The skull and crossbones didn’t concern me too much, after all the hanging baskets looked a picture, but a disability chariot left outside a pub door at lunchtime paints a picture.
It wasn’t easy to spot the front door but an old boy in denim shorts, hat and a shirt open to the waist, not to mention his long, curly white locks, was just leaving so I replaced him in the bar of the Red Cow in Folkestone – I didn't catch his name but his aftershave remained much longer than he did.
I was the only unfamiliar face in the pub all lunchtime and barmaid Kirsty was already pouring each regular’s drink long before they got to the bar.
She was never going to be able to guess my tipple as I wasn’t sure myself but when I heard the Doom Bar cost under two nicker it was a no-brainer.
In fact the guy next to me had also switched to Doom Bar as he’d realised not only was it 10p cheaper than John Smiths but also 0.2% stronger. And, claiming he would be anyone’s for a tenner I made a note to be gone before his fifth pint.
The beer, expertly pulled with just the right head, tasted exactly as it should.
There didn’t seem to be any non-smokers in and with the door open, clouds of smoke kept wafting in so I headed for the concrete garden to get some fresh air.
There was a raised stage decorated with a St George and a Union flag, I’m assured steps to climb up to it are planned soon. The ashtrays were all full to overflowing but no-one seemed to mind and there was even a TV screen in the covered smoking area.
In fact, I started totting up the screens in the rest of the pub but stopped counting at seven.
On at least one of them Boris confirmed his resignation and the sun came out, play started at Wimbledon on another, but none of the regulars, enjoying a lunchtime session, paid the slightest attention to any of them.
The dartboard had a set of arrows left in it but wasn’t used while I was in and the electronic fruit machine was also ignored.
Sat on a stool at the bar I spotted more skull and crossbones and Kirsty confirmed they’d held a Pirates’ Day to promote a new rum drink called Dead Man’s Fingers, though she had no intention of taking the flag down until the gardener visits to cut the stingers round the flagpole. A suggestion it should be replaced by the LGBT flag was quickly quashed by the regulars.
It was time for me to pay a visit. The stench from the gents hits you like a sledgehammer the second you open the door and by the time you reach the tarnished trough the ammonia is burning your eyes.
There’s a sign on the door informing you of the consequences of being caught taking drugs but nothing to warn you either about the trip-inducing steps or the eye-wateringly heinous smell.
The window next to the smashed pane of glass was open but the air coming through couldn’t compete with the powerful stink.
I made it back to the bar just as Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles changed to Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Stevie Wonder – I’m not sure which was more apt.
I’d been joined by a gent in a hat, wearing open-toed sandals and carrying a stick – he’d taken up residence in his normal position and his drink was on the bar just as his cheeks came to rest on his stool.
Another thing different about the Red Cow is the fact the barmaid doesn’t automatically reach for a card machine every time she pours a drink, in fact, everyone here pays by cash.
I shifted to a Staropramen as I fancied a slightly darker variety of this popular summer afternoon beverage and still only had to part with £3.10, again it was well poured and served swiftly.
Barmaid Kirsty and her other half Jack have been here for two years now and, whilst they’re happy and certainly don’t want to move away from Craft Union, she admits a change of scene one day and a few new challenges would be great – if she could choose anywhere it would be Cornwall.
Overall I enjoyed my visit to the Red Cow, it might be a little rough and ready, and those gents definitely need attention, but it’s a pub which knows how to keep its regulars happy.
The Red Cow, 138 Foord Road, Folkestone CT19 5AB
Decor: Some areas are well kept and the locals seem very happy with their surroundings but it wouldn’t do any harm to empty the ashtrays more regularly and, without going into too much detail, the toilets need serious attention. **
Drink: Looked after and served properly, Sharp’s Doom Bar is a decent beer and this was a good example. The Staropramen is a slightly maltier, darker lager and not a bad choice during this current heatwave. ***
Price: How could you give any other score? The Doom Bar is £1.95 a pint, a Staropramen £3.10 and just about everything else somewhere in between. With other places charging the wrong side of a fiver, Craft Union doesn’t like being beaten on value for money. *****
Staff: In a pub which caters for its regulars the barmaid needs to know and understand her customers – in this regard Kirsty is a real pro and delivers what the punters are looking for. ****
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