Robert Newmark is behind some of London’s quirkiest venues, from Beach Blanket Bayblon to the recently launched Boneyard in Shoreditch, so it’s little surprise his North London home takes you by surprise too
‘Walk slowly past the image, can you see what she says?’ Robert Newmark encourages me. ‘She’ is a large photographic print of a rather attractive model who mouths something at you as you move by, resting against one of the many leather sofas in one of Robert’s many reception rooms in his North London home. I do as I am told and look non-plussed. ‘Walk past again,’ Robert grins. I think I detect ‘love you’… Robert laughs and tells me the slightly ruder answer. Welcome to the home of the founder of Beach Blanket Babylon.
From the moment I caught sight of the 19th century Gothic mansion walking up Lyndhurst Road, I am like a kid in a sweet shop as I walk through the property. Robert is a laid-back, relaxed host and clearly a popular man – at one point during the interview we were joined by three people linked to his press, one of his sons, and three dogs – with the confidence that comes with being behind some of London’s quirkiest restaurants and bars. He’s the man who concocted the idea behind Beach Blanket Babylon – now open in Shoreditch and Notting Hill – as well as West Thirty Six (also Notting Hill) and PUMP in Shoreditch. The reason, though, he has invited me round is the opening of his latest venture, Boneyard in Shoreditch. ‘I like developing new properties full stop,’ he says on the interest in the venue. ‘That’s the bit I really enjoy, the creativity of taking a space and making it interesting. It was formerly an old petrol station, and has a huge footprint in leisure terms, so it was exciting to work out what I could do with it.’
The result is another winner to add to his CV. Diners enter and become immersed in the bustling atmosphere that combines energetic staff, bright design and lively customers. Guests can be found inside and out feasting on buttermilk fried chicken, American smoked ribs, tater tots and burgers. What does strike you – both inside and out, and looking at the menu – is that it’s all very reminiscent of road trips and Route 66. Which is rather ironic when I discover how Robert came to be involved in the food and drink industry.
‘Shall I tell Mark the Jaguar story?’ Robert asks our fellow guests. I insist he has to now that’s he thrown this particular dog the bone (as I am dealing with the other three excitable pooches). ‘I was always interested in photography as a child, so I worked in several jobs to do with that in my teens,’ he relents. ‘However, I never wanted to leave my teens, so on my 20th birthday I bought myself an e-type Jag for £1,000. I remember speeding it around and crashing it into a tunnel. Unbeknown to me there was an office in this tunnel waiting for idiots like me and they called the police, so I did a runner. I hid in the Hard Rock Café and I fell in love with it – the idea of what it was, what it stood for. Back then it was a very hot place to be. I went off and bought a place in Knightsbridge – it sounds very ritzy and it was – as I got an amazing deal. In my youth and naivety I took it on without knowing what I was doing, but I unashamedly copied Hard Rock. I sold it at 25 and made a lot of money out of it.’
It all sounds so easy – and back then Robert admits it was, unlike the competitive industry of today – but he’s well versed with the ups and downs of the business. ‘It’s the life of a typical entrepreneur,’ he shrugs. ‘I have been to the extremes and have been down to the absolute depths. You have to be prepared to deal with that.’ It was whilst dealing with a low that he first came across this property. ‘I used to drive by this house in a caravan. In 1989 I got wiped out by the recession, but I managed to keep my kids in school at Lyndhurst House. My kids used to think a caravan was cool, but I was pulling up at the school alongside all these Bentleys and Rolls Royces!’
When the tide changed, the opportunity to actually own the property came up – as always there’s a story behind it as Robert thought he was just attending an afternoon soiree, but ended up making an offer to buy it – and he’s now been here for two decades. Its opulence is undoubted, but dig a little deeper and there’s many a story to tell. ‘This place is in the history book,’ he says proudly. ‘Gilbert & Sullivan played here [it was once a theatre], Brahms played here, it has been a hotel, a nunnery…’ Robert has invested heavily in the original structure and says, despite 20 years here, he’s still working on it. ‘There are lots of things I haven’t even touched yet,’ he says. ‘I go for looks that I feel works for me. Sometimes that comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. You should play with your house. It’s like work of art.’ The model with a special greeting to guests would wholeheartedly agree.
WORDS Mark Kebble
Find Boneyard at 168 Shoreditch High Street E1 6HU