An Alternative's Guide To Thanet
This guide is intended to be an introduction to the not-so-mainstream that still hangs on in Thanet. It is my hope in writing this guide that I can spread the word about what's left of the area. It's not all bad here you know!
For example the price of drinks is very low with one venue often charging just £1 for some lagers and shots. Compare this to London prices of £3.50 or more for a drink and you can see how the night life hangs on here. Two-for-one offers are also common meaning that a wild night out can cost just £75 including somewhere to stay, your drinks and after booze take-a-way.
Most events take place in Margate but there are some things worth going to Ramsgate or Broadstairs for. Your best bet is to invest in a "day rider" bus ticket which will give you the freedom of the area. When in doubt use the "Loop" bus as it goes in a big circle taking in all three towns as well as Westwood cross and a few other minor locations.
Before you go exploring it would be wise to get a "chav forecast" from a local. Although we experience relatively little trouble (on the whole) with an uneasy peace between those that wear tracksuits and those that dress in leather it pays to know where not to go. (Escape being a prime example of where not to go)
Expect to see plenty of bikers at events these are friendly and relatively domesticated real life bikers rather than the ones from popular fiction. Along with them you will see a lot of silly tarts of both genders and kids dressed up for some off season Halloween drinking. You will notice that the alternative scene is not segmented and people who like drums and guitar in any non-pop form will often drink in the same place.
You are about half-an-hour from Canterbury by train where the night life can be a bit more varied although there is not so much of a goth or metal scene (I am told) there these days. The limit is that you will need to get a train back by midnight or face an expensive taxi ride back into Thanet (assuming you are staying here - see further down for more information on that subject).
To be honest Thanet is not as good as it once was for alternative shopping - the area is in a state of finacial decline and a number of goth and alternative shops have closed in the last few years. This means that they is currently not a lot of alternative shopping to do in the area. I'd recommend stopping by Camden Market in London on your way home.
That said book lovers, game geeks, and day time pub goers will love Broadstairs. Here you will find a rough looking but friendly "biker" style pub or two, a herbal apothecary, book shops, new age style shops, oddities shops, a gamers shop and all the sea-side style stuff you could want. You will also find some truly crap pubs along with the good ones.
You best bet is to make contact with the locals via the Internet prior to visiting as they will be able to give you the best low down on what is happening where in the town and they will tell you that Folk-week is the high point of the arts events calender. Its a Dickens style dress up so get your best lacy stuff out and no one will bat an eyelid even if it is not in keeping thematically. You will also see the local goths around during daylight at this time.
Eating Out in Broadstairs
As many of the local students will tell you there are some great deli's in Broadstairs as well as endless traditional seaside cafés and traditional fish and chip shops. Many of the bigger pubs do food but quality is differs from location to location.
One thing to note about Broadstairs is that unless you have been invited or to attend some event or had one recommended you might be as well to leave during the early evening as some pubs have a reputation for less savoury clients. It's just one or two and any local will be able to name them but I'd rather not get a law suit come after me for saying.
Eating out in Ramsgate
Get on the Loop and ride it round to Ramsgate Harbour. You cannot miss it - it is huge and full of boats (unlike Margate Harbour which is large and full of sand). Once you step off the bus you are faced with a choice.
You can follow stay at the harbour where the old bank building houses an up market pizza house (or did last time I bothered to look). The buildings that follow around the harbour house sea-side pubs and a few eateries. Further along is the award winning Peter's Fish Factory (A fish and chip shop).
While you are in that area check out the maritime museum which is about all there is to see in the area. I mean yes there are some mildly famous pubs (the Belgum Bar is nearby and sometimes attracts local goths, artists and similar) there is not much for the visitor to the area to see or do. Blame our council - we do.
Alternately you can turn you back on the harbour and head past a chip shop and up harbour street into the town. You will pass a number of cafés the quality of which differs depending on who owns them now. There was, at one point, a café that had fair traded foods and vegetarian options unavailable elsewhere where you might meet artists of different kinds. I don't go to Ramsgate often enough to tell you what things are like now.
Other options in Ramsgate include MacDonalds. There are a number of pubs that put on events but they tend to be low-key tribute band locations but this is not universally true.
While you are in the area get some directions to Michael's bookshop (or get off the bus when you spot it). Michael is a local historian and republishes old out of print books unique to the area. You can also pick up some great books at a snip of a price.
Sadly there is little else to see nearby the fantastic bookshop so hop back on the bus and make your way to another location.
Eating Out in Margate
Right by the train station is a Brewers Fayre and to be honest I don't think much of it. I'd be bold and leave the station behind if you want the best of what Margate has to offer.
If you fancy oriental food then very near to the venue for "Totally Wired" (listed elsewhere on this page) is an eatery called Cosmos. Try the £5 lunch time "eat all you want" buffet - the food is good and the service is fantastic. I've reviewed Cosmo's already.
Margate is not as great as it used to be and the "new town centre" is pretty rubbish these days. However, the old town area has some good locations. For example on the harbour there is a pub called Barnacles which while it's beer is priced more like London it is a good size and sports a pool table in an area that the locals often leave utterly empty during the day. It's a nice place to have an afternoon pint or two and music selection is quite respectable too.
Just outside Barnacles and across the small road is a great eatery with a few less usual beers. You pay a bit more than at the average greasy spoon but the quality is worth it and the staff are really nice and accommodate children and punks. You can often pick up a few leaflets for arts related events in the area from the bar. One note though is that the stairs in the middle of the building and at the toilets make it a little challenging for the disabled.
Eating Out Cliftonville
Cliftonville only really has too things of interest to the visiting alternative - cafés and an art shop. All are friendly enough although none strike me as notable enough to mention above any other. You will probably end up getting a bus through this area but there is little currently to tempt you into getting off with the possible exceptions of the small independent shops that might catch your eye.
For a more cosmopolitan feel head to capitalist central otherwise known as Westwood cross. There are coffee shops, cinemas and a subway (not to mention the HSBC and a Waterstones). There is nothing here that you can not also be found in most parts of the world and so it all lacks notability but for the shopping mad it might be an nice place to visit.
Nearby there is a pizza hut (ask for directions as it is not easy to find) and a huge TESCO notable only for its size. Sometimes the nearby fire-station has an open day and burn stuff (like cars and caravans) which can be interesting for a little while.
Eating Out "off piste"
If you feel adventurous you can get some great lunches and some nice drinks. You need to be prepared to take a few maps with you and understand where the buses go but it can be well worth it. Many locations are within a stones throw from a Loop bus stop.
One such location is The Nineteenth Hole. It is a true "local pub" but is friendly and welcoming with zero oiks. It has a descent pool table, dart board and TV where it shows sports at a respectable volume that surprisingly does nothing to detract from the charm of the pub.
The landlord is a good bloke and knowns his drinks well enough to make a few suggestions should you ask. Inquire about popular "London Goth" drinks and you may be surprised. On a more sober note - they have a separate food area and do a range of superior pub food.
The bus stop is just outside and you are no more than twelve minutes (depending on the driver and raod conditions) from Cecil Square (the main Margate bus stop(s).
A little further up the road is a bus stop often Market as "The Weatshief" it has a big church on one side and a big pub on the other side. For reasons I shall not cover you can sometimes find a small crowd of local goths hanging out in the pub. It's not a "dead cert" but it reasonably likely such that I have witnessed it several times. The pub is quite mainstream but has a good crowd that the new owners did not manage to drive away (we Thanet types can be quite stubborn).
The pub is actually not a beefeater but a Hungry Horse and so serve food. I've not eaten there so I can tell you nothing about the quality but I imagine it's quite respectable. On the other hand the Nineteenth Hole is walking distance away.
Where to stay
Finding somewhere to stay is a must as Thanet has exactly no all-night clubs as London does. This might help because frankly listings for the area are scant even in the best search engines.
If you network well you might find people willing to put you up or if you are of a radical frame of mind you might be tempted to try one of the many deserted buildings. I would advise you that this is not such a hot idea as it will be dead cold, hard to get in and super likely to get you nicked.
What to do during the day
There may or may not be any museums available in Thanet by the time you get here as the local council is trying to close them all. I would not recommend the library as the benefits section and other council services are conducted in a space shared with the library and frankly you could not get me in there without a lot of money in bribes. This leaves the question of what to do and where to go.
Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs all feature harbours and beaches and if you talk to the local nudists such as Peter Checksfield you can find yourself in some really interesting locations. Broadstairs has the best ice cremes and associated shops at the beach while Margate has the best children's things. Ramsgate, bless it, does not compete very well at the moment.
If you go to Cecil square you can jump on the Number 32 bus which will take you to Dane Valley Park in about three or so stops (or you can walk there). It's a big park and worth a visit if you like parks and it is not tipping it down with rain. Sometimes it hosts big events with live music (fairly main-stream stuff) so keep an eye on local forums for more news on that.
If you want a smaller park jump on the Loop and get off near The Weatshief / Hungry Horse and head for Northdown park. There is naff all there other than a few dog walkers and fitness freaks so if you want to eat alfresco without chavs or other bothers this might be worth a thought.
You could visit the Viking Ship. You will need to get off the bus at Ramsgate and then get a cab or hike your way over. It's interesting to look at but hard to get to. If you like looking at things then there are the charred remains of the oldest roller-coaster in England (third oldest in the world). It suffered a fire recently and locals are upset about it so don't mention it unless you want to hear all about it.
To be honest you might be advised to jump on the train or get the bus (if you like long sits in buses) to Canterbury which at least has a handful of alternative shops still. It's not Camdon Market by any stretch of the imagination but it is all there is.
Other than that you could stump up a £1.00 and use the internet at an Internet café (Mini-Mart, Margate High-street) to check your emails or update your blog with photo's of the previous nights fun.
You may wish to conduct some research before decide on when you come to Thanet. Some weekends see a whole collection of events, gigs, theme nights and all sorts of other fun while others see very little of anything. The following are sites that would be most useful for finding out a little more about events.
There are two primary sources of events in the Thanet area since "Velvet Crypt" stopped running from the "haunted" pavilion. Totally Wired which mixes rock, goth and indi across one or two floors depending on time of year, attendance and cash. This takes place at a venue called "A bit on the side" and it's within walking distance of the train station at Margate.the Lido which is ever under threat of closure. Lido tends to attract the younger crowd and some goth/alt forums have in the past described it as "the place the local teens go to exchange STDs". It's not as bad as all that but it does have a reputation for under-age drinking. Lido is also more likely to host a band although the quality varies greatly.
On the whole Margate is able to attract top London bands like "voices of Masada" and "Rome Burns" who have both visited the area in times past. In unrelated news there is a last.fm group for the area here.
meetup.com sometimes features events for the area but it's not very accurate placing events as far away as folktone into the listings.
visitthanet.co.uk might be a better listing although much of the alternative scene is hidden. This might be because at times 50% of the scene takes place in, uh, "unlicensed pubs" that everyone "knows nothing about" and the only way in is via a regular willing to share his knowledge.
It would be worth getting into MySpace which is about as advanced as most promoters get currently (although there is some information on facebook too) and accounts such as this, this and this might be good to "friend" in the quest to get some information.
There is a Thanet Social Networking Site with free membership that often lists events by members - you can also listen to some of the local music. I'd recommend taking the time to create an account so you can ask in the forums. Alternately you can ask on The Oonagi Forum which is dedicated to local music.