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Secret Drinker reviews the Jolly Caulkers pub in Chatham


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Sun shining, an hour to kill in the pub, drinking head on and the whole of Chatham town centre to choose from.

The doors at the Jolly Caulkers were thrown wide open and even before I crossed the threshold I could already hear the locals roundly abusing each other and swapping expletives.

The Jolly Caulkers has been re-painted outside in traditional colours and, with its doors wide open, is ready to welcome anyone in off the street
The Jolly Caulkers has been re-painted outside in traditional colours and, with its doors wide open, is ready to welcome anyone in off the street

I wasn’t sure of the exact etiquette in these parts so approached the bar to inquire but before I had a chance to finish my question the barmaid ushered me in the direction of a table just in front of the gents.

Thinking about it, I should have expected waitress service, what I wasn’t expecting was the barmaid to pull up a chair, cross her legs and join me at my table: “Alright darling, how can I help you?”

She reckoned Fosters was the best offering and when I asked for real beer she reluctantly offered Bombadier.

Tools of the trade – caulkers were responsible for mending and maintaining seams on ships
Tools of the trade – caulkers were responsible for mending and maintaining seams on ships

Against her advice I tried it and immediately realised it was a huge mistake – one of the worst I’ve sampled. The only good thing I can say about it is the fact it was served on a beermat, a rare treat these days.

The taste of this terrible swill wasn’t improved by her informing me if I’d been lucky enough to come in a week later the next beer on the list was Ghost Ship – surely the Adnams will be better?

Our conversation was interrupted by a gang of locals, many dressed head-to-toe in orange hi-vis, demanding she stopped what she was doing to input their choice of tunes on the jukebox.

The Bombadier didn’t look too bad but was a really poor pint. It was served in a Hobgoblin glass (if only!). The only positive element was the beermat which, if I’d tried it, was probably tastier than the beer.
The Bombadier didn’t look too bad but was a really poor pint. It was served in a Hobgoblin glass (if only!). The only positive element was the beermat which, if I’d tried it, was probably tastier than the beer.

She must have spotted my raised eyebrow and as she passed by joked that the lads weren't as bright as their jackets and couldn't work the jukebox themselves and that although she basically comes into work to get away from the kids, she faces even more here.

There were TVs switched on in the bar, showing the racing from Brighton to a completely captive audience – mercifully the sound was off.

Mind you, as barmaid Emily said, with the rubbish songs John was picking on the jukebox our eardrums were still being abused.

Everywhere you look, inside and out, there are photographs or pictures of ships to remind everyone how the pub got its name
Everywhere you look, inside and out, there are photographs or pictures of ships to remind everyone how the pub got its name

This is a traditional, old-fashioned town centre pub and has absolutely no frills whatsoever. It strives to keep the locals reasonably happy and that’s about it.

There was no way I could stomach another beer so I switched across to San Miguel – I’m not sure if I was affected by the taste of what went before, but this wasn’t wonderful either.

At this point the extremely hairy pub cat entered the fray and, encouraged by the table of old timers sitting opposite, was called up onto a bench to receive some fuss. The other person in the group receiving some attention was Percy, though no-one seemed to know for sure whether his claim that it was his birthday was accurate or not. Maybe, like the Queen, he celebrates more than once.

It’s a decent looking bar but is strictly waitress service only at the current time
It’s a decent looking bar but is strictly waitress service only at the current time

Even though it was the brightest day of the year there were fairly lights strung up and twinkling everywhere – around the bar, around a large blackboard, even the entrance to the ladies was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I left Percy and his buddies to head into the even brighter light out back and take a quick look at the outdoor seating.

It’s compact but pleasant enough in the sunshine and a decent effort has been made to screen off the car park at Halfords.

Everywhere you look there are reminders of Chatham’s maritime heritage and more specifically the job undertaken by those the pub is named after. I also appreciated the plaques devoted to the memory of locals passed.

A pair of commemorative plaques mounted on the wall in the garden area presumably remember a couple of locals no longer with us – James Anthony Brenchley and Roger Ellis
A pair of commemorative plaques mounted on the wall in the garden area presumably remember a couple of locals no longer with us – James Anthony Brenchley and Roger Ellis
There’s a reasonably-sized outdoor area at the back of the pub and it quite well screened from the Halfords’ car park
There’s a reasonably-sized outdoor area at the back of the pub and it quite well screened from the Halfords’ car park

By the time I returned John’s musical nonsense had finished and we were treated to ‘There’s a rat in me kitchen, what am I gonna do?’

Okay, the drink was absolutely awful and the brown colour scheme does it no favours but I don’t want to be overly critical as the Jolly Caulkers doesn’t pretend to be more than it is – a traditional, old-fashioned boozer which provides local folk with what they want.

Without doubt the best thing about this place, by a mile, is barmaid Emily who somehow manages to rise above the ‘challenges’ she faces and works hard to keep everyone happy.

The mirrored machine in the gents is another nod to the past and marks this one down as a traditional old boozer
The mirrored machine in the gents is another nod to the past and marks this one down as a traditional old boozer

Jolly Caulkers, 3 Batchelor Street, Chatham ME4 4BJ

Decor: Incredibly old fashioned, if it has been done up during lockdown then it’s criminal they didn’t change the awful brown coloured paint covering the lower level of the walls. **

Drink: Terrible, even the barmaid admitted the Bombadier was an absolutely dreadful pint. The San Miguel was marginally better, but Fosters is obviously the order of the day. *

Price: It’s not expensive - £3.30 for bitter, SM lager £3.60, but given what you’re getting it’s a good job it’s reasonably cheap or they’d be adding insult to injury. ***

Staff: The only saving grace is Emily’s infectious up-beat nature. She takes whatever is thrown at her with good grace and, as well as working hard, maintains a lovely smile. ****

Fully tiled in black and white, the colour scheme in the gents is a good deal better than the one in the bar – clean, tidy and well maintained
Fully tiled in black and white, the colour scheme in the gents is a good deal better than the one in the bar – clean, tidy and well maintained

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