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Secret Drinker reviews Shepherd Neame's Smack Inn, Whitstable


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Last time I took a trip to ever-trendier Whitstable I got a good deal of flak and was accused of purposely picking the worst pub possible just so I could slate the seaside town.

I protested and explained I never research pubs prior to visiting and simply call in at the first boozer I come across.

The front of The Smack Inn on Middle Wall in Whitstable is about as traditional as it’s possible to be
The front of The Smack Inn on Middle Wall in Whitstable is about as traditional as it’s possible to be

But the brickbats continued unabated and that’s despite me maintaining decorum by toning down several comments. So, just a few months after my last ill-fated visit I felt duty bound to return and try another pub.

This time I travelled on two wheels and headed to town via the Viking Trail. I peddled past The Albert, which looked quiet, and saw a sign advertising the Smack Inn so cycled on until I reached Middle Wall.

They make a big thing about their beach-themed garden but the early evenings are not yet quite warm enough for lycra-clad yours truly so I took some pictures of the folk in the outside area to show you but found a seat inside.

The beach-themed garden area is clearly popular and there were already several people enjoying the fresh air – they were all wearing coats though
The beach-themed garden area is clearly popular and there were already several people enjoying the fresh air – they were all wearing coats though

The diminutive barman seemed quiet at first but once I got chatting to him, unlike me in the cycling gear, he warmed up and cracked a smile.

I faced the usual Shepherd Neame pumps and given where I was decided I had to try a Whitstable Bay Blonde. I’ve sampled this 4.5% pale yellow, citrusy lager a few times and it hasn’t been too bad. Although it went up in my opinion considerably when I ordered my second pint! But more of that later.

Taking a seat in the bar I took in my surroundings. There are plenty of nice traditional touches which start on the outside of the pub even before you get through the door – stained glass, old fashioned glazed bricks and a sign making it clear dogs are welcome.

The seaside theme continues in the bar with plenty of historic photos and nets draped across the walls
The seaside theme continues in the bar with plenty of historic photos and nets draped across the walls

Inside, with the exception of the stripped floorboards, the vast majority of tradition has been removed and replaced by a whole wave of seaside blue paint, chunky wooden furniture and an array of other beachy paraphernalia.

Much of this is window dressing but I did favour the piece made from ‘old’ oars.

There was a sign promoting live music nights and, in particular, an open mic blues jam as well as plenty of notices promoting a variety of cocktails. For those interested, the gin of the week was Bombay Sapphire with Mediterranean tonic and a slice of lime for £6.50.

Oarsome – I liked the look of this novel piece of furniture
Oarsome – I liked the look of this novel piece of furniture

At this point the boss man and his good lady walked through the bar from the back with their own pooch on a lead and before taking the hound for a walk he had a few words with my new friend Harry the barman. In short a list was produced and Harry was presented with jobs he was expected to have done before they returned.

I asked Harry if this was normal and he half-jokingly informed me: “Yes, I do everything around here”.

As if to prove the point, a regular came in and asked if she could order a snack – Harry said ‘yes of course madam’, and then told me the food is also his responsibility and it’s available whenever the pub is open.

From the first advert I spotted down the road, to the first sign I saw when I arrived, this pub is keen to push its beach-themed garden area.
From the first advert I spotted down the road, to the first sign I saw when I arrived, this pub is keen to push its beach-themed garden area.

Before he started in the kitchen I ordered a second pint and saved myself 60p by going for a Spitfire Lager.

I’m not quite sure why as I’ve done this taste test several times previously and the Whitstable Bay always wins. Never again, mark my words.

I don’t know if Harry maintains the pub toilets among his other duties, but I can report the gents were clean, fresh and well presented.

The pub was originally a pair of fisherman's cottages built in the 1800s
The pub was originally a pair of fisherman's cottages built in the 1800s

The garden is clearly popular and a real draw for the pub but a sign makes it very clear it must close at 9pm sharp. Visitors are also asked to keep noise and bad language to a minimum as well as keeping their tops on at all times.

At first I saw no sign of pool, darts or any other games but a more careful look behind the blackboard advertising ice creams revealed the board.

Harry says the team plays on a Thursday evening and, surprise, surprise, it’s him who shifts the furniture and ice cream freezer.

Trivial pursuit might have been around for years but I still can’t resist testing myself whenever I see the cards. The Queen Charlotte in Ramsgate used to put a box of questions on every table.
Trivial pursuit might have been around for years but I still can’t resist testing myself whenever I see the cards. The Queen Charlotte in Ramsgate used to put a box of questions on every table.

I also spotted a good-sized TV screen for showing sport but it was switched off when I was in. There was music playing randomly on the jukebox but it was at a sensible level and allowed for plenty of conversation.

But there’s no doubt about what sets the rhythm here and makes the whole place tick – when the landlord, who also has the New Inn in town, decided to bring Harry with him to the Smack Inn he knew exactly what he was doing.

And, in conclusion, I’m delighted to be able to report upon a much better visit to Whitstable.

The seaside blue carries on into the gents. The toilets were fresh smelling and clean when I visited.
The seaside blue carries on into the gents. The toilets were fresh smelling and clean when I visited.
The pub is well furnished with plenty of chunky wooden tables and chairs
The pub is well furnished with plenty of chunky wooden tables and chairs

The Smack Inn, Middle Wall, Whitstable CT5 1BJ

Decor: The pub is keen to push its beach-themed garden and it did look good – next time I’ll wear more clothing and give it a go. The seaside theme continues inside and generally looks fresh and colourful. ***

Drink: I promise this will be my last SN lager head-to-head. I officially give the Whitstable Bay Blonde 3 stars *** and the Spitfire **

Price: The Spitfire Lager was £4.40, but having already sampled a Whitstable Bay Blonde, which cost a fiver, this isn’t an occasion I’d recommend saving your money. ***

Staff: Harry is a hard worker and a credit to the pub. The locals who came in clearly love him and value the service he delivers. He might appear a little quiet to newcomers, but it’s just his way and he soon warms up. ****

You can’t deny the drinks list is extensive
You can’t deny the drinks list is extensive
Live Sport tomorrow night, the big Fury/Whyte fight starts at 10pm. Below it, the drug warning notice insists cubicles are for single use only.
Live Sport tomorrow night, the big Fury/Whyte fight starts at 10pm. Below it, the drug warning notice insists cubicles are for single use only.

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