“Most of the guests are a little twitchy when it comes to checkout because they haven’t slept,” says Valentine Comar. The French DJ is standing between towers of shelving that house more than 27,000 records at her workplace – the UK’s only “vinyl hotel”.
The one-room lodging offers a unique proposition: a free night’s stay at an east London warehouse stocked with every genre of music, on the condition that a guest spends £250 or more on records (and a further £100 for each extra guest).
The surroundings are suitably Hackney: graffitied shutters, hipster cafes and craft breweries. Inside, one large room serves as accommodation with a sturdy, mezzanine bed, comfy sofas and – naturally – a sleek record player. A stage with DJ decks sits next to the tightly packed shelves of carefully catalogued records.
In its early months the quirky proposition, named Vinyl Pimp, has attracted crate-digging clientele from all over the globe, booking via social media. Staying tonight is Evangelos Rossetos, a 43-year-old software entrepreneur who has 15,000 records back home in Greece, and has DJed at clubs in Mykonos. “I saw some posts online about this amazing place for those who like to dig into records,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to come here. I lose records in my own collection for a year or more, then find them – this is so well organised.”
The hotel is the latest venture from the serial entrepreneur Luk Man Hon, a Hong Kong native who moved to the UK in the 1990s for school and, after studying business at the University of Plymouth and abandoning a career in sales, began to monetise his passion for records, particularly dance music from techno to trance.
Luk moved to east London as the area was being transformed in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games. He began by taking on small record collections and selling them online on behalf of collectors, on commission rather than paying upfront. “The trends move faster in dance music than other genres, it has a shelf life so people sell their collections or sell because life changes, they have kids,” Luk says. (Notably, this venture pre-dated the recent vinyl revival – his customers were committed turntablists.)
Misty-eyed, he recalls then snapping up a bounty of 24,000 records – charting dance music from 1983 to 1993 – gathering dust in a garage in Chelmsford, Essex. He paid £10,000 in 2015 after just half an hour of flicking through its rare contents. He quickly sold the records on for £150,000.
Luk lived in the warehouse and allowed buyers to visit, but his grumbling housemate soon insisted he opened a store nearby instead. Luk was a reluctant shopkeeper and when the pandemic hit, coinciding with a proposed rent rise, he shut it down in favour of returning to his warehouse model. Brexit dented online sales from Europe, putting extra focus on attracting customers in person.
“Customers had been staying late into the night, people didn’t want to rush their decision. I figured they could stay in the room and I didn’t need to charge them a fee,” Luk says, standing by a shelving unit of unsorted new stock, which includes immaculate commemorative box sets from David Bowie and the Sheffield pioneers Warp Records. “I didn’t want to Airbnb, it erodes the culture within neighbourhoods,” he adds.
The warehouse hosts about eight guests a month, often DJs or couples celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Huge bags of mail fill one corner, as the business also handles distribution for several record labels, and stacks of firewood are stored for Luk’s other business – a bustling canalside barbecue joint inspired by a trip to a restaurant in Texas after participating in a poker tournament.
He still lives on site and readily admits “it’s not a five-star hotel – the door isn’t even painted”. The speakers are only allowed to blast until midnight, but guests can carry on browsing and listening on headphones.
“They’re often a little twitchy when they leave, because they’ve been up all night,” Comar says. She has to price up the stack of records selected, many of them rare. “They get nervous [about how much they’ve spent], it’s not simply a checkout and ‘bye’ situation.”