The Gentleman Drinker visits The Pride of Kent in Staplehurst, Kent
When I visited this pub six years ago it was full of smoke, topless hop-pickers, mottled blonde wives and their commuter husbands. The jukebox was loud and tempers were hot. It had a troubled reputation. Then, in 2010, it became a sorry sight of boarded up doors and windows: another casualty of the smoking ban.
Like Jesus and Doctor Who, it has risen from the dead and re-invented itself. The Pride of Kent in 2011 is much changed from the hard drinking days of 2005. A sign on the door declares: “No vests. Shirts must be worn at all times.” Hop-pickers, be warned.
It’s a smart Victorian house: bay windows, whitewashed walls and window boxes bursting with crocuses. On entering, the tables and chairs are well spaced out. The jukebox and television have been removed. There is a radio playing but the impression is of an intimate saloon where conversation is the priority.
Naturally, there are framed prints of Edwardian Staplehurst on the wall, and other period features: the iron legged chairs and tables, the oak panelling and wooden floors. The main bar is a magnificent piece of Victoriana, replete with recessed mirrors and a clock, running at pub time, (five minutes fast). Sadly though, there are leather sofas and a fashionable crimson and beige paint job which leads to a schizophrenia between new and old. A Jack Russell and an Alsatian also live here, and can be seen wandering about the saloon. They are friendly, but if you fear big dogs then take care.
A pint of Young’s Bitter costs £2.90, Carling £3.40 and Carlsberg Export £3.60. There are two ales, five lagers and Stowford Press cider on offer. The range may not be fantastic but the quality of the drinks is superb. I drank the purest pint of Black Sheep ale there. Beautiful.
The landlord was a hands-on gent – at the bar at all times, and who made a point of welcoming me. Admittedly I was half of the custom that morning, so he could afford to pay me attention, but the personal touch on quiet days is much appreciated. He told me he’s been running the pub for six months, renting it from Scottish and Newcastle breweries, and still settling in. Food is forthcoming, though not available when I visited.
The beer garden is pretty plain and the lawn parched yellow. The lack of ash-tray was difficult. A carelessly cast cigarette could result in a grass fire of Dante-esque proportions.
While there is no television, or slot machines, there is a rack of newspapers by the door. The landlord is an old fashioned host and the regulars are friendly. The Pride of Kent has a very local orientation, and it really is a hidden gem. Come here for the beer, the company, but be on your best behaviour. If you want to get raucously hammered go to the Bell or the King’s Head. The Pride of Kent hopes to leave behind its troubled past. And don’t forget to wear a shirt.