Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Birkdale

A gloriously sunny, if cold, Tuesday saw me heading out of Liverpool on the Southport line and alighting at Hillside station, which is on the south side of Birkdale.  There don't appear to be any hills around here so I wonder where the name comes from.  Mind you, Southport isn't a port so I suppose it's just following local practice.

My first destination was to the never before visited Crown Hotel.  I found a very nicely decorated food-oriented chain pub doing a very good trade in lunchtime meals - It seemed like I was the only person who'd come in for a drink.  Unusually, at one end of the very large space was a plainer area with a pool table, the modern equivalent of the bar side.  I enjoyed a spot on pint of Thwaites Wainwright, one of my favourite brews.



I moved on for another first visit, to the Portland Hotel.  A slightly threadbare appearance on the outside of the building, but once I got inside it was much better cared for, with some good original-looking features in the large lounge side including plasterwork on the ceiling and a fine fireplace.  No real ale, so I settled down with a pint of the black stuff, while the landlord got busy with the dirty job of relaying the fire.  Sadly I was the only customer on a Tuesday afternoon, I hope they get a lot more later.

A stroll through the centre of Birkdale itself took me to the Good Beer Guide listed Fishermens Rest, another standard food-led pub.  The large partially knocked-through interior was busy with diners as I sat on a very comfy sofa with another pint of Wainwright.  The menu looked rather good, and seemed a little cheaper than most.  Unusually for this sort of pub, meals are paid for at the till after you have eaten.  The staff all seemed particularly efficient and friendly, which I'm certain must lead to plenty of repeat custom.
(No complaints about apostrophes please, the pub name on the signs is rendered as I have shown.)

For my final stop I headed back towards Birkdale station and to the Park Hotel.  Another food-oriented chain pub with lots of people dining, but there were also a number of regulars in for drinks and friendly chit-chat.  They've painted over much of the dark wood panelling which I noted in 2004, and my comment about this making the interior a bit gloomy no longer applies.  Another great pint of Wainwright for me, it seems to be very popular hereabouts.
Sorry, no photo as it was getting dark by this time.

In summary, a pleasant excursion with some decent pints in pleasant surroundings, and the total of pubs researched goes up to 1,142. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Mixed Bunch in Town

A couple of trips into Liverpool gave me the chance to make a few long-overdue pub visits.  Sorry, no pictures this time.

Let's start on Whitechapel in The Beehive - Incidentally one of two pubs with this name in the City Centre.  Not much has changed since my last visit in 2007, except for the welcome addition of real ale, and I was able to enjoy a decent pint of Black Sheep.  A long narrow "corridor bar" with some original features including a good ceramic dado in the standing area by the bar.  To the rear is a restaurant area which was totally deserted when I visited, although a number of people were eating in the more friendly surroundings of the front seating area.

The menu, a good selection of standard pub fare, features this sad indictment of our education system:  "CHECK OUT ARE 2 FOR £10.00 MAIN MEALS OVERLEAF LOOK FOR THE ONES WITH AN ASTERIX".  Under the laws of natural justice, no doubt I'll be punished for having the gall to make this criticism with a really embarrassing grammatical or spelling error appearing in this post.  [Pun intended]

The Lion on Moorfields is a gem well worthy of its inclusion in CAMRA's list of historic pub interiors.  It retains the traditional layout of an L-shaped corridor between the doors, with the servery and bar room on the inside of the L, and the lounge rooms (two in this case) on the other side of the passageway.  Service for the lounges is provided via two tiny hatches in the cut glass partition that divides the corridor from the bar.

At the time of my visit they were having a beer festival, with eight real ales on, making it even harder than usual to choose a beer, peering at the back of the pumps through the serving hatch.  Luckily the landlord pointed me to the blackboard behind me.  I selected a pint of Leeds Brewery's Yorkshire Gold - splendid!

On to Ma Boyles Oyster Bar, which I haven't visited since 2005.  Something of a disappointment with only one pump clip on, and the Sharp's Doom Bar had run out, so I had to put up with a pint of the black stuff.  This place used to be great for real ale, but sadly it seems to have gone downhill.  The presentable interior has changed little since the last time I was here.

The Pig and Whistle on Chapel Street used to be another gem but in 2005 it was unfortunately refurbished within an inch of its life.  Nonetheless, it remains a very pleasant, comfortable, friendly pub serving a spot on pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord.  On a grey Tuesday afternoon there were only a handful of customers, all of which knew the barmaid, and she invited them all to a party somewhere on Friday!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Prescot

A sunny autumn day, time for a trip to Prescot, where I started in Tommy Hall's, a compact two-sided boozer, partially knocked through, with a well cared for interior.  No real ale, so I had a pint of Guinness and watched a little of the early Saturday match, along with a number of cheerful locals.  My previous notes recorded this place as packed on a Saturday night, this time it was early Saturday afternoon and it was still pretty busy, although I had no trouble finding a seat.

The Royal Oak is much larger and retains two separate sides with no obvious access between.  The inside looks very traditional and appears to have been well refurbished recently, so it isn't easy to tell how much of the woodwork is old.  Less busy than Tommy Hall's but still doing a good trade.



Next, two closed pubs:  The Bath Springs is boarded up

... and The Crown is now The Crown of India!

The Red Lion Hotel was also busy with regulars watching the same football match as I had seen in Tommy Hall's, although this time, rather disconcertingly, on an Arabic TV channel.  The post match analysis consisted of a man in a suit speaking English (He looked like he might be a former player but I didn't recognise him.) and two Arabic men in traditional dress (Is it called a thobe?) speaking Arabic.

Another unexpected sight in here was the notice saying "NO STRANGERS ARE ALLOWED to PLAY ON FRUIT MACHINES SORRY!" - I wonder what that's about?  (This photo is from 2004, the others were taken today.)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Thatto Heath

A convenient coincidence meant I could do research for both my blogs (The other is Northwest Sparks News by the way.) at the same time, so I headed for some pubs in Thatto Heath, starting with a quick look at the Railway Hotel which has been closed for at least two years.  I had a drink in there in 1999 when it was a Greenalls pub.  In common with many of their outlets, it had a bowling green at the back.


Just a short walk round the corner to The Elephant, a rather imposing building containing a plain clean and tidy interior.  When I last visited, in 1999, this was a two bar pub but now it's been fully knocked through into one large L-shaped room, although one end still seems plainer than the other.  No real ale, so I had my usual pint of the black stuff.

Very close to the Elephant is the externally less impressive Vine Tavern.  Inside is a classic two-sided boozer with no access between the halves except via the gents.  The plain bar side had a cluster of cheerful regulars sitting at the bar whiling away a Friday afternoon.

The review from my previous visit grumbled that "The 'Cask Ales' sign would appear to be a lie".  I was surprised to discover the sign is still there and still wrong thirteen years later, so it was another pint of G.
Back to the station and, next door, the Springfield.  This impressive building contains a large two bar pub pleasantly decorated inside, with dark wood panelling on the bar front.  In the plain bar side a couple of regulars were playing pool, and there were one or two more customers in the lounge end I think.  The trophy cabinet was well filled.  Again, no decent ale so it was yet another Guinness.  (This picture was taken in 2010.)

All three pubs were ticking over on a sunny Friday afternoon, a little surprising considering they're located within 1/4 mile of each other.  They all had the "local pub for local people" feel, where everyone in the pub (except me) knew each other, but they seemed to have no objection to a stranger coming in and jotting in a notebook.  All three were last visited in 1999, so long overdue for an update!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sunny Bromborough

A sunny Saturday, so time for a jaunt across the water, via the refurbished Central Station.  How many million pounds?  For a few white tiles and some white paint?  On the plus side I was very pleased to note that the toilets have been expanded and are still free, these are often useful on the homeward journey after a pub survey, and I object to paying 30p at Lime Street.


Anyway, on to Bromborough, round the corner and into the leafy suburbs, to the Dibbinsdale, a very pleasant looking pub/restaurant/hotel belonging to Thwaites Brewery.  The inside is good as well, with lots of wood panelling and leaded glass, some of which looks like it might be fairly new.  The place was deserted early on a Saturday afternoon, in fact by the time I was half way down my pint of Wainwright the other customers had all left.  Hopefully just a coincidence!


Next, back past the station to the Merebrook.  A nicely decorated pub in the "sizzling" chain, much busier than the Dibbinsdale - perhaps because the food is significantly cheaper.  Most of the other customers were families out for a meal.  I had a fine pint of Marston's EPA and watched the busy staff rushing about with plates of food.

My next destination was the Knockaloe.  The Hall was built in the 1850s and was donated to the council for the use of the community in the 1930s.  Later it was sold to Octel to be their staff sports and social club.  In 2006 it passed back to private hands and became a social club open to all.  As well as the popular bar there are function rooms, squash and tennis courts, football pitches, and so on.  I was a little concerned that the bar had been removed from the Good Beer Guide this year, but I needn't have worried, and I enjoyed a spot on pint of Tetley.  The other two real ales available were from the local Brimstage Brewery.

The final pub of the trip was something of a disappointment, and I seem to have arrived a few months too late for a drink in the Archers.

Never mind.  Three pubs never before visited taking the total to 1,140.  Time to head for home - Via the facilities at Central.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Toxteth Tour

On a sunny Thursday I took a trip to Toxteth to see how the pubs there have been getting on since my last visit, which was 2004 I think.

I began with a bus ride along Park Road, where I found the Royal Oak is now closed and tinned up, the Globe remains open, and then the Farmers, the Toxteth, the Royal George and the Queens Head are all closed, and in some cases gone without trace.   A little further along, the Pineapple is still open.  I've drunk in all these pubs at some time in the last fourteen years, it's a shame so many of them aren't there any more.

I headed down towards the river, passing the still open Anglesea, which is looking pretty tidy from the outside.


I paid a visit to the amazing Florence Institute, which was open as part of the Heritage Open Days scheme.  This stunning building, constructed in 1889 as Britain's first purpose-built boys’ youth club, was derelict last time I visited the area, in 2004, when I recall it had trees sprouting from the gutters.  It has been wonderfully restored and is once again in use as a community resource.
 Just across the road from the "Florrie" is a very tatty looking building, housing the Wellington Vaults, which rather to my surprise was open.  I joined two locals in the small front bar and enjoyed a pint of Guinness.  The inside was a lot tidier than the rather tatty exterior might suggest.
The Derby Arms and the Great Eastern were both near here, but are no longer extant.  Again, I've drunk in both in the past.
 Just a short walk riverwards took me to the wonderful Herculaneum Bridge, also known as Pegleg's.  Outside, a coat of white paint has replaced the somewhat garish blue and red colour scheme of my previous visit.  The interior, although a little chaotic during decorating work, is very impressive, with lots of ceramics on the walls and a fine wood and leaded glass bar back.  It retains the historic layout of rooms off a corridor served from a hatch at the back of the bar.  The large back room also has a tiny bar counter in the corner.


I was the only customer on a Thursday afternoon, sharing the bar with two friendly staff and a decorator.  They also do accommodation here, apparently it's very popular with visiting football fans.
I wandered on past the closed Mosely Arms, Clancy's which has completely disappeared, and Dick Jennings where the planned conversion to housing hasn't progressed.









My next destination was the Brewery Tap, nestled in the corner of the Cains' Brewery, where I enjoyed a fine pint of Cains' FA.  I noticed they limit their real ale offerings to their own brews now, I'm sure they used to have guest beers as well.  Sales were pretty slow, initially I was the only customer but a few others arrived to sit outside in the bright sunshine.

Finally, I strolled past the long closed Angel (pictured) and on to the Coburg.  Reports had reached me that this place now did real ale, and I was pleased to find Fuller's London Pride on sale in a comfortable, friendly pub.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Good Beer Guide 2013

The 40th edition of the real ale drinker's bible landed with a thud on my doormat this morning, hot off the presses.  In Merseyside twenty pubs have been dropped since last year, and twenty-two added.

The Roscoe Head is one of only seven pubs to have been listed in all forty editions, and I was particularly pleased to see a personal favourite of mine, The Crown on Lime Street, has been restored to the guide.

To find out the rest of the list, you'll have to buy a copy from CAMRA.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Maghull

There's a new Wetherspoon's in Maghull, which must be a good excuse for a visit to this suburban town to the north of Liverpool, so I started in the Red House, which doesn't look very red I have to say!  Here I found a rather fine two room 1950s style Walker's House almost completely unchanged since my previous visit in 2004.  It still retains some original leaded glass above the counter.

There were no other customers in the place as the barmaid poured me a pint of Cask Tetley, which has always been one of my favourite beers.  I can't remember where this comes from since the closure of the Tetley brewery in Leeds, but I am pleased to report that it still tastes pretty much the same.

Apparently the pub is between managers at the moment, and the barmaid's boss is looking after it temporarily.  She complained that there was nothing to do except read a magazine and watch the Olympics on the telly, with no customers at all.  Last Saturday no-one came in until three, she said, so at least I improved matters today!

Next, a short stroll in simultaneous light rain and sunshine to what is probably the reason the Red House is so empty.  Wetherspoon's Frank Hornby opened earlier this year in what was previously the Everest.  The 'spoons redecoration is in modern style, with a Meccano theme with "industrial" lampshades held together with large nuts and bolts.  The chromed steel gantries above the bar are fun but I'll be wanting compensation if I accidentally head butt a suspended wineglass while getting served.  As usual in a Wetherspoon's, it was busy with lots of locals enjoying the cheap food and drink.

I must tell a little story about the Everest.  Way back in the early days of the pub guide, I was collecting lists of pubs from friends before going to visit them, and Ernie, who lived in Maghull, named a number of the pubs in the area for me.  I wonder why it's called the Everest, I asked, and he replied that Sir Edmund Hillary had lived in Maghull and this had been his local, so I included this piece of information in the guide.  Ten years later it finally occurred to me that I might have been misled, so I typed Edmund Hillary Maghull into Google and was somewhat annoyed to find the only information linking the two was the entry in my pub guide.  Hmph!

Onwards through the subway under the main road that divides Maghull in half, to the Hare & Hounds.  This large pub/restaurant is now a member of the Ember Inns chain, and is decorated in their standard contemporary style.  There were five real ales on tap and I had a good pint of Yorkshire Gold from the Leeds Brewery (Who, post Tetley, can claim to be the largest brewery in Leeds.)

Finally, I turned homewards, towards the station and into the Great Mogul next door.  They had Cask Tetley on, so I enjoyed another spot on pint in this nicely decorated pub where the majority of the customers seemed to be dining.


Friday, 27 July 2012

New Brighton

I chose a rather grey muggy day yesterday to head under the Mersey to the sea-side at New Brighton.  I was surprised to find the waterfront has been substantially redeveloped, with new restaurants, a supermarket and a casino, but I ignored all these attractions and headed first to the Queens Royal Hotel.  The outside was off-puttingly covered in scaffolding, but the hotel bar merits a Good Beer Guide entry and so obviously needed visiting.  I found a very comfortable nicely decorated bar with four hand pumps and I enjoyed an excellent pint of Hawkshead Windermere Pale.  The menu looked good, but I resisted.

I continued my stroll round the sea front and then turned towards the town centre, passing Redcaps, now closed, before calling in to the Ship Hotel.  Definitely the down-market end of spectrum, a little scruffy inside but still clean and tidy.  They'd run out of Guinness (except in cans) so I had a lager for a change, and sat on a comfortable sofa watching a steady trickle of regulars coming in and out.  This is undoubtedly a local pub for local people, everyone who came in knew everyone else and the two bar staff.

Next, on to the Commercial, but it isn't called the Commercial any more, it's now the Harbour.  Nothing much else seems to have changed, there's a small bar side with a couple of bits of peeling paintwork giving it a slightly tatty feel, and in great contrast a well appointed and well cared for lounge side.  This used to belong to Cains Brewery but was sold off in one of their financial crises.  The four hand pumps were only offering one real ale and I had a spot on pint of Black Sheep.  Apparently the best route from the bar to the gents is via the street!

Just across the road from the Harbour is the imposing building that houses the Perch Rock.  I remember when I last visited, in 1999, being served a pint of pure vinegar which purported to be John Smith's cask ale.  This time I had Otter Bitter and it was excellent.  The pub has a rather odd layout with a very narrow front bar across the front of the building.  My 1999 visit recorded two lounge rooms behind with no bar counter but I have to admit I didn't go and check these this time.  Instead I sat in "Bob's Corner" at the end of the bar, luckily Bob wasn't in.  Once again, a local's pub, everyone in the busy bar knew everyone else.  (Cheat - This picture was taken on a previous trip some years ago!)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Surprises In Town

A workmate was looking at my pub guide and asked what I thought of the Cavern Pub, and I had to admit I'd never been in.  So after visiting the blood donor centre today I headed down to Mathew Street to check the place out.

And I found a rather good cellar bar with walls covered  in music memorabilia, with, much to my surprise, two hand pumps on the bar.  Not the sort of place I would expect to find decent beer, but I enjoyed a spot on pint of Black Sheep.  The barmaid had apparently never used a hand pump before, and she had to get instruction from her colleague.  There's a stage for live music, but no-one was performing on a Thursday afternoon.

Just a little way along Mathew Street and I was in for another surprise - A brand new pub called Glass Onion, where the board outside advertised bitter, lager, Guinness and mild all at £1.50 a pint!  Inside it is a plain corridor bar and as you can imagine at these prices, the customers are a little on the down-market side.  There weren't actually any fights while I was there, but there were a couple of vociferous arguments!  I sat unobtrusively in the corner, getting a little worried when the seven foot tall (OK, a slight exaggeration.) bloke who the barmaid had just annoyed by refusing to serve him sat down next to me.  He soon left to try another pub.

It must be a good few years since Guinness was available at this price.  Can they really be making a profit?

I was trying to remember what was here before, and a quick Google seems to show that it was formerly part of Hardy's, which now has a shorter frontage, I think.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Inn

Caesar's Palace, the long standing restaurant at the bottom of Renshaw Street, has been carved in two.  The larger part is a refurbished restaurant, now called Caesar's, and the smaller part, nearer to the Adelphi, has become a new pub called Inn.  The decor, turquoise seats, brushed aluminium surfaces, slate wall panels etc. etc. makes the place look like a trendy bar, but further examination reveals that it's definitely a beer oriented pub.

The three hand pumps offered two beers from the Liverpool Craft Brewery, and a real cider.  I enjoyed a dimpled mug of Summer Ale, which to be honest didn't seem very summery, just a nice bitter.  A long line of fonts offers a wide range of less common beers from Europe and America and if that's not enough choice for you, the beer menu lists umpteen bottles.

As I sat in splendid isolation - I was the only customer on Wednesday lunchtime - I eyed up the array of empty beer bottles on a high shelf.  Not bad, but the collection in my hall is better!  I turned my attention to the bottles behind the bar, and spotted some Sink The Bismarck from Scottish brewery Brewdog which at 41% (No, I haven't missed a decimal point, that's forty-one percent alcohol.) claims to be the strongest beer in the world.  Unfortunately they'd sold out, so I still haven't tried it.  (I was in Brewdog's own bar in Manchester on Saturday and they'd run out as well so I had to settle for a 32% brew instead.)

So, in conclusion, a rather good attempt at doing something different from the standard plastic pub that we see all over the place.  Let's hope it's a success, but they need to get more customers through the door - Perhaps when the redevelopment of Lewis's across the road is completed more people will come in here.  Another notch on the stats, taking the score of Merseyside pubs visited to 1,134.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Woolton Pub Crawl 2012


The Woolton Pub Crawl has been an annual event for many years, although I've only been involved since the late 1990s. It used to be a proper gruelling pub crawl, visiting twenty or more pubs starting in the Childwall Abbey at midday. (The best I managed myself was nineteen pubs.) Gradually over the years it has become more "sensible" and the outlying pubs have been dropped from the schedule, and a number have closed. The whole event is now much more of a reunion and get-together.

This year, in a break with tradition, the sequence was reversed, so we started at the Derby Arms, or at least that was the plan as the intrepid organising party stepped off the 89 bus just as the rain started. We headed down to the Derby Arms where a sign in the window said they were closed until 4pm, so we quickly marched on to the Gardeners Arms, managing to arrive just before the heavy rain. This well cared for two sided pub had six hand pumps and I started the crawl with a splendid pint of Hobgoblin. Mobile phones were busy as more participants discovered the Derby Arms was shut. Apart from us, the pub was very quiet, we must have substantially boosted their Saturday afternoon takings.

Fortunately the rain had pretty much finished for the day by the time we headed up the hill to the County Court, a little plainer inside than the Gardeners but well looked after and comfortable. Quite a lot more non-crawlers in here as I drank my Doom Bar.

Along Quarry Street past the Cobden, which was closed, and the Village Inn which is pretty much demolished inside with just the outside walls remaining. No great loss in the case of the Village Inn, it was full of kids and had no real ale last year.

Just a bit further along is the Victoria, a nice friendly quiet place where I had a decent pint of Bombardier if I remember correctly. I think it was empty apart from us.


Time to skip some non real ale pubs: The Grapes is a plain boozer, Cello's is a night club in a large shed, and the Coffee House has always been a bit of a dump. Oh, and the Coach and Horses is now a nursery. 

So, on to the Elephant for a longer stay while everyone caught up - I think some may have paused at the chippy - and two pints of Old Speckled Hen, coincidentally the cheapest beer of the crawl. This place has had a varied history since I first came to Woolton, and was a restaurant for a while, but it's back to being a pub now, and a jolly comfortable one too.

Next, on to the excellent White Horse, recently redecorated but otherwise unchanged, for another pint of something good. This place is always popular, but I managed to get a seat in the main room.

Downhill (purely geographically) towards Gateacre, to the Bear and Staff next. This place doesn't seem to change much, still a very pleasant pub serving good beer.

Finally, on to the Black Bull for a last pint in the very nicely done interior of this listed building. All in all an enjoyable day, and a chance to see a number of people I haven't seen since the last crawl. See you next year!


For those who want to try it, here's my recollection of a full crawl from years gone by:
Childwall Abbey
Falstaff (Now closed?)
Grange Manor(Now Crying Tree)
Gateacre Park Hotel (Now closed and demolished.)
English Rose
Brown Cow
Black Bull
Bear and Staff
White Horse
Elephant
Baby Elephant (Now Bubble Room)
Coffee House
Coach and Horses (Now closed)
Cello's (Was Chardonay's)
Grapes
Victoria
Village Inn (Now closed)
Cobden (Now closed)
County Court
Gardners Arms
Derby Arms
(But not necessarily in exactly that order.)

Friday, 6 April 2012

Clock Face


What's this? Another pub survey - three in five days? Actually, no, the main reason for my trip out on a sunny Thursday was to have a look at Dream, St. Helens' version of the Angel of the North, which is located on a wooded hill, the former site of Sutton Manor Colliery. Pity about the worker's van, spoiling my photos.


Having enjoyed a stroll in the sunshine round the park I might as well check out a pub so I headed to Clock Face and the never before visited Clock Face pub. Inside the impressive building I found a very nice pub comprising a bar, a lounge with a couple of side areas, and a restaurant. I entered the lounge side and found two hand pumps, one with a clip so I ordered a pint. It was immediately obvious that these hand pumps were purely decorative, as the barmaid disappeared to the bar side to fetch my beer. She returned with a pint with an enormous head on it, plus a half pint glass for topping up! I forget what the beer was but it was very good. The decor in the lounge side included a good collection of clocks, as you might expect. The place was quiet on a Thursday afternoon, with one regular sat at the bar, and a few people heading for the restaurant. I think there were more people in the bar side.


I also took a quick look at the rather fine building that contains the Green Dragon but unfortunately the place appears to be closed.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Greasby

Another day, another excursion. Sunday's sunshine was long gone as I set off on a cold grey Monday, my destination this time being Greasby, reached via a bus ride under the river from central Liverpool.


I headed along a country road through the fields to the tiny village of Frankby and the Farmers Arms, finding a rather fine large multi-roomed pub in which the majority of the customers were dining. There weren't many people there on a Monday afternoon. The interior decor was old beams and plasterwork. A good selection of real ales was on offer, and I enjoyed a delicious pint of Hawkshead Bitter.


I strolled back to the centre of Greasby itself, where there is a cluster of three pubs, all deserving of a visit. The Coach & Horses is, perhaps, not much to look at from the outside, but inside is a wonderful cosy antique multi-roomed pub, served from a small counter. I repeated yesterday's mistake and ordered Guinness before spotting the single hand pump which was not on the counter itself but secreted to one side, so I missed out on a pint of Landlord.

Across the road to the strangely named Greave Dunning, a member of the Ember Inns chain. Inside I found well done contemporary decor and a menu at the up market end of food-oriented pubs - For example, the day's specials included venison steak. Decent beer was not neglected, with a small range of real ales, and I had something good called Old Leg Over, I think.

Finally, to the Red Cat. Another chain food pub, a little less posh than the Greave Dunning but still very comfortable, and serving a couple of real ales, I had Greene King IPA.

All in all a very pleasant trip out to four good pubs, and all four never before visited. 1,131 and counting! I have been thinking for some time that there are no more clusters of un-visited pubs left, but I keep finding them.

Rainhill

A beautifully sunny if somewhat chilly Sunday saw me on a train to Lea Green where I bypassed the Bull and Dog and headed off along Elton Head Road, soon reaching the Boar's Head, a pub I've never visited before. My first impression was of a somewhat down at heel establishment and my opinion was not enhanced by the gang of smokers round the door, but once inside I found a rather pleasant and comfortable two sided boozer, sadly not offering real ale. The Liverpool match was on the TVs but no-one in the lounge side was watching the 3D screen, they all seemed to have chosen 2D. That gimmick didn't last very long, did it!

I strolled on through open countryside towards Rainhill, where I aimed for the Coach and Horses. This was packed with footie fans so not wishing to stand in anyone's sight line I quickly ordered a pint of the black stuff at an accessible corner of the bar and then retreated to the snug. Too quickly as it turned out, because I'd missed the two hand pumps further along the counter. No chance to explore but it would seem that the large back room I described last time I was here has become an Indian restaurant.

My final pub on this short excursion was a firm favourite of mine, the beautiful Commercial. This was also full of football fans and I had to stand to drink my pint of Sharp's Doom Bar and watch Liverpool's goalie being sent off.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Grey Egremont

Perhaps I should have taken the hint from the chilly grey weather and stayed at home, but I headed under the river again with high hopes, aiming this time for Egremont and four pubs never before visited. Merseyrail took me to Birkenhead Park to connect with a bus along Brighton Street towards my selected pubs. The first, the Brighton, was unfortunately shut. It showed every sign of being operational, just not on a Monday afternoon.

I stayed one more stop on the bus for my next attempted pub, the Vaults. Fortunately this one was open and I joined a handful of locals in a bright and cheery room with a bar counter at one end. The place was very quiet as you might expect, but the array of disco lights suggests it's a lot more lively on a Saturday night. The building looks like it used to be a bank, and you can just about see the former night safe in the picture.

Next, down the hill to the shoreline and the Egremont Ferry. First impression was of a slightly down at heel and tatty pub as I walked to the door, and the inside was similar, although spotlessly clean. I approached the bar and did a double take as I spotted a hand pump offering Higson's Stout.
I thought they'd gone long ago! Of course, this is one of the resurrected Higsons brews produced by the Liverpool Organic brewery.
A pub with four hand pumps but only one working doesn't bode well, and the Cask Marque certificate dated 2008 didn't exactly boost my confidence, but I needn't have worried as the Stout was excellent. I settled on a high stool and admired the view of the Liverpool Coast from Seaforth to the Pier Head.

It was only a short walk away from the waterfront to my next destination, the King's Arms. Unfortunately this one was shut as well, and looked to have been out of action for some time. Drat! What to do now? Obviously I should get the map out of my bag and go and find some more pubs to visit, but at this point fate intervened in the form of a 433 bus heading for Liverpool so I wimped out and headed back under the Mersey for a nice pint in Doctor Duncan's before heading home.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sunny Tranmere

A sunny Friday provided another chance to fill in some of the gaps in my guide, so I hopped on the Merseyrail to Birkenhead Central and then walked up the (steep) hill towards Tranmere.

My first port of call along Church Road was the Beehive where I found a plain well cared for two-sided pub. No real ale, of course, but I settled down in comfort to enjoy a pint of the black stuff and eavesdrop on the cheerful regulars who were discussing a birth in the family, in between popping outside for a smoke.

A little further along Church Road is the Black Horse. Externally I found a rather fine free standing pub dating from 1931 and still looking fairly original. Inside, somewhat plain decor in a well cared for two-sided boozer, with a small gang of lively locals sat at the bar bickering over whose round it was.

Round the corner and on to the Sportsman - a rather good 1920s/30s building I would guess, with a "bullnose" facing the road. Actually, having said that, they were building pubs that look like this as late as the 60s, so I could be miles off. Anyway, as I negotiated the gaggle of smokers at the door I was surprised and pleased to spot a Cask Marque plaque. Only one real ale was available, and I had a spot on, and cheap, pint of Marston's EPA and sat down to examine my surroundings. The interior consists of two large open pleasantly decorated rooms, with windows all round making it very light. Food is under the My Local Pub brand, which I haven't met before, and it looks like good value standard pub fare. They were selling a decent quantity of it, anyway. Incidentally, the pub's web site calls it The Sportsman's Arms, but the large signs on the exterior of the building definitely say Sportsman.

Further research on arriving home shows that mylocalpub.com is one of the Stonegate brands, which also include Slug and Lettuce, Yates's, Scream, Classic Inns and so on.

I continued my beer-fuelled excursion in the direction of Tranmere Rovers' ground, and the Prenton Park pub located at the corner of the ground. Annoyingly I failed to spot the new-fangled Bombardier hand pump and so had another Guinness. This is a pleasantly styled large open pub with two rooms round an L-shaped counter. The upholstery is a bit mauve for my taste, but it's comfy all the same. The place was very quiet on a Friday afternoon, with only a couple of other customers.

Time to head for home, but not without some further research as my walk back to the station included spotting one pub I wasn't previously aware of, and finding another to be boarded up. An excellent day's results, four pubs never before visited taking my score to 1,124, and one new pub discovered taking the total to 1,758.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Down Market in Kirkby

The rain had stopped by 11:30 this morning so I headed out for a bus to Kirkby. (We've got no trains at Huyton this weekend, for electrification works.) The bus ride earned me an unexpected bonus when I spotted a brand new pub, the Copper Pot, on the East Lancs Road at the top of Knowsley Village. Pub number 1,756 in the guide, one to visit next time I'm in the area.

Arriving at Kirkby I started in the Wetherspoon's Gold Balance where I enjoyed a pint of Cotleigh's Barn Owl - very nice - in the usual Wetherspoon's surroundings. The toilets here are well overdue for refurbishment.


The weather was now bright sunshine as I headed down market and away from the centre into the vast council estates that make up this town, aiming for unexplored territory - The three pubs on Whitefield Drive. First came the Johnny Todd. I crunched through the broken glass on the pavement and entered a plain well cared for open interior with grubby wood panelling on the bar front. No sign of anyone behind the bar, until one of the locals shouted on my behalf. No chance of any real ale, of course, so I had a pint of Carling. The place was pretty empty, with just a few regulars sat at the bar chatting. Something you don't see very often nowadays, the pub has an off-licence attached.

By the way, Johnny Todd is an old sea shanty, an arrangement of which was used as the theme tune for Z-Cars, some of which was filmed in Kirkby. It is also the signature tune of Everton Football Club.


The next pub on this road is the Fantail. Another standard council estate pub looking a little tatty inside and out. It retains the traditional two room bar and lounge layout and as always I arrived in the empty half. The only indoor connection between the two is via the gents, so I nipped through and ordered another Carling. The "busy" side of the pub had about half a dozen customers in, watching two different racing channels on the TVs and popping out to put a bet on every now and then. The heating was apparently out of action, so I kept my coat on. Leaving by the other door, I discovered another thing you don't see very often now - the pub has a bookie's built in.

The final pub of the day was the Mariners, a third example of the council estate boozer, but this one's a bit nicer - definitely the best of the three, with a spotless well maintained comfortable interior which has been knocked through into one room. I had a pint of Guinness for a change, and the pub filled up with footie fans while I settled down to watch the build up to the Everton match on the large screen, courtesy of Al Jazeera! I headed for home once Everton were two nil up.

Three pubs never visited before, taking the total to 1,120, plus one new one discovered, is an excellent score for a day out, and it's nice to see that the down market end of the business alive and well.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Prescot

I braved the chilly weather this afternoon and headed out for a survey of a few pubs in Prescot, starting with the Grapes up on St Helens Road. This old-looking building with a pleasant interior with some dark wood panelling doesn't seem to have changed at all since I last visited, some fourteen years ago. I nearly missed the two hand pumps which were hidden round the corner, but found them just in time and had a good pint of Bombardier. The place was completely deserted when I arrived, but there was a gradual trickle of customers arriving as I drank my beer. Most seemed to have come for the food - "Fayre and Square" is a new one on me, but the menu looks the same as all the other pub food chains.


Next, a short walk to the Wellington, another pub which doesn't seem to have changed since I was last there, in 1998. Once again I found two hand pumps, and I had a spot on pint of Sharp's Doom Bar. Everyone was watching the "sport" on the telly, which seemed to involve a some spoiled brats throwing tantrums because one of them had refused to shake another's hand. I think there was probably some football involved as well, but the half time analysis was all about the non-handshake so perhaps I'm mistaken.

In to Prescot centre next, for a visit to the new Wetherspoon's Watch Maker. Here I enjoyed a good pint of something I've now forgotten in comfortable modern surroundings. That's a first visit for me, number 1,117.

The Deanes House is an enormous house converted into a multi-room pub. I was pleased to discover they've gained real ale - at least to some degree - the Brains IPA was unavailable so I had Brains Dark which was excellent. The place had suddenly emptied because of the end of the match, and I sat down to watch more replays, comments and interviews about shaking hands on the big screen.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The Book Updated


An updated edition of the Merseyside Pub Guide book went on sale today.

Its 225 pages are packed with information about no less than 1,756 pubs.

You can buy a copy direct from the printers for just seven quid plus postage and packing - A bargain indeed!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Contrast In Town

Time to donate blood again, so in between some non beer related visits I did a couple of pubs, starting with the wonderful Ship & Mitre on Dale Street. There isn't really much to say about this place, it just carries on supplying a superb range of real ales and imported beers, as always - Long may they continue. By the way, the casks for the next beer festival were on stillage, so a visit on 12th to 15th January would be even more worthwhile than usual. Not so far mentioned anywhere in my pub guide is their new bottled beer shop on Whitechapel, called the Ship in a Bottle, which opened in December.

My next port of call was a complete contrast. There's no real ale at all in the Liverpool on James Street, and it was pretty quiet on a wet Tuesday afternoon in January, as you might expect. Not much change to this friendly cheerful boozer since my last visit, in 2004 - Pleasantly decorated, with lots of pictures of the various HMS Liverpools on the walls.