In conversation with Greg Gassa, co-founder of Tuba Club, we learn of the hotel’s journey to fruition, the brainchild of a collective of Marseille locals bound by friendship
Tuba Club eco-friendly hotel in Marseille
Located near Marseille, in the south of France, it is the kind of place that greets guests with a glass of wine and a welcome. To be seen as a boutique hotel, which it is, is not Tuba Club’s intent. Instead, it vies to create a homely space for individuals to share an intimate experience. In conversation with Greg Gassa, co-founder of Tuba Club, we learn of the hotel’s journey to fruition, the brainchild of a collective of Marseille locals bound by friendship.
«We bought the building in 2019 and opened Tuba Club in July 2020. The site used to be the location of a snorkelling club. It was once a place where Jacques Mayol – the French diver portrayed in Luc Besson’s film, The Big Blue, or, as it was released in France, Le Grand Bleu – used to snorkel», says Gassa.
For Tuba Club, location is key. Its identity, in fact, is anchored to it. «When we found this location, it was a wow moment. One look, and straight away, we knew what we were going to do here. We moved forward with the planning and paid homage to its story of the past while upgrading it with our own philosophy. The idea was executed by myself, and Fabrice Denizot, co-founder of Tuba Club».
The structure’s philosophy of location
To Gassa and Denizot, the primary functions of Tuba Club were to be a gathering space for friends and a canvas for collaboration among their creative set. «The focus of Tuba Club is to embrace our philosophy of location. It was once a hotel, after a club, and later a scuba diving centre. Then we opened Tuba Club. It is a place where you can forget the rest of the world and enjoy the people and experience», says Gassa. This «philosophy of location» that Gassa refers to is a conception that the spirit of Tuba Club lies in the building’s permanency and history.
Built in 1908, the foundations of Tuba Club remain unchanged to this day. Its presence along the French coastline has been consistent for over one hundred years, and co-founders Gassa and Denizot have no intention of altering this. This, says Gassa, is one of Tuba Club’s differentiators from the hotels along the Côte d’Azur.
The inception of Tuba Club
Tuba Club, explains Gassa, is the fruit borne from a collaboration between a series of artists and creatives in his network. «Among our friend group – a collective of Marseille locals – we have a key leader involved in each department of the hotel. Marion Mailaender, a long-time friend of ours, is responsible for the interior design. We asked Emmanuelle Luciani, another friend with a presence in the art world, to design the entrance. Thomas Mailaender – the husband of Marion – is the connoisseur of artists’ residency at Tuba Club. Further, Elvire Bonduelle was responsible for designing clothes drying racks for the guests».
The list goes on. It is Thomas Mailaender who created The Invisible with the artist, Julien Berthier. The installation comprises a floating rock boat stranded off-shore, neighbour to Tuba Club. Measuring fourteen feet, the marine art attraction has been a talk topic for the 2021 summer season in Marseille. Street artist Invader is another example of a creative collaboration resulting from the co-founders’ personal relationships. A trademark mosaic by the French urban artist stamps the exterior of the hotel. This, explains Gassa, was a congratulations gift from Invader to mark the opening of the hotel.
«Collaboration is part of our philosophy. Between the location and the creative friends that we have, there are many opportunities. The idea was to have our best friends around us and to do the best we can do for our friends». That being said, Greg explains these projects are based on chance happenings and spontaneous encounters. When it comes to collaborations, there are no plans. Projects run in tandem at times or flow from one to another. Once the team finished The Invisible boat, attention shifted. Now, Greg is working on a book entitled BIG, which documents the characters of Marseille and his band of artistic associates.
Lampoon review: Tuba Club interiors
As for the interior of the hotel, the same philosophy is applied. The building’s heritage, in fact, is represented inside and out, and Marion Mailaender played a vital role in its execution. «Marion and I were living in Paris. When I decided to come back to Marseille about five years ago, Marion and Thomas followed, and it was an opportunity for us to work together». Because of Marion’s upbringing, a child of the south of France with respect for the philosophy of location and the sea, her involvement in the project was a no-brainer, explains Gassa.
«We used local methods to create the walls and the floors. We used stones, vintage materials, and we repurposed all we could. Upcycling was also a concern for us. Eighty percent of the materials comes from Marseille and the south of France. While, some of the design elements were sourced from Paris». From furnishings to materials, the Riviera’s imprint characterizes Tuba Club.
With seven rooms in total – five of which are bedrooms – the property is intimate. Tuba Club can welcome up to six or eight people at capacity. Minimal with a nod to vintage glamour, bedrooms at Tuba Club measure from forty-two to forty-nine square feet. Whitewash walls, woodwork, nautical interpretations, and exposed pipework with punctuations of marine blue, firetruck red as well as sunshine yellow denote the decor.
Activities taking place at the structure
Guests spend their days eating pasta and snorkelling, says Gassa. The two facilities which guests can indulge in are the private beach and restaurant. «When the guests arrive at Tuba Club, they are here to relax. They want to be surrounded by the place, the feeling, the location. They don’t want to do anything else. In fact, they are either in their room, at the restaurant, on the deck, or on a sunbed drinking a cocktail. They can also pick up a paddle and snorkel, or they can rent a boat. Perhaps they will enjoy a walk on one of the trails that surround the hotel. Normally during their two or three-day stay, this is all they do. They forget the world. As we have a problem with the Wi-Fi, Tuba Club is truly a place to disconnect. We are lucky because we have friends in the surrounding areas who own hotels and other restaurants. We can offer our guests the opportunity to dine at alternative eateries if they wish».
While the hotel itself is a two-night minimum, Tuba Club does welcome non-staying guests to experience its philosophy first-hand. «For the restaurant, people can book a table for lunch or dinner, whether they are a guest or hotel resident. As there are ten or twelve sun beds, these are exclusively for hotel guests. We are not a beach club, and we do not look to be. We want our guests to enjoy the full experience. Patrons from outside can swim before or after lunch if they wish, and sit down anywhere that they can find some space as it is a public location surrounding the hotel».
The restaurant operates a lunch and dinner service. Between these times there is a break of two hours where guests and staff take time to be alone. «If you are coming to the bar, you are coming as you have a lunch or dinner reservation», says Gassa. In contrast to other hotels, it does not operate an all-day bar.
The menu by Chef Antoine Teychené
The food at Tuba Club is another nod to French culture. Chef Antoine Teychené is local to the region. He was born in Marseille, and at eighteen, he started his career in the culinary arts. He lived in Paris and London, working with chefs including Jean-François Piège and Alain Ducasse. After the Covid crisis, he returned to Marseille to reconnect with family and friends and found Tuba Club. «The menu is concise: we offer four starters, four main courses, and three desserts. We have the Tuba pasta, made with vegetables or seafood. It changes frequently. We also have fresh fish, for example, sea bass, which could be shared among two or three people and is served as a bouillabaisse. Each dish that we make, we strive to make as a signature, seasonal dish. We are always thinking seasonally, and the menus are forever changing».
As for the sourcing of ingredients, the emphasis is on local. «The menu is ninety percent local or from small-scale agriculture. In France, we call this agriculture raisonnée, sustainable agriculture. We source fish, cheese as well as products from the south of France. We have mezcal from Mexico, but we too have mescal from Marseille. Then, we have a contact in Sicily, and we source our olive oil from here. It’s part of the Tuba Club philosophy: finding premium products and working with our friends to source them».
Sustainability at the core of the structure
This commitment to sustainability extends beyond the food offering at Tuba Club. The commonplace practices are in place. No single-use plastic in the hotel – except the kitchen – eco-responsible bath and cleaning products, the use of recycled paper, a commitment to reducing waste, and recycling across the board. «We have what we call the Tuba Charter. This shares with our guests and staff suggestions on how to have a low impact experience while staying with us or working with us».
Entries on the Tuba Charter include «save water, shower together». The Tuba Charter suggests, in fact, that guests put their phones on silent for the duration of their stay. To disconnect with the outside world is a fundamental part of the experience, reiterates Gassa. In addition to this, guests are offered a trash bag to bring with them on their snorkelling excursions. If the guests return with a bag filled with trash or plastic found in the ocean or from along the shoreline, they earn a free cocktail. This initiative doubles down on Tuba Club’s commitment to the sea and respect for the location in Calanques National Park.
The journey to becoming entirely sustainable as well as environmentally sound, yet is a process, explains Gassa. «It takes time to get there. We have young staff, and education and training from both sides go into making the Tuba Charter work». Like other businesses in the hospitality and hotel sector, the last eighteen months have been challenging. Tuba Club opened in summer 2020, before being closed down due to the pandemic four months later. Then, the hotel began welcoming visitors once again in May 2021. As for the future of Tuba Club, Greg Gassa – now responsible for six hotels – confirms there is more to come. What exactly that implies, we wait to find out.
2 Bd Alexandre Delabre, 13008 Marseille, France
Tuba Club is a boutique hotel located in Marseille, France. Beyond offering a restaurant by the sea, it also comprises five cabanons where to spend the night