Friday, 13 October 2017

Brass Monkey

Blood Donors today, so as mentioned on Wednesday, I went back to School Lane and the Brass Monkey.  Pub number 1,837 in my database, and the 1,204th to be sampled.

I'm not sure what this place is aiming to be.  On Wednesday I peered through the window and assumed it was a craft bar, but I was completely wrong, there were no craft beers, and no bitter at all.  They seem to aiming for the cocktail market - Is there one?

The bar is larger than it appears, with a long back room.  The pleasantly quirky decor is bare brick and white tiles and, inevitably, retro industrial-style lighting.  The tiled floor is fake - it's vinyl.
Amongst the comfortable bench seats and chairs there are two swings suspended from the ceiling; probably not a good idea after a few pints.
It was hard to distinguish spare staff from customers as I swigged my Heineken, I think I was the only actual customer at 2pm on a Friday. Perhaps it does better in the evening.

Having written the above, I returned my empty glass to the bar and headed for the gents.  En route, I discovered a side room in which two groups were drinking cocktails.   On returning to the front, four or five more customers had just come in, so it's clearly nowhere near as quiet as I thought.

Up The Junction

To Sutton for today's research trip. Where? It's often known by the name of its railway station, St Helens Junction.
I was a little concerned as I left the station, as I hadn't done my full research before leaving home, but things started well: I strolled through the back streets until the Boilermakers Arms hove into view, and it was open:
Inside I found a partially knocked through room, pleasantly decorated and clean and tidy. The handpump on the bar was purely decorative, so I ordered a Guinness. This came out of a can, I'm afraid, and even worse it included some of the leftovers from a previous serve. It was somehow zizzed up by a Guinness-branded gadget on the bar. Annoyingly I didn't pay enough attention to this intriguing process. It tasted OK anyway, and I sat in a corner to observe the few regulars, some chatting at the bar, others at the back in isolation.
A large array of lights and a couple of hefty speakers suggest it'll be noisy on a Friday night. (Nothing wrong with that, I won't be here.)







Update:  The mystery device is called a Guinness Surger.











Another back street stroll took me to the Victoria as was, now called the Little Pig:
Another plain friendly two-sided boozer, well cared for inside and out, and surprisingly busy at four on a Thursday. They seemed to have the same Guinness gizmo on the bar, so I had a lager instead. Everyone in the pub knew everyone else, except me of course.
I remember noting on previous research trips back in 2004 that we were often greeted with "Hello lads, are you lost?", presumably because no-one ever goes to Sutton unless they live there, and if you live there they already know you. I also noted that the locals were always friendly, and it seems they still are, although when six of them joined me in one of the lounge rooms I felt a bit of a gooseberry.
One of the regulars was so drunk he could hardly stand up, there was a loud crash as he left heading for home, I hope it wasn't him falling over in the street.

I walked on through a post industrial wasteland to the Glassmakers Arms, which is long closed.

So, on to the Red Lion:
This was previously described by me as the pub with no name, because in 2004 it looked very tatty outside and there was no name sign at all:
It's now a Holt's house, well looked after and correctly labelled. A handpump offered Holt's Bitter but I didn't like to risk it, so, as they had a proper Guinness font I chose that. The bar side was quite busy with chatting regulars so, not wishing to be a gooseberry again, I headed through to the quieter lounge to write this. At one end of the room was a stage with an enormous screen, and the barmaid came in and put racing on, despite the fact that I was the only person in there at the time. Luckily it didn't have any sound.  Later she switched it to a music channel and turned on the sound, but not too loud.
The room was decorated with Halloween stuff, surely two weeks or more early.

Next target was the Bowling Green which I found boarded up:
Here it is in happier times, in 2004:

I headed back towards the station, taking a slight deviation via the Prince of Wales, which is now a convenience store.  I must say it's a shame they've rendered the rather fine 30s brickwork:

Finally the Vulcan Inn:
I resisted the temptation of getting some free food by joining the wake in the lounge side (Have I told the story of sticking my foot in it in Hoylake? Some other time, maybe.), and headed for the plain tiny bar side, full of locals but not so full that I couldn't get a seat. The telly over the counter was showing the local news, but no-one was watching.
Don't you just hate a pub where there's no signs on the toilets? Luckily there was no-one in when I opened the door of the Ladies.

Finally, back to the station. The painted sign on The Wheatsheaf, along with the brewery name Greenalls, is still visible on the pub which I think closed long before I started researching.

I think today's research provides further proof that my assertion that the traditional street-corner boozer has gone is premature, and in places like here and Clubmoor they're surviving well. In fact, apart from the lack of smoke nothing seems to have changed since I was last here in 2004

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

City Centre

Not a pub research trip today, but a few drinks with friends in Liverpool:  We started in Wetherspoon's splendid North Western where service was efficient as usual, and I enjoyed an excellent pint of Abbot and some food.

Next, we headed on to the new Head Of Steam.  I'd been to the previous incarnations of this location a few times although I'm not sure I collected all of The Old Monk, Barracuda Bar, Varsity and Abbey.  The inside has been totally remodelled and the bar has moved from one side to an island configuration in the middle.  The new decor is bare air conditioning ducts, corrugated iron ceiling and the nowadays inevitable retro industrial lighting. 
More importantly, on the bar was an enormous array of handpumps all offering unusual real ales.  The keen friendly barman provided advice and tasters while we made our choices.  I selected an elderflower ale against his advice, it was pretty good but I could see his point about an odd aftertaste.  If you don't want real ale they've got an impressive selection of keg draughts including Chimay Rouge and Delerium Tremens from Belgium.  If that's still not enough choice there's hundreds of bottles from all over the world listed in the beer menu.

Having praised the beer choice, I should add a small negative note:  Many people like real ale but are not knowledgeable and are unhappy faced with a dozen ales they've never heard of.  I'm sure these people would be pleased if one of the pumps carried an "ordinary" choice, maybe the ubiquitous Doom Bar or Old Speckled Hen or Bombardier?

On a Wednesday afternoon custom was very limited with only a handful of drinkers, I hope it does better at other times or they'll never keep this many ales drinkable.  (Actually, one of the lads said one of the samples he tried was pure vinegar, I didn't try it myself.)

A total change of style for pub number three as we nipped round the corner to the Old Post Office.  Recent reports (Probably Merseyale) said they've got real ale and sure enough there were Doom Bar and Greene King IPA handpumps.  The Doom Bar was of good quality.  This is a plain, traditional boozer and was busy with a lively afternoon crowd, almost all older than me, who presumably wouldn't like the atmosphere (or lack of) in the Head of Steam.

I noted the Brass Monkey next door to the Post Office, one I've never visited so that'll go on the to do list.  From the outside it looked like a craft operation.

The plan was to do the Globe next, but it was doing so well that there was nowhere for us to sit down, not even in the back room, so we moved on.  Into one door of the Midland, no handpumps so straight out of the other door and into the Central.  In here there were four handpumps and I selected a spot-on Bombardier.  The barmaid asked if we'd got a CAMRA card and provided the money off when I produced mine.  I tend to forget to ask for a CAMRA discount, especially in pubs I don't often visit, so it was good to have it offered.

While enjoying our pints we discussed the splendid interior of this pub.  I have always thought of it as Victorian cut glass and wood panelling, but my friend spoiled this by opining that this area was heavily bombed during the war and there's no way the glass could have survived.  Certainly some of it appeared to be modern fake cut glass.  Beautiful in any case.  The pub was steadily ticking over with a range of customers.

On to Wetherspoon's Blackler's, which was busy as always, for another pint of Abbot.

Finally, one of my favourites in Liverpool, the Crown.  Architecture lovely as ever, and they seem to have slightly increased their range of real ales - we had Landlord.  Compared with the days when they had the cheapest real ale in Liverpool and you had to elbow your way to the bar it was worryingly quiet.  I suppose all the "professional drinkers" have gone to Blacklers now!

So, in summary, it was good to see different establishments doing OK on a wet Wednesday afternoon, but the lack of custom in the Head of Steam didn't look good.




Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Cabbage Hall

I started on a bus to Tuebrook. The driver got lost before we'd left Huyton!  I noted some pubs in Tuebrook for future visits but I walked up Lower Breck Road towards Clubmoor to continue my research from a few weeks ago.

On my way, I unexpectedly came across the Claremont:
This pub sort of falls through the cracks between areas, and I haven't been here for nineteen years, almost to the day. There was a Doom Bar pump on the bar but in this sort of place I'm not prepared to risk it, so I stuck to the black stuff. I can't actually remember my '98 visit, but judging by the notes nothing has changed: "Pleasant decor, friendly staff and a free jukebox in this traditional two bar local." is exactly right, and the juke box is still free. The pool table I also noted then still dominates the bar side, with bench seats along the walls. The place was a little threadbare in places, but spotlessly clean. As I swigged my Guinness a scruffy bloke came in attempting to sell tobacco, you don't often see that nowadays. None of the regulars were interested, so he went out again. These street corner boozers are becoming rarer nowadays and I was pleased to see this one apparently doing well and keeping up the traditions.

I was a little worried taking my picture of the pub, as it's just across the road from a school, and at home time the road was busy with little'uns, In the twenty-first century you can get into trouble for taking pictures outside a school, but luckily the passing policemen didn't react.

Moving on to my intended target area, my next call was at the impressive building that is the Cabbage Hall:
There are various theories as to how this place got it's name, my favourite is that a large house nearby had stone pineapples decorating its front wall (I notice these seem to be in fashion again nowadays.) and the local residents, never having seen a pineapple, christened the house Cabbage Hall.  This has become the name for this part of Liverpool, as well as the pub.
Anyway, having spent a number of years closed it has re-opened as a food-oriented "bar and grill". Inside is a nicely decorated (Although the floral wallpaper is a bit strong.) mostly knocked through pub aiming at diners and almost completely empty. I was pleased to see handpumps on the bar for Black Sheep and Landlord, but the barmaid advised me they're only available on match days (Anfield is just up the road.), so I had to have another Guinness. I checked the menu and the standard pub grill fare looks excellent value for money. As afternoon moved towards evening more people came in, most ordering food. I was somewhat irritated to see that the umpteen TV screens, showing a constantly rotating display of adverts for the pub, included one for their "new" real ale.

Just a short walk to the start of Townsend Lane, and the Stadium.  I had noted this on passing by a few weeks ago as a new pub, but further research (Actually, a big sign on the front.) revealed it to have been the Cockwell Inn. A large plain open room with a wooden floor. The seats, tables etc are all spotless and well cared for, obviously some effort goes into keeping the place in good nick. On a Wednesday at 5 pm there were only a handful of customers to keep it ticking over but I bet it's busy when there's footie on the telly, and the dance floor and large speakers suggest noisy nights at the weekend. Another Guinness for me, while I hid in a quiet corner and wrote this.

Over the road to the Willow Bank, where I found a smallish front room ticking over with a steady trade. I settled in a corner with yet another Guinness - By the way, watch out for the sloping floor!
A mum came in with a youngster and a baby in what passes for a pram nowadays. I was relieved to see the blue alcopop with straw was for her and not the kids! My notes from 1998 refer to an impressive back room so I had a wander round to find it's still there, complete with arched beams and a stage, although much smaller than the image in my mind which had grown somewhat over nineteen years.

Time to go home, but I noticed on my map there was one more pub in the area, and I didn't want to come here again just for one.  Furthermore, it was a pub I'd never visited.  The clincher was the prospect of walking back to Tuebrook in the rain, so I headed for what used to be the Winchester, now the Townsend Lane.  My fifth Guinness only cost £2.30, and it came with a raffle ticket but I've no idea what for.  It was number 219 if anyone's looking for the winner.
Another plain friendly clean and tidy street-corner boozer, maybe they're not as rare as I thought, with a handful of regulars in the bar side. A regular trickle of locals came in, and this time the "salesman" was offering shampoo, again I have to say perhaps they're not as rare as I thought.

Finally, I walked back to the bus home; happily the rain had stopped so my extra pub was definitely worthwhile.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Aigburth

No less than three buses were necessary for a slow journey to get me to my first destination of today's survey - It would have been quicker to get a train into town and out again, I think. As I trundled through Garston on the third bus, an 82, I noted the Alexandra appeared shut, and the former Queens is now a restaurant. Along Garston's main street, however, the George, the Mariners and the Dealers are all still open, and ripe for a research trip soon.

I stayed on the bus until my first target, the Toby Carvery Aigburth. Here I found a standard Toby carvery, pretty empty at four on a Thursday. The plastic interior is nicely divided into drinking and dining areas. I selected Doom Bar from the choice of one real ale, but that's not a complaint - I'd rather see one pump serving quality ale than have a choice of six tired beers, and the "boring brown bitter" was spot on. There were a few other drinkers in, watching a quiz on the TV and/or listening to the piped music. Irritatingly, from my seat both were equally audible.

Aigburth Road used to be famous for having no pubs at all until you reached Garston, but that's certainly no longer true, and a few more stops on the same 82 route brought me to the Old Bank, my 1,200th Merseyside pub.
Located in an impressive old building is a smaller than expected one room pub. Somehow it gave the impression of a keg-only boozer but it certainly isn't, and three handpumps at the end of the bar were dispensing three "uncommon" ales, and the one I tried was perfect.
The high ceilinged room was rather echoey, magnifying the chit-chat of the regulars, most of who were sitting at the bar. It's hard to make out the decor here, I'm assuming the carved woodwork such as the columns supporting the gantry above the bar is all salvaged from elsewhere, but I wonder if some is from the bank - the arches have a double keystone motif.

Back on the 82 again for another few stops, taking me to the food and drink centre that is Lark Lane. I walked past about nine bars of various sorts, and umpteen cafes and restaurants, to reach Que Pasa Cantina at the far end of the road. This used to be a "South American" restaurant, hence the name, but they seem to have given up food and now it's a busy popular bar, one of the ones in the Good Beer Guide that I hadn't visited (until today).
Inside, bare brick walls and wooden floor make for a lot of noise, while the barmaid worked hard behind the tiny counter to keep the many customers served. Only room for two handpumps, I had a splendid pint of someone's pale ale.
A number of people came in carrying bikes which they took through to somewhere in the back, and then one of them emerged carrying a back wheel - he wandered around the room a bit and then disappeared again. I'm not sure lycra shorts are suitable attire for a visit to the pub, but anyone who knows me will confirm that I'm hardly in a position to give fashion tips!

So, time to choose one more Lark Lane place that I've never done before. whatpub.com showed real ale at Love and Rockets.  A youth oriented pizza place, it nonetheless has a number of handpumps amongst the twenty keg taps offering a wide range of craft ales, and my pint of WPA from the very local Big Bog Brewery was OK, although a little on the warm side. The white-painted bare brick walls and wooden floor contrived to make the place very noisy, although there was hardly anyone in the place. The smokers' area out front was, by contrast, packed.
Those pretend antique lightbulbs look especially naff if you never dust them and while I'm having a moan, I don't like menus with prices like "8.5", it should say £8.50. I have previously described this as an ugly affectation.
A steady trickle of customers was heading for the back room, and I was invited to join them for the quiz, but decided it was time to be making my way home. I could just hear them starting as I left.
I suppose I'll have to get used to being the oldest person in the pub, it's going to happen more and more often.

A short stroll got me to St Michaels station for my journey home via Liverpool. Annoyingly, I got to Lime Street just after a train left, so my homeward journey was just as slow as the outward one.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Birkdale

Back to the northern outposts again, starting with the Barrel House in Birkdale: 

A tiny micro-pub, this, if that isn't a tautology. They've got two handpumps, and I had something very nice from Southport Brewery. In an unusual nod to non real ale fans, they also offer keg Theakston Bitter, not something you usually see in this sort of place. They also seem to be in charge of local newspaper deliveries.
Another dog-friendly place, with a jar of dog biscuits on the bar, but I note there's no equivalent for human customers!
As seems to normal in a micro, most customers know the staff and have a joke and a chat.
All along one wall is an impressive array of bottled beers for sale, including my personal favourite, Rochfort dix. (As well as six and huit.)
 
My next destination was a pub that's always been in my guide, unvisited, under the Southport heading, but actually it's only a few minutes walk from Birkdale station, so I've now moved it. (Defining the borders between areas can never be precise, but I do my best.)
The Up Steps is a hefty free-standing building containing a lively traditional local pub with three small rooms, partly knocked through, clustered round a small three-sided counter. Three handpumps, two in operation, and I had a spot on pint of Wainwright. The background chit-chat here included a lot more swearwords than I heard in the Barrel House! A giant telly above my head was showing Australia struggling against India in an ODI as I enjoyed my ale. The place filled up considerably as it approached 5pm.

Back to Birkdale, and some new entries to the guide that I spotted as I left the station earlier: There's the Allotment and the Tea Rooms which will need investigation on a future trip. But I headed for a small doorway at the side of the station that was the entrance to Birkers:
While certainly at the down-market end of the scale, I must say I quite liked the large, pleasant open 'shed' of a room, open to the rafters, with a rectangular island bar in the middle. My request for a Guinness caused some aggro as it needed changing and the landlord, who had appeared to be just another drinker when I came in, had to head off and do some work. The friendly barmaid was most apologetic about the slight delay. When it arrived soon after, my pint was a bargain £2.90. The food menu also looks very cheap. All the regulars, and there were a lot of them, were sitting at the bar, with only I at one of the high tables at the edge of the room. I was amused to note that the gents, up on the balcony, included a door to the dj's desk - I wonder what happens if the dj's a girl!

Enough for today, as I have things to do tomorrow morning, so I nipped to the station for a train homewards. Not a bad result for a short survey, with three pubs added to the guide, and three visited that I've not been to before, giving totals of 1,835 pubs listed, and I've had a drink in 1,198 of them - oo look, here's another century just coming up.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Newton-le-Willows

Off to Newton-le-Willows on the train, and then a short stroll to the new-ish micro-pub, noting on the way that the Legh Arms is surrounded by scaffolding, as it has been for ages - I wonder if it'll be a pub when (if) they finish. The Kirkfield is closed and derelict, and the Blue Lion is being gutted and refurbished - whats the betting it won't be a pub when it's finished either? Anyway, I entered the Firkin to be told it doesn't open until 5.30. Luckily I said thanks and retreated rather than giving them a rant about unreliable opening hours, because on checking whatpub I discovered I'd read the Friday hours.

So, on down the road to Greene King's Oak Tree. Nothing much has changed in the fourteen years since I was last here, a pleasant interior with dark wood floor. One change, though, is they've followed the 2010s (Is there a word for this decade? The tensies perhaps.) fashion for industrial-style lighting. Obviously aiming at diners, they were clearly missing, with a steady stream of drinkers coming in and very little food being sold. Three or four handpumps were dispensing Greene King IPA and a house beer, also by GK, which was a fine 'ordinary' bitter. By 1700 there was a hubub of chit chat around the room, but still little or no food.

Next a short stroll in the sunshine to the Pied Bull:
Another pleasant knocked through pub, with a couple of handpumps providing decent ale, this time I had Landlord. Oddly there's a large sign mounted on the end of the next door building, maybe that used to be part of the pub? A trickle of chatting regulars kept the place going while I enjoyed my pint. I could see a "residents only" door but I'm not sure whether they still do rooms. For some reason, I had a drink in here three years ago, but not in any of the other local pubs - I wonder why. It was a very tired pint of EPA, today's ale was much better.

At last, across the road to the Firkin:
It's been here since 2014, so well overdue for a visit. They're busy even at 6 on a Thursday, although half the regulars seem to be dogs!  No less than ten handpumps on the bar and I had a gorgeous porter from Salopian. I could have had a top-up on a pint I'd already swigged, but I was too honest! You should have kept quiet, said one of the locals. Typically for a micro, everyone else seemed to know the staff, the one next to me at the bar was delivering Scotch bonnet chillies he'd grown to the landlord! The new GBG was officially released today, so I'm allowed to say the trigger for today's survey was this place's appearance in the book. The new tenner's out today as well, but I didn't see one.

Finally, Stocks Tavern:
No real ale here, a plain two-sided boozer, clean and tidy but perhaps in need of some new upholstery on the bench seats.  There were quite a few regulars in here at seven on a Thursday, with a background chatter filling the large open room. I had a bit of a dilemma here, either swig the black stuff quickly, or hang around for a hour for the later train. I chose the quick option. It's pleasing to note that a dining pub, a real ale only micro, and a keg pub can coexist in a small area, and all are doing a reasonable trade.

Time to go home. I marched back to the station, and the rain which had been intermittently threatening finally started as I passed the Legh Arms and reached the railway, comfortably in time for my train to Huyton.