NoMad is breaking into Europe with its first London property, which has seen a former magistrates' court and police station transformed into a bold and glamorous hotel. Janet Harmer speaks to general manager Kate Hart about bringing a taste of the US to the UK and expanding a global brand under coronavirus restrictions.
The man behind one of London's standout new hotels dismissed around 100 properties before selecting the building that formerly housed Bow Street Magistrates' Court and Police Station as the ideal location for NoMad.
Despite its run-down appearance – it had sat empty since the magistrates' court closed in 2006, the police station having shut up shop 14 years earlier – Andrew Zobler, founder and chief executive of Sydell Group, saw its potential for the first NoMad hotel outside the US. Over the past four years, the Grade-II-listed Victorian building has been transformed into a bold and glamorous place to stay, with a bohemian spirit and impressive food and beverage offer that ties the American heritage of the NoMad brand with its very British location in the heart of Covent Garden, bang opposite the Royal Opera House.
There is little to suggest the hotel once housed a judicial process that saw the likes of Oscar Wilde, Dr Crippen, suffragettes Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, the Kray twins and General Pinochet stand in the docks. But there are nods to its historical past, such as some hard-hitting artwork by American artist Julie Green, depicting the first meal enjoyed by recently released female prisoners, as well as glimpses of the working life of the police force via photography in the Side Hustle bar and the retention of cell doors on three of the bedrooms. This is certainly no themed hotel, but for anyone interested in its legal history, the building's ground floor cells form part of the newly opened Bow Street Police Museum.
A strong pedigree
The 91-bedroom hotel, which opened its doors to guests on 25 May, is managed by Sydell Group on behalf of its owner, Business Trading Company (BTC), an investment company specialising in the hospitality sector with Soho Coffee Company, Apostrophe and Euphorium among its portfolio.
It is the second foray into the London hotel market for Sydell Group, having partnered with Soho House & Co in launching the Ned in the City four years ago. In addition to NoMad London and the Ned, Sydell Group operates three other hotels in the NoMad brand (the original hotel, which opened in New York in 2012, alongside properties in Los Angeles and Las Vegas); the Line in Los Angeles, Washington DC and Austin; Saguaro in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Palm Springs, California; and Park MGM Las Vegas.
Renowned for creating hotels that are deeply rooted in the architecture and location of historical buildings, Zobler says the situation of Bow Street Magistrates' Court, directly opposite the Royal Opera House, was a big attraction. "Then you add the history of the property, housing the first police station in London and its great architectural details, and the building just called out to be our NoMad in London," he says. He also indicates that he hopes the hotel will be "a real catalyst" for the NoMad brand in Europe, with several new projects on the continent already on the horizon.
The Hart of the matter
Zobler and the design team of Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, of Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors design studio, are all based in New York, so the 18 months since the appointment of Kate Hart as general manager to co-ordinate the London end of the project has been a challenging time.
"Covid had been a nightmare in terms of the logistics involved," says Hart. "The quarantine regulations involved on either side of the Atlantic has made travel impractical."
Following a site visit by Zobler, Standefer and Alesch to discuss design and undertake "a flurry of tastings", it was to be another four months before the trio were able to return.
Zobler was delighted to have Hart on board. "I knew from the moment I met her that she would be the perfect ambassador for our brand in London," he tells The Caterer. "She has great passion and vision. She is simply the best."
The role at NoMad London is the first full-time position Hart has taken since stepping down as general manager of the Capital hotel in 2018 following the maternity leave she took for the birth of her son, Harry. On leaving the Capital, which was owned by her father David Levin for 49 years until its sale in 2017 to US-based Warwick Hotels and Resorts, she took up a consultancy position at country house hotel Beaverbrook in Leatherhead, Surrey. Hart had always intended to take on another general manager role in London, and when the opportunity arose with NoMad, she knew it was one she couldn't miss.
"I wanted to do an opening and knew very quickly that this was a special and unique opportunity," she says. "The company itself is very ambitious and constantly evolving, while Andrew is a total inspiration. He is fascinating and intelligent. He's originally a lawyer, and he can talk to you about old movies, theatre, opera, art. I love spending time with him."
I wanted to do an opening and knew very quickly that this was a special and unique opportunity
Hart provides a very British injection into the predominately American senior management team, which includes director of sales John Sutherland, food and beverage director Christopher Prone, executive chef Ashley Abodeely and bar director Pietro Collina. All four of the US contingent have worked at NoMad New York, with Abodeely more recently based at the brand's Los Angeles outpost.
While her senior colleagues were already fully versed in the NoMad ethos, Hart was introduced to the brand during her induction in New York. She was meant to go on to experience the Los Angeles hotel, but the arrival of Covid scuppered such plans.
"The London hotel has may similarities to New York – the rich colours and artwork stand out in both. It is incredibly special and luxurious, while being approachable at the same time. It is certainly not trying to be like one of the grand hotels of London. Significantly, there is a real lead with all things food and beverage – something that is a very NoMad trait."
It is incredibly special and luxurious, while being approachable at the same time. It is certainly not trying to be like one of the grand hotels of London
Eat, drink and be merry
Indeed, the food and drink offer at NoMad London is, alongside the design, one of the hotel's standout features. At its beating heart is the 85-cover restaurant located on the lower-ground floor of a soaring three-storey atrium, newly created from what was once an external, inner courtyard. Inspired by the vegetation that had begun to reclaim the building once its judicial occupants had departed, the space – topped by a glass canopy – is now filled with orange trees, hydrangeas and hanging ferns, evoking something of an Edwardian greenhouse.
Such a dramatic space requires food that packs a punch, with what Hart describes as a "modern American" menu. Originally, the restaurant, like those at the three NoMad hotels in the US, was going to be overseen by New York-based chef Daniel Humm, but a parting between Humm and Sydell Group has resulted in all F&B being brought in-house.
The signature NoMad roast chicken dish is among the highlights of the menu, with Abodeely introducing a fresher take on the original. In London, the chicken is stuffed with lemon and rosemary, rather than the foie gras and truffle served in New York. The bird is served as an entire meal, incorporating all its parts over multiple courses. Priced at £78 per head, it also includes a dessert from head pastry chef Nick Henn.
Many of the dishes in the main restaurant and adjoining bar are cooked over a wood-burning grill, while Mexican bar food, such as tacos and burritos, is on offer in Side Hustle – NoMad's take on a British pub, which is expected to appeal to locals with its more casual dining offer. The NoMad restaurant will initially open for dinner only, with lunch service being introduced later in the year. Only time will tell whether it can emulate its Michelin-starred sister in New York.
The selection of bars at NoMad is perhaps what makes it stand out when compared to other hotels in the capital of a similar size. There are five locations where guests and customers can gather for drinks: the NoMad bar, which sits alongside the restaurant; Side Hustle, with a direct entrance on Bow Street; Common Decency on the lower-ground floor; the Magistrates bar, which operates when events in the adjacent Magistrates Court Room are taking place; and the Library, located next to the lobby and serving tea, coffees, cocktails and light snacks. Common Decency, a first for the NoMad brand, will not open until next year. When it does, the late-night subterranean lounge will offer a comprehensive selection of craft cocktails and a diverse wine list.
Collina heads an experienced team, which includes bar manager Davide Segat (previously at the Edition London), assistant bar manager Liana Oster (formerly head bartender at Dante in New York) and wine director Guy Palmer-Brown (co-founder of the Michelin-starred Fordwich Arms, near Canterbury, Kent).
The intention is that NoMad London will make a significant impact among serious food and cocktail lovers, and it has been the role of Leo Robitschek, vice-president of food and beverage for Sydell Group, to ensure every one of the team will be able to deliver a first-class experience. Robitschek was the creator of the original NoMad bar in New York and is also the author of the James Beard award- winning NoMad Cocktail Book.
With the essential elements now all in place, the biggest challenge of all – enticing customers and guests through the door – lies ahead. Hart is confident that the restaurant and bars will attract London's buoyant foodie clientele, but she is under no illusions that the bedrooms will be harder to fill. Covid will restrict the number of international guests, especially as the American market is expected to be essential for the hotel in the long-term.
Meanwhile, domestic business, both corporate and leisure, is being tapped into. "John Sutherland, our director of sales, has wonderful contacts from his time at NoMad New York and happily many of them, such as Apple, Facebook and Spotify, all happen to have offices very close to here," she says.
The hotel is also working closely on partnerships with close neighbours, the Royal Opera House and Capital & Counties Properties (Capco), the owner of more than 1.1 million sq ft of Covent Garden. "Capco is a wonderful landlord in that it does everything it can to keep Covent Garden looking pristine and running events to boost businesses," says Hart. "It makes everyone in the area more bonded and work together as a community."
Hart believes the glamour that NoMad London offers is exactly what the city needs. "It may not have been the opening Andrew would have hoped for all those years ago, but we have made it special," she says.
It may not have been the opening Andrew would have hoped for all those years ago, but we have made it special
Once NoMad London is fully operational, Hart will take a short break away from the hotel following the birth of her second child in August. In her absence, Sutherland will step in as acting general manager. "With my first baby I was away from work for nine months, but I'm certainly not going to be away so long this time," she says. "I haven't come so far with the hotel to miss out on the pleasure of running it."
28 Bow Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7AW
020 3906 1600
Owner Business Trading Company
Operator Sydell Group
Staff 175, building up to 200
General manager Kate Hart
Executive chef Ashley Abodeely
Food and beverage outlets The NoMad restaurant, Atrium bar, the Library, Side Hustle, Common Decency
Events Magistrates Court Room is the hotel's largest event space, accommodating 75 for dinner or 120 at a reception; plus the De Veil Room and the Fielding Room
Room rates From £495
Interior design and art
While the three NoMad hotels in the US were designed by Frenchman Jacques Garcia, Andrew Zobler decided it was more fitting to appoint New York-based designers Roman and Williams to oversee the visual look of the first international representative of the brand. The fact that Roman and Williams had recently completed the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Musem of Art helped cement the connection between the partners and the locations of New York and London.
Roman and Williams previously worked with Sydell Group on the creation of the four-strong Freehand group of hotels, which launched in Miami Beach in 2012 and went on to be sold to Queensgate Investments in 2012. For NoMad London, they have built upon the sumptuous, jewel-rich palate of Garcia to create a hotel that is the antithesis of a bland, corporate brand, combining elements of the Victorian building with a flavour of New York's jazz age, rich velvet seating with hand-embroidered wallcoverings, and bespoke furniture with antique pieces.
While the furnishings reflect a bygone era, the artwork, curated by Be-poles design studio, is predominately contemporary with many pieces bold in both size and composition. The works of Paris-based ballerina-turned-artist Caroline Denervaud are a case in point. A number of studies propped up in various bedrooms, as well as the oversized unframed work that hangs in the stairwell descending to the restaurant, have been painted by Denervaud as she dances. Equally impressive is the large-scale mural by Claire Basler depicting a period of time from dawn through to dusk, which adorns the Magistrates Court Room event space.
Portrait photography by Adrian Franklin/Hospitality Media. Hotel photography by Simon Upton
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