To really understand At the Chapel, you need to go back a few centuries. “We are built on a couple of ley lines,” says Cath. “One runs to Luxor in Egypt, the other to Stonehenge. The story goes, that where ley lines met, people would make a well. If this well became an important meeting place, they’d build a chapel.” Go downstairs to the clubroom-come-juice bar, and you’ll see this well, lovingly preserved.
Built in the 1600s, the building has been central to Bruton life ever since; even during a strange period in the 1970s when it was renamed Atlantis building and some hippies moved in. To some, Cath and Ahmed’s move to convert a former place of worship into a place of indulgence was a questionable one. “First, we made a bar at the alter and then we put a sculpture of a naked girl above it,” Cath says. “It was controversial! But actually, when we opened, the Bishop of Wells and the Bishop of Edinburgh visited. They said we had made this place reminiscent of a church before the Victorian era of stiff upper lips; a social place for the community to meet.”
Indeed, it is now affectionately known as the community centre. During the blizzarding ‘Beast from the East’ of early 2018, people came to shelter from the snow; locals feel so at home, one even gets his post delivered here, says Cath. Clientele are many and various: from the freelancer tapping away on their laptop to the brainstorming film directors and the mum sneaking an espresso martini on the school run in a takeaway coffee cup. Famous regulars include Cameron Mackintosh, Caroline Corr, Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey and Don McCullin. One magnificent day, Nicholas Cage was sitting just metres away from Liam Neeson.
“We open at eight o’clock in the morning, but a lot of our customers come at seven. We’re open and we’re on. Our ethos is simple, you can spend; or you don’t have to. We know the people who haven’t got money, and they can come and sit here with a cup of coffee all day long. We take them water, they get a hug. That’s really important to us.
“The definition of hospitality is kindness to guests. You take it further, you have to start with yourself. Most of us aren’t kind to ourselves. So we are working on how to be nice to ourselves and each other. We have scraps like any family, but the rest of the time we love each other.”