12 of the best micropubs in Kent
PUBLISHED: 13:43 15 January 2018
Join the micropub revolution! This unique style of small, one-room pubs was born in Kent and has caught on with micropubs appearing all over the country. We have selected 12 of the best in Kent for you to visit
Small, with only real ales on offer, with no music, no bar, table service and a focus on conversation, back in 2005 Martyn Hillier opened The Butcher’s Arms – to little fanfare – calling it a micropub. Not only would it start a quiet revolution, leading to the creation of hundreds more countrywide, but it would, according to Hillier, bring pubs back to their community roots, a place, he says, to have a proper chat.
Quirky, one-room watering holes starting popping up in disused shops, old post offices, run down cafes – basically any small building – and Kent swiftly became the micropub capital of the UK.
Since the birth of the no-frills concept in 2005, there are now around 50 on our doorstep according to the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) official list, with the majority in the east of the county. While Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells are yet to feature, there have been planning applications submitted and it is likely they will soon be following suit.
Hillier says every micropub has its own style, but they all follow the same rules. In a nutshell: no lager and good conversation. It would be hard to pick out the best, but here are 12 well worth a visit with some special mentions.
1. The Butcher’s Arms, 29A Herne Street, Herne Bay
No list of micropubs would be complete without featuring the original – or ‘the temple’ as one Italian fan described it. It was a change in the licensing law in 2003, making it easier to open small, independent pubs, which led to Martyn Hillier opening what he describes as his kind of pub; one without lager and all the things he disliked about the bigger establishments.
Martyn explains: “I don’t have a bar as I don’t like queuing. So I have table service. I bring the beer to you.” There is no music, no radio and no TV. “All these things give people a reason not to talk to each other,” he says. “All my tables are set out so customers face each other so there is always a conversation. This is what micropubs are all about. Another micropub owner elsewhere was talking about their new place and they said they were putting in Kentish seating. We’ve even invented a type of seating!”
Hillier was asked by CAMRA to do a talk in 2009. “Before I did it I thought ‘if I get this right, this could change the drinking habits of a nation’.” And it seems Martyn has started the process of doing just that, right here in Kent.
2. The Black Dog, 66 High Street, Whitstable
This Whitstable micropub has become one of the most popular, even getting a mention in renowned beer writer Pete Brown’s latest book The Pub: A Cultural Institution. Opened three years ago by Mike McWilliam, the pub boasts a unique feel with a treasure trove of unusual trinkets and art. Mike says he took inspiration from the elaborate Victorian and Edwardian styles but turned it into a contemporary, bijou version.
In Pete Brown’s book, it is named among his top 50 pubs in the UK, and he writes: “If alehouses began life as the front rooms of people’s homes, this place continues the tradition in a very stylish way – an Edwardian sitting room as a pub.”
3. The Freed Man, 329 Dover Road, Walmer
Previously a post office, it’s now a nautically themed micropub run by Ian Goodban. Ian, who previously ran the Deal Hoy, says bigger chain pubs are more expensive to run with higher rents and restrictions by the breweries. “I decided to leave and set up my own pub. That’s why it’s called the Freed Man, because I was free,” he says.
The nautical theme comes from Ian’s background. “I was in the Navy for 15 years; my dad was a fisherman in Deal. I go diving, fishing, beachcombing. I have a lot of ship crests in there, a whale’s jawbone I found on the beach and lots of quirky things.” He adds: “I honestly believe micropubs are the future.”
Others in Deal: The Just Reproach in King Street
4. The Thomas Tallis Ale House, 48 Northgate, Canterbury
Canterbury’s first micropub, located in an historic 17th-century building, and is run by Mark Robson, who owns the Just Reproach micropub in Deal. The Thomas Tallis differs from the typical design, instead having more than one room. However, it follows the same ethos, with a focus on conversation and real ale.
Despite the huge array of pubs in the city, this is the first of its kind in Canterbury.
5. The Thirsty Scarecrow, 107 High Street, Dover
This micropub-cum-hair salon is another relative newcomer to the scene, having opened a year ago. Run by Katy Tatham and Kieran Redmond, the boho-style pub is also Britain’s first micro cider house. Katy explains: “We saw there was quite a population of cider drinkers so decided to go down that route. We have one cask of ale but 20 ciders.”
However, it is not just a place to have a drink. “I’m a hairstylist and we’ve got a salon room at the back of the pub,” explains Katy. “The number of women who would come in and say ‘I look like a scarecrow’ – that’s where the name came from.”
6. The Firkin Alehouse, 18 Cheriton Place, Folkestone
Winner of the CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year accolade in 2014, this Folkestone micropub – the town’s first – was formerly a hairdressers but was transformed in 2012 by owner Neil King. Following the micropub concept, it offers a friendly environment with no music, TV, mobile phones – or children. It has become a popular community watering hole, offering real ale straight from the cask as well as local ciders and wine.
7. The Cellars Alehouse, The Old Brewery, Buckland Road, Maidstone
In Maidstone, the one and only micropub is the Cellars Alehouse, run by father and son team Duncan and David Spencer. David explains: “My dad had always wanted to have his own pub and I liked the idea but it was finding a way of doing it. Micropubs give you an opportunity to make a profit. With regular pubs there’s not much chance to make money. There was also a gap in the market here in Maidstone as the only other micropub closed.”
Their pub is an old converted cellar, bigger than your average micropub and they have a servery instead of table service.
8. Barber’s Arms, Bridge Street, Wye
Situated in an old barber’s shop – hence the name – this micropub is one of a handful of places to grab a pint in the village. But, as with all micropubs, it offers something quite different, with just craft beers, real ales and local cider.
The pub is run by Graham Austen, formerly a cabinet maker, who knows his stuff, having previously organised beer festivals in the area. The beer is housed in a cool room at the back of the pub and, according to the Micropub Association, ingeniously stacked using scaffold planks.
9. Four Candles, 1 Sowell Street, Broadstairs
Thanet is undoubtedly the micropub capital of Kent, with 15 in total. The Four Candles in Broadstairs was opened in 2012 by Mike Beaumont and is considered Britain’s smallest brewpub, brewing its own beer on the premises.
“Before I opened, I was aware of the concept of micropubs – I was living in Westgate and going to the Bake and Alehouse,” Mike explains. “I thought ‘I can do this’. I drove past this place, saw the To Let sign and thought ‘that could be a micropub’”. Within just three days the premises was his and Mike has never looked back. “All I had was £2,500 to do everything, including the first month’s rent. I see it as I had the benefit of having no money.” He adds: “In my pub people are forced to talk with the way the seating is set out. We’ve got an amazing set of locals, but I’m always seeing new faces.”
Others in Thanet: Broadstairs – Yard of Ale and Mind the Gap; Margate – Ales of the Unexpected, Fez, Harbour Arms, Tap Room and Two Halves; Ramsgate – Hovelling Boat Inn, NauticAles, Conqueror Alehouse and Hair of the Dog, Minster; Wheel Alehouse, Birchington and Bake and Alehouse, Westgate
10. The Paper Mill, 2 Charlotte Street, Sittingbourne
This micropub, run by mother and son team Marianne and Harvey Melia, is located in the vicinity of the former Sittingbourne paper mill. The owners pride themselves on being different. “We are very much in the style of an ale house. You won’t find any fruit machines, juke boxes, TVs or pool tables here, but you will find congenial hosts, a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and good old conversation.”
Others in Swale: Furlongs Ale House in Faversham and The Heritage in Minster, Sheerness
11. Past and Present, 2 Skinner Street, Gillingham
Medway’s first micropub was opened in Gillingham by two couples in 2014; David and Lorraine Hallowell, and Colin and Sue Maskell. And despite east Kent being the micropub hotbed, it seems the love is spreading, with others popping up in Medway since.
The owners say: “We have no bar, so find a seat, settle in, select your drink from the blackboard and ring a table bell for service. “No traffic to see or train noise overhead, just a quiet little haven.”
12. The Compass Ale House, 7 Manor Road, Gravesend
In 2014, Charlie Venner and partner Caroline Stroud opened Gravesend’s first micropub with couple John Warden and Rachel Roland. The pub offers the typical high seating and no-frills ethos, and those caught using a mobile phone get hit with a £1 fine, which is then donated to charity.
Previously an estate agents, the building has been converted and offers a selection of real ales and ciders.