Published: 06:00, 03 July 2020
| Updated: 13:19, 03 July 2020
They are minimalist by design, so it’s inevitable that Kent’s micropubs are facing maximum problems in reopening after lockdown.
Set up to be small and intimate, they face a huge challenge to meet the requirements of social distancing – even though it has been reduced to one metre.
Campaign for Real Ale chief executive Tom Stainer said: “While the industry is celebrating the news pubs can reopen, it’s important to note not all will be able to take advantage of the restrictions easing. Micropubs, for example, may not have the indoor or outdoor space to set up table service, and will have to continue to rely on takeaway or delivery trade to keep afloat.
"That’s why Camra will continue to run its Brew2You app, which allows people to find and order local beer straight to their door.
“The government must continue to provide funding for these businesses as well as a roadmap for when they can finally reopen during this time.
"We’re also calling on pub companies and commercial landlords to be mindful that many pubs will be reopening on a reduced income, or not reopening at all. Pubs can not be expected to immediately resume paying rent – especially at pre-Covid levels – or repaying debts and deferred payments run-up during lockdown.”
So what is the plan for your local pint-sized boozer?
Martyn Hillier opened the Butcher’s Arms at Herne – the first micropub in the world – 15 years ago.
He said: “The simple answer is we won’t be opening. You can’t make any money if you’ve only got 14ft by 16ft which would allow four people.
“You’d have to say stay here two hours, drink six pints, drink irresponsibly and go home.
“I get emails every day asking when I’m going to reopen. People are missing the banter of micropubs. But luckily I don’t have overheads and it’s just not worth it yet.”
Former policeman Melvin Hopper opened the Island’s first micropub, The Heritage at Halfway, in 2014.
He and wife Margaret are planning to reopen on Saturday but with seating capacity for 20 compared with 30.
He said: “We are lucky enough to have a garden, but we will have to monitor now many people and households. It will be a bit like being a mathematician.”
The Heritage has been offering a takeaway service from the beginning of lockdown.
Melvin added: “We have not made any money, but we have survived.”
He has another bar A Y’s Man (A Wise Man) in Sheerness, but is uncertain when it will open up again as yet.
Bob Jackson, 75, who runs the 10:50 from Victoria under the railway arches in Strood is counting the hours until Saturday.
The retired joiner and carpenter said: “I just can’t wait to see my pals again. The bar will be shut, but we will be serving from a counter and we are lucky to have a good sized garden which could seat up to 100 people and an outside toilet. And if all our old regulars come back, as I’m sure they will, we will spill out into the car park.”
Bob, who opened up in 2015 with two friends, has kept to the original micropub mantra – keep it small and keep it simple. Unlike others which have sprung up over the decades, he maintains the rules – no spirits, cocktails, television, mobile phones or children.
For Neil King, who runs the Firkin Alehouse, lockdown has opened up a new business avenue. His takeaway and delivery service has taken off serving a six-mile radius from his town centre premises.
He said: “Obviously this has been a terrible time, but on the positive side, I am dealing with new customers who have never been inside my pub, so it’s been a bit of a silver lining.
“And, hopefully they will be encouraged to come and see us. If they are coming in to pick up we would be encouraging them to stay for up to an hour for a drink. Obviously this would not apply to large groups.”
The Past and Present was the first micropub to set up in Medway.
Its owners Dave and Lorraine Hallowell have since moved onto bigger premises at Gin and Tap Room, also in the town.
They plan to reopen a week later to get safety measures “100 % in place”.
Dave has invested in Perspex screens and a green light system to indicate when customers are using toilet facilities.
He said: “We were not given enough time to prepare.
“The sale of plastic has doubled in price, so I have made my own. We have to get this right and we can always turn that green light off when this is all over.”