Well I've been working hard to reach me target
To earn a few bob for a day trip down to Margate
I'm gonna blow the lot tomorrow on all me family
We catch the coach at eight so don't be late, we're off to see the sea
The coach (courtesy of Tony) actually left at 9.30, but that’s not important; I’d paid my bread and honey, so I was in; we were off to Margate; we were off to see the sea. But there would be no beaches and ‘kiss me quick’ hats for us – we were seeking pubs, especially those of the micro variety. With my CAMRA family.
Now I find micro pubs very hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are excellent and I those I love, but some, well they leave me feeling cold. I’m a lover of pubs, and whatever sort of pub it is, if it lacks pubiness it doesn’t float my boat. You’ve probably been to some of the sort I dislike: a modern shop unit, still with its aluminium shopfront and double doors, a stark bare interior with bright fluorescent lighting, a makeshift timber bar, where you sit on antiquated tubular steel chairs taken straight from a school classroom and have to queue up for the one, oversized toilet. That sort.
Like all good ‘Jolly Boys’ Outing’ (and Jolly Girls’ too) to Margate, our bus stopped on the way for refreshments at Herne Bay. Fortunately, this went better than Del Boy and Rodney’s Margate trip in that classic Only Fools episode, in that at least our driver did not get drunk nor did our bus burst into flames. There are four micro pubs in Herne Bay, and they fill the spectrum of the good to the average on the Moose Micro Pub Scale.
First up was an establishment know simply as “The Pub”, and to be fair, despite being a conversion of only a year or so old, it did have a pub feel, had proper toilets, a cellar, and a garden. The landlord was very welcoming, inviting us to put on our choice of vinyl whilst we queued up for a beer, four of them, and all local. I wasn’t convinced by the OSB ceiling here, but everything else worked well, from the local artists’ work displayed and on sale on the walls, the aforementioned record player, to the Angels & Demons Slaughter Beach IPA (5.2%) which was a welcome drop after nearly three hours on the road.
The other pubs were a mixed bag. The Firkin Frog with its welcoming dog was pleasant but its Goody’s beer was mediocre. A better bet was the Bouncing Barrel – complete with its mural of a Lancaster bomber dropping a barrel of beer (Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bomb was tested at Broadstairs using planes out of RAF Manston) –its beer choice with a definite northern influence save for one Dark Star. The fourth pub, Parkerville, is the least successful of the four in my book, though the beer is well kept served from a separate glazed cold room.
We left here and headed down the frog and toad to Birchington-on-Sea. The Wheel Alehouse left me cold, just like the beer – I freely admit I made the wrong choice – and I didn’t warm to the place thereafter. The locals were helpful and pointed us in the direction of the Old Bay Alehouse, which disguised its shop heritage much better, and dispensed some beer much more to my taste. The Hawaiian theme of the day, for the landlady’s fiftieth birthday, added colour and pineapples to a very pleasant café-bar styled establishment.
Our final stop before reaching our ultimate destination was the Bake and Alehouse in Westgate on Sea, a tiny bar tucked away behind the town’s cinema. This was a nice place, as the name might suggest, a former bakery where the table service – something I’m not a big fan of – worked very well as after delivering Gadds and Wantsum beers to us, the owner and server stopped for a chat and held court amongst his customers cosily crammed into the small room. By now Tony wanted a drink, so we had to set off to Margate to park up the bus so that he could.
So what of Margate? It’s been a seaside resort for a couple of hundred years, and the coming of the railway bought scores of holidaymakers down from the East End of London to enjoy the big sandy beach and a few cockles and whelks. Around a hundred years ago, the main attraction was the Dreamland Amusement Park with its Scenic Railway roller coaster - the second oldest of its type in the world. Like most of the rest of Margate, Dreamland was shut by 2006 and has only recently reopened now that tourism has been boosted by a new, unexpected attraction, the Turner Contemporary Gallery.
Our hotel was located on the seafront between the railway station and “Dreamland”, and next to the brutalist tower block somebody had once decided deserved a spot on the town’s promenade. A handy place even if the lift was Alan Border and the hot water boiler likewise the following morning.
Down to Margate
We'll have a pill of jellied eels at the cockle stall
Actually, if you don’t mind, I won’t. Instead, we headed for our first micro, Ales of the Unexpected. A bit of a ball and chalk from the hotel but worth it. It’s a long, thin place with the bar at the back, a friendly welcome, and on this day, a choice of four beers including Wantsum’s Black Prince Mild. It was here that a plan was hatched (by Nick and Magda, it was deemed their idea just in case it all went wrong) to take the bus to Cliftonville, which seemed sensible at the time, but had been pretty much abandoned until a chance encounter with the bus we had all but given up on arrived and tempted us on board.
Cliftonville, I’m informed, was famous for its classic British Arnold Palmer seaside mini golf course which sadly closed and was illegally converted to a skate park, later shut down by the council amid safety concerns. Some claim to fame, that. It’s a pleasant if bland suburban sprawl (with a sea view), at the centre of which is The Laughing Barrel, the remaining half of a 1970s estate pub kept as a micro pub when the other half became a pharmacy. By now we were Hank Marvin, so the kindness of the locals (advising us the chippy was soon to close) and the landlady (allowing us to eat our purchases in the pub) was much appreciated. Four real ales and a host of ciders kept us company for a while, until we got a bit twitchy about our distance from home and the lack of buses (plus it had begun to rain), so the patience of the landlady was again tested as she was imposed upon to call us a couple of cabs.
Down to Margate
We'll go on the pier and we'll have a beer aside of the sea
Again, we didn’t. The taxis dropped us (or one of them did) at Fez, a fantastic micro just behind the seafront, full of character and characters and sporting a collection of breweriana, memorabilia and interesting stuff that any popular culture museum would be proud of. Pride of place goes to the illuminated advertising signs, the pick of which for me being the Batham’s lantern over the bar. There was good beer, popular music, debatable dancing and much more; so much more, that we forgot to go round the corner to the Two Halves for a beer aside of the sea and stayed instead ‘til we were told it was time to go home.
Along the promenade we spend some money
Then we find a spot on the beach that's simply sunny
On a November Sunday morning, there aren’t many opportunities to spend money on the promenade, nor was there any sign of the currant bun. I didn’t try the beach.
After entertaining ourselves for much of the morning, we were relieved to set off again bound for lunchtime in Sandwich, if not for a sandwich. First up was the Mermaid’s Locker, a lovely old cottage with a roaring fire and two excellent Canterbury Ales beers. Unusually for a micro pub they offer a full Sunday lunch, and the reserved signs on most of the tables suggest it’s popular. Hair of the dog and all that, this was a welcome bit of warmth and sustenance.
Round the corner is the 16th century Red Cow, with its two huge and ancient brick fireplaces complete with roaring fires, and this time beers from Harvey’s and Gadds. Maybe by this stage I was micropub weary, but it was a pleasant change to be in a proper old pub!
There’s a lot to see (and eat) in Sandwich, and it’s a lovely little town; I intend to return. But today we had a hot date in Canterbury, county town, HQ of the C of E, and a pleasant city in which to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. There were four pubs on our itinerary; we would only mange three due to the distances between them, the need for food, and the inclement weather which made long walks between pubs a bit of an ordeal.
I was not particularly impressed with The Foundry, a brew pub with a very industrial feel. That’s maybe harsh, it was ok but wasn’t really what I was after on a Sunday afternoon. The beer (Foundryman’s Gold for me) was good, and improved the more I drank, but I didn’t warm to the venue, probably because we had to sit down and be served when I prefer to stand at the bar. Table service, I hate it.
A few of us having similar feelings moved on to visit two of the city’s finest pubs, places I had last been to more than twenty-five years ago. First up is the Bell and Crown, a one room street corner pub not far from the cathedral, an unusual mix of architectural styles with a curios overhanging tiled top floor, but a cosy, warm and welcoming bar, made more so by the musicians having a folky jam session in the corner. I’d grown very fond of the Canterbury Ales beers during this trip, and here they had Miller’s Ale, which again was delicious, as was the pork pie I bought to accompany it. I could have happily stayed here all afternoon, maybe longer.
The final destination was another vague memory from my trip of 1996, the New Inn. The rain by now was torrential, but we braved the weather and crossing a busy road to get there. It’s a mid-terrace pub, a type becoming scarcer these days, with a welcoming landlady and a decent crowd for a late Sunday afternoon. My memory of the place was vague – I had had two great nights there back in the day, but it felt good to be back. What I drank I cannot say (pale, hoppy, pint-sized), but it was a fitting beer and pub to end a fantastic weekend away.
You can keep the Costa Brava and all that palava
Going no farther, me I'd rather have a day down Margate with all me family.
With thanks to Tony for driving, Pete for organising, the Margate crowd for their company, and apologies to Chas and Dave for borrowing their lyrics.