Inside Gordon Ramsay’s ‘idea of hell’ as £13 million gastropub is turned into art gallery by squatters

Barney Davis joins the anarchist squatters opening up Gordon Ramsay’s York & Albany for the community and finds they have been keeping it spotlessly clean

Monday 15 April 2024 20:04 BST
Gordon Ramsay has yet to comment after one of his properties was taken over
Gordon Ramsay has yet to comment after one of his properties was taken over (Getty Images for Vegas Uncork’d )

Gordon Ramsay’s actual idea of hell may be fully realised after squatters took over his former Grade II-listed restaurant transforming it into a cafe and art gallery to welcome “the victims of gentrification”.

The former York & Albany, near London’s Regent’s Park, now offers drawing classes and pasta rather than the unlimited pizza buffets the angry celebrity chef offered before closing its doors in March.

When The Independent visited on Monday for a “Paint N’ Chinwag” session open to all-comers, one of the squatters was stocking up with paints, canvases and felt tips.

The York & Albany pub near Regent's Park, London. Squatters have taken over the Gordon Ramsay pub which is currently up for sale with a guide price of £13 million (PA)

One of the activists points at a mound of sprouting potatoes lying in boxes on the front porch, “We put them out they are free to anyone but someone ripped off the sign.”

The group of 20-something activists, volunteering to set up what they call the Camden Art Cafe, prefer guests use the high-security intercom system to help get donations in and keep civil enforcement officers out.

Posters taped to a door said the group had a right to occupy the venue, which they said was not a residential building and was therefore not subject to 2012 legislation which had created a new offence of squatting in a home. They have since been ripped down.

Let them eat potatoes: Camden Art Cafe’s gift to the public (Barney Davis)

One neighbour told The Independent: “They are here now, we can’t do anything about it. But they haven’t been too loud in fairness.”

The half dozen or so squatters, each calling themselves Gordon in an I Am Spartacus-like bid to protect their identities, were sceptical of allowing reporters in at first after spotting photographers hoping to catch a glimpse inside.

“We would like the community to feel comfortable and they won’t if you are shoving cameras in their face,” one says through the open letterbox to a throng of journalists left in the cold outside.

Allowed in on the condition I join the art session and draw “what Camden means to me” I’m ushered in, albeit under the looming threat of being evicted myself.

The squatters have strict cleaning rotas (Barney Davis/The Independent)

Pondering the challenge, my mind flashes back to underage drinking on the central reservation of Camden’s Grand Union Canal, free Bang Bang chicken samples at Camden Market, The Libertines and playing pool at The Good Mixer bar.

Stepping inside York & Albany, the kitchen has been transformed into a gallery and cafe complete with chessboards, Scrabble, spray paints and DIY magazines.

This generation of protesters blast Wu-Tang Clan from their speakers rather than old, scratchy punk records as they take a democratic vote on whether to allow ITV or LBC out of the hail and wind outside before deciding one-in-one-out is probably the best policy.

“We’ve got a nice blend of beans here”, the barista Gordon says proudly handing me a frothy oat-milk Americano that the famously irate chef would have been proud of.

Art lines the walls of Ramsay’s former pub (Barney Davis/The Independent)

The squatters are planning on opening the cafe to the public from 1pm-4pm every day, hoping to stay as long as they can to make as big an impact on the community before they are somewhat inevitably evicted. So far they say the police have left them alone calling it a “civil matter”.

But the huge international media attention is yet to translate into donations. The group say they are always after tinned foods, weatherproof clothes especially for children to fill their so far empty clothes rack.

Neighbour Nick Pahl said he saw the energy of the young activists and saw the squat as a way of creating hope for locals.

“I only live 5 minutes away,” he explains. “I saw it on the news and decided to come down and have a look.

“The whole area has been blighted by HS2. The project destroyed whole blocks, full of families and refugees are left living on a bomb site.

The squatters want to make the property a community resource (Barney Davis/The Independent)

“People think Regents Park is just millionaires but there are council flats and big drug and alcohol issues. It’s a funny old mix. This is kind of a rebalance of that.

“I love the attention they are bringing to Camden they are celebrating the music, the art and the history. It just has a nice vibe.”

At first, it seems there are more reporters than locals inside but it gradually fills up as activists come back from demonstrations across the capital.

Soon it is full and everyone is chatting breathlessly, exchanging horror stories of slum landlords across London; their dreams of being allowed a pet in the capital and what Camden means to them.

Two greyhounds are among the new occupants (The Independent)

One of the squatters, a female Gordon known as “Leopard Print”, proclaimed it was the group’s intention to set up a fundraiser in the future to help keep the project alive.

Leopard Print Gordon said she was offended by reporting that it was a mess inside and insists it is being looked after.

“There were a couple of empty water bottles around because people need to drink. But everything else was left in the state it was found.”

Echoing the premises’ previous use, another Gordon provides visitors with a magnificently creamy spring onion pasta, improvising with the donated food she had available that day like an episode of Ready Steady Cook.

Minutes later she was vigorously washing up and wiping down the surfaces as if Gordon Ramsay himself was breathing down her neck.

Asked about the division of labour in the group, she replies: “We have people on coffee, everyone has their jobs. It’s not just me cooking and cleaning all the time - sweat dripping from my brow I promise. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”

A third Gordon, all the way from South Africa, said there is plenty of room in the living areas which are closed off to the public.

“It is so peaceful at night and you can hear the lions roar from London Zoo,” she said. “I’ve spent time camping in the wild with actual lions where there is no cage or moat to protect you. That was scarier.”

Yes Chef! Gordon Ramsay eat your heart out (Barney Davis/ The Independent)

After one of the squatters confessed she was slightly surprised by the national attention being paid to their activities, another added: “The New York Post has been covering every squat that is marginally controversial so we knew we would rile them up.

“It’s easy to write a headline. Everyone was reporting that this was ‘Gordon Ramsay’s nightmare situation’.

“But he is still yet to comment. Gordon Ramsay owns loads of restaurants it’s not like his family photo albums are here.”

A poor attempt to get involved in the art project (Barney Davis)

“Most of the neighbours have been really supportive,” another squatter adds. “Sometimes they are slightly bewildered but we explain what we are doing and they say ‘oh great, see you around’.”

Before I take my leave, I ask how long they can realistically hope to stay in such a high-profile spot with so much attention at the front door.

Leopard Print Gordon chimes in: “We could get evicted tomorrow if they choose to do it illegally.

“So we want to make an impact and open up as much as we can.”

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