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.