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Previous Pint Pleasures - August 21, 2000

guinness eileen

The Earl Grey, 35 The Old High Street, Folkestone, Kent

In 2001 Alan and Alison Rose left the the Earl Grey which was taken over by a brewery manager. In 2009 the Earl Grey closed and is now a Big Boy Burger Barn.

So many pubs are closing these days it's almost a miracle when one actually reopens. This happened when the Earl Grey opened its doors after having been closed for months due to a fire. Situated near the top of Folkestone's narrow cobbled Old High Street, the Earl Grey has been completely renovated by new owners Alan and Alison Rose. Whereas the old pub was reportedly dark, claustrophobic, and rather rough, the new pub is bright and airy with a nice fresh atmosphere, featuring a dark wood floor and pleasant tables with views looking out onto the street. The place imparts an inviting, relaxing feeling on a sunny day. This is how I'd picture the ideal seaside pub: uniquely British but sunlit and with a slightly Continental feel to it. A large horseshoe bar wraps around the center with plenty of space for patrons, making this a perfect pub for conversation. And the barstools have backs, too, which I always appreciate.

New landlord Alan takes his real ale very seriously. Although the Shepherd Neame pub serves only two real ales at the moment -- Master Brew (3.7% ABV) and Spitfire (4.5% ABV) -- Alan plans to offer the occasional seasonal as well. For now his Master Brew and Spitfire are spot on, satisfying in every way. And this in the heart of Folkestone's pedestrian precinct -- what a rare find!

Along with a small wine list there's a nice-looking food menu. So far my companion and I can highly recommend the cheeseburger and the broccoli Stilton quiche, both served with refreshingly inspired salad garnishes; unfortunately the quiche is not a regularly on the menu yet. The Earl Grey also offers not only three choices of tea (Assam, Darjeeling, and, surprisingly, Earl Grey), but also a good cup of coffee. I have to admit a pub is the last place in the world, like your old-fashioned family restaurant, where I would ever think about ordering a cup of coffee. But the secret is in the quality -- Kent Roasters Colombia/Costa Rica -- and in the strength. Alan and Alison actually make their coffee strong enough to satisfy even coffee snobs like myself. But then this isn't my coffee column, so don't let me get distracted...

Back to the ambience: the Earl Grey is a cacophony-free pub in that it has no jukebox or pool tables. The only sound is faint background music (which Alan refuses to turn up for anybody) and the conversation of the customers. There is one fruit machine in the place, but it sits placidly back in the snug bar with the sound turned off. At first the only other item in the back bar was a wonderful rug in the center of the floor which depicted an aerial view of a village with its streets, so you could pretend to drive with your feet through the roundabouts while drinking your beer. Unfortunately the family has taken this rug back upstairs, because I think it could have been useful as a test to ensure drinkers a safe drive home home after their pint. Ah, well...since the back bar isn't finished yet, perhaps something equally inspired will take the place of the rug.

One thing you don't have to worry about at the Earl Grey is troublemakers. In Alan's previous career as a London policeman he had to deal with all sorts of rowdy types, so he won't stand for anything which would detract from the enjoyment of his customers. So if you want to cause any trouble, I'd suggest you head over to the Pullman or somewhere else. Leave the Earl Grey and the nearby Guildhall for us sociable types who like to drink their real ale free from the fear of drunken abuse and bodily harm.

In case you're wondering, the Earl Grey was named not after the tea but after the man the tea was named after, Charles Grey, one of Britain's most popular Prime Ministers. Apparently not only did his Reform Act change the country's democratic system, but he also did a lot for stopping the slave trade in the British Empire. The tea was a gift from a Chinese Mandarin the Earl once rescued.

What any of this has to do with the Folkestone pub I really can't tell you. I do know the pub has been called the Earl Grey since 1837. And I also know that Charles Dickens once complained about walking up the street the pub is on because he'd catch the heels of his shoes in the cobblestones. Was this because of those chic but impractical spike heels he may have been wearing on the sly? Or because leaving the Earl Grey after a few pints made it difficult to avoid those nasty altercations with the pavement?

I think if Charles Dickens were to walk into the Earl Grey today I'd probably offer to buy him a drink, but only if he promised to behave himself...

Earl Grey Updates
(Last updated 16th April 2001)