Twitterland fans living on the south bank of The Thames got together last week to pose me some serious questions about their home town.
‘Why are you avoiding Gravesend?’ ‘What’s this town ever done to you?
I assured them I had nothing against the home of the world’s oldest iron pier and quickly consulted my ‘pubs visited map’.
In fact, I’ve filed three local reviews but agreed a visit was overdue and so the Apprentice and I headed for a Friday night by the river.
Entering through the back door of the Three Daws we found ourselves in one of the busiest bars I’ve been in for many a long month. It was wonderful to be jostled a little and share the banter as we battled our way to the bar.
There were at least five beers to choose from on tap and we both decided to stay local – I went for a 5.2% Crook Log dark ale from the Bexley Brewery and his nibs chose even closer to home with a pint of Iron Pier’s 4.3% Old Ale.
It was so bustling and upbeat I asked if we’d arrived on a special night but quick as a shot the barman said: “No, it’s because it’s the best pub in Gravesend”.
I laughed and said: “And I suppose the young lady serving us is the best barmaid in town?”
“No”, he said, “I’m the best barmaid around here, but my boob tube is in the wash.”
Leaving the self-acclaimed super server we headed for a slightly quieter corner of this Grade-II listed building to discuss the merits of our various pints.
This is a big old pub and although there are separate rooms and spaces set aside for dining it’s more like a massive random, rambling space that flows through the building with low ceilings and reassuringly uneven and undulating floors.
There were plenty of people in to eat and a small army of black ninja waiters and waitresses were buzzing around to take orders and deliver dinner – specials on the board were fish pie at £12.50 and a cranachan cheesecake for £7.
I spied a bar billiard table, a fruit machine and a jukebox but they were all being ignored in favour of drinking and enjoying the company of others.
And, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better I also spotted a poster proclaiming our visit coincided with Cover to Cover’s first gig in town.
The bar was finally thinning out a little as some folks were heading upstairs for a private birthday party so we headed in the opposite direction to hear the band tuning up.
Weaving our way down to the basement it crossed my mind it wouldn’t be sensible to get too tanked up before tackling this slanting staircase.
It was a big open space with its own bar, and there was another Iron Pier beer (Heritage West Street Pale Ale) on tap so I tried that with the Apprentice, for some reason, shifting to Jack Daniels.
Previously we’d both felt the Iron Pier, with its more malty, slightly woody taste, just shaded Bexley Brewery’s Crook Log. However, Iron Pier fan though I am, I couldn’t recommend this latest pint as I found it had a slight sourness.
As the band tuned up they tested both their instruments and a powerful green strobe light – they sounded good, but I couldn’t see anything for several minutes!
Striking up just after 9pm the limited audience were asked to choose between Runaround Sue and Another Brick in The Wall as the band’s opener. Pink Floyd won this early contest and I slightly feared what the full playlist might contain. But, I needn’t have worried as we were then treated to Steve Harley, Earth Wind & Fire, Sweet Home Alabama, A Glam Rock medley, Van Morrison, Alright Now, T Rex, Beatles, Quo and Queen – to name but a few.
I felt for the band early on as there weren’t many folks in but by 10pm a decent crowd had gathered and a good many were on their feet. The band took this as a cue to shift eras and started an 1980s homage with Human League. It was a great opportunity for me to test the Apprentice’s knowledge and appreciation of a musical era before he was even thought of, let alone born.
Taking a break from 40-year-old tunes I briefly visited the party room at the top of the pub where everyone was also on top form and also discovered a room at the back on the first floor, which must be great for meetings, packed full of fascinating history with views right out across the river.
By the time I rejoined the Apprentice he was cock-a-hoop at recognising a Jam track but also pointed out his smart watch had warned him the noise was above 100dB – honestly these mod-fangled devices seek to suck the fun out of everything.
As our host was keen to impart when we arrived, this may well be the best pub in Gravesend.
Where else could groups of like-minded people gather for a great pint on one floor while a free band belts out brilliant old tunes on another, and a full-on family birthday celebration is in full swing on the third floor? Mind you, I think there were a good deal of folk happily shifting their allegiance between floors by the end of the evening.
Three Daws, Town Pier, Gravesend DA11 0BJ
Decor: Old world with great history but no pretension whatsoever, it’s big and bold enough to be three pubs in one. A great bar for anyone seeking a decent pint and the craic, a good space for a party upstairs and an excellent open area for a live band below. *****
Drink: Five stars for the five beers on offer at bar No.1, with more available downstairs. We highly rated both Iron Pier’s 4.3% Old Ale and Bexley Brewery’s darker ale, the 5.2% Crook Log. *****
Price: The pints of Iron Pier were £4.20 each and the Crook Log £4.60. Downstairs a Camden Pale Ale was a fiver and the Apprentice’s Jack Daniels £3.50. But, I’m awarding an extra star for a great, free band (well played lads). ****
Staff: We immediately warmed to the landlord who, despite being rushed off his feet, was the perfect host. And, you could tell barmaids Holly and Honor get a buzz from working here too. *****
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