Flowers, newspapers, baggy leather sofas, stone-and-wood floors, lots of space, laid-back reggae music. Those are your first impressions on walking into The Ship pub at Rye.
Next you take in the wide range of possible places to sit: formal restaurant area with polished wine glasses, informal restaurant area with condiments in jolly beach buckets, general soft-upholstery lounging area, brightly-parasoled outdoor sunning-yourself picnic benches. With a choice of three different doors to go in and out of.
Yes, The Ship is many things to many people: the complete opposite of the traditional, tight-knit drinking hole, where you walk through the door to be met by a dozen grumpy gazes. Whereas the unspoken message of the old-fashioned inn is “We don’t like strangers here”, the message here is “Hi, come in, hang out”. And try some fish soup (£6.50) or potted duck on toast (£6) while you’re at it.
That said, the place still has 16th-century wooden beams, a racy past (once a store for smugglers’ contraband) and real ales (Harveys Best, Finchcocks Kentish Hop Ale and 1648 Signature, plus aptly-named Double Vision cider). Even though I’ve only ordered half a pint, the nice young barman with a nose-stud insists on changing the barrel, as the pump is making gasping, frothy sounds. “No trouble,” he trills. As he does so, the manageress gives him a little maternal-type advice on how to deal with a troublesome colleague.
It helps, of course, that the pub stands at the foot of the town, in a waterfront area that has become a bit of a bustling visitor zone. Antique and gift emporiums have moved into the old fishermen’s netting sheds like crabs into empty shells and, of a weekend, the place is alive with the sound of leisure.
So whereas the pubs up in the old and scenically cramped part of town retain, perforce, a somewhat medieval, inward-looking ambience, The Ship has developed its own altogether more extrovert personality.
It’s not just a pub, really. It’s a venue.