Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Book

I am pleased to announce that the eleventh edition of the Merseyside Pub Guide book is now on sale.

There are 1,849 pubs listed in this edition, with details of almost thirteen hundred I have visited.

The price this year has been held at £8.00 plus postage and packing.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Dining Chain Pubs in Aintree

A bright and chilly Thursday found me at Old Roan station.  The eponymous pub has been closed for some time:

On to the dual carriageway traffic's roar on Dunnings Bridge Road, and the Bakers Dozen:
A standard Hungry Horse located on a retail park by a busy dual carriageway.  Pleasingly, there's a small corner dedicated to drinkers with no menus and no table numbers, and a pool table.

At the bar the three handpumps were out of action so I had a Guinness and settled in the drinkers' corner alone.

Observant readers of the Merseyside Pub Guide will have noticed that I have dropped the beer list, to be honest it has been an annoyance for some time:  My short term memory has always been poor so I often found that by the time I had sat down in a pub and got the tablet out, I'd forgotten what the bitters and lagers were, so I had to crane my neck or get up and have another look.  It's much easier not bothering!  As this is the first pub visited since I made the change, I'll note that from my seat I could see taps for Carling, Fosters, Coors and John Smiths.

An occasional family kept the place from being completely dead, but it was very quiet.  I suppose that's not surprising for a weekday afternoon in January.

By the way, the name comes, I think, from the fact that there is a large bread factory next door.

Next, I wandered down to the Park, where my outside observations confirmed what I had already suspected, it's just a residential hotel now:

Back past the Bakers and on to another chain dining place, the Packet Steamer:
This one is a Beefeater.  Once again there is a drinkers' area which was quite busy with a number of groups, including a wake.

Four handpumps on the counter but only one clip, Doom Bar, and I decided not to risk it, sticking to lager.

The drinkers' area was filled with a hubub of chatter and laughter, it was certainly doing better than the Bakers.  I couldn't see how busy the dining part was.

A quick check of the menu showed that with fish and chips at £12.59 it's not cheap, but I must say some of the menu items look very tasty.

Back past the Old Roan and on to the Valentine:
Another step towards the next milestone as this is my first visit, making it pub number 1,299.  It wasn't open when I passed last time.

I went in the lounge side, where there were a couple of customers standing at the counter, but no sign of any staff.  I headed through the connecting door to the bar side.  There were a couple of handpumps in the lounge side but none in the bar, so I stuck to lager.

Architectural notes:  It's hard to guess when it was built, 60s I think.  Not much original inside and the former off-sales has been knocked through into the lounge.

The barmaids chatted with the two or three regulars in the bar, while I sat in a corner and typed this.

The decor in the bar side was plain and pleasant, everything spotless and well maintained.

It's not far to the Blue Anchor:
Another dining chain pub this, Hungry Horse again, and with Fish and Chips at £7.79 it looks to be good value.  The rather fine inter-war building has been knocked through inside creating an enormous open nicely done food-oriented place.

At half three on a Thursday it was ticking over nicely, and chatter from the mostly non-dining customers was louder than the background music.

Four handpumps, three with clips, so I risked the one I'd never heard of, Anchors Away, and it was a rather good bitter.  A quick Google failed to tell me anything about it.  (Isn't the phrase "anchors aweigh" anyway?)

Now a long walk across the racecourse - I think the road is closed and the horses run across it in the Grand National - and eventually I reached the Queens.  A moment of concern when I came to an Indian Restaurant in what could have been a former pub building, but no, two doors further along was the pub:
Back in 2006 I recorded this as a two-sided pub, it has now been knocked through, with the servery forming an island between the two sides.  The plain decor is immaculate and very well done, with just a little quirkiness to lift it above the bog standard - I particularly liked the two foot tall silver stag displayed above the bar back.  Silver coloured rather than actual silver, I presume - Otherwise it'd be worth more than the pub!

The sound here was background music overlayed by chatter from a number of regulars who were keeping the place going as Thursday afternoon moved on to evening.

What I should have done now was move on to the Toby up the road, to complete my Aintree targets but I couldn't be bothered with another dining chain place so I headed back to the station and home.  Unfortunately it was too dark to take a picture as I passed the Sefton, now a curry house.

Pub of the day: The Valentine because it was a "proper pub", and a rather good one too.
Miles walked: 4.5
Maybe coming soon: Croxteth
Also coming soon:  The 2019 edition of the book is at the printers, so should be on sale before too long.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Thatto Heath

I commenced a visit to a rather grey Thatto Heath at the British Lion:
I must say the external appearance didn't fill me with confidence but in fact the side door was open and I entered a warm comfortable tidy pub.

Just a few regulars were occupying the one room, the main sounds being gentle racing commentary and occasional chat.

Unusually, someone else asked where the gents was, so I didn't have to when it was time to go - I realise "go" has two possible meanings in that sentence, in fact both apply!

On my way to the gents I was able to observe the "other side" which appears to be usable but was in darkness on a Friday afternoon.

Next, the Elephant:
Now this was the reverse of the Lion; the Cask Marque badge on the outside raised my hopes, only for them to be dashed by two handpumps with no clips.

It's "only" six years since I was last here, and nothing seems to have changed, it's still a large L-shaped room, well cared for, clean and tidy.

A few regulars chatted and/or watching two different racing channels on the tellies.  The pub dog occupied my attention for a while.  It circulated around the pub, checking all the regulars, and then hovered by the gents door for someone to pass through so it could get out to the yard, where it waited patiently for a smoker to come and play with it.

Fifty yards down the road is the Vine Tavern:
I wonder what V+R means on the front of the building.  Is it old enough for it to be Victoria Regina?

Another spotless clean and tidy boozer, this.  I went in the bar side, where I was hard put to find a free table.  Perhaps there would have been more seats in the other side.

Again we had two racing channels to watch, but the majority of the customers didn't seem to interested, unlike in the Elephant.

Now a slightly longer walk, to the oddly named Brown Edge:
What a nice pub!  Partly knocked through inside, but retaining two sides.  Only two handpumps, one had the clip turned round, but the other provided a good pint of Banks's Sunbeam.

The signs say "under new management", from what I can see he's doing a good job.

Not many customers at four on a Friday, but the place was gently ticking over.

Next, the York.  Whatpub says it opens at four, but at quarter past it was still shut:
Their loss.

So I headed back towards the station, and my final target, the Springfield (Photo taken earlier, it was pretty dark by now.)
I entered the wrong side as usual, and the interconnection was not obvious so I sat in the bar side alone for my final lager of the day.

From what I could see and hear, there weren't many customers in the rest of the pub either.  I noticed a half-full pint of lager standing on the counter, as though its owner had just gone to the gents or for a smoke, but no-one came for it while I was there.

The decor in here is plain, but as usual, well cared for.  However, I sat on one of those long bench seats where there is a gap between the squab and the back, and looking through the gap I could see a lot of rubbish, so a dustpan and brush is needed!

Pub of the day: The friendly cheerful Brown Edge, also the ale of the day.
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: Aintree

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Free Beer

I started a new year of ticking with a bus under the Mersey all the way to West Kirby, where I began at the Ridger:
The sign said Cask Ales and, sure enough, there were three handpumps at the end of the bar, offering Landlord, Rocking Rudolph, and Doom Bar.  Unfortunately, the first produced a little froth and no beer, the Doom Bar was cleaning fluid, and the Christmas one was very vinegary.  The apologetic barman pulled through lots of cleaning fluid and consulted the landlady, but to no avail, so I had a lager instead.  He continued to apologise, and to my surprise refused to accept any money, "because of the inconvenience".

So, not a good start to the year for real ale (Although no real ale is better than bad real ale), but an excellent start from the free beer point of view!

I settled in a quiet corner to enjoy my beer - nothing tastes as sweet as free ale - and surveyed my surroundings.  The place is very well done out and carefully maintained.  I thought it looked a little down from the outside, but certainly not inside.

The majority of the customers were dining - The menu looks good value.

On to the Viking:
In the three or more renamings since I drank in the Black Horse in 2004 this place has been totally transformed from the youth oriented purple woodwork I recorded then.  Now, the modern decor in the enormous open room surrounding a three-sided servery features bare wood and bare brick walls and more bare woodwork for the ceiling.  Here's a picture from 2004:
At the entrance I ignored the staff poised to seat me and headed straight for the handpumps (5) where I quickly selected a pint of Triple Blond from Peerless.  It was spot on, but unfortunately I had to pay this time!  I slipped up here, I really should have tried the unpasteurised Budweiser which arrives in a tank from Ceske Budejovice.

Pretty much everyone else was dining and they were doing a good trade with waitresses buzzing around bringing food and clearing tables.  The soundtrack here was gentle muzak overlaid with happy chatter from the many diners.

The menu looks good but it's a lot more expensive than the Ridger.

Next, the Ring O Bells, named after the Beatles' drummer, of course  (Not really!):
Having spent some time since I last visited in 2004 as a Loch Fyne restaurant, it is now back as a pub with Greene King's Time Well Spent branding.  The name seems to have lost its apostrophe somewhere along the way.

Back in 2003 this was something of a pioneer, being the first Merseyside pub I knew of to become no smoking throughout.

An "ordinary" selection of real ales here, I had Greene King IPA, the other choices were Abbot and Rocking Rudolph.

In 2018 it's a very pleasant open room, divided up because it's built on a hill so there are four different levels.  Pretty quiet as you might expect at three on a Thursday, but gently ticking over.  I couldn't see anyone eating.

Not far to Hickory's:
In 2004 the Moby Dick was a pub/restaurant doing a good pint of Director's.  Hickory's, on the other hand, is definitely a restaurant, but they still welcome drinkers, with a row of seats at the counter.

Contrary as always, I took my rather tasty Hickory's Pale Ale - keg because the only handpump had its clip turned round - to a diners' table.  Almost immediately a waiter arrived to take my order.  He didn't complain when I said I was just having a drink, but he didn't bother to clear away the used glasses and coffee cups from the previous occupants.  I was amused to see one of their drinks was a purple colour, served in a screwtop jam jar with a straw.

The sound in here was mainly the clatter of plates and crockery, and cheerful chatter.

At last I headed for the centre of West Kirby, passing the former Hilbre Court, now an Italian:

... and reaching the Homebrew Tap:
Having photographed the off licence next door (oops), I entered the bar part to be presented with umpteen taps.  The only one I recognised was Tiny Rebel's Stay Puft, so I had one of that.

Only a handful of customers were in, and many of those seemed to be on coffee.  I headed to the back room to enjoy my delicious "marshmallow porter", I'd love to try this on cask.  Hang on, I think I have, at a beer festival?

The sounds of gentle chatter mixed with music, the whole place has a comfortable ambience.  I think the term micro-pub would be wrong here as it's quite large, especially if you include the "bottle shop" next door.  They could do with turning up the heating though, I didn't remove my coat.

Pub of the day: I think the Ring O Bells - Comfortable, friendly, and ticking over nicely.
Miles walked: 2.5 miles.
Maybe coming soon: Thatto Heath

Monday, 31 December 2018

End Of Year Stats

Merseyside pubs listed:  1,849 of which 1,075 are believed to be open.
Merseyside pubs visited in 2018: 367
Merseyside pubs visited, all time: 1,297
Targets (Open pubs not visited in the last five years): 526

It's sixteen months since I restarted weekly research trips, and I have to confess that I have been going for the "low hanging fruit", and in the coming year it will be harder to find clusters of targets I can easily hit with just a few miles of walking.  So there may be more trips with only two or three pubs ticked, or trips that visit two different areas.  Or in extreme cases perhaps I'll have to start using taxis between pubs.

The next milestone, I think, will be 1,300 pubs visited, which should come fairly soon.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

A Pub A Day Helps You Work Rest and Play

Time to give in and tick the contentious Connoisseur Brewery.  After all, my moan is with St Helens CAMRA, not the brewery itself.  And I've had good reports so ignoring it would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

So, on a bitterly cold and wet Saturday morning I got one of the few trains running, and soon walked to the mysterious location, marked only by a tiny sign which says 1st Saturday of the month.

I walked down the ramp just as the gate was being opened, so I knew where to go.  There were no more signs, apparently it was too windy for the banner:
I was first in, and some pulling through was required before I could be served a gorgeous pint of "Bloody Mild".  I'm not a great mild drinker, as I find some of them a bit bland, but this was flavoursome and delicious.  I settled on a comfy sofa in the small room to enjoy it.

One more customer came in for a quick half, and chatted to the barman while I wrote this.  Later, another regular arrived.

Conversation is inevitable in a place like this, and I soon got some good pointers about where to go next, which out of the way pubs are still operating, and other local pub info.

Next, I took a bus for a short ride to the Windle:
Inside this inter-war (?) roadhouse I found something like a standard chain dining pub, except that it's still got a slightly plainer bar side as well.

Three handpumps but no clips, so I was on lager as usual, probably just as well as an average real ale would have been disappointing after the superb one I'd just had.

Oddly, there were none of the expected menus on each table, just at the bar.  Perhaps this isn't in a chain after all.  Either way, almost everyone in the lounge side was eating, and a delicious smell of fish and chips made me feel hungry.  But I must get on and do at least one more pub...

Now, a longish march (Well, it seemed long in this weather!) to the Abbey:
This rather fine multi-roomed partly knocked through pub has always been a provider of good beer, but my first glimpse of two handpumps without clips was a little worrying.  Luckily, the bloke being served stepped away and I saw the other three pumps had clips.  I ordered something from Bootleg from the friendly barman, and got an excellent pint and a buy six get one free card.  I was offered the choice of a non-dimpled mug or a sleeve.  I selected the Bootleg branded mug.

I was a little confused:  Why is this Holts house promoting Bootleg beers?  Google has the answer, Holts bought Bootleg a few years ago.

I settled down in a comfortable side room to enjoy my pint.  What a great pub this is, tastefully decorated, understated Christmas decorations, live football on at a sensible volume (Everton lost at Man City) and the main sound was happy chatter amongst the customers and staff.

At this point, I permitted myself a smug grin of satisfaction, as this was my 365th Merseyside pub visited in 2018.  One a day was a target I had felt was too high, but I've made it!  With various Christmas commitments keeping me busy this could be my last survey of the year, so when I realised how close to the magic number I was, I braved the weather instead of going home after Connoisseur - Or more likely staying at home all day.

Next, a mystery:  I've been to the Abbey a couple of times before, so why have I never tried the Gerard Arms across the road?  I've no idea, but it's time to rectify that omission now:
Another good pub, much busier than the Abbey, with loads of food being served.  It carries Greene King's "Time Well Spent" branding.  Real ale on the counter, I had Moorhouse's Witches Cauldron which was a fine bitter.

The sound in here was a loud hubub of chatter, with the clatter of crockery and cutlery in the background.  The music was mostly drowned out

Unusually, an enormous tent out the back contained a Christmas Market.  I had a quick look in, it wasn't doing very well with hardly anybody in there.

Despite the steady flow of people to and from the market letting in an icy blast, the place was comfortably warm.

I checked the train strike timetable and realised that if I hurried and if a bus back to St Helens turned up, I could just make a train home.  Everything went as I hoped and I was soon warming up in my house.

Pub of the day: Difficult.  Best beer was in the brewery, but it's NOT A PUB.  So the Abbey, for quality ale in comfortable peaceful surroundings.
Miles walked: 1.4
Maybe coming soon: Perhaps a Christmas break?  Although there is another milestone coming up.

Friday, 14 December 2018


I started an excursion to Birkenhead on a very cold day with a bus ride under the river, aiming for the Richmond:
One room with a counter at the back in this plain boozer.  My order for a pint of lager resulted in three and a half going down the drain before I was served.

This struck a chord in my memory - Is this the place where I had vinegary Guinness after a number of pints had been thrown away, back in 2013?  Ah yes, so it is:  Oxton Road  At least today's lager tasted OK.

Most of the room was empty, with just a few regulars at the counter.  The decor is pleasant and plain, with Christmas decorations just right.  Apart from a torn seat cover on one of the benches along the walls, it had a well cared for appearance.

If anyone is following these trips on a map they may be wondering why I didn't come in here a few weeks ago when I started at the Windsor just four doors away.  To be honest, I'd slipped up and missed this one off my map!  Bad planning.

Annoyingly, despite looking so open that I actually rattled the door, the Warwick was shut again  (Last time's picture):

Not far to the next destination, the never before visited Cavendish:
This is quite a large place inside, clean and tidy.  There are a few steps up to the back and side rooms which were deserted, with the half a dozen regulars and me staying in the area by the counter.  I was nice and warm sitting by a radiator.

On to Seamus O'Donell's, another place I should have done last month, but again it was missing from my map:
This fairly modern building which used to be the Exmouth Arms, contains an above average "plastic paddy" pub where the usual Irish decor, Dublin street signs, Jameson mirror etc etc is not done to excess as it so often is.

Definitely the scariest tick for some time, two hefty vicious looking dogs barked at me as I approached the counter.  I resolved that if they showed signs of jumping over I was out of here, but they were clearly well trained and knew their border.

In honour of the pub's name I switched to Guinness.

This place reminded me of Flanagans in Waterloo, another Irish pub in an un-pub-like building.  No free corned beef hash, though, and it was freezing in here.

Next MacKenzie:
Now, this bar holds a special place in my Pub Guide because back in 2004 it was my thousandth Merseyside pub.  I had had grandiose ideas of organising a minibus for my friends to take us to some out of the way real ale haven for number one thousand, but I never actually got round to doing anything about it, so the milestone just came up unplanned in the middle of a survey of Birkenhead.  I think I can say with some confidence that there won't ever be a number two thousand!

Anyway, as it was back then, this pub remains a well cared for modern plastic boozer, and it was doing a good trade on a chilly Friday afternoon with a dozen or more regulars keeping the place going, resulting in the main sound being mixed chatter, with a Christmas music TV channel very much in the background.  It was a lot warmer in here than in Seamus's.

I headed to the North Western but I fear I'm too late, it was shut:

Next, the Blue Bell:
Tucked away on a side street, surely this must have closed by now, but no, here it is going strong.

Just one regular, me, and the landlady inside.  The excellent interior is partly knocked through but retains two halves around the three-sided counter.  It felt very warm after the bitter wind outside, but I still kept my coat on.

Once again in what seems to be a common theme today, the Christmas decorations were good and not excessive.  Mind you, my threshold of "excessive" moves as we get closer to the day, and also as I drink more!

Finally, Molly's Chambers - is that a Thin Lizzie reference?  Or Kings of Leon (says he, trying to sound a bit more up to date.)
A long time ago this was a (totally fake) antique-style pub belonging to Cains.  After closing it was offices for some years, until the people who run the Swinging Arm took it over.  Initially it was a music venue only open Fridays and Saturdays but more recently it has opened all week.

A total transformation from the Colonial, it's now a cellar bar very nicely done out.  Perhaps the upstairs is used as well?

More importantly, where is the gents?  I couldn't see any sign!

Having skipped the Trooper on the only handpump, I enjoyed a half of Shipyard for a change. 

Initially I was the only customer, but then some girls came in, ordering gins and bottle(s) of wine.  All were wearing ID badges, I guess this was a work Christmas celebration.  You wouldn't think four women could fill a room with chatter, but they did!  Oh no - Three more turned up.  Further examination showed there was one bloke with the original group.  I'm not sure if being the only man in a Christmas party with eight girls is the ultimate nightmare or the ultimate fantasy!  I think one would need ear defenders, either way.

Time to go home and thaw out.

Miles walked: 2.5
Maybe coming soon:  Perhaps another St Helens Saturday.