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Secret Drinker reviews The Phoenix pub in Ashford


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The most desperate, depressing and downright degenerate atmosphere I’ve encountered for an awful long time.

Okay, it was chucking it down and everywhere was dark and foreboding, but this experience in Ashford was about as bleak as it’s possible to be.

Maybe the driving rain had me scurrying along with my head down, but I originally walked right passed The Phoenix, on the opposite side of Tufton Street, without even noticing it was a pub.
Maybe the driving rain had me scurrying along with my head down, but I originally walked right passed The Phoenix, on the opposite side of Tufton Street, without even noticing it was a pub.

Having walked across a bizarre town centre traffic system, and somehow survived, I came across a black and white timbered pub, The Swan, but it was locked up tight.

I crossed back over Tufton Street and within a few steps found myself outside The Phoenix.

Whether I walked past and missed it previously because my head was bowed against the driving downpour or because it looks so bland and un-pub like I’m not sure.

I’d walked this way because I’d spotted The Swan, in all its black and white glory, but when I reached the door it was shut up tight
I’d walked this way because I’d spotted The Swan, in all its black and white glory, but when I reached the door it was shut up tight

Despite the unappealing appearance, the pesky rain forced me into one of the dingiest, darkest pubs I’ve walked into on a Friday afternoon, or pretty much any afternoon if I’m honest.

There was a row going on at the bar about who had spilt John’s pint of Guinness so I wandered around for a minute or two to let the kerfuffle, and the head on John’s fresh pint, settle.

The multitude of screens tell you immediately this is a self-styled sports bar but none were switched on and all the fruit machines were also in darkness.

The raised section of the bar at The Phoenix had a little more lighting but the rest of the pub was largely in darkness
The raised section of the bar at The Phoenix had a little more lighting but the rest of the pub was largely in darkness
I assume darts is played from time to time, but there was no sign of a board when I was in
I assume darts is played from time to time, but there was no sign of a board when I was in

The whole place seemed devoid of light, humour or life, but at least the argument at the bar had been resolved so I stepped up to order a pint of the only beer available on tap.

A sign stated London Pride was a new offering and available for the bargain price of £2.20 – it began to dawn on me why folk might be persuaded to visit this place which is yet to rise from the ashes.

The barmaid, who apologised for her inexperience but also said she’d couldn’t see much after waking up with a dodgy eye, couldn’t get the pump to work but her co-worker advised fiddling with the handle and this finally proved successful.

The front of the pub was also a bit brighter and just before I left I realised this solitary TV screen was on, with wrestling showing to a captive audience
The front of the pub was also a bit brighter and just before I left I realised this solitary TV screen was on, with wrestling showing to a captive audience

Sadly though it still produced the worst pint of Pride I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a few bad ones.

I bravely soldiered on through a few mouthfuls but in the end couldn’t stomach it and returned it to the bar. I suggested they should perhaps try the beer themselves but neither were keen saying it always tasted horrible.

To be fair it was swiftly replaced with a gratis pint of Madri and the £1.75 difference in price wasn’t even mentioned.

The ‘new’ London Pride was served in a Doom Bar glass and at first sight didn’t look too bad, unfortunately the proof, as they say, is in the pudding – and this definitely didn’t pass the taste test. However, the pint was exchanged, without question, for a Madri.
The ‘new’ London Pride was served in a Doom Bar glass and at first sight didn’t look too bad, unfortunately the proof, as they say, is in the pudding – and this definitely didn’t pass the taste test. However, the pint was exchanged, without question, for a Madri.

There are screens everywhere, over the bar, in booths, by the entrance – but they were all switched off and, as there was no decent sport taking place, I would normally applaud this, but the odd bit of flickering light could only have lifted the atmosphere.

I visited the gents, which are up a long flight of stairs at the back of the pub, but back in the bar realised I’d been a mug for walking so far as everyone else just uses the disabled toilet. It’s remarkable how many of the Phoenix punters have a limp – or they’re putting it on to justify using the downstairs loo and avoid the steps.

Back downstairs the bar brightened a little at about 4pm due to a delivery of stock via the side door, brought in from a Fiat by an orange-suited fellow who carried everything in before grabbing a pint at the bar.

The gents were fairly clean and fresh, largely because everyone in the pub seemed to use the disabled toilet downstairs
The gents were fairly clean and fresh, largely because everyone in the pub seemed to use the disabled toilet downstairs
The back stairs are fairly steep and clearly prove too challenging for most locals to visit the gents
The back stairs are fairly steep and clearly prove too challenging for most locals to visit the gents

There is a stack of CCTV everywhere, even in the gents, and I spotted a plug-in air freshener in one booth but it was never going to rise to the challenge here.

I’m not sure who was choosing the music, but Wild Beasts by Dreamliner and Paperweight by Feeder did little to lighten the mood and at this point the tired and emotional folk on the table in front of me reignited the argument about who had spilled the Guinness.

According to one of the party, Dean in the grey tracksuit was going to remain in the doghouse for some considerable time.

I’d certainly seen and heard enough in The Phoenix and as I headed back into the Ashford rain I wondered how long it would take to find a decent pub in the town centre.

Would it have been a different story if The Swan had been open or The Taproom, which I also passed, not been in a state of stasis? I may never know.

When a full scale delivery arrived it brightened up the pub – first, light came in when the side door was opened and, second, it was brought in by a guy dressed head-to-toe in bright orange hi-vis. The assorted provisions, drinks and cleaning items were left stacked against the bar.
When a full scale delivery arrived it brightened up the pub – first, light came in when the side door was opened and, second, it was brought in by a guy dressed head-to-toe in bright orange hi-vis. The assorted provisions, drinks and cleaning items were left stacked against the bar.

The Phoenix, 12 Tufton Street, Ashford TN23 1QP

Decor: The darkest pub I’ve ever encountered with nothing to lift your spirits. It wasn’t clear what was creating the smell but a single plug-in air freshener was never going to be enough. *

Drink: The ‘new’ London Pride on tap was a very poor pint and should have been checked before being served. The replacement Madri was an improvement but bar staff need to take an interest in what they are serving. *

Price: They say you get what you pay for, but even at £2.20 this particular London Pride was still overpriced. A pint of Madri, which I seem to be coming across everywhere recently, was £3.95. Fishbowls were being offered for £6.50. **

Staff: I suspect the barmaids left in charge, while others undertook the cash and carry run, might have lacked experience so it’s difficult to blame them but they should receive better guidance *

It wasn’t in use, but someone had removed one of two pool table’s wooden covers
It wasn’t in use, but someone had removed one of two pool table’s wooden covers
The pool may be free at certain times but be warned, the police will be summoned if you mark the table
The pool may be free at certain times but be warned, the police will be summoned if you mark the table

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