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I stayed at the world’s worst hotel where guests pay £189 a night to be screamed at and insulted… and I loved it, writes ANTONIA HOYLE


Perhaps a hot drink might help relax me, I think, after checking into my hotel room. But there’s no kettle, only its base lying haphazardly on the bedside table.

‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ the disinterested receptionist retorts sarcastically down the phone, before refusing my request to have one sent up. ‘Use the sink.’

How will water from a tap make a cup of tea, I ask? ‘Use your imagination,’ she barks, before hanging up.

Amid a staffing crisis in the hospitality industry, you might think I am being berated by a rogue employee who has slipped through the interview net.

In fact, she is employed specifically to offend, because I am in a hotel that proudly describes itself as the worst in the world, where customer service is non-existent, condiments are hurled during dinner, and hotel basics — towels, toilet rolls, etc — are conspicuous only in their absence.

Antonia Hoyle, centre, visits Karen’s Hotel in Barnet, north London, which opened last month

Antonia Hoyle, centre, visits Karen’s Hotel in Barnet, north London, which opened last month

Karen’s Hotel in Barnet, north London, opened last month as an offshoot of Karen’s Diner, a restaurant chain famous for insulting its customers. First launched in Australia in 2021, it arrived in Britain the following year.

The name Karen has become a byword on the internet for the sort of midlife woman who complains about everything and routinely asks to ‘speak to the manager’.

So charging people to be pilloried while eating in a diner bearing that name sounds like a suspect business plan.

But the brand has so far amassed 1.6million followers and its videos have had 3billion views on TikTok, where children, parents and grandparents alike flock to upload pictures of themselves being told to f*** off by waiting staff known as ‘Karens’.

There are seven UK branches, and celebrity fans include broadcaster Davina McCall, who described being called a ‘stupid b*tch’ at the Manchester branch last year as ‘hilarious’.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before Karen’s broadened its business to overnight stays. But who on earth will this masochistic mayhem appeal to? 

‘Anyone who not only wants to be roasted during the day but feels a need to be roasted all night too,’ says Paul Levin of Karen’s Diner. By ‘roasted’ he means ‘comically abused’, a form of ‘escapism’ which he sees as the underlying appeal of Karen’s. The only prerequisites for guests? Thick skin and a sense of humour.

I have neither, alas. Sensitive, socially awkward and conflict-averse, I don’t banter and rarely understand jokes. Being heckled is my idea of a nightmare. But could facing my fears head on be the solution? Might my £189 overnight ‘Karen Experience’, which includes dinner, finally toughen me up and teach me to laugh at myself more?

My heart hammers furiously as I arrive at reception. After several minutes of waiting, a sullen girl with corkscrew curls, wearing baggy trousers, a scowl, a red apron with ‘Farah’ scrawled on the front, and dirty trainers, eventually emerges.

I venture into the bathroom and scream — there’s a huge spider perched on the soap dish in the shower and fluffy legs line the shower tray

I venture into the bathroom and scream — there’s a huge spider perched on the soap dish in the shower and fluffy legs line the shower tray 

My room looks like it has been upended by a five-year-old on a sugar high

My room looks like it has been upended by a five-year-old on a sugar high

One of three Karens who will be looking after me during my stay, she ushers me to my room with a grunt. ‘Move, Grandma!’ she barks as I struggle up the stairs with my luggage, before asking: ‘You want help?’ I nod hopefully. ‘I don’t f**ing care,’ she says, barging past to open my door.

Inside, my room looks like it has been upended by a five-year-old on a sugar high. The lamps are knocked over and milk and coffee sachets have been thrown across an unmade bed. Loo roll is flung over the mirror and a hideous brown blanket imprinted with a Karen emoji (graduated blonde bob not dissimilar to my own, I realise with horror) has been thrown on the floor.

I venture into the bathroom and scream — there’s a huge spider perched on the soap dish in the shower, its long black legs not immediately obvious as fake. Fluffy hair (from the fake tarantula, I hope) lines the shower tray, along with empty bottles of shampoo.

The toilet seat is up, a cardboard toilet roll tube has been thrown into the bowl and soap smeared over the taps. I’m picking the tube out when the phone rings. It’s Farah, with, of all things, a knock-knock joke. ‘Um, who’s there?’ I ask. ‘A zoo with only dogs in it. What’s it called?’ My mind goes blank as she hollers ‘a Shih Tzu’, and before my stressed brain understands the punchline she hollers, ‘F***ING LAUGH.’

Nervously, I blurt out that I don’t have a sense of humour. ‘I can tell. You have a face like a slapped arse,’ she says.

As I get ready for dinner there is a barrage of further calls, that include a joke about me being in a care home and a request for me to have a shower ‘because there’s a stink of fish and we’ve got customers’. Is this funny? I’m not sure.

It’s becoming clear I will be targeted for my gender, age (45, ‘dementia is already kicking in’) and class (‘posh t***) when there’s a banging on the door so loud I jump out of my skin.

This time Farah has brought a sidekick, Ashley, snarky in black crop top, leggings and Crocs. The pair leer at me from my doorway — apparently here solely to say I need my roots doing.

Guests certainly receive no shortage of attention here, but in an age of narcissism and non-existent customer service, maybe it is better to be trolled than ignored, even if George, my third ‘Karen’, does call me a ‘perv’ when I accidentally touch his elbow and hurls my requested toilet roll across the room.

There is, of course, a fine line between banter and abuse, as the franchise has found to its cost. Last year, Karen’s Diner apologised to an Australian family after a waiter called a father eating at the restaurant a ‘paedophile’ and asked if his 14-year-old daughter, who they called a ‘tart’, had an account on the porn site OnlyFans.

Walking into the neon pink and purple, 1950s-style diner, I am told my frilly red dress looks like a cabbage

Walking into the neon pink and purple, 1950s-style diner, I am told my frilly red dress looks like a cabbage

Swearing might be rife but is not encouraged in excess, insists Levin, who admits, however, that ‘nervous young Karens swear too much to get a laugh. If they’re doing it a lot we pull them up.’

Despite the foul language, he says families comprise 40 per cent of customers and that ‘if you’ve got young kids and as parents think it’s responsible, well that’s up to you’.

Body shaming is forbidden, but fashion sense and personal grooming choices are fair game.

Walking into the neon pink and purple, 1950s-style diner, replete with alternative slogans (‘Vegan? Get a Life’ ‘Do Not Ask About Our Day. We Don’t Give A S**t About Yours’) I am told my frilly red dress looks like a cabbage, while the £13.95 Karen’s Pathetic Single — a burger served with fries — is dropped unceremoniously in front of me, along with sachets of ketchup that land on my head.

Customers are made to eat in customised paper hats — mine reads ‘Birth Certificate says “Expired”’ — and after I’ve finished my (admittedly tasty) burger I’m told to crayon in a picture of a Karen — an activity I find reassuringly calming until Ashley takes it off me and rips it up.

‘At your old arse age you can’t colour in properly,’ she screams. ‘You’ve been on this earth for about 100 years.’ I later find out Ashley is 17, and Farah 19. Little wonder they think I’m ancient.

I become increasingly desensitised to the insults, however, and when cleaners Chantelle and Louise, both 43, and Mary arrive at the restaurant to celebrate Mary’s 60th birthday, my mood lifts at fellow female company, especially as Mary is now the designated ‘oldest b**ch.’ When she jokes that the perfectly lovely long blonde haircut she is being insulted for is a ‘midlife crisis’, Ashley says, ‘It’s not midlife. It’s end of life.’

Louise good-naturedly replies that Mary is, in fact, a cool ‘gangsta granny’.

‘She sells drugs outside the council estate, does she?’ Farah wisecracks — unprepared, perhaps, for Mary’s comeback: ‘We all are actually recovering addicts. We’re from Cocaine Anonymous.’

Having established they’re not joking — it is, after all, that type of place — I learn Mary, now nearly three years clean, once had just six months to live. End of life indeed.

The insults might cut close to the bone, but that only makes the women’s laughter more raucous.

As we are corralled into performing a makeshift catwalk fashion show — I am made to strut to St Winifred’s School Choir’s Grandma We Love You — I realise however ageist, sexist, immature and wildly inappropriate the digs are, they have broken down stuffy social boundaries and created a sense of intimacy. I am, against all expectation, having fun.

Or was… I return to my room to discover my pillows have gone missing, an iron in their place ‘to keep me warm’ and more fake spiders everywhere. At 9pm there’s an almighty banging at the door that procures my biggest scream yet. It’s Farah and Ashley with a personalised drawing of me as ‘Anton’ replete with grey hair and a ‘Karen cut’. Perhaps I have Stockholm Syndrome, but I feel strangely touched.

Exhausted from hours of insults, I get rid of the remaining milk cartons and coffee sachets from under the duvet and eventually fall into a fitful sleep, wondering whether I might be thicker skinned than I thought after all.

As I check out the following morning, there’s no sign of my trio of tormentors, my Karen Experience apparently cut off at dawn. I hand back my key, and when the receptionist in their place tells me to have a lovely day, I feel slightly disappointed.



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