September, 2013: a restaurant that defines the cliché ‘ill-fated’ closes. Ill-fatedly. Damien Hirst and PR guru Matthew Freud had opened Notting Hill’s Pharmacy to laudation in 1998, the United Kingdom basking in Cool Britannia’s glare, but internal feuds, a squabble with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (which saw the restaurant changing its name every few weeks), and the rise of East London took its toll on the Britpop celeb haunt.
Kate Moss would need to find somewhere else to munch on lettuce, but Hirst would be vindicated — its fixtures and fittings would fetch over £11 million at a Sotheby’s auction. If only all failed restaurants had been kitted out by the planet’s most celebrated living artist. But that was then, this is now. New Labour turned sour, Blair turned war criminal, and Damien’s old pal Alex James swapped Blur for making cheese, hanging out with Tories, and being an incredible prick.
Now 50, Hirst ditched the drink and drugs a decade ago, and has thrown 25 million quid at a major new gallery in Vauxhall. Occupying a series of scenery-painting workshops (built to cater for the West End’s booming theatre business), Newport Street Gallery is a sober affair, housing much of the artist’s personal art collection, alongside rotating exhibitions. It is now also home to a significant rebirth: Pharmacy 2.
Where Pharmacy Mark I clung to a zeitgeist, Hirst busy getting his knob out and chucking watermelons off the top of skyscrapers, this incarnation reflects the artist as a grown-up. Accompanying a major new gallery means there’ll be no Gallaghers brawling, or endless lines of glamour girls getting papped outside, but you get the feeling that’s exactly the way they want it. Mark Hix is here, repaying his debt to Hirst for the artist’s formaldehyde Cock and Bull at his Shoreditch restaurant Tramshed, so expect to tuck into classic British and European grub amid plenty of site-specific Hirsts.