Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Pantiles and all that jazz

The famous "Pantiles"

The other evening I nipped over to Tunbridge Wells for a social organised by my local CAMRA Branch (West Kent). The event was billed as a “Pantiles Walkabout”; signifying it was a mini-pub crawl of a few of the pubs which are grouped around the historic Pantiles area of the town. It was a warm summer’s evening; one of the first evenings so far this summer where one didn’t need a jacket, so it seemed perfect for a spot of al fresco drinking.

The rest of Tunbridge Wells obviously thought the same, as the whole Pantiles area was buzzing, with many pubs packed out and no outside table space at which to sit and enjoy a beer. Worse still, plastic “glasses” were the order of the day.  To explain further, Thursday evenings thought the summer, are set aside for a series of “Jazz on the Pantiles” events, with live music being played from the bandstand opposite this famous colonnade of shops, restaurant and pubs.  This, combined with the very welcome warm weather, is what had brought people out in their droves.

The vast majority of the crowds thronging the area were under 30, and included a disproportional number of rather attractive young ladies. However, that was obviously just my perception of it, as our brains, via our reticular activating system (RAS), only show us what we want to see, and filter out other “less important” information. I’m certain therefore, if I was a member of the opposite sex writing this, my RAS would have shown the complete opposite, and I would be raving about the number of fit young blokes.

Outside the Ragged Trousers
I digress, and what ever their gender it was good to see so many people out and about enjoying the warm summer evening, although my observation was there didn’t seem to be that many of them listening to the music. This included us; not because we dislike jazz, or other forms of live music, but rather because we were thirsty and hankering after a pint!

We had arranged to meet at the Ragged Trousers; a converted shop situated almost in the middle of the colonnade, but like many of the pubs it was absolutely rammed. I spotted a couple from our group who had managed to get served, but with lengthy queues at the bar we decided to try our luck elsewhere. 

Unfortunately the Duke of York, a fine old pub belonging to Fuller’s Brewery was equally crowded, so we gave up on that idea and headed for the Sussex Arms. Being tucked away in a maze of alleys, our reckoning was the Sussex should be a bit quieter.

The Duke of  York
It was to a point and not only did we managed to get served almost straight away, but we found a few seats and a table – result. The only downside was the plastic “glasses”, but these are insisted upon by the local constabulary, and with people wandering around with drinks in their hands, and clambering up and down steps, I can perhaps understand why. Having said that, I absolutely detest the things and anyone who claims they don’t have a detrimental affect on the taste and perception of the beer is either talking b*ll*cks, or works for a company which supplies these abominations. 

Think I’m kidding about the taste of the beer? Well, it was visually impossible to assign meaningful beer scores to the Long Man Best Bitter and the Taylor’s Landlord, which were the two beers I drank at the Sussex. Also on tap were Tribute and Proper Job from St Austell, plus a beer from local newcomer Ashdown Ales. I also noticed the improved lager offering at the Sussex, with Czech Budvar and Staropramen on the “T”-bar, with the latter proving particularly popular with punters.

Being a warm evening I would have preferred to have sat outside, but all tables in front of the pub were taken. Besides, it was quite nice tucked away in the corner watching the comings and goings, including of course the aforementioned young ladies.

Eventually though the comings began exceeding the goings and the pub started getting uncomfortably full. Equally, to a man, we all had the desire to drink beer from a proper real glass, so we decided to head a little way back into town. By following the maze of alleys and narrow side streets, we passed into the historic and rather quaint, but extremely pricey, “village” area of Tunbridge Wells, our destination being the Grove Tavern, ably kept by Steve the landlord, who is also one of our branch committee members.

The Grove Tavern
Steve himself was behind the bar to greet us when we walked in; an unusual sight as Steve has a number of experienced staff to look after the bar, whilst he concentrates on his other job of installing software and fixing peoples’ computers. It was good to see him though, and it was nice from our point of view at least, to find the Grove relatively quiet, as it is often quite difficult to find space to stand, let alone sit.

Wainwright, from Lancashire brewers Thwaites, was my beer of choice, although Harvey’s Best and Taylor’s Landlord were also available. The Wainwright was in good condition and, of course, tasted all the better from being drunk from a glass. I think this was the first time I’d sampled this beer in draught form, but whilst refreshing enough it seemed to lack something, and this was particularly noticeable following on from the Taylor’s Landlord. I’m therefore not really sure why people rave over this beer, but Steve the landlord seemed pretty pleased with it, and said it was literally flying out the door.

I only stayed for the one pint. With a busy work schedule the following day, plus a concert in the evening, I took the opportunity of the Grove’s proximity to the station, to slip away and catch the 22.39 train home. It has been an enjoyable evening, especially as we were able to welcome a new member to the branch. However, next time we arrange a Pantiles Walkabout, we’ll check the calendar more thoroughly and choose a quieter evening!

No comments: