Published: 06:00, 13 August 2021
| Updated: 09:13, 13 August 2021
Never judge a book by the cover – walking past overflowing bins and a wobbly gent in double denim having a quick ciggie in the doorway, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Dragoon.
Unimposing from the street, this Maidstone boozer looks small from Sandling Road, but it’s deceptive and opens up into a Tardis.
Let’s get one thing straight before we start and you need to remember this in spite of anything I might go on to say, I absolutely loved this down-to-earth, no-nonsense pub.
Looking for a decent beer I was faced with four taps all serving ale – a good start you might think, you might think that, but all four were Masterbrew. Against my better judgement I decided to give it a go. Needless to say that one was enough.
Barmaid Lori soon had the pint pulled and, unlike the beer, I warmed to her immediately, but my request for a receipt led her to collapse with laughter. Me questioning the hilarity led to more belly laughs before, through her chuckles, she informed it’s the first time she’s ever been asked for one.
At this point I noticed two massive handles by the bar door and questioned what they were for? The result was more laughter from the bar and, answer one: "For drunk people to pull themselves up the step", before answer two: "We get a lot of old folk in."
If answer two is correct the age range is impressive as the next second I narrowly missed being run down at the bar by a young lad on a scooter, I’d guess he was three or four.
A fair bit of Fosters was being ordered but I was always going to avoid that and shifted to Hurlimann, a second receipt request led Lori to whip a tea towel in my direction.
I escaped to the side bar where there was a lively game of rummikub taking place between a couple of women who clearly don’t like to lose – discovering one was the landlady didn’t surprise me.
This is a pub which takes games seriously, there are two top notch dartboards and a pair of pool tables, one green and one dark pink.
There was even a third, small pool table stacked against one wall. And, judging by the packed trophy cabinet, I bet they can’t wait for the team leagues to start again.
This right hand side of the pub is stepped up in levels and I headed up and out, past the bucket ashtray, into the fresh air at the back.
This outside ‘smoking’/seating area is full-on fence green and the empty paint pots are testament to the fact the job’s only just been completed.
The bench and seats are all chained and padlocked up – a result, I’m told, of a previous large, green bench mysteriously disappearing one dark night.
There's also a bit of off road parking available and a sign on the wall makes it crystal clear that this is for patrons only.
There’s just enough space for three white vans – as was the case when I was in.
Back in the bar a Scotsman was playing Phil Collins followed by Jimmy Nail so I had no choice but to take control of the jukebox.
Under Lori’s watchful eye, selected The Jam, Young Rebel Set and finally Nena’s 99 Red Balloons.
Having sorted the music to everyone’s satisfaction, I took a seat between two pairs of fellows in the front bar.
The first pairing was the previously mentioned Scot and double-denim man, the second pair was the man who installed the handles and his mate – they then provided the entertainment by insulting each other back and forth tennis-style with ever-more damning abuse.
This is a perfect example of that most precious of things – a proper local pub with die-hard regulars and a brilliant barmaid who are all more than ready to welcome a visitor, no matter how strange his requests at the bar!
It’s also very much a family affair with the landlady’s eldest daughter Lori working today and her youngest daughter, whose kid was previously doing laps on his scooter, also working shifts when required.
I don’t want to over-indulge my toilet-loving Twitter followers (@drinker_secret) so I’ll just say the gents are wonderfully old fashioned and traditional but, most importantly, impeccably maintained – and, who doesn’t love windowsills decorated with Astroturf?
Last, but by no means least, in this incredibly family-orientated pub, I must give special mention to the remarkable tribute on the back bar wall which remembers a daughter who clearly died far too young.
From my first look at The Dragoon I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but I discovered a wonderful back street boozer which deserves a visit – so get along and meet Lori.
The Dragoon, 40 Sandling Road, Maidstone ME14 2RF
Decor: It’s a proper pub that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. One extra star for the Astroturfed window ledges and one for the Indian restaurant-style elephant cushions. ****
Drink: The Masterbrew was, unfortunately, exactly as I remember it, but both lagers were absolutely fine and expertly poured and served.
Price: According to my hand-written receipt the bitter was £3.40, the Hurlimann £4.10 and the Kronenbourg most expensive at £4.20. ***
Staff: Lively, friendly, helpful, abusive, chatty and hard-working – all in exactly the right measure. It’s having characters like Lori behind the bar that make all the difference in back street boozers like this one. *****