Published: 05:00, 11 February 2022
| Updated: 10:55, 14 February 2022
Dark green on the outside, so dark inside it takes time for your eyes to adjust, and nothing the slightest bit trendy or poncy anywhere in sight. This is the most traditional pub I’ve been in for many a long year.
Maidstone town centre boozers are as hit and miss as an old packet of pork scratchings – wonderfully matured and marinated or, like a dodgy pint, having a very bad effect on you the following morning.
So, walking down Union Street on a Thursday lunchtime I stepped through the door into the gloom of The Style & Winch with a level of trepidation.
A sign outside promises ‘good food’ but the barman quickly quashed this idea and explains the kitchen hasn’t seen action for a good while.
He went on to add insult to injury by telling everyone in the bar how much he enjoys a good salt beef sandwich for lunch. However, he redeemed himself by recommending a pint of 3.8% Fife & Drum from the Musket Brewery and a packet of Tayto crisps by way of compensation.
The beer had just enough life to it, without being over fizzy, and the depth of flavour immediately told you the ale is well kept here.
Adding to the traditional feel, and still a nice touch in any pub, there was a selection of current newspapers on a table at the back of the bar (Note to editor: I rearranged them to place the KM on top).
There’s a very decent looking dartboard at the back and a pool table at the front with a jukebox on the side wall. When I walked in it was playing Mr. Brightside by The Killers – my daughter would love the place immediately, although it wasn’t over loud and didn’t dominate.
Everything about this pub is beautifully simple and traditional, but it’s also effective and efficient. Plus, there are still beer towels on the bar and beermats on the tables, two more big plus points for me.
It must be the chilly weather, but I was only halfway through my pint and already needed to pay a visit to the little boys’ room.
Talk about a contrast, the gents is just as functional, traditional and down to earth as the rest of the place but compared to the natural darkness of the bar it’s as bright as the sun and your eyes take a moment to adjust.
Back in the bar with the old boys, one fellow was informing anyone who’d listen it was imperative he returned home with a pack of Birds Eye fish fingers. Without hesitation a drinking buddy upped and left, reappearing 10 minutes later with a pack of the frozen delicacy, what a mate. The barman immediately put them on ice (presumably the freezer in the kitchen is working, unlike anything else in there!) and they were saved for his departure while he had a few more pints.
This tells you everything you need to know about this pub – good chat, thoughtful barman, old school and male dominated. I’m not saying women never cross the threshold, I’m sure they must do at some point, but given the conversation and the clientele it’s difficult to imagine a female in the place.
Jack came in next and his Fosters was placed in front of him without a word being spoken, about the drink anyway, conversation was again in full flow before the seat of his trousers met the bar stool.
There’s an old fruit machine, plenty of historic pictures on the walls, it’s a typical pub carpet and the ceiling is painted the type of colour they always used to be when everyone smoked inside.
I took a brief stroll into the back garden and was surprised by the size of it, it really does extend a fair way back and, as well as the disused kitchen there’s a large function room which, I’m reliably informed, used to be a gun range for Maidstone police.
At the very far end someone has been growing veg and then, just when I thought I’d seen everything, turning to go back in I found myself face to face with an old police box – maybe the coppers left it here following target practice?
Inside, the chat had shifted to other old local pubs, German soldiers during the war and an ex-table tennis player who once went on tour to Holland – cue jokes about going Dutch and swapping the pool table for ping pong.
This is as traditional a pub as you’ll find on the planet, as black as your hat inside – like town centre boozers should be, and clearly loved by its locals. But, you should also take the trouble to visit – visitors would not be disappointed.
The Style & Winch, 72 Union Street, Maidstone ME14 1ED
Decor: **** Dark green outside, even darker inside. It’s as traditional as it’s possible to be. Many folk would turn on their heel or not even venture through the door, which would be a great pity as they’d be missing a hidden gem.
Drink: **** The 3.8% Fife & Drum, from the Musket Brewery, is a golden beer with a decent head and a fairly strong, bitter taste. Other beers are available.
Price: *** The bitter costs £3.80. Given the quality of the ale you probably wouldn’t choose lager but if you did a Kronenbourg costs £4.20. The only food available was crisps but they were £1.30 a packet.
Staff: **** Old school like everything here, who says ‘thank you my friend’. The barman reminded me of the lead singer from James, who I once interviewed, and he described himself to me as half man, half goat – another thoroughly likeable fellow.
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