woman ambles over to our table to say hi, then wanders off again. She’s wearing her pyjamas and still looks a little sleepy. “She arrived to stay for a few days and never left,” confides a smiling Gail Behr, owner and proprietor of Dorp hotel. It’s a little vignette that’s entirely fitting given the establishment’s character. It doesn’t feel like a hotel… You walk in through the front door, pass a small entrance hall, and enter a large drawing room. There’s a New Orleansy feel to it. Muted avocado walls, big dusty-pink sofas, old brown tables piled with books, large green plants and soft 1920s jazz occupy the large double-volume space. It looks established. Venerable. Comfortable.
“It’s the funniest place. I don’t know what Dorp is,” observes Gail tacitly, explaining her guest’s relaxed demeanour. “It’s not really a hotel. Maybe it’s a club.” And she would know what she’s talking about – Gail was the original owner of Plettenberg Bay’s celebrated The Grand Café and Rooms.
What it really feels like is her home – a big, rambling old mansion that welcomes her friends to enjoy its easygoing charm and breathtaking views of Table Mountain. There’s a gravitas and a soul to this property that one usually only feels in an old building that, over time, has grown and moulded around its occupants.
Except it’s not that either. Situated high above the Bo-Kaap, just below the Noon Gun at the very end of Signal Hill, Dorp is brand new, built from the ground up on the footprint of the old Noon Gun Tea Room – an unoccupied site that had long fallen into disrepair.
Just how Gail and her team managed to do that – create a 30-roomed hotel with the character of an established property – is the real story. And yes, that’s also hard to pin down. For one thing, it didn’t involve architects. Mention that profession and Gail offers “maths and greed does not equate to art”, among some fruitier phrases. Instead, she asked interior designer and decorator Greg Mellor to sketch buildings based on the existing architecture. “We had a responsibility. If it was going to be on top of this hill, it had to be sympathetic to the community and to the surrounding natural beauty,” says Gail. “It needed to be simple. There’s no ‘design’ here. We’re both sentimental, and we both have a love for old buildings.”
“For Dorp to be what it needed to be,” adds Greg, “you can’t think generically you can’t think practically. No two rooms are the same. Eventually we worked with a local draughtsman who drew up the building plans.”
An interior decorator Greg may be, but he left that side entirely to the feisty proprietor: “Gail has her own wonderful aesthetic that I wouldn’t dream of interfering with.” That’s not entirely true: it’s clear they share a similar whimsical, irreverent and somewhat nostalgic sense of design. Most items were either collected over time, sourced at auctions or recreated. The secret sauce, of course, is how they are all curated and assigned – and that’s Gail Behr’s talent. Rather than any kind of interior planning, you get a sense that she’s chosen and placed items because they just feel right. And it’s created a rather special hotel – one where you can wander down in your jim-jams and have a chat with the proprietor over morning coffee.
“IT’S THE FUNNIEST PLACE. I DON’T KNOW WHAT DORP IS. IT’S NOT REALLY A HOTEL. MAYBE IT’S A CLUB." – GAIL BEHR
RATHER THAN ANY KIND OF INTERIOR PLANNING, YOU GET A SENSE THAT THE OWNER HAS CHOSEN AND PLACED ITEMS BECAUSE THEY JUST FEEL RIGHT.
“WE HAD A RESPONSIBILITY. IF IT WAS GOING TO BE ON P OF HIS HI , IT HAD TO BE SYMPATHETIC TO THE COMMUNITY .”
– GAIL BEHR