The last leg of my ‘pub crawl’ to our local pubs brings me to Strood. Although Strood has lost many pubs in the last few years, there remains a good number and they are putting on a good, resilient performance. My first call was The Steam Packet, a pub named for the maritime links with the area. Before the adjoining railway line was built this building must have had easy access to the Medway, this public house has all the charm of a traditional ‘back street pub’. Ably run by Fliss (who has been there for four years), you will find a full program of televised sport as well as in-house sport in the guise of Wednesday night league darts and league pool. Also there are regular evenings, including karaoke and live music. Singer Aussie Pat will be on stage on 17th April and on the 1st of May a beach party will be held. So get your trunks and shades out and enjoy an ice cream with your pint! Fliss is also looking for darts players to take part in the Monday evening Peninsula Darts league.
Just up the road is the South Eastern, named for the railway company that first laid tracks to the town in the 19th century. This pub is the home of the local pool league and offers a bed & breakfast facility for visiting contractors. The nearby Bell on Frinsbury Road pulls out all the stops. There is a constant array of offerings from weekly karaoke, regular good acts and a new darts oche. Red, the landlord, runs a house that always seems busy. With attractive bar staff and probably the best smoking facility in town, Red is determined to maintain a good level of custom and welcomes everybody. Well worth it.
Up on Bill Street we come across, The Ship, with many fearing this watering hole could go the way of so many, like a phoenix it is rising in the form of a solid establishment on the old fashioned lines of just a good boozer. A very large bar area and all the strong features of a victorian building, there are all the hall-marks of success to come. Interestingly this is a free-hold pub run by six local business men. They are using their expertise to find good local ales and lagers at a competitive price to make a real go of it. There is a large outside area that will have tables and chairs in the summer to lend a continental look, with table service to boot! But the real attraction will be a range of external televisions for customers to enjoy the Football World Cup. They also will be hosting darts matches in the local leagues and will have enough boards to put on competitions. There is strong support for the traditional euchre and cribbage cards nights. The crew who own this place invite you all for a good traditional evening. This form of ownership may well be the future of the trade, with brewers sticking to their forte of brewing and leaving the running of licensed premises to those with a local interest.
In the heart of Strood we have several premises worth looking at. The Alma, opposite a large new supermarket is a pub that has been very well refurbished and offers a cosy evening out. Here Elaine, the landlady runs a pub with all the usual benefits of darts, pool and sports channel TV. There is live entertainment every two weeks with a free jukebox on the intervening Saturday. Elaine and her friendly team of happy barmaids produce home cooked meals from 6-9pm five days a week, culminating with a traditional Sunday roast, all well priced. There will also be vacancies for darts players on Mondays to augment the Wednesday side. With two ladies darts teams, this pub enjoys a traditional family atmosphere and has a lovely garden attached. I bet many a lost husband can be found within these walls as wives visit the retail outlets over the road!
On the very limits of the Peninsula is The Prince of Wales, by Rochester bridge. As well as being the home of one of the best darts teams in the area this boozer is renown for good ol’ rock n roll on Saturday nights, being on the tour list of some very accomplished bands of that genre. If you like to jive, be there. It can get packed. Peter and his wife Cathy have been the licensees here for as long as most care to remember and still take a good interest in providing regular events to go along with the well kept cellar. Events include Wednesday Poker, the occasional karaoke and , in keeping with the high standard of darts expected here, have darts matches on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays! And if you do not fancy the arrows, a pool table occupies the back bar. With well appointed accommodation, this pub plays an important role in the local community.
Not to be outdone the Sportsman on Brompton Lane is a very busy back street establishment. Glen and Sarah run a very tidy and cosy house. The one bar gives a feeling of intimacy and the atmosphere is always welcoming. Outback is a large garden where Bat and Trap is played in the summer, competing in the Medway league. A well used pool table does not take away from the ‘front room’ feel of the bar area and Glen will soon be putting up a dart board and putting forward a team to compete in our Peninsula League. Players please apply.
The Weston Arms is their nearest neighbour, just up the hill. Again a darts mad institution with a very young and talented team in the Peninsula League. The landlady’s sons are good and will get better at the game. There is only one team at present, but next season The Weston is looking to field another. This pub is well placed to provide for the local area and endeavours to give a wide range of activities. This brings me to the last public house I visited on my travels, The Sans Pareil at the top of Frinsbury. Named for probably best ship in Her Majesty’s navy, the walls are bedecked with reminders’ of our proud heritage. From the front of the building you will get a clear view of Chatham Dockyard, formerly the Royal Navy’s principle port in Southeast England, where none other than HMS Victory was built, and until quite recently, submarines were provisioned and refitted before recommencing their duties around the globe. Alas those days have gone, but The Sans Pareil keeps it in mind. Good food is served in the large restaurant offering two meals for £10, as well as Sunday roasts. Debbie, the landlady, is rightly pleased with the annual Derby Day festivities, with a bar-b-Q and live music on Derby Day itself. There are regular discos and karaoke supported by Sports channel television. On the 2nd Tuesday evening of each month a popular quiz takes place. The facilities include a function room that is offered with full catering provided. Again, a successful darts team adds to the attractions this pub offers.
The social engagement benefits provided by these lovely old places are, as the trade is shrinking, becoming more and more evident. Those who commit their lives to running these old pubs are the hard working salt of the earth and deserve our support. Remember, the facilities offered are far more than a drink. So, I implore you, if you are considering a function, get down to your local. The landlords and ladies have the expertise and are more than happy to help. Next month a hard hitting article on why the licensing business has got where it has and what needs to be done.

Adrian Belleville

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