Saturday, 17 October 2020

Good Beer Guide 2021

My preview copy of the Good Beer Guide arrived today, and I can report that twenty pubs have been dropped and twenty-one added in Merseyside since last year's edition.

As I say every year, if you want to know which pubs they are you'll have to buy the book when it goes on sale later this month.


Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Not Goodbye, Just Au Revoir

Time for one last crawl before I get locked down again.  How about a few favourites in town?  

Before anyone gets upset or offended, this is not a list of my top five pubs in Liverpool, it's just a few of my favourites.

I started at the Bridewell:

An efficient friendly barman soon had my order and allocated me a seat in one of the cells.  Moments later the landlord bought me my pint of Kirkstall Pale, I think it was.  He stopped for a brief chat about the current daft situation.

Plenty of chatter which was louder than the background music, mostly conversations about lockdown, of course.

Next, towards the waterfront and the Baltic Fleet.  Curses!  It's not open.

On to the wonderful Lion:

This architectural gem never fails to please, and although they had less ales on than usual, my pint of JHB, quickly brought to my table, was delicious.

Only one other customer in the bar side and, I think, just one in the lounges, I had thought there might be a bit of a pre-lockdown rush, but apparently not yet.  I bet this evening is busier than usual.

The regular in the lounge departed, "Have a good Christmas" said the landlord.  Cynical?  Sadly, he might be right.

I enjoyed most of my ale in total silence, until the music suddenly started up, at very low volume.

Two more customers came in to double the trade.

Next door is the Railway:

Not as historic inside as the Lion but still a rather fine traditional interior, although I think all the etched glasswork is modern.

They seemed to be winding down for lockdown, the barman informed me they were out of Guinness and the last of the Doom Bar had just been poured.  They still had Black Sheep and Tribute and the latter was spot on.

More people in than next door, with animated conversations mixing with the background music, but still no sign of a final rush.

The "Welcome back we've missed you" sign seems a bit ironic today, let's hope they get to use it again soon this year.

Where next?  How about the Excelsior:

All cask ales £2 until it's gone said the sign and I was soon served with a spot on pint of Shropshire Gold.

Only two other customers in here, and I got the impression one might actually be staff.  Certainly no sign of the end of term rush that I had been expecting, I guess Merseysiders are resigned to their fate and don't see any reason to party.  I can see their point.

For some years I've always felt this pub deserves to do better than it seems to achieve.  It was a regular haunt of my Wednesday night friends for some time, but we eventually moved elsewhere, probably more due to the desire for a change than a problem with the Excelsior.  In fact, given a few more weeks of opening I think we would have come back here, but that's obviously not going to happen in the immediate future.

Time for a "final" pint, perhaps just up the road in the Ship and Mitre:


I worried:  What if my "last" pint is 'orrible?  Or I can't get in?  Back in March I really regretted that my last two drinks were Guinness in keg pubs, I don't want to make that mistake this time.

No need for concern!  At just after three it was the quietest I've ever seen in here, with just a scattering of customers about the place.  The beer I chose had run out but my second choice, Marstons Saddle Tank, was in fine nick.  It's not looking good for this evening, with only two real ales left, and a number of keg taps out of action too.

As always, no music just chatter in here, and it's a bit more echoey than we're used to with so few people in.

There was some pulling through going on behind the bar, were they adding another cask ale or just cleaning the pipes ready for lockdown.  The latter, I think, confirmed when some more lines were also flushed through.

A great pint in a favourite pub to end this drinking season, one can only wonder how long it will be before I get to drink in a pub again...  

How about that!  Five excellent pints in five excellent pubs, what more could anyone ask, but there was one more bit of excitement before I got home:  They're filming something at St George's Hall, and I walked past a number of Gotham City police cars and buses.


There was quite a crowd of onlookers so I'm guessing there were some stars involved, I look forward to watching the film when it's on free TV in a few years time.  The whinger in me wants to know why my pubs have to close but overpaid celebrities can still bring umpteen staff in to make a movie.  A quick search of the internet revealed that they're filming "The Batman", particularly amusing since the auto spelling on my tablet insists on changing barman to batman every time I type it!

To end on a positive note, the table service today has again been exemplary, with every pub providing prompt service and a polite enquiry as to whether I'd like another as I approached the end of the pint.  This is the one thing I'd like to retain long term from the current mess.

P.S. The new rules don't seem to add any travel restrictions, maybe I should move to somewhere where the pubs are still open?

Pub of the day: All of them!
Miles walked: 2.75

Have a good Christmas!

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Mathew Street Again

Judging by the news this could be my last survey for some time, in fact I did consider doing a crawl of my favourites rather than research today, but I resisted.

As last week, poor weather and doubts about opening scared me off the planned trip to Hillside, so once again I aimed for Mathew Street, but first there was a little call I'd been meaning to make for some time:  A couple of years ago when I visited Kensington I got a comment on the blog pointing out that I'd missed a pub.  I wasn't aware of the existence then of the Liver Vaults.  So, today I took a bus to Kensington and headed off down a side street with, to be honest, little expectation of success.  Sure enough, it was closed although I couldn't tell whether permanently or just because I was too early:

On to Mathew Street, and I started in Legends:

A rather well done sports-oriented place, this, with genuine looking bare brick walls covered in TVs and sports pictures.

Maybe a dozen customers in at one thirty and the barman quickly brought me a pint of Carling.

The tellies I could see were showing horses, but the one behind my head was on a different channel.  The other customers, mostly men of around my age, chatted and swigged their lagers.

Just across the road is a place, never ticked, that has had a number of names, the latest being Strawberry Fields:

Not sure this is really a pub, it's more of a cafe, part of a Youth Hostel.  When was the last time I was in one of those, I wonder? Probably more than forty years ago.

Pleasantly decorated in modern "industrial" style with a fine quarry tiled floor, is it fake?

There's was a slight delay while the keg was changed but my tasty pint of Goose IPA was soon brought to my table by an efficient waitress.  And it was only £3.37.

I glanced at the TV which was showing Sky News.  Pubs in Liverpool to close from Wednesday, they predicted.  Disappointing but not surprising.

Gentle background music and two or three staff busy wiping surfaces and chatting were the sound in here.  The other two customers were dining, their burgers making me feel a pang of hunger.

I was rather amused by the menu on my table, apparently they do an "all day breakfast" from 8am to 11am.

That's almost it for Mathew Street so I headed to the other end and out onto North John Street, intending to visit the William Gladstone, but then I spotted Harrison's:

I had this recorded as closed, the former Beaconsfield, but it's back in action and very nicely refurbished inside, I must say.

Once again, prompt efficient service, and I was soon enjoying a pint of Blue Moon, which cost five quid.

The half basement is very well done out with some nice ceramics on the counter front and some rather good decoration including a great mural of the Beatles crossing a zebra crossing in the style of the famous Abbey Road album cover, but it is located on the street outside here and they're heading towards this bar.  Lots of TVs were showing footie.

The two staff were kept occupied with orders for cocktails, and once again they clearly demonstrated that table service can work well, unfamiliar though it is to British pub customers.   A friend of mine commented a couple of weeks ago, when our drinks were delivered to our table, "I could get used to this".  Perhaps table service in pubs will be, long term, a positive outcome of the current crisis.

I checked my previous notes for this place.  I think I saw live music here many years ago.  It hardly seems big enough.

Over the road is the entrance to a bar I've never visited (or even heard of), the Wall Of Fame:

Annoyingly they didn't seem to display an NHS code so I had to use their own track and trace to sign in, no idea if it worked.

Noisy music and louder chatter filled this remarkably popular bar which has bare brickwork and coarse wood decor.  Very nicely done but I couldn't work out what the theme was.  I guess it's music.  The array of album covers, the motorbike covered in fairy lights, all made for a great appearance.  Physically it's located immediately above the Cavern Pub I was in last week and it runs through the building to a second entrance on Victoria Street.

They'd run out of Carling so I had something from Camden Town which tasted like it was the first one they'd poured for days.  And it cost £4.80.

Not my sort of place but being this busy at three on a wet Saturday afternoon they must be doing something right.  I say busy but there were plenty of empty tables so they could easily accommodate lots more people, but nonetheless the two bar staff were fully occupied serving drinks.

Is that rain I can see outside?  Perhaps that's why the scantily clad young ladies headed for the door and then returned to rejoin their friends.

I finished my pint and headed out by the other door, on Mathew Street:

It occurred to me that this might be my last survey for some time so I skipped the target ticks such as the Gladstone and headed back towards Lime Street, and a final visit to the Crown, so at least I could finish with a decent pint.  Sorry, no picture, it's hard to get a good shot without risking getting run over, especially four pints into a survey!

It was quite busy, although I'm sure it would have been a lot busier on a Saturday afternoon pre-covid.  My Landlord was quickly delivered to my allocated table in the back room.

I await with some trepidation Monday's announcement

Pub of the day: The Crown
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: Who knows?

Monday, 5 October 2020

Denbigh Castle

Blood donor day again, and a chance to visit a pub which has changed name and gained real ale since the last time I was there, so I headed for the Denbigh Castle:

Only one other customer in here at half one on a Monday.  I zapped the NHS code and chose a table where I was quickly provided with an excellent pint of Dissolution IPA from Kirkstall.  What a great tasty ale, quite sweet but still hoppy.

They've got five handpumps, three had clips, Banks's Amber and one I couldn't read from my seat being the other options.

I was trying to remember what this place was like last time I visited, in 2012, when it was called Jupiter's, but I couldn't visualise the room then.  I suspect it's been totally remodelled since.  Anyway, now it has pleasant slightly dark decor with a pale wood floor.

I hope they get enough customers at more popular times to keep the quality ales flowing.

There's no sign to indicate the way to the gents, I eventually worked out it's downstairs where there is also another room with a counter and two handpumps, obviously not in use at this time.


Saturday, 3 October 2020

Mathew Street

My objective for today was to update my records and score some ticks along the touristy hell that is Mathew Street.  Alternative plans for Birkdale were abandoned due to the weather forecast, some doubt about what would be open, and problems with the train service.

Failing to keep to the plan of doing overdue re-visits and brand new ticks, I succumbed to temptation and started in the wonderful White Star:

Only a few customers in, chatting to the efficient landlady in the front room.  I was banished to the rear on my own.  My pint of the only real ale on, from Otter, arrived at my table almost before I had taken off my mask and coat.  And it was spot on.

This pub has long been a favourite of mine: Back when I first lived in Liverpool (Good grief, is it twenty three years?) a Saturday shopping trip usually began with a pint in here.

I don't often come into town on a Saturday nowadays, but I'm fairly sure it would normally be busier than this.  The landlady chatted to a regular, she's going to try the new rules for a week and see how it goes, it may not be worth opening.

Next, I wandered the length of the famous street making notes and getting wet, before heading into the Cavern Pub.  I'm afraid the heavy rain meant some photographs are missing.

Here I had to fill in a form despite signing in using the NHS app.  Isn't that against the rules?  I also had my temperature taken, a first for me.

There were a about a dozen customers in the basement room the walls of which are packed with music memorabilia.  The loudest sound in here was the two bouncers chatting at the top of the stairs.  The background music was good stuff, naturally with a Beatles bias.

The tourists chatted quietly and enjoyed their drinks, as I did mine.  The two handpumps were shiny but clipless so I had cooking lager, of Australian branding here.  My order was taken quickly and delivered promptly.

Considering this place is mainly a tourist trap I must say it is well done.  There's a small stage for live music.

Across the road the Cavern Club wasn't open, but next door to it was Sgt Peppers.

It's always pleasing to get a brand new tick.  The barmaid/waitress offered me a QR code that didn't work in the NHS app but then found the right one.  She took my temperature and quickly fetched me a pint of Canadian fizz which cost £4.50.

This bar has one largeish room with a big stage at one end and a counter along one side.  Like the previous place it is obviously aimed at tourists, but well done.  The decor is modern, with (fake?) bare brickwork walls, exposed air conditioning ducts and retro light bulbs.  Plenty of Beatle stuff on the walls, including a walrus' head, fake I hope.  The yellow Submarine style mosaic behind the bar is particularly good.

Only a handful of customers were in here, I suspect they need to be busier than this to make money.

As I approached the end of my pint someone was setting up equipment on the stage, so I guess there's live music soon.

I could hear the rumbling of the Wirral Line trains below, many people will tell you these were the reason for the destruction of the original Cavern Club, but there's a bit more to it than that.

I wanted to tick the never visited King John next, but it wasn't open yet, so next door and part of the same complex is Rubber Soul, not visited since 1998:

A quick sign in using the NHS app and once again service was prompt and efficient.  Did she say £2.50 for a pint of Carling?  A bit cheaper than Sgt Peppers then!

This was the busiest place so far, with quite a lot of people scattered around the rather dark atmospheric room.  Back in '98 I described this as a disco but that was on a Friday night and a long time ago.  I am wondering if the King John was then part of the same place?

Lots of different footie matches on the tellies defined the atmosphere here, the customers almost all older blokes.  The quiet background muzac mixed with animated chatter at various tables.  Surely they can't all be households?

Contrary to my predictions, the rain was getting heavier, storm Alex apparently.

Next door, in fact part of the "Rubber Soul complex", King John was now open, so I went for the brand new tick:

What a surprise!  A totally fake but rather well done "baronial" or maybe "cathedral" style room, with crossed swords, stained glass windows, suits of armour, a fantastic carved wood bar back and even a set of organ pipes, all combining to make a great fun interior.  I'm not sure the Tiffany lampshades really fit, but it really is a fine example of pub design.

Once again my temperature was checked before I sat down and ordered another Carling which was promptly brought to my table.  Three handpumps on the counter but all with the clips turned.  Only £2.30 for my pint, with a friendly warning that the price goes up when the match starts.

Only two other customers just half an hour after opening, hopefully they get more as the afternoon progresses.

The sound in here was football punditry on the multiple tellies, with chatter in the background.

My table was directly underneath a heater, so I had to shuffle along the bench seat a little to avoid the hot air.

Particularly impressive was the barman/waiter coming over to see if I wanted another pint before the price went up, that's proper service.

A few more customers came in just as Everton's match commenced.  I could see it was chucking it down at Goodison, so probably outside here as well.  After ten minutes of the match it was time to get wet and walk back to Lime Street for a train home. 

I must say, all the places I visited today were coping well with the new rules and handling table service efficiently, unlike Wetherspoon's Blacklers where my friends and I waited a thirst inducing thirty-seven minutes for a round on Wednesday evening.

Today was my first survey carrying the NHS App.  It's good of them to provide me with a log of the day's ticks, in case I can't quite remember where I went!

Pub of the day: White Star, of course
Miles walked: Just one.
Maybe coming soon: Let's see how lockdown develops.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Stop! Thief!!

I headed out on the long train ride to Ainsdale station, from where a short walk took me to the Spitfire.  Researches last week had suggested this would be closed so I only went to get a photograph, but I arrived to find it open:

Inside this wonderful 1970s (?) building I found a very well done pub containing plenty of dining customers.  The waitress soon guided me to a table and fetched a fine pint of Landlord.

Back in 2010 when I ticked what was then called the Arion, I described it as plain, but the Spitfire is more up-market with contemporary restrained decor and, of course, quite a few pictures of the eponymous aircraft.

The audio was very quiet music mostly drowned out by cheerful chatter from multiple diners.

I didn't find the new mask rules unduly onerous, and I noticed the table service only rule was being bent slightly, with at least one customer going to the counter to order more drinks despite the "please do not approach the bar" signs.

Back to the middle of Ainsdale, and Tipple:

Never before visited, this one.  It's more of a cocktail bar and most of the customers were sitting outside in the chilly wind.

I hovered by the please wait to be seated sign for what seemed like an irritatingly long time but was probably less than 60 seconds before a waiter found me a table inside (That wind really is too cold!)  It was marked as reserved from 4.30 but I'll be long gone by then.

No handpumps so I went for Guinness.

This bar was doing really well, at least half the tables, inside and out, were occupied by cheerful drinkers and diners, and the waiting staff were kept quite busy.  Not so busy that they couldn't pull down their masks for an occasional gossip at the counter.

The decor, a little bit of bare brickwork, ivy above the counter and retro light bulbs everywhere, is straight out of the catalogue but pleasant nonetheless.

It's going to go wrong soon but not this time, I remembered to pay before I left.

Just a little way down the road is Champs:

Another one last visited in 2010 when it was called the Railway, despite not being near any railway.  I noticed the Champs logo is the same as the one in Waterloo which has now reverted to its original name, the Marine.

A large pleasant boozer with TV screens everywhere and lots of sports-themed memorabilia ranging from signed photos up to a whole motorbike.

The efficient barmaid/landlady had me signed in and drinking Guinness almost instantly, all it takes is someone on the ball to make the new normal perfectly acceptable.  No risk of forgetting to pay here, as she brought the card machine over straight away.

Quiet music mixed with animated chatter, just right for a Friday afternoon pub.  (Luckily the umpteen screens were silent.)

I must say so far today the new rules have not spoiled my pub experience to any great extent, although I will have to learn to cope with a one minute delay before I can go in, and sometimes another minute or two before I actually get a drink.  Hardly serious problems!  By the way, I haven't noticed any signs for the new NHS app yet, is anyone using it?

I noticed all the TVs were showing MUTV, I suppose if they showed Liverpool or Everton half the customers would be annoyed, whereas everyone is agreed in their dislike of Man United!!  I also noticed that many of the TVs were different, one extra wide, one in a white case and so on.  Obviously someone with more sense than money (A rare reversal of my usual use of the phrase) had bought them on the cheap.  Very wise.

Almost next door is the never visited Morrells:

A modern styled large bar with big windows letting in lots of sunlight to the contemporary interior.  Once again the new rules were handled with aplomb and I was sitting down, signed in, paid, and drinking my Carling before I could catch my breath.

Only a handful of people were inside, plus one group out in the cold, at three on a Friday; I did wonder how busy a place like this would have been at this time last year.  Actually it would probably have been the same, it's a bit early for the Friday rush.

Further to my comments above, this place has got the giant QR code that I think marks the new NHS app, but my sign in was on a bit of paper.  I almost wanted to try scanning it to see what takes up all that data, but I couldn't be bothered.

Having commented about how cold it was outside in the wind, I must say it wasn't exactly warm in here.  Considering the impressive display of air conditioning ducts, one might think they could turn it on and warm the place up!

A couple came in and then, in negotiation with the waitresses, spent ages fiddling with mobile phones.  I've no idea what the problems was, I was just given paper for my sign in.

Next, a pub which ought to have been in my database for a long time.  I've ticked a number of Toby Carveries for my guide but for some reason this one one has been ignored.  But no longer, it's time to try the Toby Carvery Ainsdale.  Can I go in for just a pint under the current rules?  Let's see...

Oh dear, it's after four on a Friday and I'm almost the only customer in this enormous pub/restaurant.  The delicious wafting smell of roast suggested to me that there would be a lot of wasted meat at the end of the day.  The cynic in me thinks there might be some rather tough roasts served tomorrow.

The friendly helpful waitress soon recorded my details and quickly had me sitting and served with a pint of fizz, no real ale here.

Again, it was quite chilly, I kept my coat on.  I overheard a staff conversation saying they're going to turn on the heating tomorrow.  At home it has been on since yesterday.

Quiet muzac and nothing else was the soundtrack here, there weren't enough customers to make any chatter, in fact after a family left I think it was me and one other solo drinker.  Actually it's a big place, there might be a few other customers out of my sight round the corner.

I noticed the actual carvery was surrounded by barriers, perhaps it's not allowed under the current rules.  To be honest, I can't see the point of a "carvery" if you can't actually go up and get your choice of meats.  Perhaps the Tobys will be in trouble under the Covid rules.

I must say five ticks, three never before visited, is better than I expected under the current rules, a very successful survey and it's time to go home...

Well, I'd predicted it would happen but I hadn't thought it would be in the first week:  I donned my mask, returned my glass to the counter, visited the gents and then as I marched across the car park a waitress chased after me "Excuse me, you haven't paid!"  How embarrassing.  I returned apologetically and paid for my pint.  Judging by the attitude of the waitress I suspect I wasn't the first to forget, she didn't seem at all annoyed.  After over forty years of walking out of a pub when I've finished, I think it might be some time before I get the hang of paying on exit.

Irritatingly, the hold-up meant I missed the train by about thirty seconds, delaying my journey home by fifteen minutes.

Pub of the day: Spitfire, for a perfect pint of Landlord
Miles walked: 1.6
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The New New Normal

Once again, not a pub survey as such, but some friends and I took a trip to New Brighton yesterday, giving us a chance to see how the new rules are affecting the pub experience.

We started in Wetherspoon's Master Mariner, where the friendly "guard" at the entrance soon had us signed in, then we walked up to the counter to check out the real ales, ordered Abbots, "Where are you sitting?", "Over there", and everything was sorted and the pints were soon brought to us, and very welcome they were too!  The pub was much emptier than we have observed on previous visits, but still ticking over gently.  This has never been a favourite Wetherspoon's of mine, parts of it are very dark and dingy.

Next, across the road to the Seahorse, a large dining place in the Greene King Hungry Horse chain.  Here they made a tedious palaver of signing in, giving us a table and taking our order before finally bringing us some Speckled Hen that was rather past its best.  There were only three other customers in, the four or five staff (presumably plus one or two in the kitchen) were mostly idle.  I can't see Greene King putting up with this sort of loss for long, although I'm sure it's busier at other times of the day, other days of the week, and when it's not raining.

We crossed back over the road to try the Stage Door Tap but it and the hotel seem to be closed at the moment.

Up on Victoria Road we visited the Bow-Legged Beagle.  Here a friendly barman soon sorted us out with pints of something gorgeous.  The bar was quite busy with locals who chatted to each other and the barman.  A fine pub, this, which I highly recommend.

I noticed some other changes on Victoria Road:  The Stag seems to have reverted to its previous name, the New Brighton Hotel; the Railway, closed last time I was here, has re-opened as the James Atherton; and there's a new Homebrew Tap in the same row of shops as the Beagle.

Our final call was the Perch Rock which was well filled with cheerful regulars, but not overcrowded.  The sign-in, order, and service procedures were quick and friendly and we were soon enjoying some fine Landlord.  Unlike my previous visits we sat in one of the back rooms, which was comfortable and not too full.  So comfortable, in fact, that we decided to have another round here, before heading home.

So, three out of four places we visited were still managing to provide a decent pubby experience despite the table service only rules, which I think must be good news.

A note of explanation to those who don't live in the area: The new pub rules - table service only and close at ten - which have been introduced in England today (Thursday) have applied as a local lockdown in Merseyside since Tuesday, hence we got a short preview of the new national normal. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Huyton

Not a formal pub survey, just a local walk for other reasons, but it gave me a chance to re-visit two pubs which are long overdue for a return.  I started with the classic 1990s dining place that is the Chapel Brook:

Very quiet at one on a Tuesday, just a few other customers scattered around the enormous pub.

I was guided to my table by a cheerful waitress who took my order for Doom Bar.  A bit risky ordering cask at this time in this sort of place, but it was in excellent nick and certainly didn't have the first out of the pump taste I had feared.

Unusually there was no music, so the main noise was the staff discussing the new closing time (I think they concluded it was last orders 21:00) and clinking glasses as they unloaded the washer.

I don't think anything has changed in here since my last visit back in 2014, although the quality of the interior shows it has been well looked after in the intervening years.

Next, the Hare and Hounds, which for some reason I always think of as the Coach and Horses (This always creates confusion when it comes up in pub conversations.)

Again I was seized on entry and checked in, this time it was choose your own table and someone will come and take your order.  I did and they didn't.

Plenty of staff chatting or fiddling with mobile phones, but not coming to me.  Hmph.  Is this the new new normal?  To be fair, it was only a couple of minutes before a young lad came to collect my order, so nothing to complain about, but it just feels wrong to be sitting in a pub with no drink in front of me.

The place was ticking over gently but fairly empty.  Two elderly women struggled with the sign in process and by the time they'd managed it there was a queue behind them.

First day of the new rules and they'd no idea how it was supposed to work, my request to pay by card led to confusion and he had to ask his boss, who advised that card payments were at the counter.  He had to set up a tab for me so I could pay up when I left.  I can see me walking out and forgetting to pay somewhere soon.

Boris was on the telly, thankfully silent, confirming that today's new local rules (Table service only, close at ten.) go national from Thursday.

As usual, I kept an eye on what was going on around me.  A feller who was drinking a purple drink (Probably Strongbow Dark Fruit) ordered another, and then rejected it.  It looked a lot less purple than usual.  His replacement was back to normal.  This made me wonder, do they have one keg of cider and then add syrup in the pump for the fruity version?  It's possible, maybe, but my Google researches say no.

Miles walked: 2.8
Maybe coming soon: City Centre or Ainsdale

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Fire In The Hole!

On a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon I headed under the river with the aim of mopping up a few odds and ends in Birkenhead.  I started towards the north end of the town, at the Bidston:

Here I found a plain two sided boozer, looking good inside and out.   A small lounge side and a much larger opened out bar side, both nicely appointed with spotless carpets and comfortable seats.  I described it as "well cared for" in 2009 and it still is.

Being a Saturday afternoon it was quite busy, plenty of regulars chattering, with football commentary in the background.

I soon found a comfy sofa and table at which to write this and enjoy my pint of fizz, of Danish branding for a change.

A short stroll along the road is the North Star:

Perhaps a little plainer than the Bidston, but still clean and tidy, a two sided locals boozer with just a handful of regulars chatting.  The background noise was racing this time, switching to footie when half time was over.  (Silent racing continued on the screen above my head.)

My comment back in 2003 was "rather too green for my liking", no longer applicable as the walls are cream and white, although I did notice some green upholstery in the other side.

Another proper locals boozer this, it's good to see they're continuing to survive, although who knows what's to come, with new restrictions starting Tuesday.

Almost next door is the Comet Inn, long closed:

Next, a long walk towards central Birkenhead, and the never before visited Sea Dog:

Unfortunately it was shut, as I've found it more than once before.  I'm tempted to suggest that a boozer not open at two on a Saturday is not an active boozer, but it looks operational, with Brewery signs and neons (not lit).  Perhaps I'll have to try a Saturday night visit.

I walked on to the Warwick.  I've tried to tick this one a couples of times, once I actually got as far as rattling the handle on the door, it looked so much like an open pub.  Sadly it's now boarded up so it seems this is one that got away:

By now I was in urgent need of a toilet, but I ticked all the nearby pubs only two years ago.  A repeat was called for so I selected the Cavendish, which I was relieved (pun) to see was open:

A well done out split level shop conversion ticking over with not many customers.  Footie on the telly, Everton had just won, taking them top of the league!

The hard walls here make it a bit echoey, so the main sound was the locals conversation.

I had to register before getting another pint of fizz.

Football punditry and silent racing occupied the two screens I could see.  Do we get three o'clock matches now no one's allowed in?

A plain but pleasant pub, this, but I wonder how they will cope with "table service only" from Tuesday - Or have I misunderstood the new rules?

Where next?  There's one more "target", on the other side of Birkenhead, quite a long walk...  But I can't go home after only two wanted ones, so on I marched.  Sadly, Hornblower's wasn't open, although it looked operational, complete with social distancing notices.

That's pretty much it for ticks here, but wait a moment, what about the Riverview?  This was snubbed on a recent day out with friends because it didn't seem to have any real ale, and the wonderful Gallagher's is next door, but my duties as a researcher mean it's required.  I dragged myself past Gallagher's and went in.  Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.

And jolly good it is too!  There was a forward facing clip on one of the handpumps this time, and my pint of Trappers Hat was excellent.  

Rather a quirky interior here, the main area has a fine, probably fake, tiled floor, with raised areas to either side.  There's a peculiar bare brickwork pillar in the middle, and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.  The counter and bar back are antique-style woodwork, presumably installed during the 2013 refurbishment.  The overall effect is very pleasant, and I like it.

A good cross section of customers were keeping the place ticking over, couples, old blokes, cyclists outside in the street, and one pub surveyor.

I think that's enough, so time to head for home.

I caught the Merseyrail from Hamilton Square.  Between Moorfields and Lime Street we passed quite a significant fire in the tunnel, a bright orange glow passing the windows as the carriage filled with smoke.  On arrival at Lime Street the platform was also very smoky.  After a short delay the doors were opened and everyone was able to exit, the fire alarms went off as I ascended the escalators.  More exciting than my usual journey home, but nothing to worry about, just a "pot fire", or perhaps some rubbish ignited by the live rail.

Pub of the day: Riverview, for the only real ale of the day.
Miles walked: 4.1
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street or Ainsdale

Friday, 11 September 2020

Eccleston

One train and one bus and I was soon in Eccleston and at my first objective for the day, the Seven Stars:

A large pleasant two-sided pub, this, in Green King's Flaming Grill chain.  I was immediately grabbed by an efficient waiter/barman who, on learning I didn't have a reservation and only wanted a drink, led me through to the bar side where I was the only customer.  The lounge side was much busier with plenty of people dining.

Sign in was by QR code and text, my order for a pint of About was taken at the table but I had to go to the counter to collect it and pay.  Sadly it was somewhat past is best, perhaps the first out of the pump today.

I noticed my report from 2004 says "slightly tatty"; not true now, the bar side is plain but very well decorated and looked after.  I've said this before and I'll say it again:  People won't use a scruffy pub nowadays so they tidy up or close down.

My eye was caught by a poster advertising a "2 pint serve", I wonder if you can get a two pint glass of Abbot, on a night out it would reduce by half the number of visits to the bar!  I seem to recall Wetherspoon's experimented with a pint-and-a-half glass some years ago.  [Pause while I search my glass collection...]  Ah yes, here it is, with a standard pint conic for comparison.  Actually, it measures 940ml to the brim, which is 1.65 pints.


As I drank my pint three more customers came in.

I totally failed on the one way system as I searched for the gents on departure, oh dear.

Next, a long walk through the countryside. I had created in my head a story of taking my life in my hands on a country road with no pavement, but in fact all the drivers were courteous and slowed and moved aside as required, so I was soon safely at my destination, the never before visited Game Bird:

This is a dining pub in the middle of nowhere on the East Lancs Road, I bet I'm the only customer today to arrive on foot!  Will I get in without a reservation?

Yes, easily.  On learning I only wanted a drink the waitress guided me to a convenient table and advised me I could order at the bar or through her.  The two handpumps had the clips turned so I resorted to the black stuff.  Check in (no one asked me) was successful by QR code and text again.

Another Greene King chain, Hungry Horse this time, it was ticking over gently but with plenty of empty tables.

A brewers' Tudor roadhouse from the 1930s, I would guess, it has been well modified inside, mostly knocked through around the servery but retaining some separation between areas, I sat in solitude in a side area with four tables.  Just a few original features remain, there's some leaded glass in the windows.

The background muzac was mixed with cheerful chatter in here, both at a quiet level.

Next comes another walk down country lanes, but this time with a pavement, to the Stanley Arms:

(Sorry about the rather poor picture, I didn't fancy taking my life in my hands on the other side of the road.)

A splendid traditionally-styled pub in the middle of nowhere, once again I bet I'm the only pedestrian customer.  Pretty quiet but gently ticking over in the pub side, I didn't see the restaurant area.

I was pleased to see Landlord and Boltmaker on handpumps and the Landlord was excellent.

I suspect the "olde worlde" decor in here is all fake, but it's very well done.  This was the pub today where I most expected to be caught out by bookings only, but it was surprisingly empty, just gently ticking over.  The restaurant side might be busier.

No one asked for my details so I didn't get logged here.

Now, a slightly shorter stroll back towards suburban Eccleston, and my final pub for today, the Griffin:

What an impressive building this is, to be honest I didn't remember it from my 2004 visit.  Inside is an enormous pub/restaurant, recently refurbished with rather fine modern styling.  Everywhere I looked was quality woodwork, quality floor tiles, quality paintwork etc. - A lot of effort went into the refurbishment and it shows.

The friendly cheerful waitress guided me to a table, and fetched me a pint of Jennings Cumberland which was in fine nick.  I think she said I could have the table until five which is a bit mean at four thirty, but checking the journey home there was a good connection off the 17:04 bus from just outside, so it fitted rather well.

The rather echoey interior was reverberating with animated chatter, the pub seems doing well although there was plenty of room for more people.  Approaching five on a Friday they perhaps ought to be fuller than this, although as soon as I had written that more and more people came in.

I was chivied away from my table before I'd finished my pint and before the 5 o'clock deadline, poor customer service I think.

Three pubs last visited sixteen years ago and one never visited before is a pretty good result nowadays, time to go home.

Pub of the day: Stanley Arms
Miles walked: 4.8
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street, Halewood

Monday, 7 September 2020

Blood Donor's Bonus

I headed into town for my regular call at the Blood Donors' Centre and as I walked down Dale Street I spotted a new bar on the corner of Cheapside.  After donating, I called in to check out the Angus Tap and Grind:

This is a posh cafe bar, serving a good range of cask and keg ales, as well as gins and coffees.  It was ticking over nicely at two on a Monday afternoon.  The waitress guided me to a table and then fetched my pint, it's table service only, and cashless in here.

My pint from Bristol Beer Factory was cloudy (probably intentionally) but had a disappointingly bland flavour for a 5% pale, I was hoping for something more hoppy and tangy.

The modern decor is pleasant, and the entirely glazed frontage gives it a very open feel.

This unit used to be an estate agent, and before that a health food shop (Isn't Google streetview useful!)

On my way home I noted the Shamrock, formerly the Queens, at the back of Queens Square was closed.

Friday, 4 September 2020

Rainford

Four trains, ending with possibly my last ride on a class 142 railbus, carried me to Rainford Junction where just outside the station is my first target for today, the Junction:

I walked in past the "bookings only" sign, no one complained.  I had to sign in, the previous customer was Fred West!

The friendly barmaid/landlady ignored the heckling from the bar flies and soon poured me a fine pint of Wainwright.

Just before two on a Friday the place was ticking over gently, mostly with diners I think.  Always a good pub, this, nicely decorated and serving what looks like quality food along with decent real ale.

I studied the rules displayed on every table.  Bookings only for food and drinks, it says.  I don't really see the point of displaying that sort of thing if you're not going to actually do it.  Presumably if I turned up when it was busy they might turn me away?

I have been worried since lockdown about travelling a long way to a pub and then not being allowed in, so far it hasn't happened, but I've got a long walk coming up so let's see...

My printed map wasn't very clear so I fired up Google's, and once I'd told it I was walking it came up with a shorter route which turned out to be a splendid stroll along the former railway embankment, now Rainford Linear Park, under threatening skies.  I felt a couple of drops of rain but it didn't get any worse.

Next was the Eagle and Child:

The barman apologetically asked me to fill in an ID form, while he threw two pints of Pedigree down the drain before pulling me one.

It was only some time after I had sat down that I noticed the "please wait here to be seated" sign which I had walked straight past.

Not much has changed since I was last here, in 2003, and it remains a friendly two sided pub serving quality ale.  Quite a few locals were in, meaning the chatter was slightly louder than the muzac.

Next, just down the road was the Golden Lion, which my records and whatpub seemed to think was closed, but it wasn't:

More of a restaurant than a boozer but nonetheless once I had signed in I was allowed to order a pint of Wainwright which was delivered to my table and was spot on.

I paused to send an update to whatpub, before continuing my review:  The decor here is very well done contemporary, almost Ember Inns but not quite as stylish.  Does that sound like a criticism?  It's very good actually.

At half three on a Friday, only a few other customers, all diners, were in, not much to keep the two bar staff (presumably plus someone in the kitchen) occupied.

I looked at the picture on the wall beside my seat, a framed OS map; but it's centred on Garswood and doesn't show Rainford, what's the point?  Aha, the next picture along is the adjacent extract, which includes this pub.

A little further down is the Derby Arms:

Very quiet in this pleasant traditionally decorated multi area pub, only two other customers I think, and they left shortly after I arrived.

The pleasant barmaid took my details and then pulled me a pint of Mad Goose.  It seemed just a little bit tired but definitely drinkable.

No one else came in, apart from one person making a booking, while I swigged my ale.  

Next, the Star Inn:

A great pub this, with a selection of real ales on offer, I had Morehouse's Blonde Witch which was spot on.  No one asked for any contact details this time.  The serving counter was walled in with perspex which I must say I find very off-putting, but I suppose many think it's necessary nowadays.

I must say I like the sign over the counter, "whine bar"!

A dozen or so locals were keeping the place ticking over but most of the tables were empty, let's hope it's busier later.  As I enjoyed my pint, more and more people came in, and the quiet music was soon drowned out by cheerful chatter.  Nice pub!

Now I had a difficult decision to make:  There's one more tick near here, the never visited Bottle and Glass but I've already done five, it's a long walk and I might not get in.  I've already had five pints, can I cope with another?  Also, the bus service to St Helens thins out shortly after six and I don't want to get stranded.  My decision was it's time to head for home, and the Bottle and Glass will have to wait.  If the Golden Lion had been closed as expected...

Pub of the day: A difficult choice today, but I think the Star wins.

Miles walked: 1.9

Maybe coming soon: City Centre or Eccleston 

Friday, 28 August 2020

It's All About That Bass

On a wet Friday afternoon I headed into the city centre to mop up a few of the many bars that are overdue for a visit.  Sadly that makes today the exact opposite of a real ale pub crawl.  I started on Charlotte Street, literally next door to Wetherspoon's, in Ruby Blues:

I must apologise for the quality of the pictures in today's report, the traffic on Great Charlotte Street and a full taxi rank made things very difficult.

Anyway, it was good to start with a new tick, this used to be an NHS drop-in centre until it became Ruby Blues in 2015 so I'm only five years late.  A large room with a small stage in one corner.  Very good decoration mainly on a music theme, and I particularly like the chandeliers made out of wine glasses.  Hardly any customers at two on a Friday, but more came in while I was here.

No real ales, of course (I suspect the neon sign above the counter "It's all about that bass" doesn't refer to my kind of Bass.) so I had my usual lager.

A group of four youngsters sat at a table.  Their drinks orders included all sorts of shots and cocktails which the barman prepared with aplomb.  They seemed to get two of everything, for some reason.

Live music from 17:30 today, I bet it gets busy later.  Not really my sort of place, but admirably done and deserving of success.  Perhaps I'm biased because it's a new tick!

 Just next door is Smokies:

Last time I came in here it was called J.R's, the name has changed but it remains pretty much the same, a pleasant well done room with a tiny stage in the corner.  My notes from 2014 described the singer as "deafening", I suspect it'll be the same later, but at two on a Friday it was fairly peaceful, the background music about 50/50 with animated chatter.

When the barmaid asked "Have you got a card" I wasn't sure if she was referring to a loyalty card or a credit card.  I said no and paid by cash - Reading the signs after I sat down, they have a loyalty card scheme.

For some reason there were a lot more people in here than next door, mainly old blokes (By which I mean older than me!) 

More of an American theme in the decor, with Route 66 signs and a half size motorbike above the counter.

Next, once again just one door along the road, is Tess Riley's, not visited since 2013:

This place has an older feel about its atmosphere, the decor is 1950s traditional style although clearly all a lot more recent than that.

Well filled with cheerful people, my age or older, but I managed to find a table at which to write this and enjoy my Guinness.

The quiet music was mostly drowned by happy chatter, but I could make out Yellow Brick Road amongst other favourites.

Aside:  I got a replacement for my late lamented tablet a few days ago, and this was the first pub survey with my new Galaxy Tab A.  It seems to work very well...

It was only as I was half way down my pint of Guinness that it occurred to me that this place is an example of that increasingly rare phenomenon, the "traditional boozer".  Couples and groups of friends, all my age or older, out for a pleasant afternoon of chat and drink.  When I started surveying pubs twenty-something years ago, there were umpteen places like this all over Merseyside.  All filled with lots of people and a smoky haze.

A gang of about eight younger women came in, some dragging suitcases, lowering the average age significantly.  I wondered why they chose this place.  None of my business, of course, as long as they're enjoying themselves, and they seemed to be.  Given my comments above about this place, it is very good to see some younger customers as well.

Again, just one door further along is the Rocking Horse in the former TSB bank, which has been "Coming soon" for some time:

Five places next door to each other, I'm not getting my exercise on this survey!  So now, a bit of a stroll.  Is it a new tick? I'm not sure; located in the building that formerly held the famous Cabin Club is a new bar called Jimmy's:

I wonder if the odd red letters in the sign mean anything? O-SOTM.

No real ale here, and nothing "ordinary", so on the barman's advice I had some Lagunitas Daytime IPA which was the best beer of the day so far by a wide margin.  Very hoppy, delicious.

Not many customers at half past three but I imagine it's very popular later.  Modern decor, bare cable trays above, and a wonderful wall of fifty lava lamps as the bar back.  As an engineer I tend to disparage "designers" but whoever came up with that deserves an award.  

I remember the first time I saw a lava lamp back in the late sixties, I was fascinated.  And here I've got fifty to look at, all different colours.

The menu here, burger, fried chicken and kimchi, and so on looks good, but it ain't cheap.  Neither was the beer.

A bloke came in and ordered a pint after a chat with the barman.  He sat next to me and we chatted; he had been a regular in the Cabin and wanted to know if I remembered it.  He advised me that the upstairs restaurant here has a good view out over the street, he wasn't sure if it was still operational due to Covid.

It's twenty-two years since I was in the Cabin Club.  It wasn't really my sort of night out but it was a shame to see such a Liverpool institution close.

Where next?  How about one of Liverpool's architectural gems, the Vines:

What a wonderful place, as good as or possibly even better than the more famous Philharmonic.  Sadly, no real ale, so I had to revert to Guinness.

I adjourned to the side room with its wonderful plasterwork and beaten copper fire surround, oddly the rest of the pub seems busy but this room is deserted.  Perhaps I walked past a no entry sign?

Gentle music and louder chatter formed the soundtrack as I sat back and admired the architecture.

As a real ale fan, I would quite like Nicholson's to take over this place but that's not really necessary, it's great as it is.  It has had a slightly dodgy reputation in the last few years with the owners rumoured to be closing it, but clearly this wasn't true, and it continues to be wonderful inside and out.

Five is enough, it was time to don my coat and get the train home.  Coat??? Isn't it supposed to be Summer?

Pubs of the day: Vines for historic interior, Jimmy's for tasty beer.

Miles walked: Very few.

Maybe coming soon: Undecided.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Moreton and West Kirby

I was aiming for West Kirby today but first I stopped in Moreton to tick off an outlier not visited since 2002, the Armchair:

What a pleasant surprise.  Doom Bar and Bass on the counter and the Bass was spot on.   The lady had trouble pulling it and called over the landlord, who fiddled with the sparkler before producing an excellent pint.  They apologised that they'd only just got real ale and were still getting used to it.  I got chatting to the landlord and showed him the guide.  He explained about the refurbishments he's done and the outside bar, I must say it all looks very good.  I commented that it was rather quiet, but he told me it's packed at busy times with all the outside tables occupied as well.

I must say in these difficult times it is great to find a place where a positive attitude has resulted in a successful pub serving quality ales.  Long may they continue.

I wandered on to the centre of Moreton where I demonstrated one of the quirks of pub collecting by ignoring the Farmers Arms, the Vineyard, and the Coach and Horses because I'd visited them in 2018, and carrying on to Wetherspoon's Mockbeggar Hall:

A busy but not packed Wetherspoon's, and for the first time in this chain I was asked to sign in.  No queue at the counter and I was soon served a fine pint of Coach House Post Horn.  I haven't had a pint of that since, er, yesterday evening in Blacklers.  

The usual Wetherspoon's mixed crowd of boozers and families were keeping the place busy.

Just outside is a stop for buses to my next destination, and I was soon in West Kirby. (Does anyone know where East Kirby is?)

I skipped the WRO Bar because it looks like it might be diners only now:

I'm probably wrong on that but I can only do so many pubs per trip and this is the one to drop.  So, two doors down is the West Kirby Tap:

Table service only but no signing in here and I was soon served with a gorgeous pint of Spitting Feathers' Thirstquencher.  (It's their tap.)

I sat in the main room, perhaps the quietest part of the pub, there were lots of diners and drinkers outside.

I must say, things are going well, three pubs, three quality ales...  Will it last?  Next, the White Lion:

I wandered up to the counter in this wonderful old place and quickly selected Titanic's Plum Porter, which was delivered to my table because it's table service only.  I went through a palaver using the QR code but it didn't work, so I tried entering the URL which went fine until the final page confirmed my visit to the Irby Mill!!  Oh well.

I sat in the wonderful stone walled front room and enjoyed one of my all time favourite ales.  

Those who have studied the actual pub guide will already be aware that some years ago I received an email from someone who claimed that back in the 70s this place had standard nicotine-stained anaglypta walls.  Does that mean the ancient stone walls are all fake?  Or were they covered over?  Or did he get the wrong pub?    Who knows?!

Whatever the history, I like this place and heartily recommend it to anyone who's in the area.

Gentle muzac and occasional customers was the soundtrack, I'm not sure the trade was enough to pay for barman plus waitress, both of whom were hardly stretched by the workload on a Thursday afternoon.

Finally, Wetherspoon's Dee Hotel, last visited in 2016:

Five pubs, five quality pints; what more could one ask for?  Here I selected Phoenix White Tornado and it was wonderful.

Not packed - I guess everyone had been in on the half price days - but still busy.  I reckon Wetherspoon's shares will be doing well, and they've got the job retention bonus to come.  

As I approached the middle of my pint, a roving waiter asked if I'd signed in, and got me to fill in a form.  Two consecutive 'spoons, just coincidence or are they clamping down?

I finished my fifth quality ale of the day, and headed for the station, and home.

Pub of the day: All of them had quality real ale but I'll have to choose the Armchair for unexpected improvement and a fine pint of Bass.

Miles walked: 1.5, a short one today.

Maybe coming soon: Odds and ends in the City.