Published: 05:00, 08 October 2021
| Updated: 08:13, 14 October 2021
One look at the front of the Smugglers Inn at Herne told me everything I needed to know – an olde worlde, good old fashioned boozer that would have muttering men in caps, dogs snoozing in front of a blazing fire and beams to smack your head against.
‘Never judge a book by its cover’ – well not if you turn left on a Saturday night that is.
As is the norm during the season the pub’s footie team take over the left hand bar to celebrate/commiserate following the match.
The place was absolutely buzzing with the music blaring and everyone in high spirits. Confident it was a great victory I checked the score and was told they’d lost 3-0, gawd knows what the celebrations would be like if they had won?
But the really astonishing thing, given the façade of this 14th century Shepherd Neame boozer, is the modern, light, airy, high-ceilinged room which feels more like a sports bar than a pub.
The pool table and dartboard had been commandeered for the duration and although I was welcomed with open arms, Mrs SD and the apprentice had already turned right so I followed them across the corridor into the other main bar.
Talk about a game of two halves, in here there were two old boys sat at the bar, one in a cap, beams aplenty and it was lit just enough to make out who was on the far side of the room.
The footballers next door were selecting the tunes via the jukebox and while it was fair blaring next door the levels across the way were about right.
Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland was swiftly followed by the Spice Girls, so it seems musical appreciation might well be directly linked to footie skill levels!
I went for the 4.8% Hurlimann (I seem to remember it being stronger, perhaps it was and that’s why I don’t remember), the apprentice chose Guinness and Mrs SD went the usual Sav Blanc route. The first two were £4.50 each and the wine £5.50.
Usually when I pay with hard-earned cash it elicits a slightly surprised reaction from bar staff who have to put down the card machine and head to the till instead. Here there was no such reaction as I’m told they don’t take cards and never have.
One thing they did use to do was serve food, but that stopped some time ago although my question sparked a thoughtful conversation among the regulars sat at the bar, who quickly decided the Curious Cat a mile up the road was the best bet.
One regular, quick-fingered Keith, really took the initiative by dialling the establishment and then calling across to find out what time he should book our table? Maybe he’s got shares in the place.
The barmaid concurred saying they’d done a fantastic spread for a function recently, the food was really good and it was a smashing event. I’ll spare you the foodie details as this isn’t the right place for a restaurant review, although it does call itself a gastropub and was converted from the First & Last.
Back in the flat cap bar, Keith had already dialled up a second establishment to order himself an Indian.
There are some stairs facing you in the main corridor and, as there’s nothing to deter you from walking up them, I wondered if the pub also offered rooms but I’m assured it doesn’t and this is strictly the landlord’s domain.
Behind the stairs you’ll find the toilets, which are also a little confusing as there are no doors and therefore no signs to let you know which is which. I took a punt on blue for boys, peach for girls and was right.
Clean and fresh enough, if a little dated and small, the only thing I really noted was the minute size of the basin, although the push taps do, for once, stay on long enough to wash the soap off your hands.
Outside there is a good sized garden which looks as if it’s undergone the full lockdown makeover. It also looks the right shape for bat and trap (advertised on the front wall of the pub) but whether it still hosts this ancient game I don’t know.
It’s fair to say we all enjoyed our Saturday evening visit to this historic Herne hostelry and all remarked how well the two very different sets of pub goers mixed and matched in their separate bars.
But, perfectly pleasant and warmly welcoming as The Smugglers was, it was leaving the place that I found something particularly interesting. Just across the road I clocked a little gem of the place I had no idea was there.
Before Mrs SD or the apprentice could stop me I walked into the Butcher’s Arms, an absolute one-off micropub, which only reopened after lockdown the very day we were at The Smugglers.
The welcome, or more accurately, banter-like abuse I received immediately sold me on the place – I will be back to deliver a report of a proper session I promise you.
Smugglers Inn, 1 School Lane, Herne Bay CT6 7AN
Decor: To use the footie parlance, a pub of two halves – one light, airy, raucous and modern, the other beamed and traditional with dark wood and older style furnishings. One thing they had in common was folk sat on stools at the bar. ****
Drink: It’s obviously your usual Shepherd Neame fare but I enjoyed reminiscing with a pint of Hurlimann and my partners in crime agreed their selections of Guinness and white wine were perfectly fine. I was going to sample a pint of Smooth but it was ‘off’. ***
Food: It’s up the road about a mile.
Price: Both pints were identically priced at £4.50, Mrs SD’s wine was more, as usual, but to be fair in this case it was only an extra quid. ***
Staff: The barmaid was chirpy and attentive, she’s clearly worked here for quite a little while, though regular Keith’s initiative definitely makes him worthy of special mention. ****