ONE test of people’s loyalty to a pub is how keen they were to return when the Covid lockdowns ended.

The Barking Cat has built such a reputation that it found business was stronger than ever.

“We were busy from day one,” says Mark Ambrose, who is co-director with his son Michael and his uncle Godfrey French.

“We’ve got more customers than we had before.”

The Barking Cat, in Ashley Road, Parkstone, may not be in a traditional pub building – for decades, the premises were well-known as the Canton Chinese restaurant. But it is nonetheless a very traditional pub, emphasising community and real ales.

“It’s how a pub used to be and how a pub should be. No TV – just bringing the art of conversation back,” says Mark.

The Barking Cat was created around some of the features inherited from the Canton, including its ornate pillars. The bar is decorated with original Borough of Poole street signs for addresses such as Chaddesley Glen and nearby Library Road.

There is a pool table and jukebox, with a live band every other Saturday and a quiz every other Sunday.

The Canton still operates as a takeaway next door – and every day except Wednesday, from 5pm, customers at the Barking Cat can order from the Canton menu and have the food brought to their table. Customers can also bring in food from anywhere else.

The pub has been in business for around three and a half years and quickly built a following, thanks to its community spirit and wide choice of beers.

It helped that is on the route for a host of buses including the M1 and M2 and is a few doors from a taxi company and not far from Branksome railway station.

People will take a special trip to find the place, largely because of its frequently changing choice of beers. It always has eight cask ales from various breweries around the country, with six real ciders and 10 craft beers. There are also artisanal spirits, including Japanese whiskys and bourbons.

“We’ve got a good reputation in the industry for looking after casks,” says Mark.

“When we opened this pub, the reputation just followed.”

Beer lovers can use the app Untappd to see what beers are on the menu before they visit.

“When you come in here, you’re going to get knowledge form people behind the bar,” says Michael.

“They can always taste the beer before they buy it,” says Mark. “We don’t throw people in at the deep end.

The licensees like the pub to be at the heart of the community. They are a sponsor of Camra’s Poole Beer Festival this month and are hosting their own Christmas beer festival from December 9-12.

On Saturday, October 23, they will host a lunchtime event in memory of one of their customers, Andy Dyke, or ‘Jukebox Andy’, who died during the Covid lockdowns.

They have been heartened by the support they have received, both from long-standing regulars and new ones.

“People have moved into the area and we’ve been getting quite a lot of new customers,” says Mark.

Michael adds: “People have been enjoying having a community place to come back to.”