Travelling is almost always a shot in the dark. Whether it’s a month trekking across the Sahara or a night in a B&B in Torquay, we all want assurance that we’re not going to spend our precious getaway time wandering around bored, alone and hungry. The hotel chain Selina have made it their aim to provide an all-in-one package solution for the ‘modern nomadic traveller’ as they hop from one continent to the next, providing them not only with a room and a place to eat, but with the chance to meet like-minded people and sample specially-curated cultural and culinary highlights.
Selina have hotels all over the world, from South America to Israel, and one of their most recent has just opened here in Brighton on the seafront, directly opposite the i360 and the West Pier, along with a bar and restaurant open to the public, suitably named The Old Pier. I went along with my partner for a night’s stay, including food and entertainment, to see what this intriguing new hotel concept was all about.
Our room, a Standard double, had a beach hut aesthetic and you could just about see the sea out of the window. There was a wellness hamper containing treats such as lavender bath salts, CBD-infused fizzy drinks, pale ales and a bag of ginseng-flavoured ‘hangover drops’ (SPOILER ALERT: these came in very handy the morning after). Then, a drinks trolley cocktail bar came right up to our door, helmed by the lovely Charly from Brighton Gin who gave us a brief history of the company, whilst Selina’s resident mixologist, smacking the mint like a pro, made us each a welcome Southside.
Our entertainment for the night was to be ‘Lady Gala Bingo’, presented, DJed and performed by a quartet of drag queens, one of whom, RODENT (@_rodent__), an imposing goth playdoll of a queen, was womanning the decks as we went down for dinner, playing a mash-up of pop classics, dancefloor bangers and arty future pop that would probably soundtrack the queer club night of my dreams. We came down expecting cocktails, nice food, and a bit of background music with our bingo, but this was already the closest we’d come to a party in about five months.
Our bingo caller Ginger Phlappage (@partywithginger), devastating in a tasselled lime green one-piece, like a late-stage Gaga in her Dolly Parton phase, went round the tables and handed out bingo forms and pens, teasing us and flirting with the glamour and sleaze you’d expect from the MC of a seaside resort cabaret.
The Old Pier’s dinner menu consisted of 48-hour sourdough pizzas and various small plates. As I’m gluten-intolerant, we decided to share some small plates and worked our way through most of the dishes in the course of the evening. Bar snack classics like nachos and chicken wings were manoeuvred onto our table between more extravagant fare like Baja Style Flautas (tempura cod) and watermelon salad. All were vibrant and tasty, and went perfectly with the tropical grenadine cocktail that we were brought as we sat down.
For dessert I had some salted caramel and tonka bean ice cream from Brighton’s Brass Monkey, and my partner had Hokey Pokey Waffle, which was served with burnt marshmallows and more of the tonka bean ice cream. The ice cream was smooth and rich, and those marshmallows were a revelation – why has no one else ever thought of toasting marshmallows indoors? In general, we were very happy with all the food. Although, for me, it was just a side-show to the glorious spectacle that was the Lady Gala Bingo.
The bingo itself was more about the pop anthems blasted out as each number was announced than the actual thrill of the lines and houses – number 17 summoned forth Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, while number 54, Christian Dior, heralded Margo Marshall’s (@margomarshall_) stunning lip-sync performance of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’. She took to the floor in pointy bra and platinum blonde hair, as energetic, erotic and iconic as the queen of pop herself. Later, we were treated to TAYCE (@itstayce) resurrecting Prince with a breathtaking lip-sync of ‘Beautiful Ones’ from ‘Purple Rain’. It was so sensual, fierce and impassioned, that it almost turned me into a wreck of ugly tears.
As we all got up and danced in the aisles together, sharing whoops of adoration, wholly taken in by this beautiful drag fantasy, it felt like maybe Selina had achieved what they set out to do. I don’t think anyone won the bingo, I don’t think there were even any prizes, but no one seemed to notice. Unfortunately, the hotel bar closed as the bingo ended, but we found our way to a few more cocktails elsewhere with two of our fellow guests, then turned in for a comfortable sleep, soothed by the rush of wind and waves coming through the window.
The idea of getting up at 8 in the morning for yoga in the i360 had seemed like an unrealistic goal as we were walking back the night before, but my journalistic rigour won through and I dragged my partner down to the lobby bright and early. A surprising number of our fellow guests, as well as pretty much the whole Selina team, were there waiting, suitably costumed and ready to go. There had been an upright paddle boarding option as an alternative morning activity but that had been cancelled due to high winds, so perhaps this swelled the yoga crowd.
The combination of heights, yoga and hangover was a trifle demanding, but it was well worth the effort. It was a serene way to greet the morning, and moving up and down through the air led a certain celestial quality to the meditation. This was further enhanced by a gong bath, which built to a crescendo as we were invited to close our eyes and lie down on the mat. I was slightly worried that the intense resonance of the gongs might cause the glass of the i360 to crack in an opera-singer-vs.-wine-glass manner, but thankfully we landed in one piece.
Our stay was rounded off by brunch in The Old Pier. They have a decent selection of fry-up combinations, waffles and sweet options. We both had variations on eggs Benedict – though, as they didn’t have any gluten-free bread, a bed of bacon took the place of the bread for me, which was fun. After peeking at other people’s breakfasts, I would recommend sampling the decadence of ‘The Caribbean’ – waffles, roasted pineapple, whipped ricotta, agave and almonds.
Maybe this is just the pandemic talking, but as we checked out and embarked on our five minute walk home, it felt like we had been on holiday. Whether or not Selina’s vision of a world-wide network of travellers living and working out of a suitcase for months will come to pass, their ambition is laudable, especially with that focus on celebrating local produce and entertainment.