PORT meets with property developer Michael Achenbaum as his new East London hotel and members club, The Curtain, nears completion
Sometimes, when travelling through London, the city can feel more like a collection of villages and towns – distinct, independent areas pressed tightly together, boarders intermingling – than one coherent metropolis. Culturally and economically, and with an apparent indifference to their neighbours, these places shift, sometimes gradually, character accumulating like sediment over centuries, and sometimes, as in the case of East London, rapidly, in decades and waves of investment.
Shoreditch, the de facto capital of East London, is the centre of the start-ups, nightclubs and coffee shops that suddenly reversed the years of decline following the closure of the docks and the retreat of industry to estates outside the M25. Once described as “desolate and rough” by the late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, when, in the 1990s, Shoreditch became a haven for emerging artists, over the last 20 years the area has become a by-word for the new, the digital and the creative – a welcoming, fertile ground for young industries situated just outside the staid and old fashioned business centres in the city.
That has been Shoreditch’s history so far, but now established as a creative hotspot and the site of ever greater development (CitizenM and Nobu hotels are also currently under construction in the area) there is a question over its future. Its new, exclusive status could see the artistic personality that kickstarted the area’s regeneration disappear.
The Curtain, a members club and hotel nearing completion could, however, be leading Shoreditch in a new direction, continuing to redefine the area, while ensuring art can remain an important part. A new venture for American property developer Michael Achenbaum who, with his Gansevoort Hotel Group, has four luxury hotels in New York and the Carribean, The Curtain is set to open this Autumn.
Sitting down over coffee, not far from the site of The Curtain, PORT spoke to Achenbaum about what attracted him to the area, the role art will play in the club and the unexpected quirks of building in London.
What attracted you to Shoreditch?
We loved Shoreditch because of its diversity and the pace by which this area is changing is exponential, it’s not on a normal curve. It’s much more advanced than we thought it would be at this stage which is wonderful for us because it opens up a broader, more affluent client base. At the same time our price point is going to be quite fair – the chef we’re bringing in, for example, is Marcus Samuelsson. His price point is really reasonable and he’s a three star New York Times chef.
Why a members club?
We knew culturally that members clubs are a huge part of what goes on in London and we didn’t want to do a nightclub. We wanted to create something that would have longevity, something that would be interesting to people for a long period of time and grow by itself.
Who do you want the club to appeal to?
It’s a bit of a catch phrase but we take it quite seriously – we want to redefine creativity. A lot of other clubs are have a very specific niche that they focus on – you have to be in a specific industry, for example, but that’s not what being a creative is today, it’s much broader. We want to put people from many different disciplines in the same room and give them the the opportunity to collaborate. We think a lot of businesses could come out of our membership.
Art seems to be playing an important role in the project. How did you get street art collector Steve Lazarides and the photographer Mick Rock involved?
I met Mick in New York and when I was starting to work on this project I loved the idea of bringing a London boy back to his roots. Mick’s a great guy and super talented. We’ve got a space that’s what CBGB was like. We’re using his art in that space and throughout the building. Then Mick is helping us to curate the art along with Steve Lazarides, but Mick is also allowing us into his portfolio which is really cool.
That’s only one element of the art programming – we have original art by more established artists, some from Steve’s personal collection, and then Steve has been working with us to find London artists that are less established. And, at the same time, we believe Shoreditch is beginning to move past being known for street art, so we are trying to find a mix.
Where does the name The Curtain come from?
We love the idea of tying the branding to neighbourhood but The Curtain does not come from its address, Curtain Road necessarily. It’s really referencing the Curtain Theatre where a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, including Romeo and Julliet, were performed, just round the corner from us. We love the idea of referencing the history and the arts of the neighbourhood.
You have considerable experience constructing purpose-built hotels with Gansevoort around the world, but was there anything different about building in London?
There were a few interesting things that popped up that we weren’t aware of before we came to the market. For one, we had to get the Museum of London to verify that there were no Roman chariots every few feet that you dug down. There was also the possibility that we were building on a plague pit but luckily the old map that recorded the site was slightly off. Then the really unique thing about building in this city was the concept of having to buy insurance for unexploded ordinance from the Blitz. I was quite shocked that we had to buy insurance for bombs but it’s part of the process and you learn something new everyday.
The Curtain will be opening in Autumn 2016
Photography Joseph Fox