Wednesday 26 November 2014


A bright and sunny but somewhat chilly day saw me taking the train to Formby where I hoped to fill in a few gaps in the guide.

I started at the Railway, located conveniently adjacent to the station.  My last visit here was as long ago as 1998 so it was well overdue for a re-visit.  It's now a member of the Ember Inns chain which despite being a food-oriented organisation usually means a decent pint of ale, and I was not disappointed.  There are about twelve hand-pumps all told, although by no means all in use.  The ales on offer were mainly standard national brews - nothing wrong with that -  and I selected a pint of Tribute which I was pleased to note came in a Tribute glass.

The interior decor of Ember Inns pubs always seems to be the same, a sort of contemporary style, slightly up market.  I was pleased to note that, apart from a small display advertising Christmas meals, the Christmas decorations had not yet arrived.  The place was pretty quiet, perhaps unsurprisingly on a cold Tuesday afternoon, but there was a steady trickle of custom.

If a visit to the Railway was overdue, then my next pub was doubly so, because I've never been to the Royal before.  Here I found a large free-standing building containing a pleasant pub with the standard two-sided layout.  The bar side, where I first entered, is somewhat plainer than the nicely done lounge side.

Initially I could see no handpumps in the bar side until I spotted one at the back of the bar with a London Pride clip on it.  I suspect this is merely a signpost to indicate real ale is available, although I suppose it could be an operational pump.  Anyway, I strolled round to the lounge side where the barmaid was, and found two handpumps.  Unusually for me I skipped the London Pride and stuck to the Cornish theme of the trip so far with a pint of Tribute from St Austell Brewery.  (Which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago.) It was spot on.

I selected a table at the far side of the lounge from where I could observe activity, but there wasn't any; the majority of the few customers preferring the bar side. 

I checked out the menu - standard pub food at good prices - and noted the pub was not apparently part of a chain.

Pub number three was the Village Inn, located in a former shop in Formby centre.  Not only have I never visited before, but this pub wasn't in the guide at all until I discovered it on Google streetview while planning the trip.

Here was a large, well cared for, plainly decorated room with TVs showing sports scattered around.  Definitely a "wet-led" operation this one, and no real ale either, so I settled for a Guinness.  There were plenty of  mostly cheerful drinkers in the place, many of them older than I, and more came in to join the throng round the bar as afternoon turned to evening.

The Christmas decorations were up, by the way.

So far in my wanderings I had walked past the Cross House Inn twice, and to get back to the station I had to pass again, so at last I went in.  This has a proper restaurant area, with diners being shown to their tables by waitresses, but it's still a true pub as well, with seating and a telly for non diners.  Various real ales were on offer and I finished the day with a pint of Titanic's Lifeboat.
The interior is very nice, with lots of wood panelling, and some fairly tasteful Christmas decorations (Bah!  Humbug!  It's still November!)

When I arrived I noted that the food operation was not doing well, as I could see no-one eating, but as I got further down my pint a steady flow of customers appeared for the restaurant.

Time for the train home, noting that with two new ones today I've now visited 1,167 pubs in Merseyside, and there are 1,786 listed in the guide.

Saturday 8 November 2014


For absolutely no reason whatsoever, I headed towards Crosby for an afternoon out.  I took a bus ride from Liverpool, giving me the opportunity to update entries in the database along the way:  Lambeth - tinned up, Lighthouse - closed, Prince of Wales - building site, Knowsley - closed, William Shakespeare - open and so on, all the way to Crosby.  In all I noted information on 22 pubs.

Once off the bus I headed for Stamps, a small two-floor pub/bistro (That's what the sign says - I didn't see anyone eating.) serving a range of excellent real ales.  I had a wonderfully tangy pale one called Solar Glare from Shiny Brewing in Derby.

I wasn't quite truthful when I said 'no reason whatsoever' because my next destination was that most annoying of phenomena - A pub in the Good Beer Guide that I've never heard of.  This particular example of that rare classification is The Liverpool Pigeon, a self-proclaimed "Micro Pub" located in a former shop. 

Here, I found a single open rather bare room with a parquet floor.  In the corner a small counter offered an impressive selection of real ales, I selected Hawkshead's Windermere Pale.  I was rather impressed when the barman came over a minute later to double check on the quality of my drink, because mine was the last one out of the barrel.  Even being extra-critical because he'd asked, I couldn't fault the ale.

When I arrived there were only about four others in, and it did seem to be lacking a little in atmosphere, but I bet it's a lot better later on.

One very special feature of this place is the use of oversize lined glasses so you actually get a full pint of beer.  This has become very rare nowadays, and I have pretty much abandoned my campaign for a full pint because it was going nowhere, so it was a pleasant surprise to find the larger vessels here.  It felt slightly odd to hold the bigger 22 floz glass in my hand, and I had to struggle to suppress a tut-tut when someone passed by my seat carrying two pints with a generous head on each.

Note - They have limited opening hours and don't open until 4 on weekdays.

My third visit was to the George Hotel, located right in the centre of Crosby in a good-looking stone and half-timber building.  I haven't visited this pub since 1999 and I was pleased to see the wood panelling inside was still there.  In fact, the interior doesn't seem to have changed at all except that the "Surfeit of bunting, brewery adverts, disco lights and hand-drawn posters" which I grumbled about in my previous report have been substantially toned down, making the place even more attractive.

Only one real ale was on offer but as Bombardier has always been a favourite of mine one was enough.  I was somewhat startled to find the price was only £1.89, this must be one of the cheapest pints around nowadays, and on top of that they offer a buy four get the fifth free loyalty card!

On the ceiling I noted a number of disco lights and glitter balls which threatened deafening music later on, but at the time of my visit, about five on a Thursday, there was no music at all, and the pub was filled with the pleasant background hubbub of cheerful drinkers.

Friday 5 September 2014

Good Beer Guide 2015

An impressive thud this morning heralded the landing on my door mat of the new edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.

In the Merseyside section there's been quite a high turnover with no less than 27 pubs removed, with 21 new entries.

As usual, you'll have to buy a copy to see all the details.

Monday 7 April 2014


A trip to Earlestown on Saturday afforded me the opportunity to check out a couple of pubs I haven't tried since 2003.

The Newmarket is located on the corner of the market.  Most of the pub was closed, for redecoration, with just the front bar open, so all the tables were occupied and I had to stand in a corner and perch my pint on the window sill.  No real ale, unfortunately.  The dark panelled room was quiet except for background conversation.

Next, into the Rams Head.  Another pub retaining the classic layout with the 'posh' side served from the bar back, in this case through two bay-window-shaped hatches.  There's some rather fine green tilework in the corridor and the lounge.  The bar side, where I sat, is much plainer but still well cared for.  No real ale so Guinness was the order of the day.  Again, quiet conversation filled the room, as the regulars discussed the Grand National and participated in the pub's sweep.

Am I allowed to grumble about the lack of an apostrophe in the pubs name, or am I wasting my time?  Mind you, after that ugly double-hyphenation in the previous paragraph I've no room to talk!

Anyway, time to go home, noting that the Railway by the station is closed.

Friday 4 April 2014


There I was, leafing through the latest edition of MerseyAle, when I spotted a small paragraph in the Pub News section headed Real Ale in Garston, mentioning two pubs.  That's an improvement on my most recent visit to the area, back in 2009, and the pub I had real ale in then closed down in 2011.

So, skilfully avoiding most of the Ladies' Day crowds I took a bus ride to Garston.

I started in The Masonic.  On previous trips to Garston, I've either found this place closed, or not found it at all, so I've never actually been inside until today.  Here is a very pleasant back street corner house, retaining its traditional two bar layout, nicely decorated and well cared for.  I selected Old Hookey from the two handpumps on the bar  (There were four real ales on the blackboard so I assume there were two more pumps in the other bar.)  The Old Hookey, costing only £2.20, was a little cloudy - I think it needed another day to settle.

The place was quietly ticking over with not many customers in the side I selected, so in between watching racing on the telly I tried not to eavesdrop while the owner argued politely but firmly on the phone with the brewery about some cock-up or other.

Next, the Swan Inn.  This pub is something of a rarity nowadays, as it retains the classic layout in which the lounge side is served through a hatch in the bar back, across the corridor.  Of course, I went in the wrong door and found myself with a rear view of the only hand pump as I peered through the hatch, so I had to ask what was on before ordering a pint of Jennings' Cumberland.  I was alone in the lounge side but there were plenty of regulars in the bar, all of whom seemed to know each other and the barmaid, judging by the chit-chat I could hear.  The Cumberland was spot on.

Having visited my two objectives, I decided one more pub was in order, so I headed for The Mariners, located on the main shopping street.  Now this is a proper boozer, one long room busy with regulars who, again, all seemed to know each other and the staff.  There was one highly polished hand pump on the bar, which I suspect had not been used for years, so I had my usual pint of Guinness and settled down on the only free table to watch the flow of comings and goings in this pub "where everyone knows your name".

I know it's heresy in these modern times, but as I sat there I couldn't help thinking that the one thing missing from the ambience of this traditional down-market boozer was the thick fug of smoke that one always found in these places when I first started surveying pubs.  Somehow it seemed too clean and bright without.

Garston is a remarkable place for pubs, it only covers a small area - maybe 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile - and yet many pubs remain.  In addition to those visited I noted The Alexandra, The Palatine, The Derby, The George and The Dealer's Arms all open. 

Friday 21 March 2014

Cains' Remains

By coincidence I've visited two of the former Cains pubs in Liverpool recently, with mixed results.

I've been to Doctor Duncan's a couple of times in the last month.  The interior remains unchanged, including the wonderful tiled room.  The beer range now that Cains have gone is a selection of what I might call bog standard real ales - Bombardier, Black Sheep, Pedigree etc. along with one or two less common guests.  The ones I sampled were well looked after, but the measures were appalling.  I have pretty much given up asking for a top-up in some pubs, but at this high price (£3.20) they can jolly well provide the full pint I am legally entitled to.  Even after the top-up (which was politely provided) the drinks were still very short.

So, slightly disappointing overall, and I wont be returning in a hurry until they reduce the prices a bit, improve the serving, and/or get some more unusual guest ales in - The last being the least important as I'm quite fond of a pint of Bombardier.

Moving on, I called in at the Dispensary.  My only complaint about this pub in the past has been that it's too popular and busy, but there was no danger of that on a wet and windy Thursday afternoon, and I found just a couple of customers chatting to the friendly bar staff.  Redecoration is currently under way, and I imagine the paintwork and windows will be looking very nice in a few days time. 

At this point, reviewer's objectivity was perhaps lost somewhat, as I spotted Titanic Plum Porter, one of my all-time favourite beers, and it was, as always, gorgeous.  There were five or six real ales on, including another one from Titanic.

In conclusion then, one "must try harder" and one "keep up the good work".  I wonder how the branch on Smithdown Road - Kelly's Dispensary - is doing?  I haven't been there for ages.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

The Book

The new updated edition of the Merseyside Pub Guide book is now on sale.  For a bargain price of just £7.33 plus postage, you can get a printed version of the guide, updated to February 16th.

One thousand seven hundred and eighty pubs listed in a conveniently portable pocket sized reference.  (Providing you've got big pockets.)

Click here to order a copy direct from the printers.

How about a game of "name the pub" for the front cover pictures.  The answers are on page 11.