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Secret Drinker reviews the Beer Seller pub in Tonbridge


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Talk about one extreme to another. The Ashford abhorration I suffered last week was replaced by a terrific turnaround trip to Tonbridge.

Last time I was in town I brought my kayak to enjoy a few cans and a picturesque paddle past the beautiful castle walls.

This time I was firmly on dry land and made my way down the High Street until I spotted an interesting looking shop front emblazoned with a Wild West sign for the Beer Seller.

The building might be nearly 200 years old but the Beer Seller has only been in residence since the end of 2018. The pub sign looks as if it’s been transported from the Wild West
The building might be nearly 200 years old but the Beer Seller has only been in residence since the end of 2018. The pub sign looks as if it’s been transported from the Wild West

The building itself might date back nearly 200 years, but its latest incarnation only took up residence in December 2018.

Walking past several sacking-draped seating areas, making the place feel like a freshly decorated barn, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I approached the bar at the far end.

I was warmly welcomed by the barman who responded to my ‘What’s good’ question with: “It’s all good, I can’t remember the last time I rang our suppliers to say ‘send us a barrel of bad beer”.

There’s no shortage of real beer in barrels at this establishment
There’s no shortage of real beer in barrels at this establishment

I liked him immediately and accepted his suggestion of a pint of 4.8% Cowcatcher from the East London Brewery without question. Floral and packed full of citrus punch, this American-style IPA is well named after the grille on the front of a steam train as it has all the power necessary to clear anything in its path – a great pint for a summer session.

A four-legged friendly establishment, dogs are not so much welcomed as actively encouraged, so much so I almost felt guilty for not bringing the SD hound with me.

With two dogs already in residence I was joined by a third who the locals coincidentally call Steam Train – though his nick-name has nothing to do with the beer and everything to do with the fact his panting makes him sound like one, real name Rifle, I liked him even more than the barman.

This is the ‘Steam Train’ – I managed to get a photograph during one of his few relaxed moments. His real name is Rifle and he’s an incredibly friendly, happy-go-lucky dog
This is the ‘Steam Train’ – I managed to get a photograph during one of his few relaxed moments. His real name is Rifle and he’s an incredibly friendly, happy-go-lucky dog

There is no music so naturally you chat to whoever is in and I’d already passed the time of day with several folk.

By now the barman, who’d hurt his wrist earlier in the day, was busy trying to fix barmaid Wendy’s glasses with a spectacular mixture of nail glue and Sellotape.

Blaming his injury for turning his co-worker into a Jack Duckworth look-a-like, he next decided to let his hair down and spent the next five minutes with the locals calling him Jesus.

The beamed bar with its tin roof and a whole variety of agricultural knick-knacks continues the mid-West theme
The beamed bar with its tin roof and a whole variety of agricultural knick-knacks continues the mid-West theme

The only similarity between this bar and the gloomy pub I visited last week is the gents is upstairs and the regulars therefore frequent the downstairs disabled facilities while yours truly takes the long route.

Mind you, I was glad I made the effort as the decoration alone makes the climb to the gents worthwhile. Functional and well maintained, it’s the ‘wallpaper’ that has to be seen to be believed (take a look at the pictures).

There’s a quiz night every other Tuesday (£2 per person, £1 for charity) and I also spotted a bumper box of games – including an old Trivial Pursuit and, more unusually, a bagatelle.

The decoration in the gents was clearly a ;labour of love. I’ll leave you to decide which piece of wall art is your favourite – but I reckon any record cover by Nana Mouskouri right on top of the urinal will take some beating
The decoration in the gents was clearly a ;labour of love. I’ll leave you to decide which piece of wall art is your favourite – but I reckon any record cover by Nana Mouskouri right on top of the urinal will take some beating

But generally this is a pub where people come to drink and to talk – it’s true that much of the chat was light-hearted, throwaway stuff, banter if you will, though I did also notice there were a few much deeper, more meaningful conversations taking place and, whilst I obviously wouldn’t pass on these details, it was good to see people sharing some real thoughts and emotions.

Of course, no matter how serious the conversations, it wasn’t long before they were broken by a dog barking somewhere!

For my second pint I selected a Goacher’s Goldstar, much to the consternation of a few locals who quickly informed me it was their favourite and there weren’t too many left in the barrel – I think they were half joking.

At the side of the pub a whole series of wooden alcoves have been created, each with its own rough-and-ready individual character
At the side of the pub a whole series of wooden alcoves have been created, each with its own rough-and-ready individual character

One more thing I should mention is the loyalty card I was handed as I left. I know it’s not new and plenty of places offer them but I still reckon it’s a good idea and I’ll be back to gather further stamps.

The Beer Seller might not be exactly what you’d expect to find on Tonbridge High Street, with an old tin roof and plenty of eclectic furnishings but this is every inch a proper pub with all the essentials and I consider myself very lucky to have found it.

Great beer, chatty/friendly locals, an assorted pack of loveable hounds and a barman who looks like Jesus and isn't afraid to mildly abuse you – what’s not to like?

The cubicles looked comfy enough but I didn’t try them out as I happy with my stool in front of the bar
The cubicles looked comfy enough but I didn’t try them out as I happy with my stool in front of the bar

The Beer Seller, 64 High Street, Tonbridge TN9 1EH

Decor: Ye ha. It might look like the setting for a barn dance or an old Doris Day movie but I liked the rustic feel to this one and there are plenty of comfy spots whether you want to join in the craic or find a quiet corner. It’s worth a visit just to see the gents. ****

Drink: A great selection and whilst the regulars favoured the 5.1% Goldstar from Goachers (which was top notch), I slightly favoured the East London Brewery’s excellent 4.8% Cowcatcher. *****

It’s not often you get a beer recommended to you by Jesus – I shall trust his judgement again though as this pint of Cowcatcher from the East London Brewery was a fantastic pint
It’s not often you get a beer recommended to you by Jesus – I shall trust his judgement again though as this pint of Cowcatcher from the East London Brewery was a fantastic pint

Price: Both pints cost £4.20, which isn’t particularly cheap, but for beer of this quality, kept to this standard and perfectly served I’d pay the price every day. ****

Staff: Not afraid to hand out a little gentle ribbing, the bar staff are just as able to take some stick. Perhaps visually hampered, Wendy wasn’t too involved, but Jesus’ glasses were fine and he was on good form. ****

Quite how, or why, the pub has ended up with the furniture, the lighting or the wall decorations it has nobody seems to knows, but the locals love it
Quite how, or why, the pub has ended up with the furniture, the lighting or the wall decorations it has nobody seems to knows, but the locals love it
This is what every good pub needs – great local music, with no tickets required. And, it looks as if there still looking for new bands
This is what every good pub needs – great local music, with no tickets required. And, it looks as if there still looking for new bands
Upstairs there is a corridor which leads to the Beer Seller’s shop and meeting room. I poked my head round the door of the shop but didn’t get to see the meeting room
Upstairs there is a corridor which leads to the Beer Seller’s shop and meeting room. I poked my head round the door of the shop but didn’t get to see the meeting room
I was only taking a quick peek and didn’t hang around long enough for a proper look at the bottles, or their price tags, but the shop did look interesting
I was only taking a quick peek and didn’t hang around long enough for a proper look at the bottles, or their price tags, but the shop did look interesting

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