Something wicked has come to Whitstable.
You may not know it, you cannot hear it, but walk down the high street of this quaint seaside town and it’s there, in the corner of your eye, watching you. The Black Dog…A micropub…There is no way to continue to make something sounds brooding when using the word micro…
Your average micropub is as follows: there is no back bar, no dance floor, no restaurant section. It is a one room affair, usually no bigger than someone’s front room. Probably because it is someone’s front room. It is exactly as it sounds, a licensed mini-pub in whatever space is suitable, be it a house, an old shop or an empty horse.
Next, these pubs supply cask-conditioned ales. That’s pretty much it. There’s the odd glass of wine, some token soft drinks, but non-ale lovers should turn back now. In fact, alcopops and novelty spirits are ritually boiled and thrown at chavs every few minutes probably. And there will be none of your juke-box racket, your neon noise, your coin and slot machinery, your Ministry of Sound! Mobile phones are to be silenced, and any other technological devilry is frowned upon. Food will be in the form of the scratching, the crisp, the Scotch egg and the possible sausage roll. Chairs are not plush nor near the floor, and tables are of lofty proportions.
The micropub was born in Herne, Kent, in 2005 when Martyn Hillier decided to turn his village off license into The Butcher’s Arms. Changes to the Licensing Act 2003 meant beer lovers were suddenly free to open independent pubs without having to battle the big boy breweries or endure years of planning permission misery, and their popularity has soared in the last couple of years.
Beer aside, the main event is conversation. The one-room layout, tight seating and lack of distraction means you have no choice but to talk to your companions and other patrons; there is nowhere to hide in a micropub. It’s ironic really that the British have taken so passionately to a venture that forces you to sit in a stranger’s front room and drink all their beer while making eye contact the whole time.
In essence, micropubs strip back today’s multi-sensory 4D bar to, as many a landlord will insist, “the way pubs used to be” with good beer and good banter and no fuss. All for a minimal outlay.
Since I discovered that I’d been wrong all along about ale – it doesn’t all tastes like warm rats’ piss – and having recently sampled the delights of fellow Kent micropub ThePaper Mill in Sittingbourne (I shall report on this another time), I was hungry for more.
So it was that I found myself in a nearby seaside town, and at the door of The Black Dog.
The Black Dog is a different shade of micropub, and it casts a darker shadow on the whiteness of Whitstable. Slap bang in the middle of the pastel tweeness of this beloved coastal paradise, this gloriously gothic affair opened late last year in the shell of a former deli. From the outside, it resembles an undertaker’s shop. Inside, it is the parlour of a worrying Victorian.
Its one room is long and slim – at one end is the bar (not all micropubs have them you know), at the other is the way out. And in between, high wooden benches and skinny butcher-block tables line the walls like an ungodly choir. The walls are adorned with strange old pictures, mirrors and a stag’s head. A dead stag. It’s no longer alive. But it might come alive at night, I’m not sure.
The pub has the necessary excellent selection of cask ales, including (on my visit) Penhurst Pale Ale by Pig and Porter, Gadds No 3, Underdog by Brighton Beer, Wantsum’s Black Pig, and Adnams Lighthouse. At other times, they have offerings from The Old Dairy Brewery, Goachers and, my current favourite, Dark Star. In fact, I was so pleased to see Dark Star on the list that I may have gotten a little feisty and demanded they send a police escort when APA was back on. I think. (They post pictures of their daily ale selections on Facebook, so it’s wise to follow them)
They also offer a fruity selection of ciders – medium, dry, ginger, cherry and spiced – a white wine, and a bottle of Prosecco and pistachios at £18. Nibbles are locally produced sausages rolls, Scotch eggs and a rather tasty spinach and feta samosa accompanied by a tart chutney.
|Feta and spinach samosa. I cut into it before remembering to take a picture.
The pub also has a winning write up from the Micropub Association, run by The Butcher’s Arms owner and daddy of all micropubs Martyn Hillier.
Do it: If you need a steadying drink while cleaning your dueling pistols