Published: 05:00, 15 October 2021
| Updated: 08:55, 15 October 2021
‘There are no proper pubs left in Ashford any more. The town centre is a barren desert without a single boozer worth visiting.'
Not my words, these were the sad, but sage, words uttered by one of the pitiful punters gathered around the walls of the George Hotel on the High Street.
His desperate looking mate couldn’t even gather enough enthusiasm to speak himself and simply nodded in agreement.
It was disappointing to learn Ashford pubs are so dire, not least because the first thing I spotted in this Craft Union hostelry had filled me with hope.
After all, how often do you see a dapper gent at the bar, resplendent in a trilby, drinking red wine and singing along to Duke of Earl?
The trouble is, after this uplifting vision the rest of this pub was flatter than the Tetley’s Smooth, which, incidentally, was off.
The barmaid has mastered the art of serving a customer not only without smiling, but also without speaking – except, that is, to tell you the price. And your money is taken and in the till before she even thinks about reaching for a glass.
Apart from the barmaid there were only blokes in the pub and apart from one, who was practising with his new set of £20 darts, they sat around the walls gazing abjectly, and vacantly, across the room.
Their gaze was only broken by one of the seven TV screens showing racing from Musselburgh or the PGA tour.
The eerie silence was finally broken by the barmaid who, unprompted, declared: "It’s as depressing as **** in here." To be fair, she’d summed up the atmosphere perfectly.
I took the opportunity to escape to the outside area and at the first table finally spotted a female customer – she had obviously escaped too and was happy sitting doing a crossword on her own.
There was no decent beer available, which is a shame so I’d opted for a pint of Kronenbourg which, at £3.30, wasn’t badly priced.
There was yet another TV screen outside in a covered area with plastic grass and a pair of wall heaters. The area was soon filled by a group of young drinkers and the pub’s second female, which at least gave the barmaid someone to talk to.
The pool table was out of order, there are two blinking, modern fruit machines and the music is selected from behind the bar – with the tunes seemingly chosen to match barmaid's mood - about the jolliest thing was a slow Adele number.
All this is a great shame as the town’s oldest coaching inn is able to trace it roots to the early 16th century and surely deserves to be better recognised and celebrated.
I did ask about the pub’s history, but other than informing me the place was very old, nobody seemed to have a clue about the role this building has played in Ashford’s past life.
The toilets are located at the back of the pub and, on the face of it, appear clean enough but despite a sign informing you they are maintained regularly the smell given off around the urinals tells you otherwise. This, added to the fact that the soap needed replenishing in both dispensers, led me to question the regularity of the checks.
I accept the majority of people coming into The George are likely to be simply passing through and popping in for the odd pint and, as such, I’m sure they’re grateful Craft Union offers ‘unbeatable prices all day’ but surely it needs to offer more?
Like the lady who’d now finished her crossword, I made my way back inside the pub as darkness fell but the mood inside hadn’t improved.
Most folk seem to leave the pub by walking through the outside area and past the makeshift screen at the back but I chose to leave as I’d entered, through the front door.
Having stepped back into the High Street, I narrowly avoided being run down by half a dozen youths tearing past the front door on their bikes.
In conclusion I have to say I’ve sampled Craft Union pubs previously and enjoyed the experience. Having never tried an Ashford town centre ale house I’m not sure it’s something I’d choose to repeat too quickly.
The George Hotel, 68 High Street, Ashford TN24 8TB
Decor: The low beamed ceilings and uneven floors inform you this fantastic old building must have played a part in the history of Ashford but sadly its past is not openly celebrated. **
Drink: The Kronenbourg was passable and I’m sure each of the other lagers on tap were also fine, but surely there should be a better selection of beers available? **
Price: You can’t argue with the prices offered by Craft Union – Kronie £3.30 a pint, Fosters £3.05, Stella £3.50 and a large vodka tonic for £4.85 – however, price isn’t everything. ****
Staff: Huffing and puffing her way through her shift, the barmaid seemed to be even less keen to be here than the punters who bemoaned the fact Ashford no longer has a ‘proper pub’. *