One thing which is peculiar to this part of Kent; certainly when compared to other parts of the county, is the complete absence of any micro-pubs. Given that the micro-pub “phenomena” originated in Kent, there is not a single example amongst the four towns (Edenbridge, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells), which make up this corner of West Kent.
Our nearest micro-pubs are in Gravesend, Maidstone, and Petts Wood, but none of these destinations are exactly on the doorstep, so unless inhabitants of this locality, fancy embarking on a bus or a train journey for their "micro-pub fix", they are well and truly stuffed.
Tonbridge came quite close to getting a micro, a couple of years ago, but after taking the option of a lease on a vacant small shop at the north end of the High Street, and obtaining a Premises License, the potential proprietor got cold feet and aborted the project. The former shop is now an art gallery, and as far as I am aware is doing OK: not that Tonbridge is known as a centre for fine art!
Fortunately we will soon be getting our own branch of Fuggles, ironically not too far away from the aborted micro-pub. The Tonbridge Fuggles though, will operate as a full-blown pub, along the same lines as the highly successful original Tunbridge Wells Beer Cafe, and not as a micro-pub.
Something tells me I ought to be disappointed by the lack of a true micro-pub in the area, but strangely enough I am not; and whilst I think the basic concept is sound, I don’t see it as a panacea for the ills currently afflicting the pub trade. My micro-pub experiences have largely been confined to Thanet and Gravesend, and whilst I have visited some excellent establishments, particularly in East Kent, I have been in one or two real duds.
I feel that the guidelines set out by the Micro-Pub Association, are too rigid; even though I accept they are laid out that way in order to encourage a particular clientele and discourage various other sorts. I am also not a huge fan of the really tiny ones, where if someone wants to visit the Gents, everyone has to make way for them; or if you turn round too quickly you are likely to knock someone’s pint out of their hands!
Also, whilst I am normally quite a gregarious individual, there are times when I prefer my own company, and want to sit quietly and read a book, or just watch the world go by. I know what you are saying – don’t go into such places when you’re feeling grumpy or unsociable, and of course you are right, but as a micro-pub will often provide the best selection and most unusual selection of beers within a town, there is sometimes nowhere else suitable to go.
Micro-pubs are also known for not doing food; certainly nothing beyond basic snacks such as filled rolls, pork pies or scotch eggs. Again, for many people, this is a big plus point, and as someone who frequents pubs a lot less frequently than I once did, it’s not really incumbent on me to dictate the food offering.
So should the famous Herne – Butcher’s Arms model remain the gold standard for a true micro, or is here scope for enhancement and improvement? Personally, whilst I would like the emphasis to remain on locally sourced, cask-ales, I see no reason why a couple of slightly more adventurous “key-keg” beers could not be stocked. Also, why not stock a couple of genuine, continental Pilsners, which would keep lager lovers happy, without attracting the Fosters and Carling “lout” drinkers. I also don’t see a problem with offering a small range of quality malt whiskies or artisan gins and vodkas. Then there are the wine drinkers of course, and here something rather better than Cash & Carry, “bag-in-a-box” plonk, wouldn’t go amiss.
On reflection, I would leave the food offering alone, as not only would it be impractical, it would also be financially unviable, to employ a chef. In addition, most micro-pubs aren’t large enough (yes I know the clue is in the name) and besides, the smell of cooking is enough to put many drinkers off.
So perhaps with a bit of tweaking, the “enhanced” micro-pub could be the way forward. Or perhaps not!