It was only a matter of time before the law caught up with me. Sooner or later, I knew I would have to pay for my crimes, that I’d find myself behind bars.
No, tiny darlings, I have not finally been locked up for my terrible debauchery, or for being drunk in charge of a lawnmower. I have instead been to visit Canterbury’s latest drinking emporium: The Pound.
Anyone who’s been to Canterbury will have at some point happened upon the imposing Westgate Towers, standing stoutly at one end of the high street. The glorious gatehouse dates back to the 14th century and is the last of the seven medieval gates that punctuated the city walls.
The road between the drum towers is still in use today. As a normal road. Not…not as a path through which to invade the city. They don’t like you to do that any more. Or maybe it’s just me.
The towers boast a delicious history, and its former museum is set to open again in the new year, so I will restrict my history lesson for now. What you do need to know is that from the 15th
century up to the late 19th
century, the towers (and adjoining building) were used as the city’s gaol.
And it is in the old guard rooms, superintendents’ offices and prison cells that a remarkable transformation has taken place; the ancient building reopened this month as a rather fetching bar and café (and restaurant by February), The Pound.
I am lucky to work (by day) across the road from the towers, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to their special preview event.* Two colleagues and I duly accepted, stepped out of our office door and into our new neighbours’ abode.
The entrance is suitably moody: a red lit arched gate, guarded by a man in black, that leads to a darkly gleaming front door. It’s a cross between Shoreditch-chic and the gateway to hell.**
On entering, we instantly began giggling like schoolgirls and tore off to explore, welcome drinks in hand. The interior really is a triumph, mixing the old world charm with minimalist modernity. The main rooms are all exposed red brick, brushed steel tables, smooth leather banquettes and old vintage light fixtures sparkle above the bar. But the heavy cell doors and creepy staircases remain.
The venue has been opened up to allow you to flow between several spacious rooms, and huge neon signs remind you of what part of the old clink you are standing in.
There is plenty of space to sit or stand, and private function rooms are also available. The main bar is half gaol, half conservatory, so you have lovely views of the River Stour, St Dunstan’s and the stars as you quaff. I look forward to drinking under blue skies and burning sunsets by day.
Behind the counter is a delectable array of liquors, and I was pleased to see Kent’s own Curious Brew on tap along with Adnams Dry Hopped Larger, Camden Pale Ale and Peroni. No cask ales, but it’s really not a cask ale pub so stop your fussing. The cocktail list is also impressive, and the range of wines is excellent. There is a lot of focus on local libations, I was told by the manager, and the kitchen intends to be very home-grown when it opens in the new year.
But while the main function rooms allow you to mingle or peel off as required, the real intrigue lies in The Police Cells. Down an eerie red brick corridor, past the toilets, you chance upon the heart of the former prison, now wide open for a different kind of business…
Gone are the cramped steel beds, chamber pots and raving reprobates. The Victorian glazed bricks, original cell doors and inspection hatches remain but all other creature un-comforts have been removed as the cells now serve as rather swish looking private rooms, complete with a long table and comfy chairs – perfect for cosy dining, party banter, or an interrogation or two.***
The largest cell hasn’t forgotten its roots – it keeps the fine wine under lock and key…
Exploration complete and contacts made, my colleagues and I departed for the night. But I was back 24hours later on the main opening evening, so excited was I to show a friend the fantastic layout. I kept dragging him from room to room, saying “See? See? Look at the cells! Let’s get drunk in the cells!!”
Students and skin-flints be warned: the bar is unashamedly a high-end affair so don’t expect masses of change from a fiver for a pint. But that ain’t no bad thing when the quality is strong. While Canterbury is not short of excellent places to drink in, there has been a hole in the market when it comes to this end of the bar spectrum and The Pound fills it perfectly. It is also open until 2.30am, so you can banter until the early hours.
Confess your sins, and go directly to gaol.
One Pound Lane, CanterburyOpen daily from 10am until lateFollow them on Facebook & Twitter (@onepoundlane) for updates
*I didn’t receive a personal invitation. It was an office invitation. But I still wrestled a colleague to the ground, grabbed hold of the invitation and ran out of the building with it screaming ‘mine, mine I deserve this!!!’
**Not that I’m intimately aware of what the entrance to hell looks like.
***After a few gins on a night out I am GOING to start questioning someone at irrational volume about something that really doesn’t matter, like how can someone include Dad’s Army in their top five sitcom of all time but exclude Black Books? Seriously?Seriously?!