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Secret Drinker reviews Greene King's Three Tuns pub in Canterbury city centre


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It must be 35 years since I last set foot in the Three Tuns, so I was interested to see how much had changed in this historic Canterbury boozer.

Walking in, the soundtrack playing was Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, which, to be fair, could easily have been playing last time I was in.

Unsurprising, the iconic rounded-shape of this traditional city pub is also exactly the same – I’m sure planners wouldn’t allow Greene King to change it, even if it wanted to.

As a side note, I’d be interested how many corner pubs this chain has as it seems to favour these plots?

I must admit I generally used to frequent pubs on the other side of the city, the Falstaff Tap, the Dolphin, to name but two. However, I used to call in at the Tuns when my well-to-do mates wanted to visit other establishments in Castle Street which offered more late night entertainment.

Opposite the front door was a fully masked up young lady sitting at a high stool whose sole job it is to point you in the right direction as it’s full table service. Most staff wore the plastic shield type masks with jazzy bright green plastic specs.

Historic Canterbury pub, the Three Tuns occupies a corner plot on Watling Street and Castle Street
Historic Canterbury pub, the Three Tuns occupies a corner plot on Watling Street and Castle Street

It was reasonably quiet at 6pm on a Thursday night, as you might expect, but there was still some 20 folk already in – it’s a fair lump of a place though so they were easily absorbed.

It proudly proclaims it is ‘the home of pub sport’, but all the TV screens were pointlessly showing motorsport – of course, no-one had the slightest interest in the Slovakia Ring, though mercifully the sound was muted.

Then, as if this wasn’t bad enough, Sky Sports switched first to Home Nations snooker and then IPL cricket. There was a large sign informing customers TVs will be switched off at 9.45pm - seriously, do yourself a favour and pull the plug four hours earlier if there's nothing worth showing.

For a moment I thought someone was actually interested in the cricket until I realised this fellow was asking his young lady if she’d like another game of cards
For a moment I thought someone was actually interested in the cricket until I realised this fellow was asking his young lady if she’d like another game of cards
Maybe it was a little chilly, so the beer garden was deserted, but the TV screen was still playing
Maybe it was a little chilly, so the beer garden was deserted, but the TV screen was still playing

The barman reckoned the 4.2% Tribute from the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall was the best beer on tap so I settled into my seat in front of the large front window and enjoyed a very pleasant, light and zesty pint. Next up, again for nostalgic reasons, I requested a pint of Speckled Hen but unfortunately they were ‘out of it’ so I switched to San Miguel instead.

There was a fair mix of folk in and the couple sitting just along from me made their own entertainment with several games of cards.

Dogs and children are welcome and there were a number of both in during my visit busy competing to see who could be the most boisterous.

The Speckled Hen wasn’t available so I had a pint of San Miguel instead – an interesting shaped head!
The Speckled Hen wasn’t available so I had a pint of San Miguel instead – an interesting shaped head!
Inside and out, the pub is proud to proclaim its status as sports bar showing live matches on a regular basis
Inside and out, the pub is proud to proclaim its status as sports bar showing live matches on a regular basis

As is the tradition these days, the staff were all dressed head to toe in black and there were more than enough of them on duty to serve the number of customers in.

At one point there were even two of them doing the pointing job from the high stool near the entrance.

Perhaps I was viewing the place through rose-tinted glasses previously - or maybe I just had considerably more alcohol when I last visited - but I just didn’t experience quite the same glow that I remember. Sure, the bar is well-stocked (apart from the Hen) and everywhere is well decorated, if a little dark, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

Designed to provide plenty of space for diners, the pub can seat a large number of people
Designed to provide plenty of space for diners, the pub can seat a large number of people
Man’s best friend is welcome here, though only one hound was in when I visited
Man’s best friend is welcome here, though only one hound was in when I visited

If I had to sum it up I’d say that this is the sort of pub I’d visit for a pint, and maybe try to fit in a second, while I left Mrs SD to get on with the shopping. This said, I bet that during different times the Tuns does a fantastic trade from tourists.

I was peckish so decided to give the food a try and managed to persuade one of the staff to deliver me a menu.

This was extensive and printed in detail on both sides of a piece of A3 paper. It didn’t take me long to make my selection but despite trying to get the attention of any of the many staff I finally gave up after waiting 15 minutes and decided to visit the chippy instead.

The menu is extensive and runs to two sides of an A3 menu – it’s just a shame I couldn’t get anyone to take my order
The menu is extensive and runs to two sides of an A3 menu – it’s just a shame I couldn’t get anyone to take my order
There are plenty of tables in outside patio area at the back of the pub
There are plenty of tables in outside patio area at the back of the pub

Whilst disappointed not to get served, I have to say I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened pre-Covid and I'm prepared to accept the slip up was entirely due to the extraordinary times we’re experiencing.

The virus also meant the fruit machines and other games machines were all out of service but the jukebox still seemed to be available and operating.

And, as I decided to depart, in search of a cod and chips, it started playing Picture This from Blondie – the pub might have changed a little but the songs definitely remain the same.

Beautifully presented, it looks as if the pub has received a full paint job recently – I love the traditional old sign
Beautifully presented, it looks as if the pub has received a full paint job recently – I love the traditional old sign
Once one of Britain’s largest theatres, the Three Tuns can trace its history right back to Roman times
Once one of Britain’s largest theatres, the Three Tuns can trace its history right back to Roman times

The Three Tuns – Watling Street, Canterbury CT1 2UD

Decor: The pub is spick and span and looks as if it’s been decorated inside and out fairly recently, although it did feel a little dark in some places. ****

Drink: The Tribute was well kept and well served, though, with the Speckled Hen not being available, there wasn’t a lot of beers available on tap. **

Price: The Tribute was £4.15 a pint and the San Miguel more expensive at £4.50. **

Atmosphere: It was reasonably lively for an early evening, but far too dominated by large TV screens for my liking. ***

Staff: There were plenty of staff working and everyone seemed pleasant. It was a shame no-one took my order, but these are difficult times. ***

Plastic screens have been installed at the bar but it’s strictly table service only from the staff in plastic masks
Plastic screens have been installed at the bar but it’s strictly table service only from the staff in plastic masks
There is a strict one-way system operating around the pub, including the corridors
There is a strict one-way system operating around the pub, including the corridors

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Dogs are allowed in and the pub goes out of its way to make them welcome
Dogs are allowed in and the pub goes out of its way to make them welcome
The toilets certainly looked clean but even wearing a mask you’d still be able to find them with your eyes closed
The toilets certainly looked clean but even wearing a mask you’d still be able to find them with your eyes closed
There’s a strict one-in, one-out system operating for the toilets and you’re asked to shift the dial on the door with your elbow
There’s a strict one-in, one-out system operating for the toilets and you’re asked to shift the dial on the door with your elbow
The pub is currently open 11am until 10pm daily
The pub is currently open 11am until 10pm daily
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