Saturday, 17 October 2020

Good Beer Guide 2021

My preview copy of the Good Beer Guide arrived today, and I can report that twenty pubs have been dropped and twenty-one added in Merseyside since last year's edition.

As I say every year, if you want to know which pubs they are you'll have to buy the book when it goes on sale later this month.


Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Not Goodbye, Just Au Revoir

Time for one last crawl before I get locked down again.  How about a few favourites in town?  

Before anyone gets upset or offended, this is not a list of my top five pubs in Liverpool, it's just a few of my favourites.

I started at the Bridewell:

An efficient friendly barman soon had my order and allocated me a seat in one of the cells.  Moments later the landlord bought me my pint of Kirkstall Pale, I think it was.  He stopped for a brief chat about the current daft situation.

Plenty of chatter which was louder than the background music, mostly conversations about lockdown, of course.

Next, towards the waterfront and the Baltic Fleet.  Curses!  It's not open.

On to the wonderful Lion:

This architectural gem never fails to please, and although they had less ales on than usual, my pint of JHB, quickly brought to my table, was delicious.

Only one other customer in the bar side and, I think, just one in the lounges, I had thought there might be a bit of a pre-lockdown rush, but apparently not yet.  I bet this evening is busier than usual.

The regular in the lounge departed, "Have a good Christmas" said the landlord.  Cynical?  Sadly, he might be right.

I enjoyed most of my ale in total silence, until the music suddenly started up, at very low volume.

Two more customers came in to double the trade.

Next door is the Railway:

Not as historic inside as the Lion but still a rather fine traditional interior, although I think all the etched glasswork is modern.

They seemed to be winding down for lockdown, the barman informed me they were out of Guinness and the last of the Doom Bar had just been poured.  They still had Black Sheep and Tribute and the latter was spot on.

More people in than next door, with animated conversations mixing with the background music, but still no sign of a final rush.

The "Welcome back we've missed you" sign seems a bit ironic today, let's hope they get to use it again soon this year.

Where next?  How about the Excelsior:

All cask ales £2 until it's gone said the sign and I was soon served with a spot on pint of Shropshire Gold.

Only two other customers in here, and I got the impression one might actually be staff.  Certainly no sign of the end of term rush that I had been expecting, I guess Merseysiders are resigned to their fate and don't see any reason to party.  I can see their point.

For some years I've always felt this pub deserves to do better than it seems to achieve.  It was a regular haunt of my Wednesday night friends for some time, but we eventually moved elsewhere, probably more due to the desire for a change than a problem with the Excelsior.  In fact, given a few more weeks of opening I think we would have come back here, but that's obviously not going to happen in the immediate future.

Time for a "final" pint, perhaps just up the road in the Ship and Mitre:


I worried:  What if my "last" pint is 'orrible?  Or I can't get in?  Back in March I really regretted that my last two drinks were Guinness in keg pubs, I don't want to make that mistake this time.

No need for concern!  At just after three it was the quietest I've ever seen in here, with just a scattering of customers about the place.  The beer I chose had run out but my second choice, Marstons Saddle Tank, was in fine nick.  It's not looking good for this evening, with only two real ales left, and a number of keg taps out of action too.

As always, no music just chatter in here, and it's a bit more echoey than we're used to with so few people in.

There was some pulling through going on behind the bar, were they adding another cask ale or just cleaning the pipes ready for lockdown.  The latter, I think, confirmed when some more lines were also flushed through.

A great pint in a favourite pub to end this drinking season, one can only wonder how long it will be before I get to drink in a pub again...  

How about that!  Five excellent pints in five excellent pubs, what more could anyone ask, but there was one more bit of excitement before I got home:  They're filming something at St George's Hall, and I walked past a number of Gotham City police cars and buses.


There was quite a crowd of onlookers so I'm guessing there were some stars involved, I look forward to watching the film when it's on free TV in a few years time.  The whinger in me wants to know why my pubs have to close but overpaid celebrities can still bring umpteen staff in to make a movie.  A quick search of the internet revealed that they're filming "The Batman", particularly amusing since the auto spelling on my tablet insists on changing barman to batman every time I type it!

To end on a positive note, the table service today has again been exemplary, with every pub providing prompt service and a polite enquiry as to whether I'd like another as I approached the end of the pint.  This is the one thing I'd like to retain long term from the current mess.

P.S. The new rules don't seem to add any travel restrictions, maybe I should move to somewhere where the pubs are still open?

Pub of the day: All of them!
Miles walked: 2.75

Have a good Christmas!

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Mathew Street Again

Judging by the news this could be my last survey for some time, in fact I did consider doing a crawl of my favourites rather than research today, but I resisted.

As last week, poor weather and doubts about opening scared me off the planned trip to Hillside, so once again I aimed for Mathew Street, but first there was a little call I'd been meaning to make for some time:  A couple of years ago when I visited Kensington I got a comment on the blog pointing out that I'd missed a pub.  I wasn't aware of the existence then of the Liver Vaults.  So, today I took a bus to Kensington and headed off down a side street with, to be honest, little expectation of success.  Sure enough, it was closed although I couldn't tell whether permanently or just because I was too early:

On to Mathew Street, and I started in Legends:

A rather well done sports-oriented place, this, with genuine looking bare brick walls covered in TVs and sports pictures.

Maybe a dozen customers in at one thirty and the barman quickly brought me a pint of Carling.

The tellies I could see were showing horses, but the one behind my head was on a different channel.  The other customers, mostly men of around my age, chatted and swigged their lagers.

Just across the road is a place, never ticked, that has had a number of names, the latest being Strawberry Fields:

Not sure this is really a pub, it's more of a cafe, part of a Youth Hostel.  When was the last time I was in one of those, I wonder? Probably more than forty years ago.

Pleasantly decorated in modern "industrial" style with a fine quarry tiled floor, is it fake?

There's was a slight delay while the keg was changed but my tasty pint of Goose IPA was soon brought to my table by an efficient waitress.  And it was only £3.37.

I glanced at the TV which was showing Sky News.  Pubs in Liverpool to close from Wednesday, they predicted.  Disappointing but not surprising.

Gentle background music and two or three staff busy wiping surfaces and chatting were the sound in here.  The other two customers were dining, their burgers making me feel a pang of hunger.

I was rather amused by the menu on my table, apparently they do an "all day breakfast" from 8am to 11am.

That's almost it for Mathew Street so I headed to the other end and out onto North John Street, intending to visit the William Gladstone, but then I spotted Harrison's:

I had this recorded as closed, the former Beaconsfield, but it's back in action and very nicely refurbished inside, I must say.

Once again, prompt efficient service, and I was soon enjoying a pint of Blue Moon, which cost five quid.

The half basement is very well done out with some nice ceramics on the counter front and some rather good decoration including a great mural of the Beatles crossing a zebra crossing in the style of the famous Abbey Road album cover, but it is located on the street outside here and they're heading towards this bar.  Lots of TVs were showing footie.

The two staff were kept occupied with orders for cocktails, and once again they clearly demonstrated that table service can work well, unfamiliar though it is to British pub customers.   A friend of mine commented a couple of weeks ago, when our drinks were delivered to our table, "I could get used to this".  Perhaps table service in pubs will be, long term, a positive outcome of the current crisis.

I checked my previous notes for this place.  I think I saw live music here many years ago.  It hardly seems big enough.

Over the road is the entrance to a bar I've never visited (or even heard of), the Wall Of Fame:

Annoyingly they didn't seem to display an NHS code so I had to use their own track and trace to sign in, no idea if it worked.

Noisy music and louder chatter filled this remarkably popular bar which has bare brickwork and coarse wood decor.  Very nicely done but I couldn't work out what the theme was.  I guess it's music.  The array of album covers, the motorbike covered in fairy lights, all made for a great appearance.  Physically it's located immediately above the Cavern Pub I was in last week and it runs through the building to a second entrance on Victoria Street.

They'd run out of Carling so I had something from Camden Town which tasted like it was the first one they'd poured for days.  And it cost £4.80.

Not my sort of place but being this busy at three on a wet Saturday afternoon they must be doing something right.  I say busy but there were plenty of empty tables so they could easily accommodate lots more people, but nonetheless the two bar staff were fully occupied serving drinks.

Is that rain I can see outside?  Perhaps that's why the scantily clad young ladies headed for the door and then returned to rejoin their friends.

I finished my pint and headed out by the other door, on Mathew Street:

It occurred to me that this might be my last survey for some time so I skipped the target ticks such as the Gladstone and headed back towards Lime Street, and a final visit to the Crown, so at least I could finish with a decent pint.  Sorry, no picture, it's hard to get a good shot without risking getting run over, especially four pints into a survey!

It was quite busy, although I'm sure it would have been a lot busier on a Saturday afternoon pre-covid.  My Landlord was quickly delivered to my allocated table in the back room.

I await with some trepidation Monday's announcement

Pub of the day: The Crown
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: Who knows?

Monday, 5 October 2020

Denbigh Castle

Blood donor day again, and a chance to visit a pub which has changed name and gained real ale since the last time I was there, so I headed for the Denbigh Castle:

Only one other customer in here at half one on a Monday.  I zapped the NHS code and chose a table where I was quickly provided with an excellent pint of Dissolution IPA from Kirkstall.  What a great tasty ale, quite sweet but still hoppy.

They've got five handpumps, three had clips, Banks's Amber and one I couldn't read from my seat being the other options.

I was trying to remember what this place was like last time I visited, in 2012, when it was called Jupiter's, but I couldn't visualise the room then.  I suspect it's been totally remodelled since.  Anyway, now it has pleasant slightly dark decor with a pale wood floor.

I hope they get enough customers at more popular times to keep the quality ales flowing.

There's no sign to indicate the way to the gents, I eventually worked out it's downstairs where there is also another room with a counter and two handpumps, obviously not in use at this time.


Saturday, 3 October 2020

Mathew Street

My objective for today was to update my records and score some ticks along the touristy hell that is Mathew Street.  Alternative plans for Birkdale were abandoned due to the weather forecast, some doubt about what would be open, and problems with the train service.

Failing to keep to the plan of doing overdue re-visits and brand new ticks, I succumbed to temptation and started in the wonderful White Star:

Only a few customers in, chatting to the efficient landlady in the front room.  I was banished to the rear on my own.  My pint of the only real ale on, from Otter, arrived at my table almost before I had taken off my mask and coat.  And it was spot on.

This pub has long been a favourite of mine: Back when I first lived in Liverpool (Good grief, is it twenty three years?) a Saturday shopping trip usually began with a pint in here.

I don't often come into town on a Saturday nowadays, but I'm fairly sure it would normally be busier than this.  The landlady chatted to a regular, she's going to try the new rules for a week and see how it goes, it may not be worth opening.

Next, I wandered the length of the famous street making notes and getting wet, before heading into the Cavern Pub.  I'm afraid the heavy rain meant some photographs are missing.

Here I had to fill in a form despite signing in using the NHS app.  Isn't that against the rules?  I also had my temperature taken, a first for me.

There were a about a dozen customers in the basement room the walls of which are packed with music memorabilia.  The loudest sound in here was the two bouncers chatting at the top of the stairs.  The background music was good stuff, naturally with a Beatles bias.

The tourists chatted quietly and enjoyed their drinks, as I did mine.  The two handpumps were shiny but clipless so I had cooking lager, of Australian branding here.  My order was taken quickly and delivered promptly.

Considering this place is mainly a tourist trap I must say it is well done.  There's a small stage for live music.

Across the road the Cavern Club wasn't open, but next door to it was Sgt Peppers.

It's always pleasing to get a brand new tick.  The barmaid/waitress offered me a QR code that didn't work in the NHS app but then found the right one.  She took my temperature and quickly fetched me a pint of Canadian fizz which cost £4.50.

This bar has one largeish room with a big stage at one end and a counter along one side.  Like the previous place it is obviously aimed at tourists, but well done.  The decor is modern, with (fake?) bare brickwork walls, exposed air conditioning ducts and retro light bulbs.  Plenty of Beatle stuff on the walls, including a walrus' head, fake I hope.  The yellow Submarine style mosaic behind the bar is particularly good.

Only a handful of customers were in here, I suspect they need to be busier than this to make money.

As I approached the end of my pint someone was setting up equipment on the stage, so I guess there's live music soon.

I could hear the rumbling of the Wirral Line trains below, many people will tell you these were the reason for the destruction of the original Cavern Club, but there's a bit more to it than that.

I wanted to tick the never visited King John next, but it wasn't open yet, so next door and part of the same complex is Rubber Soul, not visited since 1998:

A quick sign in using the NHS app and once again service was prompt and efficient.  Did she say £2.50 for a pint of Carling?  A bit cheaper than Sgt Peppers then!

This was the busiest place so far, with quite a lot of people scattered around the rather dark atmospheric room.  Back in '98 I described this as a disco but that was on a Friday night and a long time ago.  I am wondering if the King John was then part of the same place?

Lots of different footie matches on the tellies defined the atmosphere here, the customers almost all older blokes.  The quiet background muzac mixed with animated chatter at various tables.  Surely they can't all be households?

Contrary to my predictions, the rain was getting heavier, storm Alex apparently.

Next door, in fact part of the "Rubber Soul complex", King John was now open, so I went for the brand new tick:

What a surprise!  A totally fake but rather well done "baronial" or maybe "cathedral" style room, with crossed swords, stained glass windows, suits of armour, a fantastic carved wood bar back and even a set of organ pipes, all combining to make a great fun interior.  I'm not sure the Tiffany lampshades really fit, but it really is a fine example of pub design.

Once again my temperature was checked before I sat down and ordered another Carling which was promptly brought to my table.  Three handpumps on the counter but all with the clips turned.  Only £2.30 for my pint, with a friendly warning that the price goes up when the match starts.

Only two other customers just half an hour after opening, hopefully they get more as the afternoon progresses.

The sound in here was football punditry on the multiple tellies, with chatter in the background.

My table was directly underneath a heater, so I had to shuffle along the bench seat a little to avoid the hot air.

Particularly impressive was the barman/waiter coming over to see if I wanted another pint before the price went up, that's proper service.

A few more customers came in just as Everton's match commenced.  I could see it was chucking it down at Goodison, so probably outside here as well.  After ten minutes of the match it was time to get wet and walk back to Lime Street for a train home. 

I must say, all the places I visited today were coping well with the new rules and handling table service efficiently, unlike Wetherspoon's Blacklers where my friends and I waited a thirst inducing thirty-seven minutes for a round on Wednesday evening.

Today was my first survey carrying the NHS App.  It's good of them to provide me with a log of the day's ticks, in case I can't quite remember where I went!

Pub of the day: White Star, of course
Miles walked: Just one.
Maybe coming soon: Let's see how lockdown develops.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Stop! Thief!!

I headed out on the long train ride to Ainsdale station, from where a short walk took me to the Spitfire.  Researches last week had suggested this would be closed so I only went to get a photograph, but I arrived to find it open:

Inside this wonderful 1970s (?) building I found a very well done pub containing plenty of dining customers.  The waitress soon guided me to a table and fetched a fine pint of Landlord.

Back in 2010 when I ticked what was then called the Arion, I described it as plain, but the Spitfire is more up-market with contemporary restrained decor and, of course, quite a few pictures of the eponymous aircraft.

The audio was very quiet music mostly drowned out by cheerful chatter from multiple diners.

I didn't find the new mask rules unduly onerous, and I noticed the table service only rule was being bent slightly, with at least one customer going to the counter to order more drinks despite the "please do not approach the bar" signs.

Back to the middle of Ainsdale, and Tipple:

Never before visited, this one.  It's more of a cocktail bar and most of the customers were sitting outside in the chilly wind.

I hovered by the please wait to be seated sign for what seemed like an irritatingly long time but was probably less than 60 seconds before a waiter found me a table inside (That wind really is too cold!)  It was marked as reserved from 4.30 but I'll be long gone by then.

No handpumps so I went for Guinness.

This bar was doing really well, at least half the tables, inside and out, were occupied by cheerful drinkers and diners, and the waiting staff were kept quite busy.  Not so busy that they couldn't pull down their masks for an occasional gossip at the counter.

The decor, a little bit of bare brickwork, ivy above the counter and retro light bulbs everywhere, is straight out of the catalogue but pleasant nonetheless.

It's going to go wrong soon but not this time, I remembered to pay before I left.

Just a little way down the road is Champs:

Another one last visited in 2010 when it was called the Railway, despite not being near any railway.  I noticed the Champs logo is the same as the one in Waterloo which has now reverted to its original name, the Marine.

A large pleasant boozer with TV screens everywhere and lots of sports-themed memorabilia ranging from signed photos up to a whole motorbike.

The efficient barmaid/landlady had me signed in and drinking Guinness almost instantly, all it takes is someone on the ball to make the new normal perfectly acceptable.  No risk of forgetting to pay here, as she brought the card machine over straight away.

Quiet music mixed with animated chatter, just right for a Friday afternoon pub.  (Luckily the umpteen screens were silent.)

I must say so far today the new rules have not spoiled my pub experience to any great extent, although I will have to learn to cope with a one minute delay before I can go in, and sometimes another minute or two before I actually get a drink.  Hardly serious problems!  By the way, I haven't noticed any signs for the new NHS app yet, is anyone using it?

I noticed all the TVs were showing MUTV, I suppose if they showed Liverpool or Everton half the customers would be annoyed, whereas everyone is agreed in their dislike of Man United!!  I also noticed that many of the TVs were different, one extra wide, one in a white case and so on.  Obviously someone with more sense than money (A rare reversal of my usual use of the phrase) had bought them on the cheap.  Very wise.

Almost next door is the never visited Morrells:

A modern styled large bar with big windows letting in lots of sunlight to the contemporary interior.  Once again the new rules were handled with aplomb and I was sitting down, signed in, paid, and drinking my Carling before I could catch my breath.

Only a handful of people were inside, plus one group out in the cold, at three on a Friday; I did wonder how busy a place like this would have been at this time last year.  Actually it would probably have been the same, it's a bit early for the Friday rush.

Further to my comments above, this place has got the giant QR code that I think marks the new NHS app, but my sign in was on a bit of paper.  I almost wanted to try scanning it to see what takes up all that data, but I couldn't be bothered.

Having commented about how cold it was outside in the wind, I must say it wasn't exactly warm in here.  Considering the impressive display of air conditioning ducts, one might think they could turn it on and warm the place up!

A couple came in and then, in negotiation with the waitresses, spent ages fiddling with mobile phones.  I've no idea what the problems was, I was just given paper for my sign in.

Next, a pub which ought to have been in my database for a long time.  I've ticked a number of Toby Carveries for my guide but for some reason this one one has been ignored.  But no longer, it's time to try the Toby Carvery Ainsdale.  Can I go in for just a pint under the current rules?  Let's see...

Oh dear, it's after four on a Friday and I'm almost the only customer in this enormous pub/restaurant.  The delicious wafting smell of roast suggested to me that there would be a lot of wasted meat at the end of the day.  The cynic in me thinks there might be some rather tough roasts served tomorrow.

The friendly helpful waitress soon recorded my details and quickly had me sitting and served with a pint of fizz, no real ale here.

Again, it was quite chilly, I kept my coat on.  I overheard a staff conversation saying they're going to turn on the heating tomorrow.  At home it has been on since yesterday.

Quiet muzac and nothing else was the soundtrack here, there weren't enough customers to make any chatter, in fact after a family left I think it was me and one other solo drinker.  Actually it's a big place, there might be a few other customers out of my sight round the corner.

I noticed the actual carvery was surrounded by barriers, perhaps it's not allowed under the current rules.  To be honest, I can't see the point of a "carvery" if you can't actually go up and get your choice of meats.  Perhaps the Tobys will be in trouble under the Covid rules.

I must say five ticks, three never before visited, is better than I expected under the current rules, a very successful survey and it's time to go home...

Well, I'd predicted it would happen but I hadn't thought it would be in the first week:  I donned my mask, returned my glass to the counter, visited the gents and then as I marched across the car park a waitress chased after me "Excuse me, you haven't paid!"  How embarrassing.  I returned apologetically and paid for my pint.  Judging by the attitude of the waitress I suspect I wasn't the first to forget, she didn't seem at all annoyed.  After over forty years of walking out of a pub when I've finished, I think it might be some time before I get the hang of paying on exit.

Irritatingly, the hold-up meant I missed the train by about thirty seconds, delaying my journey home by fifteen minutes.

Pub of the day: Spitfire, for a perfect pint of Landlord
Miles walked: 1.6
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The New New Normal

Once again, not a pub survey as such, but some friends and I took a trip to New Brighton yesterday, giving us a chance to see how the new rules are affecting the pub experience.

We started in Wetherspoon's Master Mariner, where the friendly "guard" at the entrance soon had us signed in, then we walked up to the counter to check out the real ales, ordered Abbots, "Where are you sitting?", "Over there", and everything was sorted and the pints were soon brought to us, and very welcome they were too!  The pub was much emptier than we have observed on previous visits, but still ticking over gently.  This has never been a favourite Wetherspoon's of mine, parts of it are very dark and dingy.

Next, across the road to the Seahorse, a large dining place in the Greene King Hungry Horse chain.  Here they made a tedious palaver of signing in, giving us a table and taking our order before finally bringing us some Speckled Hen that was rather past its best.  There were only three other customers in, the four or five staff (presumably plus one or two in the kitchen) were mostly idle.  I can't see Greene King putting up with this sort of loss for long, although I'm sure it's busier at other times of the day, other days of the week, and when it's not raining.

We crossed back over the road to try the Stage Door Tap but it and the hotel seem to be closed at the moment.

Up on Victoria Road we visited the Bow-Legged Beagle.  Here a friendly barman soon sorted us out with pints of something gorgeous.  The bar was quite busy with locals who chatted to each other and the barman.  A fine pub, this, which I highly recommend.

I noticed some other changes on Victoria Road:  The Stag seems to have reverted to its previous name, the New Brighton Hotel; the Railway, closed last time I was here, has re-opened as the James Atherton; and there's a new Homebrew Tap in the same row of shops as the Beagle.

Our final call was the Perch Rock which was well filled with cheerful regulars, but not overcrowded.  The sign-in, order, and service procedures were quick and friendly and we were soon enjoying some fine Landlord.  Unlike my previous visits we sat in one of the back rooms, which was comfortable and not too full.  So comfortable, in fact, that we decided to have another round here, before heading home.

So, three out of four places we visited were still managing to provide a decent pubby experience despite the table service only rules, which I think must be good news.

A note of explanation to those who don't live in the area: The new pub rules - table service only and close at ten - which have been introduced in England today (Thursday) have applied as a local lockdown in Merseyside since Tuesday, hence we got a short preview of the new national normal.