Kent pubs and the new micro wave - Halong Junk Cruises

Kent pubs and the new micro wave

Ales of the Unexpected, Westbrook, Kent
Ales of the Unexpected, Westbrook, Kent

You will find them in former dog grooming parlours, bakeries, butcher shops: tiny little hostelries have been springing up all across eastern Kent. These “micropubs” adhere to a few simple rules – no lager, no jukebox, no TV – and are almost all housed in spaces no larger than a living room. They sell constantly changing real ales at around £3 a pint; there’s no hot food but you may find local cheeses, pies and homemade pork scratchings and pickles.

As this micropub scene has burgeoned over the past two years, ale lovers can be spotted clutching hand-marked maps and hopping around on a beer-swilling tour of these freehouses – all easily linked by public transport. Some are in tiny alleys, small villages, or the outer reaches of seaside towns; others are just a few steps away from the sea and becoming places of pilgrimage not just for beardy Camra types, but for people seeking craft beer and conversation.

Many of these little pubs have a salty seadog air, with nautical decor, others are rustically simple, and some embrace “car boot chic”. All celebrate localism and Kentish beers.

The first British micropub opened its doors in east Kent after a change in the licensing laws in 2005, which made selling alcohol much simpler. The Butcher’s Arms near Herne Bay led the way, showing what could be done with a small room, an ale-loving landlord and a back-to-basics desire for conviviality and community.

Five years later, another micropub opened, and in the past two years there has been an explosion of similar watering holes up and down the Kent coast. While pubs around them close, these little freehouses survive because they have low overheads, rents are cheap and staffing costs small. They don’t pay music licenses and they keep shorter opening hours.

Some of the pubs also sell cider, usually from Kent makers such as Biddenden or Kentish Pip, and English wines. Many offer beers in small, third-of-a-pint glasses so an enthusiast can try a few at each pitstop. And most welcome dogs. All abide by two basic rules: keep it small, and keep it simple.

The Butcher’s Arms Herne

Martyn Hillier at the Butcher's Arms
Martyn Hillier at the Butcher’s Arms

Now a place of pilgrimage and inspiration, the Butcher’s Arms was established by Martyn Hillier in 2005 when he opened for business in the three-metre by four-metre front room of a former butcher’s shop. “I am not beholden to the big breweries,” says Hillier. “It’s me and the beer producers, and the only people I have to listen to are my customers, who tell me what they want to drink. It’s so small people have to talk to each other. It has brought the whole village back together again, and been copied across the country.”, open Tues-Sun noon-1.30pm, 6pm-9pm, closed Sun eves

The Wheel Alehouse, Birchington

The Wheel Alehouse

Alan Ross, a former fish and chip shop owner, has stocked 300 ales since he opened The Wheel Alehouse in March 2013. He has decorated the former shop unit with a nautical theme. The name, he explains, comes from a joke in Only Fools and Horses, where a singer has a speech impediment. “Wheel ale,” he laughs. “Get it?” Ross, “the captain”, is joined behind the bar by his dog, Bosun. “People tell me they have got what they always wanted – a place to come and talk. With proper beer.”, open Tues-Sat noon–2pm, 5pm–9pm (ish)

Bake and Ale House, Westgate-on-Sea

Bake & Alehouse

Decorated in kitchenalia, with old cake recipes pasted on one wall, the Bake and Ale House is housed in the shop section of a former bakery. Owner Pete Williams opened three years ago having initially moved to Kent to open a B&B. “I used to manage community centres for local government. This is not really different, except there are no under-fives and no teenagers.” He has stocked more than 30 beers and his list can include Golden Braid from Hopdaemon in Newnham, and Copper Top from Old Dairy in Tenterden. Pete describes the micropub phenomenon as “a really positive thing. It certainly gives people who look for different ales a choice, and it provides a community service.”, open Tues-Sun noon-2pm, 5.30pm–9pm (closed Sun eves)

Ales of the Unexpected, Westbrook

The newest micropub in the Thanet area opened in August 2013 in a former fishmongers in Westbrook, opposite the old Seabathing Hospital. Carl Hilliard, a former HGV driver, grins when he talks about his career change. A lifelong ale lover, he says: “The whole idea is to have people engage in conversation. The thing with pubs these days is there are too many unnecessary distractions – fruit machines, TV. We’re going back to how pubs were. It’s my social life – I love to talk to people and I love real ale. It’s win-win for me.”, open Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 5pm-10pm, Sun noon-3.30pm

Harbour Arms, Margate

Harbour Arms

The Harbour Arms, as the name suggests, sits on Margate’s old stone harbour, having been carved out of two old fishermen’s sheds knocked into one small room. With tables spilling outside and one of the best views of any of the micropubs, it often has live piano music and a singalong going on. Carole Lane opened it in May 2013. “It’s great to have a business where you are socialising all the time. I have been surprised by the age range of people who come – it’s not just the old woolly jumper brigade.”, open every day noon–9pm

The Chapel, Broadstairs

Larger than your average micropub, The Chapel was the Albion bookshop until 2012, and its walls are still lined with books for sale. Coffee is also served and there are various nooks and crannies in which to sup beers from Ramsgate brewery Gadds’ and others. There are regular open mic nights, jazz evenings and poetry recitals., open daily 9am-late

Four Candles, Broadstairs

Four Candles Alehouse

This place’s puntastic name is a homage to The Two Ronnies, whose sketch, in which Ronnie Barker walks into a hardware store and asks for “fork ’andles”, is said to have been inspired by Broadstairs shop Harrington’s. Inside, the sawdust-floored pub, the upturned metal bucket lightshades and crossed pitchfork handles, hammer the joke home. A quote from an anonymous author painted above the door lintel by owner Mike Beaumon could be the micropub motto: “Beer is the drink of men who think, and feel no fear or fetter, who do not drink to senseless sink, but drink to feel better.”, open Mon-Thurs and Sun 5pm-10.30pm, Fri and 5pm-11.30pm, lunchtimes Sat and Sun noon-3.30pm

The Thirty-Nine Steps Alehouse, Broadstairs

A few streets back from the Broadstairs seafront, this pub in a former pet shop was opened by local couple Kevin and Nicola Harding. The alehouse takes its name from John Buchan’s 1915 novel, which was written and partly based in Broadstairs. It serves a minimum of three real ales, sometimes five, including a pale “session” bitter and a slightly stronger “best” bitter., open daily noon-10pm, noon-11pm Thurs-Sat

The Hovelling Boat Inn, Ramsgate

The Hovelling Boat, which recently celebrated its first birthday, was named after a pub that existed on the site until 1909. Before Paul Spickett (previously in the building trade) converted it, it had been a fancy goods shop then lay empty for some time. Again slightly larger than micro, it also offers teas, coffees, wine and spirits and has a petanque area out the back. “It’s an old new concept,” says Spickett. “We are turning everything back to basics, back to the way it was when it was a pub over 100 years ago.”, open Mon-Thurs 11.30am–9.30pm, Fri and Sat 11.30am-11pm, Sun noon-4pm

The Conqueror Alehouse, Ramsgate

Named after a two-funnelled paddle steamer that plied the route from Ramsgate to France at the beginning of the 20th century, the Conqueror’s walls are covered in black and white photos of the ship and its crew. Colin Aris opened his doors, in a former florist’s shop, in March 2010. He usually has three Kentish ales on offer but admits he sometimes slip the odd “foreign” ale in for variety., open Tues-Sat 11.30am-2pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm, Sun noon-3pm

Travel from London St Pancras to Birchington, via Ramsgate, was provided by South Eastern Trains, returns from £36. A one-day Explorer bus pass (, which allows unlimited travel in Kent and East Sussex, costs £6.70. For more information see

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