This might just be the most welcoming pub I’ve ever visited. As I walked in the cheery barmaid not only chirped up a welcome but almost skipped behind the bar.
To be fair, it was a Friday afternoon and there weren’t many others in but when we decided to take a look at the Five Bells’ newly-renovated sports bar, not only were we shown the way, the barmaid insisted on holding the doors open.
And, having been escorted to the rear of this ancient Eastry pub, the landlady herself came to join us and share a wealth of information about the fascinating history dating back to 1675.
In fact, Mary, who’s been here for 14 years, was only too happy to chat and we got the full rundown on the pub, the village, her family, the cobbles outside, the inside story on the brewery, the challenges facing the hospitality trade, a new bar billiard table, catering for weddings, dogs and childminding – you get the picture.
This is a family pub in every sense of the word and it’s also an important part of the fabric of this village.
Mary’s daughter Clare divided her time between serving and laminating posters for forthcoming events while two other village folk took over a table and an ice bucket to quaff a bottle of chilled white wine while planning how the village will mark the Queen’s 70 years on the throne (NB to Andy, who runs the fun quizzes, they’ve heard you’re in a band and will be in touch shortly).
And sure enough, when I got up to pay a visit to the porcelain the barmaid leapt to attention again to open the door and usher me in the right direction.
She decided not to come in with me and I was left alone to report to you that the facilities are impeccably maintained, spotlessly clean and beautifully scented.
So which of Mary’s pearls of wisdom can I share?
The sports room, which is reached via a passage used to store old cardboard boxes, was many years ago, the village fire station and there are various old photos commemorating this fact as well as a full fireman’s uniform hanging on the wall.
The bar in here has been ripped out recently to create more space and to make way for a bar billiard table which is due to arrive shortly. There can’t be many pubs putting these back in, but Mary’s convinced it’ll prove popular and pay for itself.
There’s also a dartboard and a pool table and, judging by the trophies on the shelf, the village must have a couple of half decent players.
The decoration and furnishings all round are clean and well-maintained but a little dated. There’s also a jukebox, an old-fashioned fruit machine and, as you’d expect, TV screens to show the footie, rugger and any other worthwhile sporting events.
This room looks out over a good-sized courtyard area where Mary has previously installed a marque and catered for the odd wedding.
The pub is owned by the Heineken umbrella but Mary owns the lease and clearly takes the lead. Once a child minder locally, she now employs children she once looked after and everyone, whether they’re related or not, is treated as part of the Five Bells’ family.
The pub is proud of the regular events it organises and is already planning a schedule for the next couple of months.
As you read this a clairvoyant will be in action – unless, of course you read this tomorrow, in which case it will have been yesterday, but you probably already knew that. Andy’s fun quizzes are a regular entry on the event blackboard and I’m assured they’re popular.
We didn’t eat but food is served every day and I spotted a couple of interesting offers. You can get two main meals for a tenner, Monday to Friday between noon and 2pm, when you order from the specials board and purchase a dessert each.
There is also a loyalty card where you buy five desserts and get one free but this cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.
Everyone working here appears to care deeply about the pub and seeks to be as inclusive as possible by involving the whole community.
You only need to watch Mary’s video on the pub website or glance at her LinkedIn profile to see what the place is about.
Children are welcome, as she says “I want youngsters to speak their mind, but in a polite and acceptable way” and dogs are equally encouraged: “But only in the main bar, sports bar and garden, on a short lead. Some people don’t like them around when they’re eating so not in the dining room."
Mary is formidable and fiercely proud of her pub – you can tell she’ll do whatever it takes to make it a success: private parties, hosting meetings, hiring function rooms, hosting the British Legion, psychic nights, special food nights, beer festivals, karaoke, discos, live music, oh and for good measure, she added three B&B rooms a few years back.
The Five Bells, The Cross, Lower Street, Eastry, Sandwich CT13 0HX
Decor: The building itself is fascinating and well maintained. Some of the decoration is a little dated but adds to the homely, family feel. ***
Drink: I’m not a massive fan of Fuller’s flagship bitter as I think it lacks a little substance but this pint of London Pride was well kept and better than many I’ve had. The Sav Blanc was ‘okay’ but Mrs SD is convinced it wasn’t Kiwi. ***
Price: A large Sauvignon Blanc is £6.25, if you fancied Shiraz instead it would cost you an extra 50p. A London Pride is £4.20 but a Kronenbourg would set you back just 20p shy of a fiver. **
Staff: Barmaid Rheanna, just one of Mary’s many adopted daughters, not only served the drinks but stepped out from behind the bar to act as a pub guide. ****
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