Behind the front door of the most inconspicuous and plain-looking building of Hipster central Hoxton Sq lies a ‘pop-up’ with a difference: Dead Dolls Club’s The Dolls House. Get passed the chap dressed in a brightly coloured cowboy outfit on the door and you’ll find yourself in a venue The Holborn now considers a true favourite. I use the term pop-up in inverted commas because it seemingly conforms to that concept while not quite doing so. This venue is temporary yes, no not for a weekend or for a week, the length of this pop-up is mildly indeterminate, though the rough estimate seems to be a year. This is so as the building itself is scheduled for demolition. Ready to be replaced by a much larger building which couldn’t bear any less similarities to the current structure if it had attempted to do so. The proposed building is by the famous architect Zaha Hadid and is causing quite a rankling amongst the Squares other residents, so it is difficult for anyone to say when this pop-up will have to pack up. This strange set of circumstances, combined with a friendly current landlord and the hard-work, creativity and ingenuity of husband and wife team Adam Towner and Katy Rosewarne, have all created a truly unique venue.
I sat down with Adam and Katy to find out more about how The Dolls House came to be. Katy has a background in fashion and Adam in the bar and PR industries. Their collaborative business the Dead Dolls Club has been developing a strong brand for a while now, popping up here and there. Their fantastic Stew House pop-up restaurant serves heart-warming British grub for when the weather is dreary and the nights long. The business took a slightly more permanent form late last year with the opening of their Dalston Manor. Though the couple found themselves searching for a second larger venue, permanent or not, that could accommodate their large 300+ people events. This was when they then stumbled across 35 Hoxton Square. Adam and Katy tell the story of what then ensued with huge smiles but with a look of slight disbelief that it happened that way. The story includes a manic Friday with Adam rushing around London with his mother in a cab, relying on the bank manager to recognise them due to lack of identification, and finally signing for the property with moments to spare. Then after all that they got married on the Saturday. Then come Monday rather than going on a honeymoon they were into the venue starting to transform it into The Dolls House.
The transformation is quite something. The approach to how to do up a three story bar (plus roof terrace) which may and probably will be only open for a year is a hard one to get right. The approach they took was to grab inexpensive but nice tables and chairs, for Adam to do all the building work himself (like building the bars) and for Katy to create the rest of the furniture and details by drawing it on the walls. Through using Katy’s drawing of furniture on the walls (all done using maker-pen amazingly) they create a timeless and homely feel. Katy tells me how it was inspired by her trips to National Trust Properties as a child, something she hated at the time but has stayed with her and how now her and Adam have a passion for antique furniture. What is great about this is that it has become a signature style for the Dead Dolls Club and when The Dolls House shuts it will reopen somewhere else and take its feel, atmosphere and clientele with it as Adam and Katy recreate the look on a fresh canvas.
The Dolls House is a members bar which has a restaurant anyone can book through toptable (with a different pop-up restaurant each week). Though it is a members bar with a difference. The motivations for creating membership weren’t to bring in more revenue, as the membership is free, all you have to do is apply and then bring a gift from a list including home-made cookies (Adam likes cookies), freshly cut flowers for Katy, and a porcelain dog for the Parlour. The membership scheme is motivated by the fact that they feel Hoxton and Shoreditch on the whole have become rowdy and unpleasant places to go out. They wanted to create a venue which was relaxed, where there is a community, where one could have a fun, civilised evening without any yobbish behaviour. By getting people to become members, and by getting them to work for it in a non-monetary way they get the clientele which can make that atmosphere. Having spent a number of evening their myself it is something I can vouch for. It also means that if anyone does step out of line then very easily they can be asked to leave and not to come back. Adam tells me of once when a customer stole one of the porcelain dogs which had been kindly donated by a member, Adam followed after the culprit and into a house-party to reprimand the individual and recover the dog. You know you’re in a well kept and managed venue when the owner will go to such lengths to recover an ornament.
All of this before I get to mention the alcohol itself. As a lover of gin this place just gets better, a wonderful selection sits behind the bar, including a favourite of mine The Black Forest’s own Monkey 47, a gin I have only ever seen in a handful of bars, most of which were in Spain. If you like your gin then I would strongly recommend you ask for a G&T here. The cocktail list is a great selection and a good length. Another pick for me is Wildcard Brewery‘s Jack of Clubs Beer, a delicious ruby ale best enjoyed up on the roof terrace overlooking Hoxton Square.
It may be strange to say for a pop-up members bar in a building that in the near future will be rubble but the The Dolls House reminds me of an old-fashioned boozer. My granddad was a publican in this neck of the woods many decades ago and I think he would have approved. It reminds me of this because like the best public houses in the land you feel like you are entering someones house, a house you feel part of and very welcome at, and you feel obliged to follow a certain etiquette and be respectful. The best pubs are always extensions of the landlord and landlady themselves and are made in the end by their personalities, and that is certainly true of The Dolls House with Adam & Katy. This is evident as they roam round the venue on a evening talking to their patrons and as you yourself study the bar Adam built and the furniture Katy drew. A welcome and refreshing addition to London’s nightlife, if you’re ever after a drink with our Editors there is half a chance you’ll find us on The Dolls House’s roof terrace with a Gin & Tonic in hand.