In our Sept/Oct issue we stepped inside boutique hotel and cocktail lounge The Zetter Townhouse in London’s iconic Clerkenwell neighborhood. Known for pairing inventive drink and dining menus with the lavish character of its Georgian-inspired interiors, this place sparked so much interest we couldn’t stop with just one story.
Now we present our Q&A with Michael Benyan, who co-owns the Zetter with his business partner, Mark Sainsbury. Benyan explains where the townhouse came from, the inspiration behind its particular aesthetic (yes, there’s an Aunt Wilhelmina involved), and a favorite from their new fall menu.
“The Zetter Townhouse is for the curious, the adventurous, and the eccentric,” Michael says. Here’s a virtual sampling to give you a taste of its charms.
fs: When was The Zetter Townhouse established? Was the Cocktail Lounge created at the same time or did that come later?
MB: We opened The Zetter Townhouse in 2010 and the Cocktail Lounge has always been an integral part of it. The Cocktail Lounge is one of my favourite spots at the hotel. It’s got a genuine wow factor when you walk in and really feels like someone’s home. It’s quirky, interesting, and arresting. Plus, it has specially designed cocktails by the drinks genius Tony Conigliaro.
fs: What was the original concept behind its creation?
MB: We decided we wanted to design a hotel that felt like someone’s house from Georgian times—one that would reflect “Zetter, 200 years ago.” We conceived the house as belonging to eccentric Aunt Wilhelmina, and she became the focal point for a lot of the design—from the art on the walls to the colours, the collections, the drinks, even. Russell Sage was instrumental in helping us achieve such a unique interior.
fs: On the decor of the Townhouse, what inspired its particular aesthetic?
MB: The idea is that, having had to downsize after losing all her money, Aunt Wilhelmina has crammed all of her worldly belongings into the Townhouse, with pretty spectacular results. A stuffed cat in a dress and a boxing kangaroo are just two of the quirky things you’ll see.
Russell totally got the vision that Mark (Sainsbury) and I had. Each room is completely unique, featuring different, bold shades of heritage colours and eclectic antique pieces. Russell continued the quintessentially English use of textiles that nearby The Zetter Hotel is known for, but this time used Gainsborough fabrics, which were reworked in contemporary shades especially for The Zetter Townhouse.
fs: Can you tell us a bit about the location in Clerkenwell? What makes it a fitting place for an establishment like The Zetter Townhouse?
MB: Clerkenwell is one of the oldest areas of London and has been transformed over the past fifteen years. Old warehouses and other industrial buildings are now teeming with architecture and design studios and furniture galleries, as well as a mix of media and marketing companies. The area is buzzing with a unique and creative spirit that I think The Zetter Townhouse sits comfortably in.
fs: We understand that to enjoy a drink at the cocktail lounge, a seat at a table has to be available, so reservations are recommended. Is there anything else visitors should know before venturing to The Zetter Townhouse? How far in advance should they call to get a reservation?
MB: The Zetter Townhouse is for the curious, the adventurous, and the eccentric. Think of it as a home away from home or a country house hotel right in the centre of London. The spirit of the Townhouse embodies playfulness and fun. You don’t usually need to book a table more than a week in advance, so just give us a call whenever suits you and come and enjoy the madness for yourself!
(They offer online booking too!)
fs: With the new fall menu coming out, is there anything in particular the chef and head bartender are especially excited about?
MB: The new cocktails that have just launched are pretty exciting. One called the Pear Kir is inspired by one of Wilhelmina’s favourite pastimes, which is visiting pear orchards just as the seasons are changing and the scent of ripe pears fills the air. It’s a dry, fresh cocktail with the subtle but unmistakable flavour of pear, and it works perfectly as a summer aperitif or after dinner with our cheese selection.
See more of the Zetter Townhouse in our September/October issue!