The Making of Town Hall Hotel and the Rise of a London Neighbourhood.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Saturday, 25th June 2016

I’ve always believed in the power of collaboration and more than that, creative conflict, that often it takes two opposites, like yin and yang, to create magic and such is the case of the story of the making of the Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in London.

Marie Baxter still remembers the day in 2008 she called Singapore hotelier Loh Lik Peng with her find of the Town Hall building in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London. “I told him I’d found this marvellous old building and he’d like it for sure, and when he asked me where the location was, I mumbled it.”

She remembers mumbling it a few times because back then, Bethnal Green wasn’t exactly the most glorious of neighbourhoods " in fact, most Londoners would call it gritty and that’d be a polite term. She persuaded him to take the next flight to London. “You have to see it,” she insisted.

And she was right. Lik Peng, known for his love of restoring old buildings into boutique hotels, fell in love with it, met the then-owner and the deal was sealed pretty much on the spot.

The building is rather special. Opened in 1910, and extended during the 1930s, the building fell into disrepair in the 1980s and was used as location for movies such as Atonement, Snatch and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Lik Peng (below), who will be speaking at WIT Europe in London on June 30, is also known for picking neighbourhoods that are on the verge of becoming fashionable. He did it with his first hotel in Singapore, Hotel 1929, taking an old shophouse in Keong Saik Road, the red light district of Chinatown, and converting it into Singapore’s first urban boutique hotel. Today, the area is flush with bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

He also did it in Sydney, taking over the Carlton Brewery in Chippendale, and spent four years refurbishing and converting it into The Old Clare Hotel, which is now the media darling of Sydney, winning awards for its hotel as well as food & beverage. His hotels and restaurants fall under the Unlisted Collection.

With Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, Lik Peng also seems to have struck gold although he downplays any claims of him being a visionary when it came to this property. “I would have done this even if this was much further out. The location didn’t bother me, although in retrospect it is pretty good. It’s one Tube stop to the City.”

Today, this part of London boasts the highest rental growth in the city, says Baxter, and it’s becoming the new place to be for the young, trendy and hip, with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants in the vicinity.

Airbnb describes it as such, “Once considered as dim as a dusty candle, Bethnal Green is experiencing a revival that’s transforming it into a chandelier. Some of the neighborhood’s back alleys remain endearingly dodgy, but Bethnal Green’s influx of boutique hotels, boutique firms, and boutique…boutiques, are quickly adding to its rising stardom. Art galleries and swanky lounges share Bethnal Green with its resident cast of gentlemen’s clubs"the sort of venues that lend the neighbourhood its mischievously illicit atmosphere.”

A total of £20m went into the conversion of the hotel which has 20 individually designed rooms and suites. Here, Marie and Lik Peng share the story of what went into the making of Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, which will be the venue for WIT Europe cocktails on June 30, as well as future plans for the Unlisted Collection.

Marie Baxter with resident dog Dizzie

Q: Marie, how long have you known Lik Peng and why did you know instinctively that he’d like the Town Hall building? Despite the location…

I’ve known Peng for about 16 years now. Working alongside someone for this long allows you to understand exactly what it is each of you want. Peng has a penchant for restoring heritage buildings " especially those in an undesirable location, so the Town Hall seemed perfect. East London is and was a hub of creativity. It was also becoming the place to be, so it just felt right.

Read the full story here.

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