In 2005, Martyn Hillier was the owner of a small florist’s in what was previously a butcher’s store, in the village of Herne, in Kent. He’d run a bottle store in nearby Canterbury and kept a few beers behind the flowers so he could continue selling bottled real ale, but things weren’t going too well. Thankfully for him, the Licencing Act of 2003 had recently been implemented, making it easier for any building to get a freehouse license to sell beer—even a tiny old butcher’s store which was now a failing florist’s (by tiny, I’m not exaggerating: it’s one of the smallest pubs in Britain).
Drink In Thanet’s Micropubs Micropubs, Massive Atmospheres Photo Gallery
The idea was to buy a few casks of ale and cider, set them up on the side, then pour them for drinkers. No pub cellar, no lager lines, no expensive kitchens; literally a bare simplification of what a pub is, or what it used to be. The micropub was born and it’s since turned into a phenomenon, with over 300 open in Britain, many of them converted from non-pub spaces into new pub environments. The beer is served quickly, so it’s fresh and there’s a fast rotation through multiple different ales, making these great places for people who want to drink a variety of good beers (the beers are also typically fairly cheap…). Opening times are usually limited, often to just a few hours at lunch and a few more in the evening, while others just open in the late afternoon, with Sundays being a couple of hours from midday.
While they are now all over the country, head to East Kent and Thanet for the home of the micropub and the greatest density of them. Several bus tours have now been set up in the area so you can visit a few, or use local trains and buses to get around. The Butcher’s Arms (29A Herne Street, Herne Bay CT6 7HL) is the obvious starting point and you’ll be surprised at just how small it is—it’s the definition of a micropub in more ways than being the first and the template for others to follow. The Yard of Ale in St Peter’s (61 Church Street, Broadstairs CT10 2TU) is an old stable converted into a pub, where the cobbled floor and hay bales remind you of its past; here dogs are welcomed like local celebrities and the cheeseboard makes a great snack. Nearby is the Four Candles (1 Sowell Street, Broadstairs CT10 2AT), which has a microbrewery on site. The Thirty-Nine Steps (5 Charlotte Street, Broadstairs CT10 1LR) is a popular pub that used to be a pet store; it’s about 39 steps long, with all the beers stored behind a glass window at the back. Fez (40 High Street, Margate CT9 1DS) is a quirky place packed with eclectic retro randomness, where you’ll probably have a harder time deciding which of the many different seats you’d like to sit in rather than picking your pint. A short walk away is The Tap Room in Cliftonville (4 Northdown Parade, Margate CT9 2NR), which has a curved wooden bar and cushion-topped stools—this is a great place to sit and enjoy some of the excellently selected ales.
WHAT: Micropubs in Thanet
HOW: Visit www.micropubassociation.co.uk for a list of micropubs and where to find them.
WHERE: East Kent, England
LOCAL TIP: Faversham Hop Festival
Every year, during the annual harvest, Faversham, in the middle of Kent’s hop gardens, holds a town-wide hop festival. The whole place is draped in green, with hop flowers everywhere and with people wearing clothes embroidered with hop designs and garlands of hops on their head. There are processions, Morris dancers, live music in a genre only heard at events like this, and it’s all charmingly, eccentrically English. There’s also a lot of local cask ale and Shepherd Neame Brewery (see post 80), who co-organize the event, have their own green-hopped beer available, brewed with nearby hops.