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The Groucho On Sea? Opening Next Spring....

When the Seaside Boarding House Restaurant & Bar opens next Spring you can be sure the Bridport massive will be beating its doors down. A new venture for Mary-Lou Sturridge and Tony Mackintosh, the duo who set up the legendary Groucho Club in 1985 changing the face of club culture for ever, the Boarding House is a dream come true for West Dorset’s arty, media crowd.

Let’s start with the spectacular location on a clifftop over looking Chesil Beach, one of two matching villas (the other is owned by Juliet and Billy Bragg).

Famous locally, the houses, known as Alpha and Omega, were built in the 1880s as holiday homes for the Pitt Rivers family who once owned Burton Bradstock.

Pictured: The Seaside Boarding House, left, Billy Bragg's house right, originally known as Alpha and Omega

Originally the Seaside Boarding House team, which also includes chef Mark Hix and food writer Caroline Conran (founder of Habitat with ex-husband Terence), were planning a brand new 27 bedroomed hotel on the site but a failed planning application made them rethink the project. To raise finance under the Enterprise Investment Scheme (they are looking for £2 m from investors) the hotel must remain a boarding house and this sparked the idea of celebrating its boarding house credentials, think Fawlty Towers given an uber-cool makeover or as Mary-Lou Sturridge says "Crossroads meets the Adams Family."

“If people don’t get the irony of calling it a boarding house, then it’s probably not for them.’

She has a clear vision of the end result and though there will be a fair amount of restructuring, she intends to emphasis the blocky, squareness of the architecture.

"I want it to look like an Edward Hopper painting," she says.

Already the hotel has been whitewashed throughout and private parties are held in the fantastic ballroom, which comes complete with a mirror ball on the ceiling and a long, fabulously stocked bar which takes me straight to the set of El Dorado for some reason. Recently there was a screening of The Shining here and a cast party for TV show Broadchurch which was filmed at West Bay.

Pictured: pirate flag in residence at the Seaside Boarding House

There won't be a membership scheme at the Seaside Boarding House -   the restaurant and bar will be open all day to everyone - but Mary-Lou admits that inevitably there will be some Groucho elements.

“It will have a slightly clubby feel. I’ve worked in clubs all my life, I can’t help but want to give it a very personal touch.”

The Groucho sprang to life as a meeting place for its founder members and the artistic Soho fraternity - writers, musicians, film directors - and it's easy to imagine the Seaside Boarding House doing the same. The local celebrity count includes Billy Bragg (who can wander next door for a bacon sandwich or a dry martini at any time of day or night), Julian Fellowes, PJ Harvey, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall, Stephen Frears.

Food will be another big draw - simple and emphatically local fare relying on Dorset's famously good produce.

‘We’re not going to be a ‘fish’ restaurant because we’ve already got those with Hix and The Hive. It’s going to be quite simple, somewhere to come and celebrate but also pop in when you’re hungry and not in the mood to cook.’

The fact that The Hive Beach Cafe is down the road was another big pull for Mary-Lou who prefers to work in proximity to another reputable restaurant.

"I wouldn't want to do this without The Hive; it's always good to have some healthy competition and people like to try out several restaurants when they go away.'

She's taking her time over finding the right chef and says: "the kitchen is the heartbeat of a business and I'll be getting a really good team of people together.’

As to the décor, Mary-Lou has moved on from the Groucho days –“it's not going to look anything like Babington House or those interiors of the moment. No beige, no low sofas. Instead I'll keep it quite old fashioned with lots of clean colours. It won't be shabby chic but it will be a bit kitsch.'

The facade of the hotel will look pretty different when it's finished with huge glass windows and pale green clapperboard on its bottom half. Inside there will be a flexible space to arrange restaurant seating of varying sizes, along with the ballroom, a choice of bars and a library. Additional bedrooms are being built outside at the back of the hotel.

When it opens next year the Seaside Boarding House will link up with many local festivals to provide an extra venue, hold weddings, film screenings, gigs - the scope and aspirations for the site are endless. The location, literally a stone's throw from Burton Bradstock beach and overlooking  Chesil Beach, coupled with the Boarding House's cool but kitsch credentials will make this the next West Country hotspot for sure.

Roll on next Spring, then. The Seaside Boarding House is just what this part of Dorset needed.

View from the Seaside Boarding House



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