s fast becoming a top destination for people wanting to move out of the city.
It used to be known as a diamond in the rough, but with several areas undergoing massive rejuvenation and a huge influx of creatives and new families, Margate is polishing up nicely and taking its place as a jewel in Kent’s crown.
Margate is divided up into different regions that are surprisingly diverse. There’s Westbrook on the London side with its own private bay and some good seaside spots. Look out for the big red Bus Cafe on the sea front, which serves a great vegan breakfast.
Cliftonville is on the other side and is considered the ‘Shoreditch by the Sea’. It’s got a cool fine ale bar called The Tap Room and a natural wine bar, Stingrays, with a vast selection of vegan wines and tasty snacks.
The area is dotted with vintage emporiums, (Lost Property Margate is particularly good) and a sprinkling of wholefood, zero packaging shops, all signs of change in this previously less affluent part of town. DFLs (‘Down From London’) make up quite a large part of the Cliftonville locals and they are definitely contributing to the landscape.
The area has even got its own rock and roll boutique hotel The Albion Rooms. Bought by the band The Libertines over lockdown, this old townhouse has been lavishly turned into a seven bedroom boutique hotel with gold painted window frames, black embossed wallpaper and leopard print accessories.
The Albion Rooms is owned by The Libertines band who took it over over during lockdown and converted it into a boutique hotel. Photo © Sara Colohan
The bar downstairs gets lively at weekends and they serve vegan cocktails and a tasty vegan burger. The hotel supports local vegan beauty brand Haeckels throughout the rooms, but if you want more than hotel shower gel and hand soap you can book facial and body treatments in their local spa.
Haeckels have gone one further and built a mobile sauna on Cliftonville beach, free for anyone to use. Almost every day of the year you see swimmers dip in and out of the seawater pool, then head for the sauna.
Where to find vegan food in Margate
Despite the closing of Beet Bar for renovation, there is plenty of choice for vegans all around Margate, especially if you are happy to share the menu with non-vegans. A great example is Beach Buoys, which offers great vegan fish and chips.
Located on the seafront, they have a wide range of vegan options like deep-fried pickles, blossom and chips and their new deep-fried mushroom ‘squid rings’. They told me they are extending their vegan menu because the blossom and chips is selling just as well as cod and chips.
Photo © Sara Colohan
No trip to the seaside is complete without an ice cream, so go a couple of doors down to Melt ice cream bar, which has a few decent vegan ice creams (they had a choice of banana or pistachio when I visited).
Another clear sign that Margate’s culinary evolution is underway is that it was home to Kent’s first all vegan café, kitchen and cake shop Seaside Vegan Kitchen Bistro.
Kent’s first all vegan café, kitchen and cake shop Seaside Vegan Kitchen Bistro has a very tasty array of sweet and savoury dishes on its menu, including vegan afternoon tea. Photo © Sara Colohan
Their first venture was so popular they opened a second location in the town. The Kitchen & Bistro at 24 Hawley Street offers vegan burgers in pretzel and brioche buns, dirty loaded fries, cheezy bacon chips, milkshakes, afternoon teas, Sunday roasts, Buddha bowls and cakes.
The Seaside Cake Parlour Patisserie at 2 Lombard Street offers artisan cakes, macarons, whippy ice cream and frozen yoghurts with toppings. Both are located in Margate Old Town.
If you are staying longer than a mini break and you want to stock up on vegan supplies to enjoy at home, Made From Plants moved their business from London to Margate and are busier than ever making vegan bagels, cinnamon buns, pizza and lots more staples.
They offer weekly pick-ups and host a monthly stall at Cliftonville farmers market. Also of note if you’re staying longer, is that nearby towns Folkestone, Whitstable and Canterbury all run vegan markets, mostly at weekends. Google for dates/times.
Places to stay and things to do in Margate
Accommodation is plentiful in Cliftonville, but if you want to go iconic vintage chic, then The Walpole Bay Hotel is a must. Built in 1914, it oozes charm and atmosphere.
This affordable gem is brimming with art and antiques, houses a stunning vintage lift and offers an incredible vegan afternoon tea (just order in advance). Did I mention it’s dog friendly? This beautiful hotel didn’t blink when I arrived with two dogs.
Your pooch is allowed everywhere except the dining room, where the lavish breakfast (fully vegan available) is served. This hotel is doggy heaven and extremely accommodating to humans too!
The Walpole Bay Hotel is extremely accommodating for both dogs and humans and offers a spectacular vegan afternoon tea. Photo © Sara Colohan
Maybe, if you are really lucky, the flamboyant owner Jane will be on site to give you a tour. It’s easy to see why this is one of Tracey Emin’s favourite places in Margate. As a local herself, she has been writing about the importance of The Walpole Bay Hotel in her life for decades.
Another iconic building, albeit on a tiny scale, is The Tom Thumb Theatre.
There is a little bar alongside the tiny 40 seat theatre, but it’s well worth a look inside if the friendly owners are there when you are passing. It has alternative theatre 3-4 nights a week, check the website for details.
The Tom Thumb Theatre is a 40-seat theatre which hosts regular performances throughout thew week. Photo © Sara Colohan
So many things make Margate special and Old Town is one of its gems. Cobble streets, great restaurants and a lovely mix of old style bars make it a great area to ramble. The Lifeboat Bar is a stand out for me.
Live music every Monday and Wednesday, with a great mix of people. There was a wide range of vegan spirits and ales the night we visited. You can sit outside The Bull’s Head just across the square for a more traditional affair.
It serves a great Guinness from 8am every morning which is a great way to celebrate the fact that Guinness is now vegan. Well, you are on holiday!
For Old Town accommodation try Beet Beds, a hotel run by Paul Bayne (another DFL!) It’s quite unlike any other accommodation I’ve seen in Margate.
Some of it is subterranean, designed and built with style by Paul himself. He used to run Margate’s vegan restaurant Beet Bar, which is currently closed for huge expansion/renovation. Sadly it won’t reopen until 2023.
For Old Town accommodation in Margate, try Beet Beds hotel which is run by the previous owner of Margate’s vegan restaurant Beet Bar. Photo © Sara Colohan
Best shops to visit in Margate
Perfume brand Lovorika set up in Margate and is a vegan, ethical brand rooted in natural perfumery and aromatherapy. The founder, Daphna Rowe, is certified in aromatherapy and has studied the ancient art of natural perfumery and incense making.
In 2020, Vevolution named Daphna as one of the ‘Incredible Women Creating Positive Change in the World’. Along with purchasing perfumes local to the area, check the website for workshops and talks.
This vibrant part of the Kent coastline is enjoying its resurgence and proving a haven for everyone wanting a very different life by the sea. It’s becoming a Mecca for creatives and artists, not least because it has its own Turner Museum, and Margate-born Tracey Emin has just bought a large property, soon to be converted into an art school.
There are lots of little art galleries dotted around supporting local artists and when you see Margate’s skyline any evening of the year, you’ll easily see why it’s still an inspirational spot to paint, walk your dog, sip a vino or simply enjoy a tasty gelato watching the sunset. Oh we do like to be beside the seaside…
Planning your summer holiday? Take a trip to the South West and discover the best vegan restaurants in Devon.
Featured image credit: Laurie Noble via Getty Images