A pub, a fishmonger, a hotel (or two) and a private members’ club are all part of Swiss dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth’s expanding hospitality empire, which next year will grow yet again with the launch of a restaurant and bar in New York—their first in the city.
Situated on Prince Street in the heart of Soho’s Cast Iron District, the restaurant will sit across from a new Hauser & Wirth space, opening on Wooster Street this autumn. This will be the mega gallery's third location in New York. Details of its first exhibition have not yet been announced.
The New York restaurant will be the tenth venture to open under the Wirths’ Artfarm business. Launched in 2014 it now employs nearly 500 people worldwide. The group is also the majority shareholder in the private Groucho Club in Soho, London, which was acquired for a reported £40m last August, though is managed separately to the Artfarm portfolio.
While the art world is no stranger to late-night drinking holes, the idea of mega-dealers getting into the hospitality business might seem anomalous to some. But Ewan Venters, who was appointed the chief executive officer of both Hauser & Wirth and Artfarm in 2021, thinks it’s a “really lovely fit”. At the heart of both, he says, is a “passionate belief in the role of art, community, food and people—and finding the commonality where those things work really well together”. Venters, who was formerly the chief executive of the luxury department store Fortnum & Mason, is also a director of the Groucho Club.
Artfarm’s portfolio has rapidly expanded since it launched Roth Bar & Grill in 2014 when Hauser & Wirth Somerset opened at Durslade, a former working farm outside of the village of Bruton. “Iwan and Manuela thought if they were going to create a whole new destination in the southwest of England, and its origins are a farm, then why wouldn’t they develop a restaurant as part of that experience?,” Venters says. “Being gallerists first and foremost, it wasn’t just about opening a restaurant, it was about opening an art piece. And so the Dieter Roth bar was conceived.”
Most of the produce is sourced locally and is available to buy from a farm shop at Durslade. “It’s very much supporting local producers—that’s really important to the success of it. It’s used by as many locals as it is by visitors to the gallery,” Venters says. As of last year, more than one million people had passed through the Somerset gallery.
Since the launch of Manuela, an art-filled eatery that opened in late 2016 in Hauser & Wirth’s downtown Los Angeles gallery complex, there have been a spate of openings. Last September, the Wirths opened Audley Public House and Mount St Restaurant and Rooms in Mayfair—their first hospitality venture in London, which boasts more than 200 works of art. Much like the New York set up, the pub gives the dealers somewhere to entertain close to their Savile Row gallery and flagship space on South Audley Street, which is due to open next year.
Away from the art world, last month Artfarm opened the Fish Shop, a restaurant and fishmonger in Ballater on Royal Deeside, Scotland. Serving ethically sourced fish and seafood and biodynamic and low carbon footprint wines from British and European vineyards as well as local beers and spirits, the small, 40-cover restaurant is housed in a building that King Charles rescued and restored with funds from the Prince’s Foundation after floods devastated the area in 2016.
King Charles and Queen Camilla were among the first to visit the Fish Shop before its official opening on 29 April. The King also opened Artfarm’s sister property the Fife Arms in neighbouring Braemar in 2019. The hotel boasts 46 rooms and suites (one night in a Royal Suite can set you back between £1,500 and £2,500) as well as 16,000 works of art, from works by Picasso, Hans Bellmer, Man Ray and Lucian Freud, to Victorian ephemera and objects.
“The Fish Shop has no relationship with the gallery in any context,” Venters says, noting that the restaurant came out of a “genuine need for visitors to [the Fife Arms] to want to go somewhere else”. The adjoining fishmonger is open five days a week, and provides fresh fish and seafood to local people as well as the restaurant.
Artfarm has its sights set on another hotel at Bretton Hall, on the site of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In 2019, the Leeds-based real estate company, Rushbond, appointed Artfarm as operator-partner for the site, to take the “creative and operational lead” on the development, though negotiations appear to be ongoing. Venters says Artfarm has invested significantly in the Grade II listed mansion, which was home to Bretton Hall College until 2001 when it closed, to save it from dereliction.
“We’re not in independent control of the timeline or what will happen, but we have a good active dialogue,” Venters says. “But like a lot of these big ambitious projects, in a post-Covid environment and with the cost of building projects going up, everything has to be re-evaluated.”
Nonetheless, Artfarm is going from strength to strength, so will it ever overtake the gallery business? “Never is a dangerous word—the hospitality element is not the core of Iwan and Manuela’s world,” Venters says. “Marc Payot [Hauser & Wirth’s president], Iwan and Manuela, they’re gallerists first and foremost. That’s their passion, that’s their love and that’s what they are focused on.”