Published: 11:30, 01 May 2020
| Updated: 21:39, 01 May 2020
Are you missing the pub as much as me? Some folk are getting so desperate during lockdown they’ve started recreating their local boozer at home.
So, if you could magically transport any pub to your back garden which one would it be?
One slightly batty OAP up north reckons he’s missing his local ’Spoons so badly he’s created a special pub sign for the window and pretends he and the missus are sitting in the Stanley Jefferson every evening.
For the time being I’m having to settle for the Secret Drinker man shed with its well-stocked beer fridge, a dartboard, some ancient disco lights and a half reasonable sound system.
But, Denis Williams’ devotion to Wetherspoons started me reminiscing this week and wondering which particular ’Spoons I’d choose?
My first experience of the company was way back in to the mid-90s when Tim Martin decided to open a pub in the self-acclaimed home of British brewing, Burton upon Trent. The first Wetherspoon pub dates back to the end of the 70s, but it was 14 years before they started expanding beyond the capital.
By 1994 the company had reached the Midlands, but its recipe for success, buying large quantities of beer cheap just before it went out of date and going to any lengths to comply with local licensing laws, meant it needed to continue expanding rapidly.
At the time the aptly named Lord Burton was another key building block in Mr Martin’s ongoing success story and the company’s PR guru Eddie Gershon was happy to comply with any request.
I even remember him agreeing to lie full length on the Lord Burton bar with his mouth under the beer tap as it was first turned on in a bid publicity stunt. When I met him a decade later in south London he was as enthusiastic as ever and still refusing to carry a laptop in the leather satchel which accompanied him everywhere.
The ensuing quarter of a century has seen the pub chain he helped to promote spread like wildfire into every corner of the UK.
Keen to takeover as many key town centre venues as possible Wetherspoon has, at the same time, become synonymous with rescuing and restoring historic buildings which might otherwise fall into disrepair.
Here in Kent we are blessed with a total of 23 of the more than 800 UK pubs in the chain.
We’ve got an ex-church, an opera house, a car showroom, a post office and a furniture store to name but a few.
Canterbury is blessed with two and I have fond memories of what is now the West Gate Inn. When I was a student in the town we’d have a can of Special Brew each and run down the hill from the uni to the Falstaff Tap (as it was then) to keep the cost of a night out to a minimum.
I’ve also had the pleasure of popping into the Golden Lion in Rochester on more than one night out. Its reputation wasn’t the greatest at the time but it was the first pub I came across which had a duo of female bouncers on the door and I never saw any trouble.
Another Wetherspoon pub where I’ve always been made welcome is the Muggleton Inn - one of two Wetherspoons in Maidstone town centre.
I have to say I’ve only ever been in for breakfast so have always visited before 9am. Again, the atmosphere has always been good, but I’ve never seen so many people with a pint in their hand at this time of day anywhere else, even Wetherspoon's Red Lion at Gatwick Airport couldn’t compete.
Unfortunately I have yet to visit The Belle and Lion in Sheerness, though the barmaid at the Royal Hotel, just around the corner, did recommend it ahead of her own pub.
Both have considerable plus points which would place them firmly in my top five Wetherspoon pubs in Kent.
However, there are two I have visited, which I haven’t had a chance to report on yet, that I would have to place above even these.
The Opera House in Tunbridge Wells was fantastically welcoming and the group I was with enjoyed a great Saturday night (surely the most testing time for any chain pub).
But, the pub I’d most like to transport to my back garden must be the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate.
This monster pub, the largest in Europe, was opened in 2018 and measures 11,000 square feet - it can swallow up to 1,500 customers at a time.
The views across the beach to the sea are incredible and ordering to your table via the app is easier than any other ’Spoons I’ve visited.
The last five years have seen the number of Wetherspoon pubs decline slightly from its peak of 951 in 2015 but following lockdown I wouldn't bet against the chain bucking the trend again by opening a string of new boozers.