Tuesday 8 October 2013

Oxton Road

Today's exploration started with a train under the river to Birkenhead.  I'd just missed my intended bus so I began with an unscheduled visit to the John Laird, a smaller than average member of the Wetherspoon's chain, where I enjoyed a fine pint of something-or-other in the busy pub - I think I got the last free table.

Back to the bus station after a brief stroll through Birkenhead's enormous indoor market, and I was soon on my way towards Oxton and the primary objective of the trip.

This year's Good Beer Guide caught me out, as it often does, with a new entry that I'd never been to, so a drink in the Cock and Pullet was high on my list of priorities.  Here I selected an excellent pint of Sandpiper from the local Brimstage brewery from the choice of seven real ales.  Actually a pint with a very large head plus another glass to top it up with.  This is a proper traditional boozer with two rooms served from opposite sides of the central bar plus one or two side rooms, all well cared for and pleasantly done out.  The walls are covered with fascinating old pictures of Birkenhead.  A handful of regulars propped up the bar.  I must confess to a brief attack of beer snobbery when I noticed that one of them was drinking Tetley smooth, but it's a free country.

Heading back along Oxton Road towards Birkenhead, I next passed two closed pubs:  The Vale and the Observatory, unfortunately I've never managed a drink in either of them.

In the case of the Observatory it was apparently operational last time I was here, in 2004, but not open at the time I took this picture.

A little further down the hill is the Richmond, which was known as the Maritime Inn when I took this picture in 2004.  In its new incarnation it is a rather tatty one room boozer.  No chance of real ale here, so I thought I'd be safe with Guinness, but no - After pouring one away the barmaid served me a pint, warning "You'd better taste it".  I did and it was very sour.  After a few more pints had gone down the sink she reached the fresh-ish stuff.  I really should have refused it and switched to lager.  I think this is the first time I've ever experienced off Guinness, I'd always assumed it was loaded with enough chemicals to make it indestructible.

My final destination was the Windsor Castle.  The splendid ceramics outside conceal a rather plain one-roomed pub which doesn't seem to have changed much since my previous visit nine years ago.  My notes then said busy, plain and well cared for, and it still is all of those.  After my problems in the previous establishment I went for Foster's here and settled at the only free table to watch darts on the telly.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Good Beer Guide 2014

The new edition arrived today and I quickly rushed to check the Merseyside changes where I found 17 pubs removed, and 17 added.

Perhaps the most shocking change is the removal of the Ship and Mitre, but to be honest the last pint I had in there, a couple of weeks ago, was somewhat mediocre, so perhaps they had it coming.

Those who like a bit of variation in their pubs will be disappointed to learn that no less than six of the new entries are Wetherspoon's branches.  Personally I'm quite a 'Spoons fan, but we all know what to expect in one so I sometimes think it's a bit of a waste of space describing them in the book.

Anyway, as I say every year, for full details you'll have to buy the book.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Decidedly Under Parr

I wasn't sure whether today's research merited a blog entry, but once the above pun occurred to me I couldn't resist.

Finding myself in St Helens I decided to take a stroll eastwards in the bright sunshine, to an area I've never visited before, namely Parr.  I bypassed the pub or pubs in Pocket Nook and was soon in an area called Parr Stocks, where I quickly found my first pub.  Unfortunately, the Oddfellows Arms was boarded up, although as a slight silver lining it was missing from my guide, so at least I gained a new entry, albeit one that says "Not visited".

I continued my walk, and soon the Bulls Head appeared in the distance.  As I got closer it became apparent that this pub, too, was out of action.  Hmph!

I walked on, increasingly thirsty in the hot sun, and soon came to The Park.  Another closed one, and the fact that once again this was new to the guide was scant compensation for my disappointment.

I marched onwards.  The Church Inn looked promising with its pub sign still intact and the hanging baskets outside, but it was shut.  Hard to tell whether it was just closed on a Thursday afternoon or whether it's permanently closed, but the lack of signs in the windows and the blank blackboard led me to suspect it's the latter.

Further on, I found the Horseshoe - A rather fine pub building beside a roundabout.  My initial hopes of getting a drink seemed in vain when I spotted the row of builders' vans in the car park, and heard the sound of drilling from inside.  But wait!  There's an open door at the side.  I entered the porch and gingerly opened the inner door half expecting to find dust sheets and pots of paint, but - yipee! - the bar side was open and operational.  It looks like they've already refurbished in here, as I noted pleasant plain decor, newly covered seats, etc. etc.  No real ale so I made do with a pint of Foster's.

Having enjoyed my pint in the quiet comfort of the bar I decided I'd had enough failures for one day, so I headed to the bus stop for a bus to Earlestown, from where I could get a train home.  And, surprise surprise, the bus had only gone a short distance when we passed the Engine Inn, another new one to my guide, and also boarded up.

So, as the title of this entry suggested, a rather under par score for a visit to Parr:  One pub visited for the first time, taking the total to 1,153, plus three new entries making the number of pubs listed in the guide 1,779.

Monday 5 August 2013

Mount Pleasant Neighbours

Blood donors again, (I wonder if I should ask them to sponsor this blog?) so I headed for a couple of pubs on Mount Pleasant which were long overdue for a re-visit.

Here's a picture from 2002 of the pubs in question.  Apparently I took a picture but didn't go in, because in both cases the last visited date is in the last millennium.

First came Riley's - It is fifteen years and four days since I was last here.  The first thing I noticed on entering was the rather striking flowered wallpaper which helps create a bright cheerful feeling to the place.  I spotted a single hand pump offering Higsons Bitter but, unusually for me, decided not to risk it - I've come across too many off pints, especially in warm weather like we've been enjoying recently.  So I stuck to good old reliable Guinness.  The rather old-looking bar back with carved wood and leaded mirrors included a sign "Est. 1991" so perhaps it's not as antique as it appears.  The regulars were mostly racing fans, watching the many TVs scattered about the place and occasionally nipping out to place a bet.  I might have been right about the real ale, because no-one ordered any while I was there.

I moved next door to The Beehive, where I found a single room with a splendid high plasterwork ceiling with the details picked out in red and gold.  Behind the bar the chimney breast is covered in decorative ceramic tiles, with a painted glass centrepiece.  There's also original-looking cut glass in some of the windows.  Once again, racing on the TVs seemed to be the main attraction for the regulars.  I noticed the CCTV images visible behind the bar were the same as in Riley's - It would seem that the two pubs have a shared smokers' area at the back.  [The original version of this report described it as a "joint smokers' area" but I realise that is capable of misinterpretation!]

When I arrived the pub was quite busy, and I had to stand for a minute before I could get a table, but while I drank my pint everyone left, and by the time I had finished there were only four customers and the barmaid was going round picking up litter and wiping the tables.  I hope it wasn't something I said. 

Monday 22 July 2013

The Warrington Pub Crawl 2013

More properly known as Stan's Birthday Do (Thanks for organising it again, Stan, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) this is another leisurely visit to a few pubs and a good chance to meet up with former colleagues many of whom I hadn't seen since, er, the Woolton Pub Crawl last week.

So, on a warm and intermittently sunny Saturday afternoon, we started in the imposing building which is the Patten Arms Hotel, conveniently located next to Bank Quay station.  When I first attended this do, back in 2002, the interior was decidedly threadbare and tatty, but more recently it was given an excellent refurbishment and has been well looked after since then.  It's primarily a residential hotel, but we convene in the wood-panelled lounge bar.  No real ale so a pint of yellow fizz had to suffice.

On towards the town centre and the White Hart, another real-ale-less venue unfortunately, although they did have a couple of hand pumps.  A rather good, totally fake, wood panelled interior in here.

Number three is the Barley Mow, slap bang in the centre of Warrington.  We were a little concerned that the market square was occupied by a large stage for the Warrington Music Festival, but luckily the speakers were facing away from the pub, which didn't seem any busier than on previous years.  Unfortunately the festival meant we had to have plastic glasses for our excellent pints of something from Robinson's.  Dating back to the sixteenth century the pub appears somewhat out of place surrounded by much more modern buildings.

Wetherspoon's Looking Glass was previously a Yates' Wine Lodge.  On one of the previous trips I asked the young barmaid in Yates' for an Aussie White and she hadn't heard of it, which made me feel rather old.

The balcony (Mostly obscured by the tree in this picture.) was pleasant in the warm weather.

Next, just round the corner to Porter's Ale House, a small multi-roomed pub which always looks a little scruffy to me.  The first pints we were served were severely off, so they were quickly replaced with something different.  I was pleased to see the pump clip for the offending beer was immediately turned round, it always annoys me when they apologise for the off beer and then try and sell it to the next mug to come in.

Our final destination was the other Wetherspoon's, the Friar Penketh, for a last drink.

One of the unusual traditional features of this annual event is the early finish due to the last train home being at twenty past seven, so it was soon time to head back to Bank Quay Station.  As always, an enjoyable day out - See you next year.

P.S. Some of the pictures above were taken in previous years.

Sunday 14 July 2013

The Woolton Pub Crawl 2013

Goodness, is it that time of year already?  Indeed it was, so I caught the 89 bus to Woolton on the hottest day of the year.  After last year's problems we started this time in the splendid Gardener's Arms, although I'm told the Derby was open today, unlike last year.  The Gardener's was as good as ever, with a range of real ales available, and I settled on a pint of Landlord which was spot on.  We followed a bit of the cricket on the TV until it was usurped by football.

Up the hill to the County Court next, where we were disappointed to find the sole handpump, which had a Doom Bar clip, was not on.  So I resorted to lager.  Like the previous calling point, no change in decor here either.  Unlike last year, there were hardly any other customers in here, in fact there was just one when we left.

Last year the Cobden was shut when we got there.  No such problem this time, and we were soon settled down in the comfortable friendly surroundings enjoying something rather good from Liverpool Organic Brewery.  I hadn't been in here since 2008, when there was one real ale available, they're up to four now I'm pleased to say.  Pleasant though the interior is, I must say I was rather fond of the wagon wheels and fake half timbering of its previous incarnation.

The next pub to be seen was the long-closed Village Inn which is still standing, pending conversion to residential usage.

Just a little further along Quarry Street comes the Victoria, where I nipped out of the back door to check out the advertised beer garden while my friends got the drinks in.  Apparently the landlord then told them I shouldn't go out because the dog was loose.  Needless to say, no-one chased after me to pass on the warning but luckily the dog couldn't be bothered to come downstairs to see me, and I returned to the bar unscathed.  Once the dog was safely shut in we all adjourned to what I would call a beer yard rather than garden, and we sat in comfort in the shade and enjoyed another fine pint.  Again, not many customers here apart from us.

Our next port of call was a very unexpected bonus - A new addition to my guide.

Formerly the British Legion I think, it's now called The Quarry.  Perhaps a little unimpressive as you pass through the metal gate and cross the yard, but once you get inside it's much better:  We found a function room which appeared to be set up for a wedding reception and a pleasant comfortable bar where the regulars seemed rather startled by the invasion of twenty pub-crawlers.  No real ale I'm afraid, so it was lager again.

Moving on, we headed for the Elephant.  No change in here since last year, the interior remains well cared for, and once again I enjoyed a fine pint of Speckled Hen.  We'd reached early evening by now, and the young ladies of Woolton provided a scenic distraction as they commenced their Saturday night out.

Regrettably at this point in the evening I decided it was time to wimp out and go home, so I'll be looking forward to hearing later this week details of the remainder of the crawl in the White Horse, the Bear and Staff and the Black Bull.

So, once again a highly enjoyable annual get-together where I was pleased to meet a number of people I haven't seen since last year's crawl.  For some more information on the history of the crawl, see my post from last year.

One final footnote about beer quality:  I have noticed in the past that a hot spell soon finds out those pubs with unsatisfactory temperature control in the cellar, but on the hottest day of the year, at the end of a very warm week, every pint of real ale was of top notch quality. Well done Woolton.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Plastic Fizz on Great Charlotte Street

Ah, the suffering I endure just to keep the guide up to date!

Another blood donor session yesterday, so I seized the opportunity to check out a couple of pubs in the city centre.  But not for me one of the many splendid real ale establishments on offer.  No, I walked past a number of them as I did a little shopping, and then headed to Great Charlotte Street, where I started in Tess Riley's.  On a Monday afternoon I was pretty much the youngest person in the pub, a situation which is getting very rare nowadays.  The inside is mostly brewery standard decor, but with a few bits of wood carving and panelling.  There are also a couple of good watercolours of other pubs.  A number of people were eating, the menu looks to be decent value.  In the absence of any real ale and in view of the hot weather, I had a pint of Foster's.

I walked next door, into JR's Bar.  Rather more modern decor greeted me, and once again I had to resort to plastic fizz, Carling this time, I think.  The place has changed somewhat since I was here previously, when it had an American theme to the decoration.  I noticed an impressive display of model ships above the bar.  The menu of standard pub meals looked to be very reasonably priced for a city centre location such as this.

Thursday 7 March 2013


A grey drizzly Thursday saw me nipping under the Mersey by train to Bidston station where the diesel Wrexham service is allowed grudging access to a few yards of Merseyrail track.  I took the diesel unit just one stop to Upton where I noticed the rather tatty Seven Stiles located by the station has been refurbished and renamed Fender.  I wonder where the odd name comes from, I thought, until I checked my records and found it's on the corner of Fender Way.  Anyway, I was heading in the other direction, towards the pretty village of Upton.

The first pub I came to was the Eagle & Crown which is in a very fine 1920s (I guess) building.  Just look at the size of those chimneys!  Sadly, going inside I was disappointed to find a fairly plain and ordinary pub interior, knocked through into one L-shaped room.  No real ale was available so I ordered a pint of Guinness and sat down to listen in on the half a dozen locals chatting at the bar.

Just a minute's walk away is the Horse and Jockey, which looks rather worn outside and in.  The plain, slightly threadbare interior consists of one large knocked through room.  Guinness once again for me as no real ale was available.  The place was pretty deserted, with just a few regulars sitting at the bar, and three youngsters - they needed passports to buy drinks - in one corner.

When I visited Greasby last year I missed out one pub, The Twelfth Man, because it's actually nearer Upton, so now was the time to head westwards and try this one out.  I found a large pleasant pub attached to a Premier Inn, and was pleased to see a Cask Marque sign by the door.  Inside, bare brick and wood beam decor, all fake I suspect.  I chose a pint of Spitfire.  They concentrate on food from the Fayre and Square brand and were doing a steady but slow trade, mostly of diners, on what was by now a rainy Thursday afternoon. 

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Three in Town

A visit to a few locations in Liverpool City Centre, starting with the Tavern on the Green which is part of the Liverpool 1 redevelopment.  Inside this peculiar building the interior is also a little odd.  The distressed varnish on the wooden floor looks a lot older than the two and a half years the pub has been here.  Perhaps the boards were second hand.  Old wooden tables and chairs adds to the old pub feeling, in marked contrast to the contempory style of the battleship grey walls and naked plywood ceiling.  Altogether, a quite attractive ambience is created.  On a Wednesday afternoon there was no atmosphere, as I was the only customer for most of my stay.  Two handpumps were on the bar, one had a Jennings' Cumberland clip turned round, and the other provided a fine pint of Marston's EPA.  Eventually a few other customers came in to boost the takings.

Next, to Leaf on Bold Street.  I quickly obtained a spot on pint of Lancaster Bomber, found a vacant table and settled down for a good look round.  Oh my goodness, it's a whole different world here on the artistic side, and I felt very out of place amongst all the arty types, most of whom were sipping tea of various peculiar colours.   Far be it from me to offer fashion advice, but I always feel a flat cap on anyone under sixty years old is a mistake, and wearing one while sat at a table in Leaf just looks stupid!  Anyway, returning to the factual, a small stage is located at one side of the large open room.  There's another large room upstairs which was in use for some event or other, which meant that downstairs was pretty busy, I saw some people standing waiting for a free table.  In conclusion, not my sort of place but I can't fault the quality of the ale.

Just round the corner is Bier which used to be The Old Rope Walk.  I visited here not so long ago and found no changes this time, with an array of hand pumps offering a good choice of real ale.  I selected Ringwood's Boondoggle, one of my favourites.  Trade was quiet but ticking over gently.

Thursday 31 January 2013

Updated Book

It's that time of year again.  The 2013 edition of the Merseyside Pub Guide is now available for purchase direct from the printers, for only £7.20 plus postage and packing.

You know you want one!