It’s almost a year since I landed the best job in the world and I’ve been travelling around Kent ever since discovering the very best, and worst, pubs right around the county.
Fortunately the majority of boozers I’ve been lucky enough to visit have been great, but some, sadly, have been found wanting.
I can only ever report exactly what I find at a given moment in time and I realise a fly-on-the-wall review can’t possibly take into account everything going on in a pub. - and many of these pubs may well have improved since my visit.
But, I was tasked with discovering the good, the bad and the ugly – and, in my humble opinion on the day, these are the 10 worst boozers I’ve visited...
10. For No. 10 I went all urban dictionary – “It’s as rough as a badger’s ****”. At the centre of New Ash Green’s concrete jungle you’ll find one of the most uninviting pubs anywhere – welcome to The Badger. Dodging the red mountain bike in the porch I quickly realised it’s a bit of a Tardis, although everywhere except the front bar was deserted. The locals will totally ignore you but the barman, looking like a cross between one of The Proclaimers and a young Sean Lock, was the only saving grace and is the only thing which avoids this one being placed higher up the list.
9. The John Brunt in Paddock Wood had to feature at No. 9 because even the landlord described it as ‘a right ****hole’. Right next to the station (my views on pubs near railway stations are well known) it looked like something from a dodgy corner of Eastern Europe. After a good licking from Bernie I made sure I wiped my feet on the way out as I left the least attractive pub in Kent. As rough and ready as anywhere you could visit, I said any sane person would tear it down and start again. I must be a genius as that is exactly what Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken UK) has now done.
8. If you’re overdressed in jeans and trainers and the punters start swearing at you before you’ve even got through the door, you need to be made of stern stuff. Weaving through the smokers to get into the Fox & Hounds in Dartford you could smell the carpet before you noticed the pattern. If the barmaid tells you she thinks there ‘something not right’ about the pint she’s serving you as she serves it, then it’s not a good start. The locals might love this boozer is stuck in the 1970s but someone had tried to escape by tunnelling their way out of the gents. Cheap bottled Stella is the drink of choice.
7. The Yeoman in Bearsted had recently been refurbed, but I still had to include it at No. 7. Firstly, it doesn’t look or feel anything like a pub – if you didn’t know better you’d think you were in a roadside diner and the staff, whilst friendly, were clearly new and hadn’t got a clue. Some areas outside had avoided the makeover although the gents had been overhauled and reminded me a toilet from a mobile home – the owners obviously felt the loos deserved monitoring on the CCTV! Make sure you mind that step on the way out or you’ll end up leaving even faster than you intended.
* Since Secret Drinker wrote this review The Yeoman is now under new management
6. Full of footie meerkats, with an assortment of other wildlife adorning the backs of several locals, I have to place the Dukes Head in Hamstreet at No. 6. Being as kind as possible I described it as raucous and unnerving. We’d barely had time to order before a woman launched a foul-mouthed outburst at her fella. Whatever else, there is no way this place could consider itself a ‘family-friendly pub’ although there was one young lad, fuelled by Haribo and fizzy drinks, pinging off the walls.
5. The first challenge with the pub at No. 5 on my list, The Rose & Crown in Leysdown, was getting into the place. Once inside, the pub feels like a corridor and all visitors are treated to a barmaid who glares at you suspiciously for daring to enter. The hallway to the toilets is even more stark and reminded me of a hospital from the 1960s. The locals kept the fire roaring with planks from a blue wheelie bin, but even this blazing heat couldn’t take the edge off the frosty welcome. Without doubt the most popular thing in the pub is the fruit machine, there was even a queue at one point.
4. Just missing out on a top three position is The Eagle in Maidstone. Outside it’s received a lick of paint but inside was desperately in need of a little TLC. I started by avoiding a larger lake on the floor before ordering one of the few things that was available on tap. The toilets had to be seen to be believed and I’m still confused why a wet cloth needed rubbing in one woman’s face? The whole night was the second most bizarre visit I’ve ever made to a pub.
3. If the first thing the barmaid tells you is‘you’d be better off getting a drink round the corner’ it’s obviously not a great start. Add in a totally inedible, rock hard ciabatta and you’ll realise why the Royal Hotel, Sheerness is at No.3. The effing and blinding at the bar was relentless, despite the constant apologies. A sign over the bar which reads ‘Enter as strangers, leave as friends’ is the most misplaced statement ever. And, the locals have clearly taken their frustrations out on the plastic walls in the gents. Please tell me the Royal Hotel was grander in years gone by.
2. Just missing out on top spot at No. 2, and runner-up in the Secret Drinker’s list of the worst 10 pubs is The Kings Head, Sittingbourne. Another one where I had to track down the door, at first I thought it had closed down. The cleaning log on the toilet door was spotless and untouched. To make matter worse, the garden, decorated with old pallets, suffered from an infestation of wasps the day I was in. By 5pm the locals, who were previously debating whether dolphins are hairy, all shifted across to shorts in an effort to forget where they were.
1. It might seem a strange choice for number one, but the Royal Oak, Hawkhurst is in top spot because it is the most dull, uninteresting and soulless place I’ve ever had the misfortune to visit in Kent. Other pubs on this list may have their problems and failings, but at least they have some life about them. The Oak also deserves its position because staff completely switched off and clearly dislike the place too. And, what makes it even more unforgivable is the fact it clearly has the resources to be so much better. Describing it as being like the lobby of a Premier Inn was unfair to Premier Inns – it’s far more boring than that.