Thursday, 6 August 2020

Kirkby

A bus took me to Kirkby on an intermittently sunny Thursday afternoon.  I was aiming for some pubs I last visited a long time ago, and I began at the Park Brow:

A good start, one family were sitting outside and I entered a plain and very well cared for room with a counter at one end.  The barmaid soon served me a pint of fizz, paid for in cash.  There was no one else in this side but I could hear hints of activity from the other bar.

I can't recall much from my previous visit twenty-two years ago, but I suspect it has changed little and it remains a pleasant plain working class pub as I described it then.

The dray arrived and the whole place shook as kegs were dropped into the cellar.

I departed via the gents and the lounge side which was very nicely decorated.

On to the Kingfisher:

Another classic estate boozer, the two sides are partially knocked through here.  Another Carling for cash from the cheerful barmaid.

I sat on a comfortable bench seat and looked round.  Quite a few people in here, and a game of pool underway.  Unusually, no music at all, I could just about discern some racing commentary under the general chatter.

My memory clicked into operation:  I think the three pubs in this part of Kirkby were one of my first research trips back in 1998.  Slightly intimidated by the area's reputation I was more than a little startled when, as I walked down a residential side street, a video recorder suddenly flew out of the front door of a house and crashed in the front yard.  It was rapidly followed by a very young boy who grabbed the mains lead and proceeded to drag his new toy round the yard.  The windows of the house concerned were boarded up, the local children had obviously gained entry and were having fun with what they could find inside.  I walked on, a little more nervous, but nothing untoward happened to me on this nor many subsequent visits to Kirkby.

Next, the Falcon:

A third classic estate boozer, but it opens at five, so no tick today.  Drat!  (There is a rule amongst pub bloggers that says I should here insert a rant about opening hours, but in this case I hadn't undertaken any research in advance so it's hardly the pub's fault.)

On to Kirkby's centre.  I'm looking for Brambles, not visited since 02, but first I spotted the former Wetherspoon's which, unbeknownst to me, is now the Market Tavern:

It's been taken over by Greene King, who'd have thought it?

Rather to my surprise, there were two handpumps and my pint of Old Golden Hen was a ridiculous £1.29.  Yes I did say pint.  And it was in good nick as well.

The place was very busy, in fact I had some difficulty finding an empty table at which to sit.  I couldn't see anyone eating but I guess three in the afternoon is not a peak time for food.

Nought out of ten for Greene King's software people, their app that I had to download last week doesn't know about this pub.  What's the use of that?

The place got busier and livelier as I enjoyed my ale, the chatter rising to a crescendo as more and more regulars came in.

Finally, Brambles:

I was last here in 02 when it was called Central, I think, and it doesn't seem to have changed since.

There were plenty of people in, the sound track being Johnny Cash mixed with lively chatter.

The sign said table service only but no one was taking any notice and I joined them at the counter to order another pint of Carling.

As I reached the end of my pint, I watched the bar staff (2) thoroughly cleaning the counter and the room.

The TVs were showing gardening programmes, not really right for a sports bar.   Why not the cricket?

The pub "salesman" here was offering me pizza, I think.

So, four boozers all doing well post-lockdown, what more could one ask for?  I was disappointed to have missed the Falcon, though.

Pub of the day: Market Tavern, for decent ale and lively atmosphere.

Miles walked: 1.8

Maybe coming soon: Formby

Friday, 31 July 2020

Crosby, Thornton, Wakes (and Young)

Time for my first real pub research outing since lockdown .  Probably not a wise choice of day to go on a trip to Crosby, as everyone else in Liverpool decided on a day out in the sunshine, making the trains rather busy.

My long suffering tablet finally expired this morning so I had to set off with just the phone, which actually turned out alright.

Another downside of choosing Crosby is that I did a survey here a couple of years ago, so I don't really want to do the obvious pubs today.  This meant I had to march past the wonderful Crows Nest, and the Birkey and on for another mile to the pleasant suburb of Thornton and the Nags Head:
Here I was soon seized by a friendly barmaid/waitress who marched me round the one way system to my table.  A quick glance at the counter as I passed showed only GK IPA on handpump.  The waitress was very keen that I order using their app, resulting in a long delay while I downloaded and installed it and then registered.

Then I found the app didn't have any cask ales.  I concluded it probably wasn't on, and just went with fizz, which was very refreshing after my long walk, and very quickly delivered once I'd mastered the app.

The place was ticking over gently, probably rather quieter than one would have expected on a Friday afternoon pre-Covid.  A number of people in black ties arrived just as I did.

It doesn't seem to have changed much since my previous visit ten years ago although to be honest I can't remember what it was like then, my notes say "ordinary food-pub decor", actually it's rather well done so perhaps improved over the decade.

Next, just 100 yards or so down the road is the Grapes:
Another dining-type pub, this one under the Sizzling brand.  There was a tape across the entrance and I was allowed in only when I agreed to sit outside with my drink, "We've no free tables inside".  Another pint of fizz, this time collected from the counter.  Luckily some high clouds had moved in, so I didn't get roasted at the outside table, most of them had no shelter.

I have to say the new normal for pubs is rapidly losing its appeal, if I'm going to get this amount of inconvenience everywhere I might as well stick to the few favourites where I know I can get decent ale without hassle.

As I swigged my lager and dodged the wasps, a funeral party arrived complete with black stretch limo.  Perhaps their booking was the reason I wasn't allowed a table inside?

Next, a long walk back to Crosby itself where there were a number of potential targets.

I headed for the Blues Bar, never before visited, but there was a big sign "Reserved for a funeral" and the place was packed.  I wonder if it was the same funeral as I had seen in Thornton, probably not.

But what's this?  Just across the road is Frankie's, not in my database:
We've got one table left outside, the waitress said, so I took it, after zapping the track and trace logo - first time I've been done today although I suppose the app at the Nags Head will have recorded my visit as well. 

The tiny inside looked like pleasant modern decor but I didn't really get a good look, stuck outside as I was.  Grand opening today said the sign, but actually it's a re-opening under new management.

The place was very busy and the waitresses were running about keeping everyone served.  I wondered if they would let me in to use the gents?  (They did.)

On leaving I realised this is in part of a rather splendid, once you notice it, Art Deco row of shops.

The wake over the road was thinning out now so perhaps I could get another new tick in the Blues Bar?  Yes!!
A very well done modern bar/restaurant, this, with a slightly less up market and also very nice sports bar on one side.

The covid-19 screens hanging over the counter made it look like they weren't serving, but they were and I was soon enjoying my fourth pint of lager at a small table in the corner of the room.  There were three handpumps on the counter, one with a clip, but I didn't think it was worth the risk.

A nice smell was emanating from the open kitchen, I think that's a pizza oven at the back.

My grammar alert was triggered by the "cocktail's" menu on a blackboard, and I think "margarita" is spelled wrong, oh hang on I'm thinking of the pizza which is margherita.

As Friday afternoon moved on to evening the place got busier, a number of people eyeing my table, while the queue at the counter got longer.

Next, there was a bar called Eight Degrees down a side alley here, which I thought had closed before I could visit, but instead I found Larkin's Bar:
The doorway and alley were full of drinkers so I didn't like to take a photo, I pinched this one from their social media instead. 

A tiny bar with just enough room for one pool table, full of lively regulars, spilling out into the street.  Obviously no real ale so Carling once again.  The chatter was loud in the tiny room with horse racing on the telly in the background.  No tables were free so I had to sit at the bar and ignore the suspicious looks as I wrote this on my phone.

Cash only in here, my first use of real money today.

Ooh look, they've got one of those Guinness Surgers, they're still going then.

Well I never, the advantage of sitting at the counter is you can see what the barman is doing, someone had an Aussie White over ice.

I must say in this day and age it's great to find a lively noisy plain boozer.

Time to head for home, I think.  Good grief, social isolation what's that?  The train back to Liverpool was about 150% loaded, packed with families going home from a seaside trip and groups off for a night out in the city.  Most but not all were masked but this is not what the authorities had in mind, I think.  

When I got to Lime Street with forty minutes to wait for my train home, I realised that "the authorities" had no interest at all in social distancing, or they wouldn't make us carry on with only half the normal train service.

Well, a better than expected survey despite the hassle of getting in and out of the chain pubs.  Who'd have thought I'd get three brand new ticks, taking my grand total to 1,326.

Pub of the day: Hard to say, I think I might just have to choose Larkin's as a liveley friendly boozer.
Miles walked: 4.2
Maybe coming soon: Don't know yet.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Birkenhead

Not a "pub survey" this afternoon, just a few drinks over the water with friends.  We started in Wetherspoon's Brass Balance
As with all the 'spoons I've visited post-lockdown, this was doing pretty well, with plenty of drinkers and diners keeping the staff busy.  My pint of Abbot was rather muddy, but it tasted fine.

Next, on to the Stork, where we found one customer, one member of staff, and no real ales.

We moved on immediately to the Riverview where we again found no ale.

Just next door is Gallaghers which seems to have gained a mural:
Here, they were ticking over nicely, four real ales were available including Plum Porter but I chose White Rat which was perfect.

We adjourned to the beer yard which has been nicely done up since my last visit, making for a very comfortable and pleasant experience.

Next, on to the Swinging Arm where we again found a lack of real ale.  We decided to stay anyway, and I enjoyed a pint of Shipyard.

Finally, we ended the day with a couple more of the excellent White Rat in Gallaghers, before catching the train home.

Pub of the day: Gallaghers
Miles walked: 1.2 miles
Maybe coming soon: Crosby

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Dale Street

Called to do my duty at the Blood Donor centre, I took the opportunity to visit a few pubs along Dale Street, starting at Rigbys:
Here I found compulsory table service, hand gel and form filling, and just two other customers.  (I later spotted some more in the courtyard at the back.)   The three staff had very little to do.

There were just two real ales on, I had a superb pint of White Rat.

Just a short stroll along Dale Street is the Vernon Arms:
There was a chain across the entrance and I had to sign in and be allocated a table before being allowed in the pub.  They had a full range of real ales on offer, but the rum porter was somewhat past its best, the first off pint I've tasted post lockdown - I really should have rejected it.

The place was ticking over nicely, with almost every table in the front part occupied, so I was assigned a table in the back room, on my own.  Are they trying to tell me something?  Perhaps the patch on my arm was off-putting.

A little further up is the Excelsior:
The barman insisted I treated my hands as I entered (I would have, anyway) but there was no requirement for ID.  Only two real ales on, and I selected Landlord which if I'm being really picky was maybe a little over-chilled but pretty much spot on when it was brought to my table.

I must complain that a strongly lemon scented hand wash spoils the flavour of the ale until it wears off ones hands, a more neutral gel would be much better.

Only one member of staff was visible, ably looking after the six or so customers here.  As with the other two visits today, the soundtrack was quiet muzac and chatter.

I was glad to see the pubs back in action, especially the Excelsior and the Vernon which I had noted boarded up a couple of months ago.

Friday, 10 July 2020

The First Week

Here's a list of all the pubs I've observed during this first post-lockdown week.  After careful consideration I have decided I am not going to maintain or update this list because (a) it's a lot of effort, (b) it's not fair on the many excellent pubs who lose out purely because I haven't walked past them yet and (c) the information will get out of date on a daily basis.

My general feeling has been relief and pleasure that I'm back in the pub, but I'm concerned that if the current restrictions continue long term then many places will not survive.  I haven't visited any at traditional busy times yet, but I noticed some had queuing markings outside the door; the day I have to queue to get in to a boozer is the day I switch to drinking at home.

Huyton
PubDayStatus
CroftersFridayOpen
Stanley ArmsFridayOpen
SwanWednesdayOpen

Liverpool City Centre
PubDayStatus
Ava'sThursdayOpen
Blarney StoneThursdayOpen
Blob ShopThursdayOpen
Butterfly and GrasshopperThursdayOpen
Celtic CornerThursdayNot open when I passed.
CrownWednesdayOpen, with a very limited range of real ales.
DispensaryThursdayOpen, excellent ale as usual.
ExcelsiorThursdayOpen
Jimmy'sThursdayNot open. Signs say opening Thursday.
LiffeyThursdayNot open when I passed.
Molly Malone'sThursdayNot open when I passed.
Nelley Foley'sThursdayOpen
NookThursdayLong closed.
Pogue MahoneThursdayClosed and tinned up.
RichmondThursdayOpen (I noted the decorators were in a couple of weeks ago.)
Rose and CrownThursdayOpen
ShakespeareThursdayOpen
Ship and MitreThursdayOpen, great ales.
Smokie Mo's
(Charlotte Street)
ThursdayOpen
Sweeney'sThursdayOpen
Tess Riley'sThursdayOpen
Vernon ArmsThursdayOpen
VinesThursdayNot open when I passed.

I have omitted Wetherspoon's from the table, as far as I know all of them are open and the ones I have visited have all had decent real ale.

The New Normal?

I headed into town to do some shopping which allowed me note the status of some pubs as I passed.  See the following post for a list.

Having completed my appointed tasks, it was time for a pint.  I headed for a favourite, the Dispensary.

I had to zap a QR code with my phone and then text the government before entering!  Presumably there's another procedure for less well equipped drinkers.  I was guided to a table and handed a menu.  The waitress soon returned to take my order for a pint of the wonderful White Rat.  I paid by contactless of course.

The place was quite busy in post-lockdown terms, with only one or two vacant tables, dropping to zero while I was there.  A gentle background of chatter mixed with the quiet music.  The beer was excellent.  I noticed the waitress was very on the ball in offering another as people's glasses neared empty.

Having had a haircut on Tuesday I was on the lookout for any lockdown hair disasters amongst my fellow drinkers, but I didn't spot any.

So, not a bad experience for my first non-Wetherspoon pub, but there's no way it will scale to a busy Friday night.  If these restrictions continue long term then I fear the pub as we know it is doomed.

I walked on, pleased to note that the boarding up had gone from the Vernon Arms and the Excelsior, both of which were open.  I aimed for another favourite, the Ship and Mitre.

This is basically unchanged, apart from being asked to fill in a track and trace form, and reminded not to stand at the bar once served - What a great improvement to pub etiquette this is, no more bar hogs blocking my view of the pumps!  They currently only have about half the usual number of real ales on, with all the pumps in the back room being out of use, but the pale one I had - I forget what it was - was spot on.

No music in here, just a gentle background of chatter

Moving on to Friday, and a couple of pubs in Huyton, beginning with the Stanley Arms.

Apart from an orderly queue at the counter nothing has changed in here, and on a Friday afternoon it was busy with families enjoying meals, as well as groups of drinkers and some solo ones as well.

Quiet music mixed with chatter and the occasional rattle of crockery, as I enjoyed my Guinness.

On down the road to the Crofters.

A similar experience here, except that half the pub is reserved for diners, guarded by a waitress who directed me to the drinkers' end.  A short queue of people standing at the bar didn't take long to process and I was soon served.

Again, quite busy but not completely full, even with the significantly reduced capacity.


Saturday, 4 July 2020

Reborn On The Fourth Of July

It was with a mounting feeling of anticipation that I headed out this morning, my destination was Wetherspoon's Barker's Brewery.  Will there be any decent ale?  Will there be a queue?  Will I need ID to get in?
No queue!  I headed in, walked up to the bar, and ordered a couple of pints of Big Bog Willo-The-Wisp, and sat down at one of the tables.

Wonderfully, nothing much seemed to have changed.  OK, the tables were more scattered, some screened off, and there were screens around the tills at the bar.  But the basic experience was unchanged, the ale was very good, the staff were friendly and chatty.  Most of the Saturday morning crowd seemed to turn up, although overall I felt it was slightly less busy than a normal Saturday and very few breakfasts were served.

The manager stopped for a chat, bemoaning the difficulty of ordering real ale last week, many breweries being sold out, but luckily Big Bog had come up trumps.  He said the choice might be a bit limited, we advised that one decent real ale was enough to be going on with!  (Actually, I later had a Porter also from Big Bog, so that's at least two decent ales.)

So, a gentle return to something approaching normality, let's hope it continues like this.