Thursday, 16 November 2017

An Omission In Town

The building on the corner of Victoria Street and Stanley Street has been Molly Malones since 2014 but somehow despite walking past it on a regular basis I've never put it in my database, let alone visited.
I corrected the omission today, and found a pleasant pseudo-Irish pub, very quiet at 1pm on a Thursday.  Obviously I had a Guinness, and by the time I'd finished it the handful of workmen in for their lunch break had gone and there were only three other customers.
There seems to have been a gradual increase in the number of "Irish" pubs in Liverpool in recent years, and I often wonder what real Irish people think of them, as they're not much like a true Irish pub in my opinion.  (Pogue Mahone is an honourable exception.)

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Busy Pubs on Breck Road

A train and then the frequent 14 bus quickly took me to Breck Road, and the large 70s building that is the Brunel:
For a moment it looked closed at half past three on a Tuesday, but one door was open and through the window I could see fruit-machine lights flashing.
Inside I found an enormous U-shaped room wrapped round the two-sided servery.  Most was in darkness with just the smaller side near the entrance lit.  This was plenty of room for me and the sole other customer.  Surprisingly there were two handpumps on the bar offering Wainwright and Doom Bar but I guessed they were not in use and plumped for a lager.  Racing on the telly was presumably for the other drinker and/or the barman.  The decor was plain standard boozer, well maintained, clean and tidy.

Just a short step down the road to the Royal.  It was already too dark for a picture, so here's one from 2004.  I'm pleased to report that it has a more tasteful colour scheme now:
Another plain clean and tidy interior in this two sided pub.  As to the clientele, in marked contrast to the Brunel, the place was quite busy.  Plenty of blokes watching the racing, plus some other regulars, of both sexes, enjoying noisy chit-chat.
The background sound changed from music to racing commentary to silence and back again, but the main noise was chit-chat and laughter punctuated by the occasional clack of pool balls from the other bar.  A proper lively local, buzzing at four o'clock, and it's only Tuesday!

Next, the Lutine Bell, once again the picture is from 2004:
Another plain down market place; one clean and tidy L-shaped room, dimly lit and gloomy despite the mustard yellow walls (except in the LFC corner), but like the last place it was lively with excited chatter from the regulars.  I could have sworn some of them were the same people as in the Royal, but perhaps not.  No racing here, in fact all the tellies were off with just the Kinks playing on the jukebox in the background, interrupted occasionally by left-overs from the 5th of November exploding in the street outside.  (For the derivation of the pub's name, see the guide netry linked to above.)

Finally, a few more steps along Breck Road to the Windermere.  Perhaps the most down market of today's pubs, but still perfectly clean and tidy; the days of the true shit-hole have long gone, thank goodness.  (e.g. the unlamented Brewers Arms, Croxteth, which was really horrible.)
One room, with bench seats along the wall - And a fella asleep in the corner with a pint of Guinness in front of him, when that happens to me I'll know it's time to give up researching the guide.  Shortly after I typed that, he woke up, took a swig, and went back to sleep!
The handful of regulars kept the chat going, there were Sky News and The Chase on large TVs, not much point without sound or subtitles.  If watching a quiz with no sound wasn't confusing enough they've got one of those backwards clocks by the bar, and that really messes with the inebriated mind.

It's not impossible to photograph a pub in the dark, and on departure I propped my camera against the bus shelter while waiting for the bus home:


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Back To Square One for Free Beer!

The genesis of The Merseyside Pub Guide was an occasion in June 1998 when I and a group of friends decided to go "somewhere different" for our Friday night out, and selected West Derby Village where we enjoyed good beer in good pubs, and I started recording details of the places we drank in.  Today I headed back to where it all started almost twenty years ago.

It seems to happen fairly often on this blog that I contradict what I wrote last time so, having said last week that I have to start mid afternoon because of limited opening hours, today I reached the Halton Castle at noon:
A splendid little three-room place, sympathetically modernised retaining various old features. The barmaid, smoking outside, spotted me taking a photo and eyed me with suspicion as I approached, but soon served me a spot on pint of Greene King IPA. There was no-one else in the place, so she returned to her cigarette and left me in the comfortable bright surroundings of the "private bar" which has a tiny serving counter.
No other customers came in while I was there, so I left the pub empty.

A short walk down the road to the impressive bulk of the Sefton Arms:
Inside, it has been modernised out of all recognition since I was last here, the modern pastel shades making it look almost like an Ember Inn.  In stark contrast to the Halton it was quite busy with lots of diners at half twelve.  This is a member of one of Greene King's chains. They seem to have a number of different brands, this is the one with black menus labelled "Time well spent".
The handpumps on the bar were offering a few of GK's standards, plus a guest, but most were not actually available so I had another pint of their IPA, once again in excellent nick but a very short measure.  There was the contented hubub of diners in the background, almost drowning out the gentle background music, as I enjoyed my drink.
My records from 2003 refer to a noisy main room with a young clientele, and a "totally separate" pub round the side, much quieter.  I thought this had been refurbished away, but on my search for the gents I discovered a door through which I could see the side room and bar, looking operational but not in use at the time of my visit.

Round the corner to the Hare and Hounds:
Another one with particularly pleasant contemporary decor inside but without food there were fewer customers than in the Sefton, although it was ticking over gently.  The only handpump with a clip offered Hobgoblin, the barmaid had some trouble pouring it, and rather than wait ages for it to settle, gave me an extra glass, so after grumbling about the short measure in the Sefton, I got well over a pint here, and there was more to come!  As I sat drinking my pint-and-a-bit and typing the above, the landlord or cellarman (or both) appeared. "Are you on the cask?" he asked. "I've just put Bombardier on, have a free pint".  Never one to miss free ale, I accepted the pint, which somewhat extended my stay here.
There's a little bit of the conspiracy theorist in me, so I wondered if the Halton Castle had phoned up their mates to say there's a bloke photographing pubs and writing things on his tablet, it might be worth buttering him up in case it's a pub guide. If so, then I have broken my rule about never accepting free drinks.
Anyway, whether this was attempted bribery or not, the Hobgoblin was OK, perhaps towards the end of the barrel, and the Bombardier was perfect. All in all a pleasant boozer, the barmaid was chatting to the regulars, there was racing on the tellies but quiet enough to be unobtrusive, it was just generally comfortable.
I must say I thought the "Seven deadly gins" promotion was rather witty, an obvious pun now I've seen it but it'd never occurred to me before. On the gantry above the bar were various gin bottles with labels like envy and greed attached.

It's up to you to decide whether free ale has biased my report. Why not go in and say "Merseypub got a free pint, where's mine?", and see how far you get! On reflection, I'd rather you didn't, although it wouldn't be as bad as the lying bastard who's going round charging gullible staff £75 to put their pub in my guide.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Further Afield

All this is well outside my "target area" but still worthy of a blog entry, I hope.

I travelled by train, tram, and train right across the Manchester conurbation and on to the pleasant Derbyshire mill town of Glossop. There are loads of pubs here to visit, including some up a long hill. I recall visiting one of these a few years ago where the landlord advised that if the forecast snow arrived I wouldn't be able to get home! (It didn't and I did.)

Having completed my non-pub-related reason for being here, I moved on to pub research: My first target, GBG entry and architectural gem the Crown, is supposed to open at twelve on a Friday, but at 12:05 it wasn't, so I crossed the road to the less exciting Surrey Arms for a pint of the black stuff. This was from a can via the "surger" gizmo I wrote about a few weeks ago, but this time the barmaid warned me in advance.
There was only one other customer in the pleasant well cared for knocked through interior, although the moment I typed that two more came in.  I must say the jukebox was doing well - Smiths, Stone Roses and then the Eagles.

On leaving the Surrey, I could see the Crown was now open, so I was able to enjoy its historic interior, not to mention a pint of Sam Smith's OBB for only two quid. Not my favourite ale but it was in perfect nick, and infinitely superior to the Guinness I had over the road.

It's good to see that a pub apparently providing only one real ale can get in the Good Beer Guide, sometimes I get the feeling that it's "never mind the quality, feel the width" at CAMRA.

I adjourned to one of the front rooms, sitting alone in a small lounge with comfy bench seats round all four walls. The real fire wasn't lit but it was laid ready for use. Just a few regulars at the bar, chatting to the landlord, making a quiet background noise - There was no music, which seemed appropriate in these surroundings.

Next, on to somewhere with more reliable hours; Wetherspoon's Smithy Fold. This is in the bottom of an enormous former mill, the rest of which is a Travelodge. Quirky industrial-style decor greeted me, and at half one on a Friday it was unsurprisingly pretty busy. I managed to find a table to enjoy a great beer from the Howard Town brewery, just half a mile from the pub - How's that for locale! Despite the "15-20 minutes" warning, my wrap arrived very quickly.
The custom eased off a little as I enjoyed my food and drink but it was still busy when I left.

Why get a train all the way to Manchester and out again when I can cut straight across? No reason at all, so my next move was a bus to Stalyvegas. The bus ride was a splendid trip through places I've never been before, with wonderful views from my seat upstairs at the front.

Rarely, I managed to press the bell at exactly the right time on an unfamiliar bus route, and the bus stopped outside the station right under the railway bridge. Here, there was a slight hitch, the driver pressed the button, the door creaked and wheezed, but it didn't open. He pressed close and open a few times, with no effect. Was I going to be trapped? Eventually I gave a little tug on the emergency handle on the door, and it sprang into life and opened. I jumped off quickly and as I entered the station, the bus was still at the stop. I've no idea if it managed to carry on in service.

As you've probably guessed by now, my destination was the wonderful Buffet Bar. I've been coming here since December 1980, including for a reunion with university friends in early December each year, but that's no excuse for not visiting at other times, so if I'm in Manchester with a suitable train ticket I always try to come here.

When I arrived it was a lot quieter than it is for our reunion on a Friday evening, but still ticking over nicely, with a wide array of real ales on. I chose another from the same brewery in Glossop, and settled down in one of the side rooms - If I recall correctly this wasn't part of the pub when I first came here, there was just the main room and the conservatory. And you had to walk down the platform and use the railway's gents, there wasn't one in the pub. Ah, memories; on one occasion, after a couple of pints I headed out to the gents to find an inch of fresh snow on the platform.

Time to go, two trains took me home.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Mossley Hill

Two trains carried me to Mossley Hill station, from where it was a short walk to Pi:
A shop conversion, this, with two shops joined together.  The decor inside is the standard micro-pub plain walls covered in breweriana.  With a stone floor this made for a somewhat echoey ambiance, although there wasn't much noise to echo as I was the only customer.  I was a little concerned about this place as during my internet research yesterday I happened upon some very negative trip advisor reviews saying it had gone downhill recently; and also it seems to have a food hygiene rating of 1.  All I can say is that the friendly helpful barman served me an excellent pint of Dark Star's Partridge, and even gave me some complimentary peanuts. (Before you say "yuk", this wasn't the bowl on the bar that's had everyones fingers in, which seemed to be very common in America when I was there. These were scooped into a container for me.) No-one came in while I enjoyed my ale. They've been here since 2011 so my first visit is just a little late, let's hope they are busier at other times.

A short step back past the station brought me to the Rose of Mossley:
I first came here in 1997, I think, when it was just called the Rose.  A large free-standing pub dating from I'm not sure when (1930s perhaps?), the inside, originally with many rooms, has been opened up but keeping some separation between areas.  It still retains some original-looking woodwork and ceiling plasterwork, altogether a pleasant, comfortable interior.  Nowadays it's in the Greene King stable, and aiming at diners. The two handpumps were offering Abbot and Old Spooky Hen which tasted like the Speckled version. Ticking over gently at four on a Thursday, in the area where I sat the majority of customers were eating. A gentle hum of background conversation was drowning out the very quiet muzak as I drank my ale and typed my report.

Next, down some classic suburban streets to the Storrsdale:
My comments back in 2009 described this as a beautifully looked after preserved 50s or 30s pub, and nothing has changed.  Wonderfully, there's a little parade of shops across the road in the same style, and the brickwork in both suggests to me it's 1930s rather than 50s. Comments from those who know more than I do about pub architecture (That is, pretty much everyone.) would be welcome.

As usual, I went in by the wrong door, entering the well kept but totally empty lounge.  I headed through the connecting door to join the handful of regulars in the bar side. The handpumps offered various ales, including a number from Hobson, the one I had was spot on although I noticed everyone else was on lager. Everyone watched Tipping Point on the telly, and then The Chase.

I can't say enough about this wonderful architectural gem. It has clearly been refurbished and altered during its life, but so many original features remain, making it a personal favourite. Quality real ales are just the icing on the cake.

Finally, a stroll to the never before visited Greenhills.  No picture, as it was dark by now. This will become a regular theme for the next few months, unfortunately my old arrangement of starting a research trip before noon has been stymied by the now common restricted opening hours - Today it was the Storrsdale, which opened at 3pm (Or 4 if you use a different web site)

I'm not sure why this place has heretofore been missing from my researches, I think it's one of those locations that slips through the cracks between areas. [I've always wanted to use "heretofore" in a blog entry!]

Mainly aimed at diners, the large building has a pleasant comfortable drinkers' area at one side. I would have thought they could put a few food menus in here to tempt us but apparently not, so I can't comment on the menu, but anyway the ale was good - They offered Bombardier and Doom Bar, I had the former. [Aha! - I get to use former/latter as well.]

There was a regular flow of customers, both drinkers and diners, so I think they're doing well. It seemed to me that there were more drinkers than diners.

Finally, a fairly short walk to West Allerton station, which I don't think I've ever used before, got me on the journey home.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Even Newer Penny Farthing

I was rejected by the blood donors today due to dental work, so somewhat cheesed off I headed for a pub I noticed the other day had reopened.

The New Penny Farthing closed in 2016 and to be honest I assumed it was to be demolished, but I was wrong:  Instead, walking past once a week, I saw the exterior cladding of the 60s construction removed and then gradually replaced by new glazing, until finally it opened as the Courtyard.  ‎The inside ‎has been totally gutted to create a bare brick and concrete decor to which has been added contemporary fixtures and furniture.

I was somewhat startled to find three handpumps serving beers from Liverpool Organic and the one I tried was spot on.  They seem to be aiming at the cocktail crowd but at noon on a Friday I was perhaps unsurprisingly the only customer. The menu consists of light bar snacks and platters.

What a contrast to the New Penny Farthing, which I recall as a rough-and-ready boozer with cheap beer and free butties.

The barman, with no-one to serve, was sorting out behind the bar, I noticed he'd got a whole box of lemons and another of limes. I wonder how long it'll take to use them all up?  He sliced a couple of each for now, throwing away yesterday's leftover slices.

There's another bar upstairs which I didn't visit, and a pleasant looking patio area at the side.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Liscard

The journey to Liscard seemed to take for ever (Little did I know...), with a very slow train and then a bus under the river but eventually I arrived at the town from where it was a short walk past umpteen pubs - To be visited later today or on a subsequent trip - to the Primrose:
This is something of a gem from the architectural point of view, inside and out.  The pub weas re-built in the early 1920s and is well preserved.  Excellent ceiling plasterwork, dark wood panelling, leaded glass, and an impressive fireplace are all original, and only slightly spoiled by Hallowe'en decorations. The fire wasn't lit but it looks like it is used sometimes.

No ale, so I sat down with a Guinness to admire the decor. It was quite quiet at four on a Thursday, but gently ticking over with a number of regulars leaning on the bar and laughing and joking with the friendly barmaid.

Time to retrace my steps back towards Liscard in the strengthening drizzle, pausing first at the Saddle Inn:
Not an architectural gem but nonetheless nice-looking inside and out. The sign outside says hand pulled cask ale but there didn't seem to be any so it was Guinness again. Just a few locals chatting while I watched Tipping Point on the telly (And typed this.) A real stove in the fireplace added to the pleasant feel of the interior, which features fake beams. Every beam carries a different drink-related quotation. I think most of them are already in my list for the quote of the day on the main website's home page.
Irritatingly, as I swigged my pint, a bloke who had been sitting at the bar disappeared and after a few minutes added a pump clip to the solitary handpump.

Like the last one, this place was spotless and well cared for inside.
The "restaurant rooms at the rear" which I described back in 2004 didn't seem to be in use while I was there, the lights were off although the way in wasn't blocked.

Next, the Royal Oak, never before visited:
It's hard to describe the interior here, one large room with very pleasant traditional-ish decoration. I wonder if anything is original (Assuming the building has always been a pub.) Perhaps the matchboarding or the ceiling plasterwork? I'm pretty sure the imposing stone and brick fireplace complete with pillars, is modern, anyway.
Custom consisted of a handful of regulars sitting at the bar watching racing on the TV, while I took my Guinness to a comfortable quiet corner at the front of the pub.  Quiet until the local youths decided it would be amusing to tap on the window, anyway.  They soon got bored when I ignored them.

Finally, time to head for the real reason I'm here in Liscard, another Good Beer Guide entry I've never visited, the Lazy Landlord.  Sorry, no photo, it was dark by now.  A well above average micro-pub in my opinion, 5 handpumps, plenty of space and seats, and no dogs!  The walls featured a fine display of breweriana including a collection of illuminated keg fonts.  The custom consisted of a few regulars chatting (Mainly about real ale pubs in the Isle of Man), and me hiding in the back enjoying a perfect pint of Windermere Pale (One of my favourites.) while being warmed by the "fake" stove.

Time to go home, leaving umpteen Liscard pubs for the next time. At this point I made a schoolboy error and jumped on the first bus with Liverpool on the front, which proceeded to take me on a convoluted route in the opposite direction. When it eventually reached Leasowe, still going away from Liverpool, I abandoned it and got a train back to civilisation instead.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

Towards Tuebrook

A fairly short bus ride took me in the direction of Tuebrook, and I jumped off when we reached Queens Drive, to visit the Jolly Miller.  Here it is in 2003:
and now:
This looks like it was once an impressive inter-war roadhouse and my notes from the last millennium enthuse about the art deco inside, but most of the history has been erased, inside and out, except for a few remaining bits of carved woodwork, especially the toilet doors, in the knocked through interior.

The three handpumps were offering Old Speckled Hen (Coming soon), Old Spooky Hen (Coming soon - I'm not sure if this is a Hallowe'en joke or a real beer.), and Greene King IPA, which was of good quality.  Unusually, I couldn't see any keg bitter.

A standard member of the Flaming Grill chain with a good value range of standard pub food, and at 3pm on a Friday it was ticking over, mainly with diners, and gradually getting busier as I enjoyed my pint.

I remember visiting here on a hot day many years ago to be told there was no draught beer at all because the chiller had broken. The barman said you can have some warm Pedigree if you want - I can't remember if he charged us for it. It hadn't had time to go sour or anything, but it wasn't very enjoyable - an interesting experiment though.

Just across the road (actually it involved three separate pedestrian crossings to get over the eternally busy Queens Drive.) is what I know as the Stag and Rainbow:
Almost all the signs now say Beefeater, but the old name remains over the front door.  It almost looked closed from the outside, but pushing open the door revealed the gentle murmur of chatting diners.

The decor is pleasant contemporary; no history here, I guess it was built in the 1970s or 80s.  Just two handpumps, one blank and the other with a London Pride clip turned round, so I had to make do with a Guinness.  Everyone else was there for the food, I think.

I could have walked but I lazily took a bus into Tuebrook itself, and the Flat House.  Not much difference between the 2003 and present time pictures:

What a contrast from the previous two pubs:  Loud chatter, shouting and laughter, and two cheerful friendly barmaids rushing up and down each serving two people at once to keep everyone in drink.  Exactly the same as last time I was here years ago, apart from the lack of smoke.

Someone left just as I was served, so I got a seat.  There was a steady stream of ins and outs, most of whom knew each other, it was just like boozers used to be!

A loud cry of "Anyone want any stuff?" and suddenly quite a trade in tins of salmon, chocolate biscuits etc was going on behind me.

I'm always concerned by a "For Sale" sign on a pub, let's hope this place continues.

By the way, if you're not familiar with the term flat house - I'd never heard it until I came to Liverpool - it means exactly what it says, an ale house with a flat frontage in a straight terrace, as opposed to the more common "corner house".

A little further along West Derby Road, the Victoria has long been converted into a shop.

I continued down the road, past at least eight fast-food emporia to a corner house, the Park.  I didn't take a picture this time, but here it is in 2003:
It must have been altered since my last report which referred to a lounge side, as it now seems to be all one room.  Not quite as lively as the Flat House, but still busy with noisy locals, and I had to hide in the back corner to find a seat.  The slightly manic, over the top, friendly barman gave me someone else's Guinness to save waiting for mine to settle.

I was particularly amused by the cable-tv cable which enters the premises through an antique extractor fan.  Saves drilling a hole, I suppose, as long as no-one turns on the fan!

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Birkenhead

Not a research trip, just some drinks with friends in a few pubs.  We started with lunch in Wetherspoon's Brass Balance.  Since the closure of the other 'Spoons in Birkenhead (Some dispute over a rent increase, I'm told) this one is even busier, and at 1pm on a Wednesday it seemed to full of babies.  We bagged the last free table.  Despite being busy, service was prompt.




Next, round the corner to the Lion:  Back in May I was surprised to find four handpumps in operation here, all with beers from Purple Moose.  This time I was disappointed and perhaps less surprised to find no real ales.  There was also no-where to sit as a big chunk of the front area has been taken up by a pool table, so we headed on.







We passed the long closed Crown and Cushion, and Copperfield:
 
The next destination was the Swinging Arm:
The Hobgoblin ran out but the one pint left was OK, so no problems with turnover here.  The rest of us had Hobgoblin Gold instead.  The quirky decor is great fun, in this rather odd pub.  It was very quiet on a Wednesday afternoon, although we weren't quite the only customers.

On to Gallaghers:
This place has lost its claim to fame because it no longer does haircuts, but the ale continues to be excellent, so I'm happy.  It was good to hear Poly Styrene on the background music, as I enjoyed a fine pint of something hoppy.  Oh yes, it was Salopian Oracle.

Next we passed by the Bierhaus:
I suppose I'll have to survey this place sometime, but I can't say it's high on my list of priorities!  We carried on to the wonderful Stork:
The superb interior and quality ales never change in this favourite of mine, well deserving of its entry in CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.

Finally, having exhausted our list of real ale pubs in Birkenhead, we returned to the Brass Balance for a couple of my favourite Titanic Plum Porter before getting the train home.

Thursday's research trip is postponed due to a bus strike.

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 fount 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.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Back In Time on Townsend Lane

I started this research trip at the Farmers Arms in Clubmoor:
A bit of a gem, this one.  Built for Bent's Brewery in 1925 and extended and remodelled in 1930, the exterior is pretty much unchanged since then, and people more knowledgeable than I describe it as a striking Neo-Georgian design.

Inside many original features remain although the layout has been altered.  I especially like the archway linking two rooms on the lounge side which is typical of the work of the architects, Harold E Davies and Son, and similar ones were found the Gardeners' Arms in Broad Green by the same architects.

Back in the 21st century, the pub was ticking over nicely at 4pm on a Tuesday, with most of the customers known to the bar staff.  Umpteen televisions were showing two different racing channels and a music channel.  No real ale, so I had a pint of the black stuff.

Moving along Townsend Lane, the next pub is the Clubmoor:
Another product of the same architects, built in about 1932, this one has a rather plainer exterior.  Inside on the lounge side I found a wood-panelled room with two further side rooms off it.  To my untrained eye much of the interior decor, wood panelling, decorative ceramic panels, fluted lampshades and ceiling plasterwork could be original.

Only myself and one other customer occupied the lounge, which had a distinctly un-cared for and tatty appearance, a new carpet and some re-upholstering of the seats is long overdue - Not to mention a few replacement lightbulbs.

Last time I was here, in 2002, I had a fine pint of Cains, but there's no real ale now so another pint of Guinness had to suffice while I enjoyed such classics as "Save Your Kisses For Me" on the speakers, just about managing to drown out the squawking baby in the other bar.

Just across the road, the Edinburgh Park Dockers Club, which was a classic working men's club with a small bar and a giant function room when I visited in 2002, stands derelict in a fenced off demolition site.

Next along the road is the Canon, a plain traditional corner house with two bars plus a back room.  The inside is well looked after and tidy, and all that's needed to take me back to my previous visit in 2002 (or probably to 1970!) would be the thick fug of cigarette smoke.  It would probably have been a lot busier back then, as well, but it was doing OK in 2017 with a hubbub of chit-chat all round the pub. 

No real ale, of course, so the gorgeous and cheerful barmaid provided another Guinness.  One of the regulars, seeing me taking notes, commented "You're writing for England".  Goodness knows what he would have said if I'd been using my tablet to record my notes, as I sometimes do.  He went on to say that it was very quiet in here and twenty years ago they would have been three deep at the bar - Had he read my mind?

Final port of call, a little further along, was the Elm House:
Only one half of this formerly two-sided pub was in operation, a few regulars and I spread out in the spotless front room.  Like the Canon, it was ticking over but would have been much busier and much smokier years ago.

Smooth Radio is not my idea of background music, the adverts, competitions and London travel news seem to take longer than the actual music.  After some difficulty with the remote control while trying to get racing on a different TV, we got Radio 1 instead.

My pal from the Canon came in and gave me a smile of recognition as I swigged a pint of Carling for a change.

So, four pubs ticked off, and it's pleasing to see traditional local boozers are still surviving.  In many areas this sort of pub has died out.  I'll have to head back here before too long, there's plenty more pubs to go at and I want to see if the splendid ballroom still survives at the Willow Bank.