Published: 11:30, 21 February 2020
It’s a couple of months since I was on the Island to report from the Albion Hotel in Sheerness, so I felt it was high time to return and try somewhere else on Sheppey.
I’ve been told about several award-winning pubs - the Admiral’s Arm at Queenborough and The Playa at Minster to name but two.
However, whilst I welcome recommendations, there are times I feel compelled to follow my nose and trust in fate to discover real local gems.
This week my nose led me to the Rose & Crown at Leysdown-on-Sea.
Keen to be in out of the cold, my first challenge was getting in – door one had a message directing me to another door, in turn, door two also had a message directing me to door three. Door three, just beyond the disability cart, allows you in but you immediately step into an entrance hall that looks for all the world like a storeroom.
Stepping past various toy dispensers, signs and umbrellas you’ll find yourself in a long thin bar with tables and chairs placed against the front windows.
Faced by a foot-high sign reading ‘cash only’ I checked my wad and, comforted by what I found, stepped up to the bar to be served, hoping no-one had slipped me any dodgy notes as there’s an equally visible sign reading ‘counterfeit notes will be kept and disposed of’.
It seems no real ale is available so when I asked for a beer I faced a little bit of a frown and it was made very clear I could have either Fosters or Stella. When I requested a receipt the frown turned into a scowl and it was suddenly colder in the bar than outside.
The barmaid seemed happy enough chatting with regulars at the bar, but anyone else was treated with suspicion at best and her beady eye will follow you around the pub. I chose a Stella and Mrs SD (the birthday girl), who was busy viewing the swirly, furry wallpaper squares, kept it easy with a large glass of white wine.
There was a roaring open fire, being fed from a blue wheelie bin crammed full with what looked like wooden roof tiles. The fire was fed constantly but there were still stacks of folk sitting with coats, scarves and even hats on.
There is clearly a gang of regulars devoted to this bar and, even though it felt a bit like a corridor, it was hectic for a mid-week evening.
But, looking around, the most important thing missing was a smile – I don’t think I’ve ever visited a place where the punters looked so bewildered, desolate and depressed.
It reminded me of the unusual, but privileged, position shared uniquely by football teams and pubs. It doesn’t matter how bad your team is, you can’t help but support them. And, where else but your local pub will people keep coming back, even though they just sit at the bar and slag the place off.
There is no pool, no darts and no jukebox but Heart radio was being pumped through the speakers and, for some inexplicable reason, several folk were glued to the silent TV screen showing Flog It.
The most popular thing in the bar was, without doubt, the fruit machine and at one point there was a small queue waiting to use it. Strangely, even after someone enjoyed a decent sized win the interest still didn’t wane.
Walking through the far end of the bar you have to pass through a plain white corridor to reach the gents.
I don’t know if it was the bars on the window, the way it was decorated or the lighting but it feels for a moment if you’ve walked into a 1960s hospital wing. The gents themselves felt similarly institutional but were clean, fresh and well maintained.
Back in the bar the unsmiling locals continued to load planks onto the fire and the older woman sat at the bar, who looked like the barmaid’s mum, popped on rubber gloves to sort something outside.
This is a pub very much for the locals and I’m sure they love it as much as they do they’re local footie team so won’t hear a word said against it, but I’m afraid visitors are not likely to feel welcome.