CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 7 Folkestone Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - October 18, 1999

Guinness Eileen

The Raglan, 104 Dover Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Railway Bell, 290 Dover Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Castle Inn, Foord Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Honest Lawyer, 3-5 Bellevue Street, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

The Happy Frenchman, Christ Church Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

Harvey's Wine Bar, Sandgate Road, Folkestone, Kent

Guinness Eileen

Coasters Bar, Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone, Kent

These days the "typical English pub" cannot be easily defined. You have your country pubs and your city pubs; your easily accessible neighbourhood pubs and your occasional motorway pubs; quaint pubs which have been around for centuries and spanking new pubs springing up from converted banks and warehouses; conversational pubs and live-music pubs; restaurant pubs and snack pubs; sports pubs; pubs with jukeboxes and pool tables; trendy pubs for the young, tiny seasoned pubs for the old, and flagrantly self-conscious pubs catering to tourists. And this list springs from my own limited education; having spent a total of only a few months in London, the southeast of England, and bits of Scotland, there's an entire world of English pub categories I have yet to discover.

The Raglan falls into the category of neighborhood pub. It's a small free house with plenty of regular customers who stop in to chat, share news, debate, and drink beer. Although the pub has a pool table, dartboard, jukebox, and fruit machine, it's mostly a conversational pub -- the long bar where the regulars belly up dominates the space. Here you can stop in and order a pint from Malcolm or Pat and chat about real ale, the pub business, the latest cricket match, Ireland, retirement villas in Spain, solar eclipses, the care of ailing parents, kids these days, and whatever else suits your fancy. Or, if you prefer, you can sling a coin in the jukebox and sing along to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life". The Raglan's clientele includes everything from construction workers and taxi drivers to writers, pub landlords, and retired seamen, not to mention Benji the dog. Out one door you can watch the dogs and cats coming and going from the Havelock House Veterinary Surgery across the street; from the other door you can observe people going in and out of shops buying flowers, newspapers, and the occasional sex toy.

The average English pub offers a wide selection of drinks. There are usually one to three real ale choices (although some rather pathetic excuses for pubs offer none); often Guinness and Boddington's, both on nitro (or "smooth flow"); a cider and a lager, inevitably the ubiquitous Heineken; several keg bitters and light ales; at least one white and one red wine; and a variety of hard liquors, including at least one single malt. The Raglan offers this selection. Although most pints sold are of lager, Guinness, and keg bitter, there are usually two real ale selections, most recently Tetley's Bitter (3.7% ABV, from Joshua Tetley & Son, Leeds, West Yorkshire) and Master Brew (3.7% ABV, from Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent).

But real ales require proper keeping and must be turned over regularly; therefore a pub which offers real ale must have enough real ale customers to make it worthwhile. There's nothing worse than a real ale which has sat in the pipes or gone off due to neglect. At the Raglan you can usually count on one of the two real ales being drinkable -- although, as is true at any pub, it's always advisable to ask if a real ale has been served that day before you order a pint (unless you're the first person to enter the door at opening time, of course). And on a warm summer day it helps if a pub has a working cooling system in its cellar, which the Raglan is sadly lacking.

Up the street from the Raglan is the Railway Bell, a typical pub composed of two bars: the lounge, which traditionally was where gentlemen took their ladies, and the public bar, where the rowdier and less desirables were allowed. Fortunately today you can frequent either bar in a pub, no matter how upstanding or sleazy you consider yourself to be. At either of the Railway's bars you can get a reasonable pint of Shepherd Neame's Master Brew and chat with landlord Frank about unusual liqueurs, pub quiz matches, and the inevitable subject of Ireland.

Another Folkestone pub which serves Tetley's is The Castle Inn. This is a pleasant city pub, again with two bars. Considering the only other establishment I've ever been to called The Castle was a gaudy pizza place in Seaside, Oregon which served the world's most hideous pizza, this particular Castle is a relief. The atmosphere is unique -- with wall murals suggestive of dungeons, vampires, and bondage (the woman by the corner door sports an especially intriguing outfit) -- and there are three pool tables. The Tetley's is served from a hand pump but with a blanket breather. It's still cask-conditioned but it's chilled, and you can definitely taste the CO2.

The Honest Lawyer is a tiny pub hidden away on a side street. Recently remodeled, the split-level pub has white painted walls and a tiny pool table. No real ales are offered, so we had a pint of Whitbread Best (3.6% ABV, Flowers Brewery, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire) on CO2. Drinking this pint was just tolerable, like going to a party at a coworker's house and drinking strawberry margaritas while watching a basketball game on TV when you're not really a sports fan; but although you have little in common with the other partygoers they are friendly and somewhat witty, and you're not miserable but philosophical and therefore friendly and sociable.

The Happy Frenchman is a long, large pub which serves a couple of real ales from Courage (Scottish Courage Brewing Ltd, Bristol): the medium-bodied Best Bitter (4%) and the full-bodied Courage Directors (4.8%). Unfortunately the quality of these beers varies; but the staff is very friendly and the food -- sandwiches, jacket potatoes, and burgers -- is decent and well-priced. The pub, like the previous three mentioned, is open all day, and there are live bands on Saturday nights.

A pub we've come to appreciate for its interest and dedication to real ales is Harvey's Wine Bar. Owned by brothers Mark and Ian Fell, who also run the Langehorne Garden Hotel upstairs, Harvey's caters to a young crowd and can be quite noisy at times, although older real ale lovers frequent it as well. Because of the mostly youthful clientele the real ales are served on the cool side; regardless of this slight disappointment they are well-kept and advertised proudly on a chalkboard. The staff is very friendly and helpful as well; in fact, if you stop in when the place isn't terribly busy, you can request your pint poured directly from the cask. Tiger Best Bitter (4.3%, from Everard's Brewery Ltd., Narbrough, Leicestershire, founded 1849) is a good, well-balanced straightforward beer, a welcome pint with which to end an exhausting day. Fuller's ESB (5.5%,from Fuller, Smith and Turner, London) is strong but mighty fun when you can handle it. Harvey's Armada Ale (from the John Harvey Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex) is a CAMRA award winner. At 4.5% ABV this is a full, round, brisk ale. My friend Andrew described it as tangy and hoppy, a little acid on the aftertaste and too brief on flavour, but a nice beer nevertheless. This is a beer I'd gladly invite for dinner. Eldrige Pope's Hardy Country (4.2%, from Thomas Hardy Brewing Company, Dorchester, Dorset) is smooth and dark, suggestive of Tess -- or perhaps Jude? This is not an obscure beer, though. It has a good, satisfying smell, like a fine cigar accompanied by a single malt. Oxford Bitter (3.7% ABV, from Morrels Brewery, the oldest brewery in Oxford) is definitely a freshman beer; it's weak and little, with not too much hops or bitterness or taste, i.e. good for squeaky clean freshmen in their first day of Beer 101. Adnams Broadside (4.7% ABV, from Adnams and Company, Southwold, Suffolk) offers a big introduction of toasted malt, settling into a welcomely drinkable, strongish ale. It's good and dark, like the strangely eclipselike dark September afternoon on which we tried it. My drinking companion thought it tasted like ouzo with dandelion and burdock -- or perhaps sarsaparilla with a hint of ouzo. So what happens when one follows a pint of Armada Ale with a pint of Broadside Ale? Does one simply sink into oblivion?

Harvey's, which is open all afternoon, offers a large lunch menu available until 6:00. It also offers a very nice selection of Highland single malts. There are several rooms with pool tables, large-screen TVs, and a pinball machine, with a patio out front. A small sign on the jukebox in the front bar announces THIS MACHINE IS ALARMED. We wondered why but soon noticed the walls seemed nervous and the patio was downright petrified -- not to mention the carpet, which was feeling pretty downtrodden, and the bar counter, which obviously felt quite put-upon. After a study of the place it was clear the ashtrays were feeling burned out, the shutters were clearly rattled, and all were concerned. And at that point I expected Tom Waits to come walking through the door...

Down on the Folkestone Leas is the Leas Cliff Hall, a Victorian-era concert hall which still features major concerts. The interior is blue with elegant yet tasteful ceilings, and a strangely incongruous statue of the Artful Dodger watches over the dedication plaque. Downstairs, just off the main concert room, is Coasters Bar. Although they don't serve real ales I was pleased to notice they have Beamish Stout on tap. But since we stopped in on a warm summer afternoon during the Shepway District Air Show, we opted for a pint of John Smith Bitter on CO2 (3.8%, from John Smith's Brewery, Tadcaster, N. Yorkshire). For being an overchilled keg beer -- and especially for being a beer from a concert hall -- it was an okay pint .

So many pubs, so many styles, so many beers...but there's definitely something for everyone.

Raglan Updates
(Last updated 7th January 2002)
Railway Bell Updates
(Last updated 23rd December 1999)
Happy Frenchman Updates
(Last updated 7th January 2002)
Harvey's Updates
(Last updated 16th April 2001)