Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Knowsley Village

A short bus trip took me to Knowsley Village, and I started at the Copper Pot:
This is one of those large food-oriented places constructed by a main road, the twenty-first century version of the interwar roadhouse.

Inside is the standard modern decor with pastel walls plus occasional wood panelling.  Somehow I felt the overall impression was above average for this sort of place.  There were some odd bits of wall which cleverly broke up what would otherwise be a large boring space.

On the bar were eight handpumps, but only two had clips on.  With some trepidation I ordered a Pedigree, and my fears seemed to be justified when it came out with no head despite the sparkler being used.  I grasped the glass to find it was ice cold as well.  I gingerly sniffed for the expected vinegar, but it wasn't there.  So my pint turned out to be over-chilled and under-gassed, but still tasty.  Not the best Pedigree I've ever had, but a lot better than I expected, and certainly drinkable.

At 1pm on a Tuesday there was a steady flow of dining custom, the large open room filled with the gentle hubbub of happy diners.

By the way, nought out of ten for customer service; a couple came in and sat at a table on which there was a menu.  When they tried to order food they were told they had to move to the dining side of the room.  How difficult would it be to serve them where they were?  And why have menus and a table number if food isn't available there.

I strolled along rural and residential roads until I reached the large complex which was the Millbrook Manor function suite which included a small pub called the Knowsley Arms.  I had already observed from the bus that this was out of action:
On to the Pipe and Gannex:
Curses!  Closed and tinned up.  Annoyingly, I stood in the car park here and took a picture in November 2016, at which time it was open, but we had other pubs to visit so there wasn't time to go in.  So it'll forever be "Last visited January 2003" in the database.

In case you haven't guessed, it was named after the trademarks of the local MP, Prime Minister Harold Wilson.  I wonder if he ever came here!

Next, the Derby Arms.  I seem to have forgotten to take a photo.

This was a regular haunt of mine back in the mid 90s, but I haven't been in since 1997, so it pre-dates the pub guide.  The interior seemed unfamiliar, and although I could easily spot our regular seat in the bay window everything else looked different.  I wonder if the distressed woodwork was then dark coloured.  Twenty-one years is a long time to try and remember!

Anyway, the handpumps were not in use, so I had a pint of Guinness.

There was next to no-one in, just two regulars when I arrived, and two or three more came in as I drank.  The world cup was on the TVs, Japan beating Columbia, with the commentary set to the perfect 'audible but not annoying' volume.

I had a look at the menu of standard pub food and I must say it was a lot cheaper than the Copper Pot.  Unlike there, no-one was eating while I was here.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Vauxhall

Intermittent sunshine saw me out for a long overdue visit to Vauxhall.  A bit of a down at heel area when I started my researches back in the 90s, and full of boozers, but recently redevelopment has begun to change things.

When I head out on one of these trips I usually have an idea in my mind of what I'm going to find.  For today it was down market pubs, no real ale, lots of pubs I expected to be closed, and probably some pubs I expected to be open but were actually closed.  Let's see how much I got right...

I started with a photo of the long closed Athol Vaults:
When I came here back in '99, my pint of bitter was from a can, and I was the only customer.  Not surprisingly, it closed soon after.  More surprisingly, it's still just about standing.

Then the closed Trinity Vaults:
This building's in much better nick!

Next, on to the Britannia:
Wow!  An unreconstructed 60s or 70s classic, this.  The interior in the bar side looks unmodified except for an odd bit in the corner which might be off sales knocked through?  The varnished matchboarding on the counter front and above the servery look original.  Old lino tiles on the floor, except for quarry tiles at the counter.  The lounge side was deserted.

No real ale of course, I had a lager.

Pleasant 70s rock was playing on the jukebox, two locals were playing pool and there was one more regular sitting at the bar.

The long-closed Jamaica:

On to the Castle:
A much older building than the Britannia, containing a pleasant two room boozer.

There was a hive of activity inside as banners and flags celebrating the imminent world cup were pinned up all over the place, the staff being heckled by the regulars;  "It's upside down" and so on.

The interior is well looked after.  A little panel of old leaded glass above the arch between bar and lounge seems to be the only original feature.

Black clouds arrived while I was drinking, was I going to get wet later?

I continued down Vauxhall Road, looking for the Green Man and the Queens, but seeing no sign at all.  A little further along I came upon the pub with no name:
It turned out to be open, and called the Glass House, although you wouldn't know it!

Back in 1999 I the outside was so scruffy I thought the pub was closed, and walked straight past.  Nowadays, the outside is tidy but lacking in signage, so that my Streetview research had once again led me to conclude incorrectly that it was no longer a pub.

Inside is a clean and tidy pub knocked through into one room, but with a rather unusual curved part-glazed partition creating a snug at one end.  In dire need of some new flooring, but otherwise spotless.

Two regulars chatting in one corner and racing on the telly were the only sounds.

One of the regulars felt the need to explain his cheek to the landlord "because there's a stranger in" (i.e. me.)  Once again my attempts to slip in and out unnoticed had failed - As they had in all the pubs so far today.

I continued down the road to the Eagle:
A little gem this one:  A tiny, plain, beautifully cared for one room street corner boozer, with two or three regulars and me keeping the place going.

The glass for my Carling came out of the fridge.

Any attempt to blend in here failed when I nearly went base over apex on the step up to the seating area I had chosen, to the amusement of the regulars.

A music channel on the TV mixed with regulars chattering with the landlady to form the soundtrack.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Poste House

To replace fluids after a blood donor session I called in at the Poste House:
This little gem never changes.  Some years ago it was threatened with demolition, so I signed a petition to save it.  Then, for a while, it stood alone in a building site.  As you can see, the buildings either side have been completed.

Downstairs is one tiny room with a counter in the corner, upstairs is similar.  On a Monday afternoon it was doing well, there was just one table free when I arrived, so I could sit down to enjoy my beer (After a chat with the barmaid/landlady - I don't think you're allowed in the place unless you have a chat.)

There was a steady hubub of chatter maintaining the friendly atmosphere.  Swearwords were in plentiful supply, especially from behind the counter!

I'm not convinced by the story that Adolf Hitler drank here when he visited his brother in Liverpool before the First World War, but you never know.  Others say he drank in Peter Kavanagh's and the majority opinion is that he never came at all.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

St Helens Again

In much better weather than last week, I started another St Helens survey at the well known Turk's Head:
A fine pub!  Three rooms, two counters and umpteen real ales.  I entered the bar side which was deserted, and then confused the barmaid by walking via the side room to the lounge side, where there were a lot more people.

I selected an old favourite of mine, Copper Dragon's Golden Pippin, which I used to drink regularly but I haven't seen it for some time.  It was as tasty as ever.  Only £2.80, and in a lined glass as well.

The split-level lounge, traditionally decorated with some possibly original features, was filled with a gentle background sound of chit-chat, with the piped music taking a secondary role.

Further considering the architectural features, I decided it was probably all fake, gutted and refurbished in the 1980s perhaps.  The fireplace ceramics might be an exception to this.

Virtually next door is the Cowley Vaults:
This was the Anfield Arms when I was here back in '04, and I was expecting a down market keg place for those who don't like the Turks Head's real ales.  I was totally wrong, and when I entered I saw five or six handpumps on the counter.  I selected another favourite, Oakham Citra, and it was spot on.  I also noted that alongside the ubiquitous Carling they have Kaltenberg and Paulaner on tap.

So, two great real ale pubs next door to each other, the residents of Cooper Street really are very lucky!

Just like next door, the soundtrack here was gentle chatter over music.  Everyone knew everyone else and when Austin came in they all wanted to know how his holiday had been.

Compared with the Turk's, the decor in here was plainer but no less pleasant.  The ceramic exterior is rather good, this was the first time I've seen it in daylight.

As I enjoyed my pint I wondered if the ales might be a vain attempt to compete with the neighbours, but no:  I saw umpteen pints of real ale pulled, at this turnover they will be able to easily maintain the high quality I experienced.  Good thing too.

Moving back towards the town centre, the next pub is the Talbot Ale House:
Last time I was here, the Sportsmans was rather tatty outside, and inside was a clean and tidy keg only boozer.  Here's a picture from 2004:
The outside has been nicely tidied and, good grief, has St Helens turned in to real ale central in my absence?  I entered expecting to have a Guinness and found three handpumps on the counter.  "We've got seven more real ales in the other side" said the landlady, so I headed to the larger room and soon selected one of my all time favourites, Titanic Plum Porter.  I don't recall the price, but it included a CAMRA discount.  And it was spot on.

Again, alongside the bog-standard Carling, Stella, etc. they have Paulaner and another imported lager or two on draught.

There was a pleasant sound of chatter here just like the last two ticks, but this time with Sky Sports News as the background.

The same greyhound that I'd seen in the Turk's and the Cowley came in as I enjoyed my pint.  I guess its owner shares my taste in beer.

I could see a steady stream of cask being poured.  The customers seemed to be a mix of real ale pub crawlers and ordinary locals, which I reckon is the ideal blend for a place like this.

In contrast to last week, there was "proper" rugger on the telly, and in the few minutes I was watching England went ten nil up!

I headed towards the station, passing lots of future ticks, and eventually called in at the Swan:
This classic street corner boozer survives as an island surrounded mainly by modern developments.  Inside it has been knocked through to create a pleasant open interior around an island bar.  The decor is plain and well cared for.

No real ale here, so it was time for a Guinness.  Again a steady hum of chatter formed the soundtrack, with racing in the background.

Time for home.  Coming soon: Vauxhall, and another Smithdown Road trip.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Smithdown Road

A pleasant sunny day, and with engineering works disrupting the train service I chose a destination accessible by bus and headed to Smithdown Road, starting in the wonderful Willow Bank:
What a great pub!  I don't often get here, in fact I haven't been since 2003, but if it was walking distance from my home I'd be in every other day.

The small front room was deserted but I could hear chatter from the larger back room.

I ordered a pint of Rum Porter which came out pale.  Before I could say anything the barmaid realised this was wrong and disappeared through to the other room, soon emerging with a delicious black pint.  10% off for CAMRA members!

I noticed, too late, that they have their own house beer called Salix for some reason.  (Mr Google tells me it's the Latin name for willow, of course.)

Other customers were dining, the food looks good, or drinking, and ranged in age from a family with young children to the old boy sitting at the bar.

The decor in here is a mix of classic architectural features including some leaded glass in the partitions, and modern tiling.  The overall effect is very appealing.

Just down the road is Kelly's Dispensary:
This shop conversion opened as a pub in 1999, a member of the small chain of Cains pubs.  (Dr Duncans and the Dispensary in town, the Dispensary in Birkenhead, etc.)  I don't know who owns it now.

I selected a pint of Melwood's Father Ted from the four operational handpumps.  I didn't like it much but to be clear that's purely my taste, there was nothing wrong with it.  It was only two quid!

Inside, the decor remains deliberately tatty "rustic".  (I think I'm supposed to say distressed rather than tatty, but you know what I mean.)

The large windows onto the street were all folded back creating a cool breezy open feeling, but allowing the noise of the incessant traffic in.

There were, I think, two staff plus me in the place.  On reflection, perhaps one of the staff was actually a customer.  Eventually more people came in and, just like in the Willow Bank, everyone knew everyone else.  Except me, of course.

Continuing along Smithdown, I noted the Craft Taproom, a new place not open on a Tuesday afternoon:
 I carried on to Frank's:
Last time I was here, in '03, it was called the Vine Inn, a three room boozer.  Today I found a pleasantly decorated (Perhaps too much pale green?) corner house knocked through into one open room (It's not a 90 degree corner resulting in some oddly shaped areas.) with plenty of regulars cheerfully chattering and watching the racing on the tellies.

There were a couple of handpumps on the bar but I decided not to risk them, and had a pint of lager instead.

Relaxing in a comfortable booth, my eye turned to the telly.  Where is Bangor on Dee, I wondered?  I've been to Bangor in North Wales, and Bangor, County Down, but neither are anywhere near either of the Dees.  I consulted Google Maps to learn that it's near Wrexham.

My mind continued to wander randomly:  Is the Kelly serving behind the bar the one after whom Kelly's Dispensary was named?  Probably not, but you never know.

Next, I crossed the road to tick off a new one to me, the Handyman:
The Handymans Supermarket was, I'm told, a famous local institution, and the pub has retained the external appearance, in fact for a moment I thought I'd misunderstood and it wasn't a pub at all!

Inside, another deliberately tatty - I mean distressed - place, this former hardware shop now has rough bare brick walls and a brewery on a mezzanine above the counter.  I joined a handful of other customers.

As I enjoyed my tasty pint of their own Pale I mused on the layout.  Surely a brewery must eventually suffer a spillage, of beer, or wort, or water, so I hope the mezzanine's floor is well waterproofed and drained!

Behind the counter and brewery is an event space where live music is on offer regularly.

Coming soon: St Helens again, and another trip to Smithdown Road to tick the new ones not open on a Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Pub Of The Year, and Others

Undeterred by the damp weather, I took a bus to Saint Helens for a Saturday afternoon research trip.

I started at the Liverpool Arms.  I knew it was closed, I just wanted a picture of the classic 60s building, but all I found was a patch of waste ground!

Next, the Golden Lion.  Again, just for a photo, I thought, but to my surprise it's open:
Inside I found a beautifully cared for two sided local, with a handful of regulars chatting in the bar side.  A steady trickle of customers kept the place ticking over.

There were a couple of handpumps on the bar, but they looked out of action so I stuck to lager.

Back in 2003 my notes described it as "slightly worn", certainly not true now, and I think it was the last place I saw Double Diamond on draught - In fact I vaguely recall I might have tried some DD because of its rarity.

Just a short distance down the road is the now-famous Cricketers Arms, which is CAMRA's Pub Of The Year 2018:
When I was here in 2003 it was a plain keg only boozer.  What a transformation!  Umpteen handpumps offering a wide range of ales, my pint of Wily Fox Karma Citra (fnarr fnarr) was spot on.  And only £2.60 with CAMRA discount.  AND in a lined glass for a full pint.  (I must say, sitting as I was just in front of the counter, pints with big heads kept setting off alarm bells, but of course in these now rare glasses everyone was getting a full pint of beer!)

This is a splendid real ale fan's pub (And they're building a brewery out back - Brewing in three months, says the boss.) and yet, unusually, they also sell "ordinary" beers like keg Robinsons smooth, Tetley's Mild or Carling, catering for less adventurous customers.  I often see real ale places that, out of beer snobbery or just lack of thought, don't cater for the non-enthusiast.  It costs very little to put on a keg of Carling and one of bitter, and once the Carling drinker is in and comfortable, you might persuade him to try something with a bit more flavour.

The walls are covered with pump clips and other beer ephemera, of course.

On a wet Saturday afternoon they were quite busy, with a lot of CAMRA members visiting the Pub Of The Year, as well as regulars.  There was a minibus pub crawl, from Wakefield I think - I bet they didn't do the Golden Lion!  I placed a copy of the Merseyside Pub Guide on my table in the hope someone would notice it, but no-one did.

My next destination was the only Merseyside Wetherspoon's I've never ticked, the Running Horses:
I must say I wasn't looking forward much to this place.  A Lloyds No.1, on a leisure park in St Helens, on a Saturday afternoon, it's going to be (a)noisy, (b)packed, and (c)full of "professional drinkers".  But I was completely wrong, there was (a) a gentle hubub of conversation despite the large echoey room, (b) it was doing good trade but with plenty of free tables, and (c) most of the customers were dining.

The large open room with a central island bar is well done out, completely fake, of course, but none the worse for that.  There's a giant screen at one end, which was programmed to show the test match, I think, but as it was rained off there was nothing to show!

I must say this place struck me as an above average Wetherspoon's, the beer was spot on and promptly served, the waiting staff were keenly clearing the tables, there was enough space on a Saturday afternoon for me to sit down, everything just worked efficiently.

Next, towards the town centre and the Nelson:
What a contrast.  Quite busy, very noisy, and everyone except me was watching the rugby, Wigan v Warrington.

There were two handpumps, I risked White Witch, which was somewhat past its best, I'm afraid.

Inside this large pub there are some older features including a glazed partition and a fireplace.

I've not seen rugby league for a long time, there was some kind of video referee system which looked incredibly complex, and the crowd shots suggested no-one understood what was going on.  I certainly didn't, but then I've only played Union which is very different!

Time to go home, noting en route that the Royal Alfred by the station is closed and tinned up:

Coming soon - Smithdown Road, and more St Helens.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Bootle to Seaforth

I headed out in the glorious sunny weather, to Bootle.  My first target was the Alexandra:
A bit of a sixties shed from the outside, inside I found one plain clean and tidy room, with a dozen or so locals enjoying a Tuesday lunchtime drink.

In view of the warm weather I eschewed my usual Guinness and went for a pint of Carling instead.  It must be summer - the glass came out of the fridge!

Gentle background music mingled with the chatter of the regulars, which included a lot of swearing - Mainly from the "little old lady" in the corner!

On to the Salisbury:
A much older building, here, but very little original remains inside, except the wall tiles in the gents.  My notes from 2003 describe it as a three room pub, it has been opened up somewhat since then, creating a big space around the multi-sided counter. 

There were only two or three regulars here, and this time the swearing came from the barmaid, who was passing on some gossip relating to behaviour after the reds' disaster on Saturday.  One of the regulars apologised for her language and told me not to be frightened.  (Any attempt to blend in on my part always fails as soon as I order a drink in my "southern" accent.  They immediately know I'm a stranger.)

The traditionally decorated interior is particularly well done in here.

My 2003 report also referred to the peculiar bar stools, and they're still here, a design I've seen nowhere else.  (I also noted a parrot, this doesn't seem to here any more.)

Next, the Queens:
I correctly selected the bar side where a few regulars were propping up the counter but there was no sign of any staff, after a while one of the locals shouted the barman/landlord.  There was a gruff response, but then the phone rang and he proceeded to answer it.  Eventually, my friend at the counter went round behind and poured my pint of Carling (Being allowed to help yourself is the ultimate accolade for a regular, I've never got anywhere near that level!)  As he finished pouring, the barman arrived, so there was no problem about who to pay.

Some property program on the telly provided the sound here, mingling with the chat of the three regulars.  The partly opened up layout retains two sides and two counters, and is very pleasant.

The TVs were switched to racing from Redcar, where it was so foggy that we, and the commentator, couldn't see the horses.  Nothing like the glorious sunshine here.

As I drank my lager, the barman set to work taking down red and white paper chains, perhaps another leftover from Saturday's match?

When I'd finished I visited the gents, which was very tatty and the tiled walls were black with mould.  Quite a contrast with the rest of the pub.  As I emerged, one of the regulars grinned and said "crackin' in there, in't it!".

I headed down to the eternally busy "Dock Road", here called Rimrose Road, and the Gateway Hotel:
I entered this rather down at heel looking building to find a completely deserted very well done two sided boozer.  The signage outside suggests their main source of income is the rooms upstairs, certainly my custom won't be paying the wages bill today.

I must say the higgledy piggledy slightly chaotic interior rather appealed to me, it probably has a good atmosphere when there's a few customers!  It really is a well done pub.

I drank my fourth Carling and watched some antiques-related show on the big screen.  Eventually, someone came in, doubling the custom.  He was soon joined by two friends (and a dog), and then another couple came in, so suddenly it was "busy"!

Finally, just across the junction is the Caradoc:
Another one with a rather down at heel exterior, in fact when I took the photo I thought it might be closed, but round the other side the door was open, and one of the rooms was clean and tidy and operational.  Just four regulars were sat at the counter, I chose a comfortable bench seat opposite the bar to drink my fifth Carling.

The conversation here ranged over the pruning of apple trees and multiple other topics, liberally sprinkled with swearing again, of course.