The boutique venue is a ‘surreal, mystical world of wonder’, where visitors come to meditate, heal and escape their everyday reality
I’m in a dark room, somewhere off London’s Oxford Street, staring into the eyes of a stuffed goat. Its body is suspended from a wall, curved into a foetal position, and its fur has been replaced with shimmering beetle skin. Other strange objects are scattered on the shelves around it: voodoo dolls, a lion’s skull, ancient tribal masks, spectral figurines and some sculpted, disembodied heads. “These things stay here until I get bored of them,” entrepreneur Rami Fustok tells me, gesturing proudly at the dimly-lit wall. “Or until I find something that would look even better.”
We are in the bar of Fustok’s boutique Fitzrovia hotel, The Mandrake. Founded in 2017, it is a 34-bedroom portal to the unknown: a “surreal, mystical world of wonder” where visitors come to escape their everyday reality. Unlike most hotels, the focus here is on spiritual wellness and multi-sensory maximalism, with specially designed scents and sounds, and uncanny art in every corner. In the main bar, for example, a Jonas Burgert painting looms over the DJ booth. It shows a bald man, apparently in agony, clenching his head while a gang of foul, black-eyed demons surround him. “That is me,” Fustok says, pointing to the tortured focal figure. I realise he probably isn’t joking.
Fustok has fair reason to relate to the art. The pandemic has been tough on the hospitality sector, and The Mandrake is his first-ever hotel. Despite the challenges, it’s a space the Beirut-born entrepreneur has poured his soul into, working as founder, designer, creative director and, more recently, staff general manager. “This is not just a bunch of bedrooms and a bar and a restaurant,” he says, referring to the majority of other more corporate, minimalist hotels in London. “It’s theatre. I want to make people happy, so I decided to do something unexpected. Something from another planet.” It was equally important to Fustok that The Mandrake would be a haven for esoteric art, which makes sense given his heritage: his mother is Bushra Fakhoury, an esteemed British-Lebanese sculptor; his brother Malec is a painter, and his sister Tala is an interior designer (she helped design much of the venue). Fustok, though, is more of a curator: “I am a visionary. I have a vision of what I want. People put it together for me... Every square foot of the hotel went through maybe 20 meetings, just to get it perfect.”
The rooms in The Mandrake are all individually designed, but they riff off the same opposing themes: light and dark, good and bad, hedonism and healing. The sprawling penthouse suite is stark white, with large windows, luxurious slabs of marble, and deep velvet seats; like a celestial waiting room. There are also smaller, moodier suites, with charcoal walls, low lighting and deviant details. In the room I stay in – the terrace suite – there are devilish Venetian masks on the walls (free to use), and a haunted gargoyle peeking in from the outside. There’s also the option to share your shower window with your unknown neighbour (as long as they consent to the show), but I skip the opportunity. “Everyone has a dark side and a light side, and to enjoy life we believe it’s okay to indulge in a bit,” Fustok says. “It creates balance and a more interesting world.”
“It’s theatre. I want to make people happy, so I decided to do something unexpected. Something from another planet” – Rami Fustok
The light, for Fustok, comes in the form of spiritual healing. The Mandrake is becoming known for its varied and radical wellness events, which are open to everyone and take place in the hotel basement. They go much further than meditation and yoga, too: in recent weeks there have been classes on psychic development, women’s circles, group cacao ceremonies, and some “soul incubation” sessions (to have a conversation with your ancestors). The hotel has also partnered with the nearby House of Wisdom on the Euston Road, with guests able to book into their wellness-themed classes and shamanic healing sessions. When I book in for the latter, I am ushered into a quiet room with a group of mats, beanbags and bolsters on the floor. I lie down on one for 45 minutes, while a woman bangs a bell over my head, whispers furiously, and tells me to open a dialogue with the sun. I’m not sure what she means, but I do feel calmer when it’s over. “We have a spiritual wellbeing concierge,” explains Fustok. “We can set up your room with candles, incense, music, crystal bowls, anything you want. I think more people should do [this stuff]. I think we’d have a far more beautiful, positive, peaceful planet if everyone did.”
But Fustok’s real passion is the art – and it’s everywhere. The entrepreneur has an ever-growing, constantly revolving collection that he acquires with a specific room in mind, and changes depending on his mood. There are eerie paintings (from artists like Francesco Clemente), psychedelic wall-length murals (Peter-John De Villiers), mutated taxidermy (Enrique Gomez De Molina), and surreal photography (Haris Nukem), to name just a few examples. “I don’t look at artists, I look at the work,” Fustok says, when asked to explain his divergent taste. “Art can transform the space; the way you look at it changes your feelings... It’s powerful.” The hotel also offers an Artist in Residence programme, which gives artists the chance to live in the space while creating “live” work, giving guests and visitors the chance to witness the creative process firsthand. Previous artists in residence include floral sculptor Emma Weaver, light artist Paolo Montiel, and tattoo artists Mark Mahoney and Thomas Hooper; while later this year choreographer Alexander Whitley and his dancers will be weaving his way through the site. “I’m building a surreal world; a surreal reality,” concludes Fustok. “We all have our issues and our problems. This is escapism: the hotel, the artwork, everything is about escapism.”
Find out more about The Mandrake, and its upcoming wellness events, on the hotel’s official website.