Published: 11:30, 15 November 2019
| Updated: 14:34, 27 January 2020
“It was a right ****hole, well it was until I arrived”.
Approach the strangely named John Brunt VC from the wrong angle and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into a dodgy corner of Eastern Europe.
Okay, its position in Paddock Wood doesn’t help (regular readers know my views about pubs next to stations) but this must be one of the least attractive boozers in Kent.
As the door creaked open I almost stepped into the skewiff pool table, but having negotiated this first obstacle I got a darned good licking from Bernie. The woman in decorator’s trousers holding onto the black shaggy mutt, with three white socks, was equally affable.
Any sane person looking closely at the pub, either inside or out, will conclude the best course of action would be to tear it down and start again. It’s about as rough and ready as anywhere you’ll visit.
The opening quote, from the current manager, is telling us he believes he’s turned the place around in the last 16 months.
Despite this, I think most people stepping in here (wiping their feet on the way out!) would still think it’s a pub from hell. But, despite first appearances, and what I’ve already said, I think this is a great pub.
Okay, I wouldn’t dream of eating here, even if they were serving food – though the snack offering, including twiglets, scratchings, nuts and crisps was extensive. And, the whole place could do with a good seeing to from the women in decorator trousers. But, it’s got heart and the regulars are as friendly and upbeat as you’ll find anywhere.
It’s a proper pub – pool, a Rocket jukebox (though please don’t play Dire Straits again), two dartboards, a decent sized screen and a reasonable selection of drinks. Sadly, if there’s even a trace of snobbishness about you then you’ll have to write it off.
At this point the decorator lady and her fella Pete disappeared into the night as their taxi had arrived and it was kisses and hugs all round.
Barman Ray was attentive and cheery so, on his recommendation, I started with a Doom Bar (4%) which poured with a decent head and was well kept. I tasted the Hobgoblin, but it was a very poor second. Secret Drinker’s mate tried just about everything else on offer – Amstel, Guinness and vodka and coke.
When the manager arrived and stepped in for Ray he was, if anything, even more friendly and approachable – though he did have me marked down as either a taxman or a copper and he does support Arsenal!
He was happy to chat and explained the unique pub name. In 1947 the Kent Arms was renamed John Brunt VC in honour of a young Second World War officer who grew up in Paddock Wood and was later awarded the Victoria Cross. In 1997 the pub’s name was changed to the Hopping Hooden Horse but there was such local outrage the former name was restored in 2001.
By now the jukebox was blaring out the Beautiful South and two tunes from Eddy Grant. For alternative entertainment you could try the dominoes and travel scrabble on a shelf which looks as if it hasn’t been touched for decades.
The usual pithy words of wisdom are chalked up around the bar – ‘Free drinks for anyone aged over 80 – with a parent present’, ‘Be careful drink driving – mind my car’ and ‘Everybody brings happiness – some when they come, some when they leave’.
Deciding it was time for me to deliver a little happiness around the place my mate and I made our way into the night.
Sadly, if you want to share the delights of the John Brunt you’ll need to be quick as it’s closing on December 2 when Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken UK) will spend £250,000 ripping the heart out of it to re-open a gastro offering next February.
Surely they won’t be daft enough to change the name and who knows, as one of only two pubs in a town of 8,000 people, perhaps a gastro pub will prove to be a winner?
It will, nevertheless, be very sad that the rough and ready folk of the current rough and ready boozer may be lost forever.