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Secret Drinker reviews the Hogarth Inn on the Isle of Grain, near Rochester


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To describe this place as the end of the world might be unfair, but you’re definitely going to feel like you’ve walked in from the moors.

If the regulars are in then you will be thoroughly looked up and down before being totally disregarded and ignored.

The Hogarth Inn in Grain has an old world charm about it from the outside, and can boast a good deal of history – it’s a pity the present day welcome isn’t quite as warm
The Hogarth Inn in Grain has an old world charm about it from the outside, and can boast a good deal of history – it’s a pity the present day welcome isn’t quite as warm

I asked the woman behind the bar if the Hogarth Inn in Grain was serving food and without looking up she said: “There’s a chip shop round the corner”.

Fair enough I thought, this must be a proper pub, none of that food nonsense, so I asked for a pint of her best bitter and was served a John Smith’s Extra Cold.

As soon as the cash hit the till she grunted something inaudible, coughed and shuffled out through the back door.

There is a garden at the back of the pub with a selection of picnic tables and assorted plastic and metal chairs
There is a garden at the back of the pub with a selection of picnic tables and assorted plastic and metal chairs

I’d been busy gardening earlier in the day and was a little concerned by my attire but in the end felt over-dressed, especially when I saw a big fella dressed in a bright yellow Liverpool shirt.

I took a seat at the bar and tried a little light conversation but was left facing more stony glares and uncomfortable silences so wandered off to the other side of the bar and was pleased to find a quiz machine, as it seemed friendlier and less judgemental.

Between questions from my new friend I took in my surroundings and compared the two distinct sides to the pub, separated by a large central fireplace.

The pub doesn’t serve food but there was a takeaway wagon parked on the far side of the car park. I don’t know if/when it might be open.
The pub doesn’t serve food but there was a takeaway wagon parked on the far side of the car park. I don’t know if/when it might be open.

The left side, favoured by the cheerless locals, has a pool table and large TV screen. The unpopulated right side, with the quiz machine and dartboard had a fan blowing cold air and piles of cardboard boxes but still somehow felt warmer and more inviting.

My first pint of fizz had a smooth enough head but was fairly tasteless and reminded me of one of those cans with a widget so I decided to move on and try a pint of Guinness instead.

This was delivered to me among the boxes, which to be fair, made a decent enough table for a pint. And, it wasn’t the worst pint I’ve had poured.

The boxes stacked up by the quiz machine made a perfect table for my pint of the black stuff. The Guinness was pretty good.
The boxes stacked up by the quiz machine made a perfect table for my pint of the black stuff. The Guinness was pretty good.

I was reminded again of the need to pay in cash, which I was happy to do, but the numerous signs dotted around the bar had already left me in no doubt about the required payment method.

I didn’t have any kids with me on this occasion, but should I bring some next time I’ll also heed the warning to keep any children under control. And these aren’t the only warning signs, there’s another over the dartboard reminding you to get a drink in before stepping up to the oche.

In the locals’ section there is a series of pithy messages on brass plates over the fireplace. They weren’t any funnier than anything else in the Hogarth but, to be fair, they were beautifully polished and were, by some margin, the cleanest things in the pub.

A nice old fashioned touch – there are still tankards hung up above the bar
A nice old fashioned touch – there are still tankards hung up above the bar
This seating area, on my side of the pub, backs onto the inglenook fireplace on the other side of the bar
This seating area, on my side of the pub, backs onto the inglenook fireplace on the other side of the bar

For a free house with plenty of nice touches - low beamed ceilings, two fireplaces (one with a log burner), tankards slung above the bar and traditional furnishings it’s a shame the atmosphere felt so uninviting.

I badly needed relief so had to brave the locals’ side of the bar again to visit the facilities.

The gents looked as tatty as everything else but they didn’t pong and were clean – as a bonus I was reminded of an ad from years ago, anyone else remember Kenneth William’s Bloo Loo?

My new friend, the quiz machine, was in a separate room on the opposite side of the pub, along with the dartboard and a stack of cardboard boxes
My new friend, the quiz machine, was in a separate room on the opposite side of the pub, along with the dartboard and a stack of cardboard boxes
The only draft beer available was a pint of John Smith’s Extra Smooth
The only draft beer available was a pint of John Smith’s Extra Smooth

By the time I vacated two locals had armed themselves with pool cues but fortunately they were intent on re-enacting the snooker game showing silently on the large TV screen. When the snooker was replaced by a natural history programme they quickly lost interest.

The insects on the telly reminded me there might be a garden in which to take refuge so I headed out back and found a reasonably-sized grassed and paved area with a selection of motley plastic chairs and picnic tables.

There was also a smoking area with another pair of plastic chairs.

The sign outside needs updating. The only culinary advice you’ll get at The Hogarth is to get yourself round to the chip shop.
The sign outside needs updating. The only culinary advice you’ll get at The Hogarth is to get yourself round to the chip shop.
There was plenty of room in the car park, although there was a sign making it clear it is for pub customers only. It looks as if the bins might have been missed though
There was plenty of room in the car park, although there was a sign making it clear it is for pub customers only. It looks as if the bins might have been missed though

As well as the darts, pool table and quiz machine there is an electronic fruit machine and plenty of trophies dotted around the bar.

I couldn’t see a jukebox anyway but there was music playing in the background, although the tunes were too ancient even for me and the only decent song I recognised was Shipbuilding.

Really bizarrely one local came over to shake my hand just before I left - though I’m convinced this wasn’t a gesture of goodwill, it was just grudging admiration I’d managed to endure the atmosphere for longer than most first-time visitors.

The bar on my side of the pub was deserted with a fan blowing cold air for some reason
The bar on my side of the pub was deserted with a fan blowing cold air for some reason

For the most part this is a pub where the locals and staff just stood, or sat, and stared vacantly into the distance, seemingly wishing they could be anywhere else.

The only thing breaking this monotony for them was the surprise entrance of a visitor allowing indifference to shift into distrust.

The smoking area houses a pair of blue plastic chairs
The smoking area houses a pair of blue plastic chairs

The Hogarth Inn, 41-43 High Street, Isle of Grain, Rochester ME3 0BJ

Decor: Much what you’d expect really, with typical pub furnishings. The building’s clearly got history and with just a few decent touches, plus stacks more goodwill, it could be homely and welcoming. **

Drink: It’s a shame, with the freedom of being a freehouse, there wasn’t at least one decent cask ale on offer. The Guinness was poured well though and wasn’t bad. **

Food: “There’s a chip shop round the corner1” Nil points

Price: This is, by far, the biggest plus point with a pint of John Smith’s costing £3.70, a Guinness just 20p more and a pint of San Miguel 10p more than that at £4. The crisps cost what they seem to cost everywhere these days - £1. ****

Staff: If it wasn’t for the fact my Guinness was delivered to me after allowing it to settle, the complete lack of welcome and zero bonhomie would have resulted in a ‘no score’. As it is the delivery gains… *

There are plenty of exposed beams inside the pub – the big screen was showing snooker
There are plenty of exposed beams inside the pub – the big screen was showing snooker

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