Monday, 31 December 2018

End Of Year Stats

Merseyside pubs listed:  1,849 of which 1,075 are believed to be open.
Merseyside pubs visited in 2018: 367
Merseyside pubs visited, all time: 1,297
Targets (Open pubs not visited in the last five years): 526

It's sixteen months since I restarted weekly research trips, and I have to confess that I have been going for the "low hanging fruit", and in the coming year it will be harder to find clusters of targets I can easily hit with just a few miles of walking.  So there may be more trips with only two or three pubs ticked, or trips that visit two different areas.  Or in extreme cases perhaps I'll have to start using taxis between pubs.

The next milestone, I think, will be 1,300 pubs visited, which should come fairly soon.

Happy New Year!


Saturday, 15 December 2018

A Pub A Day Helps You Work Rest and Play

Time to give in and tick the contentious Connoisseur Brewery.  After all, my moan is with St Helens CAMRA, not the brewery itself.  And I've had good reports so ignoring it would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

So, on a bitterly cold and wet Saturday morning I got one of the few trains running, and soon walked to the mysterious location, marked only by a tiny sign which says 1st Saturday of the month.

I walked down the ramp just as the gate was being opened, so I knew where to go.  There were no more signs, apparently it was too windy for the banner:
I was first in, and some pulling through was required before I could be served a gorgeous pint of "Bloody Mild".  I'm not a great mild drinker, as I find some of them a bit bland, but this was flavoursome and delicious.  I settled on a comfy sofa in the small room to enjoy it.

One more customer came in for a quick half, and chatted to the barman while I wrote this.  Later, another regular arrived.

Conversation is inevitable in a place like this, and I soon got some good pointers about where to go next, which out of the way pubs are still operating, and other local pub info.

Next, I took a bus for a short ride to the Windle:
Inside this inter-war (?) roadhouse I found something like a standard chain dining pub, except that it's still got a slightly plainer bar side as well.

Three handpumps but no clips, so I was on lager as usual, probably just as well as an average real ale would have been disappointing after the superb one I'd just had.

Oddly, there were none of the expected menus on each table, just at the bar.  Perhaps this isn't in a chain after all.  Either way, almost everyone in the lounge side was eating, and a delicious smell of fish and chips made me feel hungry.  But I must get on and do at least one more pub...

Now, a longish march (Well, it seemed long in this weather!) to the Abbey:
This rather fine multi-roomed partly knocked through pub has always been a provider of good beer, but my first glimpse of two handpumps without clips was a little worrying.  Luckily, the bloke being served stepped away and I saw the other three pumps had clips.  I ordered something from Bootleg from the friendly barman, and got an excellent pint and a buy six get one free card.  I was offered the choice of a non-dimpled mug or a sleeve.  I selected the Bootleg branded mug.

I was a little confused:  Why is this Holts house promoting Bootleg beers?  Google has the answer, Holts bought Bootleg a few years ago.

I settled down in a comfortable side room to enjoy my pint.  What a great pub this is, tastefully decorated, understated Christmas decorations, live football on at a sensible volume (Everton lost at Man City) and the main sound was happy chatter amongst the customers and staff.

At this point, I permitted myself a smug grin of satisfaction, as this was my 365th Merseyside pub visited in 2018.  One a day was a target I had felt was too high, but I've made it!  With various Christmas commitments keeping me busy this could be my last survey of the year, so when I realised how close to the magic number I was, I braved the weather instead of going home after Connoisseur - Or more likely staying at home all day.

Next, a mystery:  I've been to the Abbey a couple of times before, so why have I never tried the Gerard Arms across the road?  I've no idea, but it's time to rectify that omission now:
Another good pub, much busier than the Abbey, with loads of food being served.  It carries Greene King's "Time Well Spent" branding.  Real ale on the counter, I had Moorhouse's Witches Cauldron which was a fine bitter.

The sound in here was a loud hubub of chatter, with the clatter of crockery and cutlery in the background.  The music was mostly drowned out

Unusually, an enormous tent out the back contained a Christmas Market.  I had a quick look in, it wasn't doing very well with hardly anybody in there.

Despite the steady flow of people to and from the market letting in an icy blast, the place was comfortably warm.

I checked the train strike timetable and realised that if I hurried and if a bus back to St Helens turned up, I could just make a train home.  Everything went as I hoped and I was soon warming up in my house.

Pub of the day: Difficult.  Best beer was in the brewery, but it's NOT A PUB.  So the Abbey, for quality ale in comfortable peaceful surroundings.
Miles walked: 1.4
Maybe coming soon: Perhaps a Christmas break?  Although there is another milestone coming up.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Birkenhead

I started an excursion to Birkenhead on a very cold day with a bus ride under the river, aiming for the Richmond:
One room with a counter at the back in this plain boozer.  My order for a pint of lager resulted in three and a half going down the drain before I was served.

This struck a chord in my memory - Is this the place where I had vinegary Guinness after a number of pints had been thrown away, back in 2013?  Ah yes, so it is:  Oxton Road  At least today's lager tasted OK.

Most of the room was empty, with just a few regulars at the counter.  The decor is pleasant and plain, with Christmas decorations just right.  Apart from a torn seat cover on one of the benches along the walls, it had a well cared for appearance.

If anyone is following these trips on a map they may be wondering why I didn't come in here a few weeks ago when I started at the Windsor just four doors away.  To be honest, I'd slipped up and missed this one off my map!  Bad planning.

Annoyingly, despite looking so open that I actually rattled the door, the Warwick was shut again  (Last time's picture):

Not far to the next destination, the never before visited Cavendish:
This is quite a large place inside, clean and tidy.  There are a few steps up to the back and side rooms which were deserted, with the half a dozen regulars and me staying in the area by the counter.  I was nice and warm sitting by a radiator.

On to Seamus O'Donell's, another place I should have done last month, but again it was missing from my map:
This fairly modern building which used to be the Exmouth Arms, contains an above average "plastic paddy" pub where the usual Irish decor, Dublin street signs, Jameson mirror etc etc is not done to excess as it so often is.

Definitely the scariest tick for some time, two hefty vicious looking dogs barked at me as I approached the counter.  I resolved that if they showed signs of jumping over I was out of here, but they were clearly well trained and knew their border.

In honour of the pub's name I switched to Guinness.

This place reminded me of Flanagans in Waterloo, another Irish pub in an un-pub-like building.  No free corned beef hash, though, and it was freezing in here.

Next MacKenzie:
Now, this bar holds a special place in my Pub Guide because back in 2004 it was my thousandth Merseyside pub.  I had had grandiose ideas of organising a minibus for my friends to take us to some out of the way real ale haven for number one thousand, but I never actually got round to doing anything about it, so the milestone just came up unplanned in the middle of a survey of Birkenhead.  I think I can say with some confidence that there won't ever be a number two thousand!

Anyway, as it was back then, this pub remains a well cared for modern plastic boozer, and it was doing a good trade on a chilly Friday afternoon with a dozen or more regulars keeping the place going, resulting in the main sound being mixed chatter, with a Christmas music TV channel very much in the background.  It was a lot warmer in here than in Seamus's.

I headed to the North Western but I fear I'm too late, it was shut:

Next, the Blue Bell:
Tucked away on a side street, surely this must have closed by now, but no, here it is going strong.

Just one regular, me, and the landlady inside.  The excellent interior is partly knocked through but retains two halves around the three-sided counter.  It felt very warm after the bitter wind outside, but I still kept my coat on.

Once again in what seems to be a common theme today, the Christmas decorations were good and not excessive.  Mind you, my threshold of "excessive" moves as we get closer to the day, and also as I drink more!

Finally, Molly's Chambers - is that a Thin Lizzie reference?  Or Kings of Leon (says he, trying to sound a bit more up to date.)
A long time ago this was the Old Colonial, a (totally fake) antique-style pub belonging to Cains.  After closing it was offices for some years, until the people who run the Swinging Arm took it over.  Initially it was a music venue only open Fridays and Saturdays but more recently it has opened all week.

A total transformation from the Colonial, it's now a cellar bar very nicely done out.  Perhaps the upstairs is used as well?

More importantly, where is the gents?  I couldn't see any sign!

Having skipped the Trooper on the only handpump, I enjoyed a half of Shipyard for a change.

Initially I was the only customer, but then some girls came in, ordering gins and bottle(s) of wine.  All were wearing ID badges, I guess this was a work Christmas celebration.  You wouldn't think four women could fill a room with chatter, but they did!  Oh no - Three more turned up.  Further examination showed there was one bloke with the original group.  I'm not sure if being the only man in a Christmas party with eight girls is the ultimate nightmare or the ultimate fantasy!  I think one would need ear defenders, either way.

Time to go home and thaw out.

Miles walked: 2.5
Maybe coming soon:  Perhaps another St Helens Saturday.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Southport

When I'd completed the interminable train ride to Southport I was somewhat annoyed to discover I'd left my carefully prepared map at home, so I had to wing it.  Luckily, with so many pubs requiring my attention here there was no difficulty in finding some.

I commenced my guesswork survey at the Phoenix:
A Wetherspoon's sort of place, with a well looked after and comfortable interior.  The large open room was pretty empty, with just a few customers scattered around.  I selected White Witch from the choice of four real ales, and it was spot on.

I perused the menu, the food looks to be good value.

It was very quiet in here, the pleasant music in the background being the main sound, with just the occasional bit of chatter from customers and bar staff.

Next, the Cheshire Lines:
This little gem is, I was pleased to discover, unchanged since my last visit back in 2007.

A fine traditional interior, mostly knocked through except for the front room.  A number of customers, mostly dining, were keeping the barmaid busy, as she was also required to deliver food from the kitchen.

Only two of the four handpumps had clips, and the one I chose ran out half way, so I had a pint of the other one, which was rather good, I forget the brewery but it was called Skylark.

I noticed that neither here nor the Phoenix had any Christmas beers on, unusual at this time of year.  I tend to grumble about Christmas brews, they usually fall into two categories:  Some are just the brewery's normal ale, re-branded with a silly name.  Others are an ordinary ale with added cinnamon and other spices, and usually I don't like them.  However, yesterday I had a pint of Lees' Plum Pudding which went straight in to my all time top ten; it was wonderful.

Having typed all the above I paused to look around the small front room where I was sitting.  Why was part of the room filled with flowers?  They looked like they belonged to a funeral, bunches and a wreath all featuring white roses and lilies.  Have I inadvertently committed a major faux pas and butted in on a wake?  There didn't seem to be any people connected with them, and no-one was giving me any dirty looks so presumably not.  Phew!

The Falstaff was closed:
The sign says closed on Monday and Tuesday until January due to temporary licensing restrictions; I wonder what that's about?

Next a bonus, a bar I've never heard of.  My forgotten map wouldn't have helped with the Metro:
I think this is basically the bar in a hotel, but they are trying to get more custom by making it a public bar as well.

The beautifully decorated room had a slightly cold feel, because of the tiled floor I think, but it was actually the warmest tick so far, and for the first time today I took off my coat.

There was no-one in except me and the barmaid, and the main sound was a rather irritating selection of Christmas music, all poor cover versions.

Talking of Christmas music, thanks to Radio Caroline I recently heard for the first time The Prog World Orchestra's Frankincense which is a Christmas mash-up of the greatest prog-rock track ever, Frankenstein by the Edgar Winter Group.  I haven't laughed so much for ages, so a copy of the CD is on its way from America courtesy of Amazon.

As I typed the above some more customers came in, so the place wasn't completely dead.

I headed on and my next call was to be the Volunteer, but I discovered it's now called the Sporting Jester:
Well I never!  The place has been completely transformed, with a new modern-style interior.  It got a mention in this blog back in 2011 when it appeared in the Good Beer Guide and I had to visit.  Back then it was plain inside and sold Wainwright.

They've still got a Wainwright pump but I didn't want to risk it so I stuck to lager, as did all the other customers.

There were about a dozen people in here, and chatter was drowning out the racing commentary.

Just down the road, the Old Ship Inn is closed:

So, on to the Wellington:
Now this is a proper traditional boozer with plenty of people in on a Tuesday afternoon filling the large knocked through room with happy chit-chat.  No real ale, so it was lager for me again.

I sat in what I thought was a quiet corner, but found myself in the middle of a discussion which ranged from Everton/Liverpool to Catholic/Protestant!  I wisely kept my own counsel and soon the participants left and it got quiet.

I decided to finish my Southport excursion at the Scarisbrick Hotel:
This place has a couple of bars inside.  I aimed for Maloney's (Not ticked since 1998) but it wasn't open.  Next I checked out the Scarisbrick Lounge, not listed in my guide.  This turned out to be a hotel lounge with a hatch for service from the Baron's Bar, so I decided it didn't really count as a separate pub and I nipped round to the Barons itself for some Tetley from their choice of umpteen real ales.

I looked round.  It didn't seem as "baronial" as I remember, but I think that might be inaccuracy in my recollection.  It's still very good, anyway.

Plenty of customers kept the barman busy, most of them were drinking the real ale which is this place's unique selling point I guess.

Again, I noticed a lack of Christmas beers, perhaps breweries don't bother as much as they used to?

Pub of the day: Cheshire Lines Inn
Miles walked: Only 1.6
Maybe coming soon: Er... I don't know yet.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Tranmere and Birkenhead

A bus to Tranmere dropped me outside the Prenton Park:
Not much has changed inside this impressive brewers' Tudor building since my last visit six years ago, except they've recovered the seats, getting rid of the mauve upholstery I grumbled about then.  There was one customer in the lounge side and one in the bar, and no sign of the barmaid, who was dealing with a delivery of some sort.

In due course she reappeared and served me a lager, and I settled down in a corner on a comfortable bench seat to write this.

The music was turned so low I couldn't identify the tune, so the only sounds were a quiet conversation between a regular and the barmaid, and the beeping of the pedestrian crossing outside.

The decor in the bar side was plain and well maintained, with the right amount of Christmas decorations.

Next, a short walk (Why are all the roads in this part of the world uphill?) took me to the splendid 50s or 60s building that is the Sportsman's Arms:
My notes from 2012 - nicely done, concentrating on good value food, cheap real ale - are all still applicable, and in marked contrast to the Prenton Park, this pub was doing a roaring trade at one on a Tuesday, with only a few tables free.

Only one real ale was available, Wainwright, and it was spot on and only cost £1.95 - A special deal on a Tuesday, the friendly landlady advised me, and I also got a buy six get one free loyalty card.

Quiet music mixed with gentle chatter and the occasional click of cutlery on plate.  Again, Christmas decorations were not overdone.

I think everyone except me was dining, this pub is obviously doing something very right to be this busy on a Tuesday.

A large family were enjoying a meal out at the next table, the little-uns bored but well behaved.

Next, I passed the Black Horse which my pre-flight checks this morning had shown to be closed:
Builders were on site so we can hope it might re-open as a pub.

On to the Beehive:
Much emptier than the Sportsmans, with just me and one family group with little ones running around in the lounge side, which is nicely decorated and well cared for and the seasonal decorations are tasteful.

Well, that's it for Tranmere, all the pubs I know about have been visited this year.  So, I caught a bus back to Birkenhead where I headed for the Fireman's Arms:
Inside this free-standing building (Probably the surrounding buildings have all been knocked down?) is a plain pub knocked through into one room.  To be honest it was a little on the untidy side, with disco/karaoke gear at one end hidden by a tarpaulin and a heap of bin bags and boxes full of Christmas decorations - I guess - waiting to be put up, but everywhere was clean.

Quite a few people were in, all seeming to know each other, and the main sound was multiple conversations.

I wonder why there's a picture on the wall of Gallaghers, are they advertising the competition?  Or perhaps they're connected in some way?

Next, I headed down Argyle Street.  What's this?  It looks like a pub but it hasn't got a name:
I entered the doors to find a rather well done shop conversion.  The decor is interesting, and features corrugated iron on some walls, and the counter front.

As usual everyone seems to know everyone else, except for the solitary pub ticker in a quiet corner.

Suddenly, all the customers except me and one other disappeared.  Was it something I said?

There were other rooms which seemed to be full of builders and their detritus, as was the gents - I held it in until the next pub!

Streetview research when I got home revealed that it was called Tobago back in May, when it had a bright colourful frontage, and Facebook research suggests it still is.

Finally, on to Sue's - Too dark for a photo, I'm afraid.

A rather nicely done and comfortably warm, unlike some of today's ticks, boozer in one open room.  The real ale in its previous incarnations as Letters and Sonny's has gone, so it was another lager for me.

The other customer left shortly after I arrived, leaving me alone with the barmaid/landlady - I wonder if she's the eponymous Sue?

No sound in here apart from the gentle background music.

I must say the parquet floor is in severe need of a clean and polish.  Other than that the place is well looked after.

Two schoolchildren came in, perhaps belonging to the landlady?  They didn't seem to mind/notice that a pub blogger was invading their living room.

A short walk got me to Hamilton Square station for a train back under the river.

Pub of the day: The Sportsmans, for serving quality cheap real ale in a pub not aimed at real ale drinkers, and having more customers than all the others put together.
Miles walked: 2 miles
Maybe coming soon: There are dozens of pubs in Southport crying out for a visit.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

St Helens Saturday

I started another St Helens Saturday at Punch Tarmey's:
Total chaos in here with building work under way, in fact the barmaid didn't seem sure if they were open or not.  She poured me a pint of Guinness anyway.  There were three staff (or friends of staff) in, and I was the only customer.

The four handpumps had no clips, hence my choice of the black stuff.

The staff set to assembling and decorating Christmas trees - I suppose it is December, says he grudgingly.

The decor in here, dark woodwork and a hint of bare brick, is rather well done.  I'm not sure what the building work is for, they've only been here a year or so, I think.

Towards the end of my pint another customer arrived to double the figures.

Next, Dreem:
I didn't know this existed until I walked past on my way to Punch.

It's a shop conversion, a narrow corridor bar plainly decorated but well looked after.  Compared with the last tick, they were doing well, with about ten regulars, some standing at the counter, the rest sitting at tables.

I noticed it was pleasantly warm in here, unlike Punch Tarmey's.  There are some enormous speakers suggesting it'll be very noisy later on, but the music was at a comfortable volume while I enjoyed my lager.

On to the Sefton:
Back in 1999 I recorded this as a "disco pub", it's changed somewhat since then and is now a food and real ale place in the Wetherspoon's style.  I ordered a pint of Wainwright, but it had run out.  The barman turned the clip (Wetherspoon's could learn from this!) and then poured me a pint of Lancaster Bomber.  Not the most exciting real ale, perhaps, but it was in good nick.  The other choices were Bombardier and Hobgoblin.

"CAMRA discount?" he asked.  The barmaid called, "I've seen his card", I owned up that she hadn't, and showed it anyway.  I also got a "Collect eight stamps get your ninth pint free" loyalty card - If I lived a bit nearer it would be worth me using it.

So, once again, St Helens comes up trumps on the real ale front.  I should be accustomed to it by now!

It occurred to me at this point that it is the first Saturday of the month, so that highly contentious Good Beer Guide entry, the Connoisseur Brewery, might be open.  Should I go and tick it?  No!  I don't care what St Helens CAMRA say, it's NOT A PUB!

Rant over.  I moved on to the Market Tavern:
What a pleasant boozer this is.  No food, I think, and filling up with drinkers of all types at two on a Saturday.  There are three handpumps on the counter and my pint of Hobgoblin Gold was excellent.  Once again St Helens' real ale impresses me. 

The place was doing a good mixed trade, with most tables occupied.  A group of lads included one dressed as an oompa-loompa, I couldn't work out why, but they were having fun.  (Without causing annoyance to anyone else in the pub, I should add.)  Oddly, the oompa-loompa didn't seem to be drinking, unlike the rest of them.

Another in my occasional series of silly sayings from pub walls:
"People who wonder whether the glass is half empty or half full miss the point.  The glass is refillable."
Finally, Brasserie Chalon:
I always think that with a name like this it must be posh, but it isn't.  Just a nicely done wet-led boozer, very popular on a Saturday afternoon.

No real ale, so I was back on the lager.

Gentle background music, including El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel, was mostly drowned out by lively chatter.

The continuing rail strikes meant I had to get a bus home.

That was the plan, anyway, but by the time the bus reached Prescot I was bursting, so I leapt off to utilise the facilities in the Deanes House:
This large old building is now a rather good multi-room pub.  It was ticking over nicely, with plenty of customers, but still lots of room.

Pleasingly, they have one hand pump, and my half of Hobgoblin was spot on.

While one barmaid was busy serving, the other one was employed putting up Christmas lights.

Back to the bus stop for the rest of the journey home.

Pub of the day: Very difficult, as they were all good in their own way.  I think the Market because despite not being a specialist "real ale" pub they served a perfect pint.
Miles walked: A touch under two.
Maybe coming soon: Tranmere.