Sunday 31 December 2017

End Of Year Stats

At the end of 2017 the scores were as follows:

Pubs in database : 1,840
Pubs known to be closed : 487
Pubs visited : 1,212
Pubs visited in 2017 : 132

132 is no-where near enough, but it is the highest annual total since 2004 when I did 320.  The following year I pretty much gave up regular research trips, and in any case I was out of the country for six months.  As you can see from this blog, I restarted weekly research in September 2017.  If I can keep going, I hope to do over two hundred visits in 2018.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Cambridge - Is There Anybody Home?

A survey well away from Merseyside, and I was expecting everywhere to be packed on the Saturday before crimbo but I was in for a surprise...

I started at the Live and Let Live. Is it open? This plain street corner building looked shut as I approached, but then as I recall it always does! Anyway, I tried the door and it was unlocked so I entered the pleasant antique interior to find I was alone. After a couple of minutes the barman appeared, and (after washing his hands) served me a beautiful pint of Oakham Citra, a long standing favourite of mine. Obviously first of the day, but he must have pulled it through before I arrived because it was spot on. With six or seven ales on this must use up a lot of beer!
As I enjoyed my ale, a regular came in and had a pint of Butcombe after his first choice, "free beer", was refused!

The decor, wooden floor, benches, tables and chairs and an old-looking wooden bar front, is all fake I think.

A few more people came in as I finished my ale.

Next, the Geldart.
Another classic street corner boozer, and once again completely empty when I arrived. Six or so real ales were on offer, this time I chose Adnam's Ghost Ship which was excellent, although the first taste was a little thin after the Citra (Which they also had here.)  The barman and chef had no-one else to serve until a regular eventually turned up.

I was intrigued to see the specials menu included zebra as well as horse, kangaroo, crocodile and buffalo! One or two meats I've never eaten!

Now, on to Calverley's Brewery where the limited opening hours luckily include Saturday daytime. Just a couple of plain rooms, whitewashed walls and wooden furniture. I started with a taste of their Cherry Sour which was so wonderful that I immediately ordered a schooner thereof, that is 2/3 pint*, without tasting any others. This place was also quiet, but a lot busier than the previous two.

They had one cask ale on gravity serve, perhaps I should have tried that, but the Cherry Sour was gorgeous!

*Actually, in Australia where I drank a lot of them, a schooner is 3/4 of a pint, so I'm wrong to call 2/3 a schooner.  Is there a correct term for the increasingly popular 2/3 measure?  Perhaps a "craft pint"??

Finally, the Kingston Arms, a pleasant comfortable boozer serving umpteen real ales. After the strong flavour of the cherry sour I chose something a bit plainer, a pint of Woodfordes Wherry which was excellent. Quite a few people were in, with mulled wine and mulled cider being sold along with the real ales.
The real fire and plenty of chatty customers made this the "warmest" pub of the day, although in actual degrees it was probably the coldest. Perhaps the first two were busier like this by now? (14:00) Or maybe not.

Tuesday 12 December 2017


And I thought it was cold in Garston!  Bright sunshine and a heavy frost saw me on my way to Bootle.  My first call was at Jollys, a 1950s construction I would guess:
Inside is a traditional two bar boozer, well looked after.  I'm not sure if the other side was in use as I joined three customers in the bar side, for a pint of the black stuff.
I suppose the Christmas music is now inevitable but, bah humbug, it's still two weeks away!  Later, one of regulars had a word with the barmaid and a quick fiddle with the computer saw Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer replaced by Nik Kershaw.

Having written well looked after, I took a good look at my surroundings and it's really spot on, the bench seats recently recovered, the vinyl flooring with a dark marble pattern was free of marks and scratches, and so on.

Next, a Wetherspoon's I haven't visited since 2004:
Behind the brutalist architecture, the Wild Rose (I was going to call it the Briar Rose but that's in Birmingham, I think.) seems smaller than the average spoons.  It was pretty busy on a Tuesday lunchtime, and there appeared to be a queueing system for food orders which I only noticed after I'd stood at the other end of the bar.  Luckily the queue didn't apply to drinkers so I was soon enjoying a gorgeous porter from Ringwood.  Watching as I drank, I realised there was no queue after all, it must have been a gang of diners all at one end of the bar.  Good!

There were plenty of real ales on, but they didn't seem to be selling much so it must be difficult to maintain quality.  Mine was great, anyway.

Twenty years ago this pub was the scene of a disagreement when the barmaid illegally refused to top-up some very short pints and was backed up by the manageress when we complained.  We didn't argue further, so avoiding an altercation, we just dobbed them in to Trading Standards and Wetherspoon's headquarters.  Today's measure was acceptable (By modern standards, he says grudgingly.)

Just off the main street I aimed for the Beaconsfield which now seems to be called Beaky:
Inside this large social club sort of place I headed for the small lounge bar, once again clean and tidy, where I joined two other customers and the barmaid who, after I was served, went back to chatting and warming herself on the radiator.  With only four of us in the place, I was inevitably drawn into a cheerful conversation about Christmas dinner and presents.   Eventually, I escaped.  "Are you going back to work?"; "No, just to another pub!".  Inevitably, I only came up with a better reply half an hour later:  I should have said "This is work." and showed them the book.

On in the arctic conditions to the Cat and Fiddle:
Unusually located in the bottom of a tower block, this rather good pub is totally unexpected if you haven't been here before.  All four handpumps were in use, but my pint of Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold was hazy and well past its best.  Very disappointing, I probably should have rejected it.

Perhaps it's time I sorted out how to submit beer scores on, this was definitely a 1.0, or even 0.5, I think.  Of course, that is to miss the point of whatpub, I would also need to put in 4.0 for the porter in the Rose, and 0.0 for the other two.

Quite a few people in the place, both groups and loners, were keeping it ticking over, but no-one wanted real ale.

I left to find it seemed a bit warmer outside, maybe, and it was raining.  I headed quickly to Oriel Road for trains home.

Friday 8 December 2017

The Bullring Bar

Blood donors again, then up London Road to the Bullring Bar:
One large open barn of a room, with comfortable booths lining the walls, pleasantly decorated and ticking over nicely on a very cold Friday afternoon.  Background music mixed with cheerful chatter and the click of pool balls on the two tables, as I settled down with my Guinness* which costed only £2.50.

Intriguingly, the rear part of the room has a high ceiling with large skylights, and a glazed floor - I couldn't see what was below as it was frosted glass.  I wonder what this was before it was a bar.  Hopefully street view will tell me when I get home...  And the answer is, it used to be the Blind Tiger Bar, so not a new place after all.
* I wonder if I can get them to sponsor this blog, as theirs is the beer which gets the most mentions!

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Free Beer in Grey Garston

A chilly grey day saw me on the bus to Garston, and I soon reached my first destination, the Dealers Arms:

This place has been thoroughly done up since my last visit, I think, creating a very pleasant two sided pub, although hiding the dark wood panelling. There were no other customers at two on a Tuesday. I ordered a pint of Guinness and after a short delay the barmaid returned with a half-full glass, "I'm sorry, we've run out and the delivery hasn't come, you can have this for free." So I did! The pub was rather chilly inside, otherwise very comfortable and, as is usually the case nowadays, spotlessly clean and well cared for.

I have always had a suspicion that a pub which has "run out because the delivery hasn't come" is actually on its last legs and the non-delivery is because they haven't paid the bill. But I have no evidence to support this theory, and in fact a Manchester pub I used to drink in regularly which was always running out of Guinness is still going strong years later.

A short step down the road to the Mariners, a one roomed local with traditional decor. Unlike the last place, it was doing a good trade with lots of regulars chatting. Clean and well cared for again, the atmosphere was warmer both literally and figuratively, as I relaxed and consumed a paid-for pint of Guinness. It's unusual to see a pub which has none of the three bog-standard keg bitters, Tetley, John Smiths, and Worthington. Instead, they have Banks's Amber.

Next, across the road to the George.
Another cheerful local boozer, two sided, and in the middle of redecoration - I was a bit worried about touching the paintwork in case it was still wet - It wasn't. Again, a quiet background of chit-chat created a friendly atmosphere, although it wasn't as busy as the Mariners. Various regulars came in and out, not all for a drink.

It's hard to assess the quality of the interior in mid redecoration, but assuming they replace the paint-spotted upholstery when the work on the walls is complete, it will be very pleasant. My enjoyment of another Guinness was perhaps slightly reduced by the paint smell but I can't really complain about that.

That completed the main street in Garston, so I headed off into the side roads for my next targets.
The Derby is another street corner local, also ticking over nicely on a Tuesday afternoon. Once again, spotless and well cared for with the quiet background chit-chat making a friendly comfortable atmosphere, although the music was perhaps a touch loud. The friendly and efficient barmaid was busy sorting out one of the regulars' phones with a new SIM card, in between serving everyone.

Next call was the Palatine, which has a rather odd interior, and with just two other customers the atmosphere was a little on the dead side. Nonetheless the place was, as with all today's ticks, spotless and well cared for. There were lots of adverts for food at cheap prices, I wonder how that works on a quiet Tuesday: Does the barmaid fire up the grill/microwave when necessary, surely they can't afford a cook on standby?

More customers came in while I drank another Guinness. I think we were all following The Chase on the telly.

Of course, the down side of researching a pub guide is that sometimes you have to miss out good pubs in order to tick off others, so the two pubs I didn't do in Garston were the Good Beer Guide listed Masonic, and the rather fine Swan, both of which were offering real ale last time I visited them.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Everton in the Cold

A cold and sunny day saw me on the bus towards Everton again, this time to May Duncan's:

This hasn't changed at all since I was here in 2004, one large open knocked through room around a u-shaped counter. Nicely decorated and very well cared for. A handful of regulars briefly all looked round as I entered, before resuming their chit-chat. No real ale so I had a pint of Canada's famous fizzy yellow stuff (Although I note the glass is branded Burton-on-Trent.). The whole place has a friendly, comfortable feel to it. I notice they do accommodation upstairs.

I was trying unsuccessfully to remember what it was like when it was called the Thistle. On returning home and examining my database I discovered this was because 2004 was my first time, when it was already May Duncan's

My next destination was just up the road, but unfortunately the Old Campfield was boarded up:
Continuing along Heyworth Street brought me to the Grade II listed example of "brewers' Tudor" that is the Mere Bank:
Another one that hasn't changed much since my '04 visit, a very pleasant half-timbered inside to match the outside. Just one other customer when I went in, one or two more came in while I swigged another Carling.

I resisted the temptation of pinching a free drink while the barman had a smoke break!

Intriguingly, just as I was finishing my pint three trays of sandwiches were delivered. I wondered if there was any chance of some free food, but they disappeared somewhere!

I headed eastwards in the failing light. The area where I drank in the Granton and the Waverley back in 1999 has been redeveloped out of all recognition, but further down Breckfield Road North things returned to 1910s architecture, and the beautiful ceramic frontage of the Grove was soon in view. (Too dark for a piccy, I'm afraid) The interior has been pleasantly modernised since I was last here, also in '99, but without changing the comfortable three roomed two-sided layout.
There were plenty of customers in both sides, at least one of which had brought an irritatingly friendly little dog - Once I'd convinced it I'd got no food it went to bother someone else. I later discovered there were three of them (dogs, I mean), and they probably belong to the pub.

I headed off in the bitter cold and darkness to the Midden which still looks like an operational pub, but wasn't open, so I continued through the maze of terraced streets to the King Charles, a fine traditional boozer with a tiny front snug served from a hatch, which has retained signage and other aspects of a 1960s refurbishment. (Don't you just love that font.) I don't mean to suggest it has an old tired interior, it has obviously been well looked after since then. Some of the regulars were tucking in to bowls of nuts and crisps, but I didn't get any!

Another place that was ticking over nicely early on Tuesday evening, I get the feeling pubs round here are still doing alright. On the other hand, none of the pubs I visited today was warm, I never took my coat off at all, so obviously all are economising on heat on what was admittedly a very cold day (for Liverpool.)

I notice I've got this pub listed under Anfield whereas all the previous ones were Everton. I really must decide where the line is and sort things out!

A short walk took me to Breck Road for a bus into town for a train home. Just think, when I'm sixty all this travel will be free! Hopefully.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Southport Line Miscelleny

The weather was cold and mostly bright as I used two trains to travel from Huyton to Hightown. Opportunities for confusion over these place names perhaps? I once had a taxi driver head towards Walton when I wanted Woolton, but I've not had problems with Huyton/Hightown yet.

But I digress. It's just a few steps from the station to the Hightown Hotel:
When I first came here the interior was decorated in an unusual fifties/sixties style which I rather liked, but that has long gone, to be replaced with standard "traditional pub" decor, done very nicely. The only other customers at 3 p.m. were a group of regulars chatting at the bar; no-one else came or went while I was there. The six hand pumps included Directors' (Now brewed by Wells & Youngs in Bedford.) which I haven't had for years so I enjoyed a good pint of that in the comfortable surroundings.
I had a quick look at the menu of standard pub classics which seems good value. It's quite rare nowadays for a pub that isn't in a chain or franchise to do food.
I also noticed an advert for new year's eve: Free entry, free food, two free drinks, and fireworks. If only I lived within walking distance!

The plan was to walk across open country to the never before visited Pheasant, but a cold north wind was whistling in across the sea, bringing with it ominous black clouds and a few spots of rain, so I wimped out and left that one for a warmer day, instead taking the train a couple of stops to Freshfield to tick off the Beer Station:
A standard micro-pub in a row of shops this, worryingly deserted as I approached but the sign said Open and it was. The usual micro decor of plain walls, but decorated with pictures of local scenes instead of breweriana. Very pleasant, although somewhat lacking in atmosphere with only me and the landlord. My pint of Melwood's Liverpool Porter from one of the three hand pumps was nothing short of perfect. No other drinkers appeared while I enjoyed my ale, I hope they get more people later.

Back to the station, and a few stops towards town, to Crosby and the Corner Post. (Too dark for pictures by now.) Another micro-pub, pale walls with local scenes again, but this time with the difference that there were nearly a dozen customers, despite the fact that it was rather chilly inside. Five handpumps on the bar, and I had an excellent pint of Prohibition APA from Wily Fox. Unlike the dead silence of the last place, there was a gentle background noise of cheerful chit-chat here, making it feel more welcoming/comfortable, although on the negative side this is one of those dog-friendly places - There were two well behaved ones while I was there.
More people came in as I enjoyed my ale, to the extent that eventually I had to share my table.

The trouble with using the excellent to help plan these researches is that it has a "nearby" button which quite often throws up a place I've never heard of. Thus I found myself in the This is Livin Bar and Grill. This is mainly a restaurant, but there's a pleasant drinkers' area by the bar which feels comfortable and not just grudgingly provided for people waiting to eat. As far as I could see, the only customers at half five were me and one other drinker, severely outnumbered by the staff (Four front of house, at least three in the kitchen.) but I expect they get more diners later. No real ale so I finished my day with a Guinness.

So, two of those critical "In the Good Beer Guide but I've never been" places ticked, plus another I'd never heard of before. Time to go home.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Two Hundred And Fifty

I visited the Blood Donor Centre today for my hundreth donation of platelets, giving me a total score of two hundred and fifty which I'm hoping will win me a certificate or something.  All I got today was a packet of crisps and a Penguin. (That's the biscuit, not the bird.)

Anyway, afterwards I headed to a favourite pub of mine, the Globe on Cases Street:
This splendid tiny pub is far too busy most of the time but at 3pm on a damp Tuesday afternoon I managed to get a table.
The famous slanting floor is particularly noticeable if you sit at one of the (sloping) tables facing the (level) bar counter.
I was served a rather short pint of Landlord, and was slightly miffed to note that a regular, ordering the same a few minutes later, was told "I'll just let it settle."  Apparently strangers don't merit this treatment.  Never mind, the ale was, as usual, of excellent quality.

Thursday 16 November 2017

An Omission In Town

The building on the corner of Victoria Street and Stanley Street has been Molly Malones since 2014 but somehow despite walking past it on a regular basis I've never put it in my database, let alone visited.
I corrected the omission today, and found a pleasant pseudo-Irish pub, very quiet at 1pm on a Thursday.  Obviously I had a Guinness, and by the time I'd finished it the handful of workmen in for their lunch break had gone and there were only three other customers.
There seems to have been a gradual increase in the number of "Irish" pubs in Liverpool in recent years, and I often wonder what real Irish people think of them, as they're not much like a true Irish pub in my opinion.  (Pogue Mahone is an honourable exception.)

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Busy Pubs on Breck Road

A train and then the frequent 14 bus quickly took me to Breck Road, and the large 70s building that is the Brunel:
For a moment it looked closed at half past three on a Tuesday, but one door was open and through the window I could see fruit-machine lights flashing.
Inside I found an enormous U-shaped room wrapped round the two-sided servery.  Most was in darkness with just the smaller side near the entrance lit.  This was plenty of room for me and the sole other customer.  Surprisingly there were two handpumps on the bar offering Wainwright and Doom Bar but I guessed they were not in use and plumped for a lager.  Racing on the telly was presumably for the other drinker and/or the barman.  The decor was plain standard boozer, well maintained, clean and tidy.

Just a short step down the road to the Royal.  It was already too dark for a picture, so here's one from 2004.  I'm pleased to report that it has a more tasteful colour scheme now:
Another plain clean and tidy interior in this two sided pub.  As to the clientele, in marked contrast to the Brunel, the place was quite busy.  Plenty of blokes watching the racing, plus some other regulars, of both sexes, enjoying noisy chit-chat.
The background sound changed from music to racing commentary to silence and back again, but the main noise was chit-chat and laughter punctuated by the occasional clack of pool balls from the other bar.  A proper lively local, buzzing at four o'clock, and it's only Tuesday!

Next, the Lutine Bell, once again the picture is from 2004:
Another plain down market place; one clean and tidy L-shaped room, dimly lit and gloomy despite the mustard yellow walls (except in the LFC corner), but like the last place it was lively with excited chatter from the regulars.  I could have sworn some of them were the same people as in the Royal, but perhaps not.  No racing here, in fact all the tellies were off with just the Kinks playing on the jukebox in the background, interrupted occasionally by left-overs from the 5th of November exploding in the street outside.  (For the derivation of the pub's name, see the guide entry linked to above.)

Finally, a few more steps along Breck Road to the Windermere.  Perhaps the most down market of today's pubs, but still perfectly clean and tidy; the days of the true shit-hole have long gone, thank goodness.  (e.g. the unlamented Brewers Arms, Croxteth, which was really horrible.)
One room, with bench seats along the wall - And a fella asleep in the corner with a pint of Guinness in front of him, when that happens to me I'll know it's time to give up researching the guide.  Shortly after I typed that, he woke up, took a swig, and went back to sleep!
The handful of regulars kept the chat going, there were Sky News and The Chase on large TVs, not much point without sound or subtitles.  If watching a quiz with no sound wasn't confusing enough they've got one of those backwards clocks by the bar, and that really messes with the inebriated mind.

It's not impossible to photograph a pub in the dark, and on departure I propped my camera against the bus shelter while waiting for the bus home:

Thursday 9 November 2017

Back To Square One for Free Beer!

The genesis of The Merseyside Pub Guide was an occasion in June 1998 when I and a group of friends decided to go "somewhere different" for our Friday night out, and selected West Derby Village where we enjoyed good beer in good pubs, and I started recording details of the places we drank in.  Today I headed back to where it all started almost twenty years ago.

It seems to happen fairly often on this blog that I contradict what I wrote last time so, having said last week that I have to start mid afternoon because of limited opening hours, today I reached the Halton Castle at noon:
A splendid little three-room place, sympathetically modernised retaining various old features. The barmaid, smoking outside, spotted me taking a photo and eyed me with suspicion as I approached, but soon served me a spot on pint of Greene King IPA. There was no-one else in the place, so she returned to her cigarette and left me in the comfortable bright surroundings of the "private bar" which has a tiny serving counter.
No other customers came in while I was there, so I left the pub empty.

A short walk down the road to the impressive bulk of the Sefton Arms:
Inside, it has been modernised out of all recognition since I was last here, the modern pastel shades making it look almost like an Ember Inn.  In stark contrast to the Halton it was quite busy with lots of diners at half twelve.  This is a member of one of Greene King's chains. They seem to have a number of different brands, this is the one with black menus labelled "Time well spent".
The handpumps on the bar were offering a few of GK's standards, plus a guest, but most were not actually available so I had another pint of their IPA, once again in excellent nick but a very short measure.  There was the contented hubub of diners in the background, almost drowning out the gentle background music, as I enjoyed my drink.
My records from 2003 refer to a noisy main room with a young clientele, and a "totally separate" pub round the side, much quieter.  I thought this had been refurbished away, but on my search for the gents I discovered a door through which I could see the side room and bar, looking operational but not in use at the time of my visit.

Round the corner to the Hare and Hounds:
Another one with particularly pleasant contemporary decor inside but without food there were fewer customers than in the Sefton, although it was ticking over gently.  The only handpump with a clip offered Hobgoblin, the barmaid had some trouble pouring it, and rather than wait ages for it to settle, gave me an extra glass, so after grumbling about the short measure in the Sefton, I got well over a pint here, and there was more to come!  As I sat drinking my pint-and-a-bit and typing the above, the landlord or cellarman (or both) appeared. "Are you on the cask?" he asked. "I've just put Bombardier on, have a free pint".  Never one to miss free ale, I accepted the pint, which somewhat extended my stay here.
There's a little bit of the conspiracy theorist in me, so I wondered if the Halton Castle had phoned up their mates to say there's a bloke photographing pubs and writing things on his tablet, it might be worth buttering him up in case it's a pub guide. If so, then I have broken my rule about never accepting free drinks.
Anyway, whether this was attempted bribery or not, the Hobgoblin was OK, perhaps towards the end of the barrel, and the Bombardier was perfect. All in all a pleasant boozer, the barmaid was chatting to the regulars, there was racing on the tellies but quiet enough to be unobtrusive, it was just generally comfortable.
I must say I thought the "Seven deadly gins" promotion was rather witty, an obvious pun now I've seen it but it'd never occurred to me before. On the gantry above the bar were various gin bottles with labels like envy and greed attached.

It's up to you to decide whether free ale has biased my report. Why not go in and say "Merseypub got a free pint, where's mine?", and see how far you get! On reflection, I'd rather you didn't, although it wouldn't be as bad as the lying bastard who's going round charging gullible staff £75 to put their pub in my guide.

Friday 3 November 2017

Further Afield

All this is well outside my "target area" but still worthy of a blog entry, I hope.

I travelled by train, tram, and train right across the Manchester conurbation and on to the pleasant Derbyshire mill town of Glossop. There are loads of pubs here to visit, including some up a long hill. I recall visiting one of these a few years ago where the landlord advised that if the forecast snow arrived I wouldn't be able to get home! (It didn't and I did.)

Having completed my non-pub-related reason for being here, I moved on to pub research: My first target, GBG entry and architectural gem the Crown, is supposed to open at twelve on a Friday, but at 12:05 it wasn't, so I crossed the road to the less exciting Surrey Arms for a pint of the black stuff. This was from a can via the "surger" gizmo I wrote about a few weeks ago, but this time the barmaid warned me in advance.
There was only one other customer in the pleasant well cared for knocked through interior, although the moment I typed that two more came in.  I must say the jukebox was doing well - Smiths, Stone Roses and then the Eagles.

On leaving the Surrey, I could see the Crown was now open, so I was able to enjoy its historic interior, not to mention a pint of Sam Smith's OBB for only two quid. Not my favourite ale but it was in perfect nick, and infinitely superior to the Guinness I had over the road.

It's good to see that a pub apparently providing only one real ale can get in the Good Beer Guide, sometimes I get the feeling that it's "never mind the quality, feel the width" at CAMRA.

I adjourned to one of the front rooms, sitting alone in a small lounge with comfy bench seats round all four walls. The real fire wasn't lit but it was laid ready for use. Just a few regulars at the bar, chatting to the landlord, making a quiet background noise - There was no music, which seemed appropriate in these surroundings.

Next, on to somewhere with more reliable hours; Wetherspoon's Smithy Fold. This is in the bottom of an enormous former mill, the rest of which is a Travelodge. Quirky industrial-style decor greeted me, and at half one on a Friday it was unsurprisingly pretty busy. I managed to find a table to enjoy a great beer from the Howard Town brewery, just half a mile from the pub - How's that for locale! Despite the "15-20 minutes" warning, my wrap arrived very quickly.
The custom eased off a little as I enjoyed my food and drink but it was still busy when I left.

Why get a train all the way to Manchester and out again when I can cut straight across? No reason at all, so my next move was a bus to Stalyvegas. The bus ride was a splendid trip through places I've never been before, with wonderful views from my seat upstairs at the front.

Rarely, I managed to press the bell at exactly the right time on an unfamiliar bus route, and the bus stopped outside the station right under the railway bridge. Here, there was a slight hitch, the driver pressed the button, the door creaked and wheezed, but it didn't open. He pressed close and open a few times, with no effect. Was I going to be trapped? Eventually I gave a little tug on the emergency handle on the door, and it sprang into life and opened. I jumped off quickly and as I entered the station, the bus was still at the stop. I've no idea if it managed to carry on in service.

As you've probably guessed by now, my destination was the wonderful Buffet Bar. I've been coming here since December 1980, including for a reunion with university friends in early December each year, but that's no excuse for not visiting at other times, so if I'm in Manchester with a suitable train ticket I always try to come here.

When I arrived it was a lot quieter than it is for our reunion on a Friday evening, but still ticking over nicely, with a wide array of real ales on. I chose another from the same brewery in Glossop, and settled down in one of the side rooms - If I recall correctly this wasn't part of the pub when I first came here, there was just the main room and the conservatory. And you had to walk down the platform and use the railway's gents, there wasn't one in the pub. Ah, memories; on one occasion, after a couple of pints I headed out to the gents to find an inch of fresh snow on the platform.

Time to go, two trains took me home.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Mossley Hill

Two trains carried me to Mossley Hill station, from where it was a short walk to Pi:
A shop conversion, this, with two shops joined together.  The decor inside is the standard micro-pub plain walls covered in breweriana.  With a stone floor this made for a somewhat echoey ambiance, although there wasn't much noise to echo as I was the only customer.  I was a little concerned about this place as during my internet research yesterday I happened upon some very negative trip advisor reviews saying it had gone downhill recently; and also it seems to have a food hygiene rating of 1.  All I can say is that the friendly helpful barman served me an excellent pint of Dark Star's Partridge, and even gave me some complimentary peanuts. (Before you say "yuk", this wasn't the bowl on the bar that's had everyones fingers in, which seemed to be very common in America when I was there. These were scooped into a container for me.) No-one came in while I enjoyed my ale. They've been here since 2011 so my first visit is just a little late, let's hope they are busier at other times.

A short step back past the station brought me to the Rose of Mossley:
I first came here in 1997, I think, when it was just called the Rose.  A large free-standing pub dating from I'm not sure when (1930s perhaps?), the inside, originally with many rooms, has been opened up but keeping some separation between areas.  It still retains some original-looking woodwork and ceiling plasterwork, altogether a pleasant, comfortable interior.  Nowadays it's in the Greene King stable, and aiming at diners. The two handpumps were offering Abbot and Old Spooky Hen which tasted like the Speckled version. Ticking over gently at four on a Thursday, in the area where I sat the majority of customers were eating. A gentle hum of background conversation was drowning out the very quiet muzak as I drank my ale and typed my report.

Next, down some classic suburban streets to the Storrsdale:
My comments back in 2009 described this as a beautifully looked after preserved 50s or 30s pub, and nothing has changed.  Wonderfully, there's a little parade of shops across the road in the same style, and the brickwork in both suggests to me it's 1930s rather than 50s. Comments from those who know more than I do about pub architecture (That is, pretty much everyone.) would be welcome.

As usual, I went in by the wrong door, entering the well kept but totally empty lounge.  I headed through the connecting door to join the handful of regulars in the bar side. The handpumps offered various ales, including a number from Hobson, the one I had was spot on although I noticed everyone else was on lager. Everyone watched Tipping Point on the telly, and then The Chase.

I can't say enough about this wonderful architectural gem. It has clearly been refurbished and altered during its life, but so many original features remain, making it a personal favourite. Quality real ales are just the icing on the cake.

Finally, a stroll to the never before visited Greenhills.  No picture, as it was dark by now. This will become a regular theme for the next few months, unfortunately my old arrangement of starting a research trip before noon has been stymied by the now common restricted opening hours - Today it was the Storrsdale, which opened at 3pm (Or 4 if you use a different web site)

I'm not sure why this place has heretofore been missing from my researches, I think it's one of those locations that slips through the cracks between areas. [I've always wanted to use "heretofore" in a blog entry!]

Mainly aimed at diners, the large building has a pleasant comfortable drinkers' area at one side. I would have thought they could put a few food menus in here to tempt us but apparently not, so I can't comment on the menu, but anyway the ale was good - They offered Bombardier and Doom Bar, I had the former. [Aha! - I get to use former/latter as well.]

There was a regular flow of customers, both drinkers and diners, so I think they're doing well. It seemed to me that there were more drinkers than diners.

Finally, a fairly short walk to West Allerton station, which I don't think I've ever used before, got me on the journey home.

Friday 27 October 2017

Even Newer Penny Farthing

I was rejected by the blood donors today due to dental work, so somewhat cheesed off I headed for a pub I noticed the other day had reopened.

The New Penny Farthing closed in 2016 and to be honest I assumed it was to be demolished, but I was wrong:  Instead, walking past once a week, I saw the exterior cladding of the 60s construction removed and then gradually replaced by new glazing, until finally it opened as the Courtyard.  ‎The inside ‎has been totally gutted to create a bare brick and concrete decor to which has been added contemporary fixtures and furniture.

I was somewhat startled to find three handpumps serving beers from Liverpool Organic and the one I tried was spot on.  They seem to be aiming at the cocktail crowd but at noon on a Friday I was perhaps unsurprisingly the only customer. The menu consists of light bar snacks and platters.

What a contrast to the New Penny Farthing, which I recall as a rough-and-ready boozer with cheap beer and free butties.

The barman, with no-one to serve, was sorting out behind the bar, I noticed he'd got a whole box of lemons and another of limes. I wonder how long it'll take to use them all up?  He sliced a couple of each for now, throwing away yesterday's leftover slices.

There's another bar upstairs which I didn't visit, and a pleasant looking patio area at the side.

Thursday 26 October 2017


The journey to Liscard seemed to take for ever (Little did I know...), with a very slow train and then a bus under the river but eventually I arrived at the town from where it was a short walk past umpteen pubs - To be visited later today or on a subsequent trip - to the Primrose:
This is something of a gem from the architectural point of view, inside and out.  The pub was re-built in the early 1920s and is well preserved.  Excellent ceiling plasterwork, dark wood panelling, leaded glass, and an impressive fireplace are all original, and only slightly spoiled by Hallowe'en decorations. The fire wasn't lit but it looks like it is used sometimes.

No ale, so I sat down with a Guinness to admire the decor. It was quite quiet at four on a Thursday, but gently ticking over with a number of regulars leaning on the bar and laughing and joking with the friendly barmaid.

Time to retrace my steps back towards Liscard in the strengthening drizzle, pausing first at the Saddle Inn:
Not an architectural gem but nonetheless nice-looking inside and out. The sign outside says hand pulled cask ale but there didn't seem to be any so it was Guinness again. Just a few locals chatting while I watched Tipping Point on the telly (And typed this.) A real stove in the fireplace added to the pleasant feel of the interior, which features fake beams. Every beam carries a different drink-related quotation. I think most of them are already in my list for the quote of the day on the main website's home page.
Irritatingly, as I swigged my pint, a bloke who had been sitting at the bar disappeared and after a few minutes added a pump clip to the solitary handpump.

Like the last one, this place was spotless and well cared for inside.
The "restaurant rooms at the rear" which I described back in 2004 didn't seem to be in use while I was there, the lights were off although the way in wasn't blocked.

Next, the Royal Oak, never before visited:
It's hard to describe the interior here, one large room with very pleasant traditional-ish decoration. I wonder if anything is original (Assuming the building has always been a pub.) Perhaps the matchboarding or the ceiling plasterwork? I'm pretty sure the imposing stone and brick fireplace complete with pillars, is modern, anyway.
Custom consisted of a handful of regulars sitting at the bar watching racing on the TV, while I took my Guinness to a comfortable quiet corner at the front of the pub.  Quiet until the local youths decided it would be amusing to tap on the window, anyway.  They soon got bored when I ignored them.

Finally, time to head for the real reason I'm here in Liscard, another Good Beer Guide entry I've never visited, the Lazy Landlord.  Sorry, no photo, it was dark by now.  A well above average micro-pub in my opinion, 5 handpumps, plenty of space and seats, and no dogs!  The walls featured a fine display of breweriana including a collection of illuminated keg fonts.  The custom consisted of a few regulars chatting (Mainly about real ale pubs in the Isle of Man), and me hiding in the back enjoying a perfect pint of Windermere Pale (One of my favourites.) while being warmed by the "fake" stove.

Time to go home, leaving umpteen Liscard pubs for the next time. At this point I made a schoolboy error and jumped on the first bus with Liverpool on the front, which proceeded to take me on a convoluted route in the opposite direction. When it eventually reached Leasowe, still going away from Liverpool, I abandoned it and got a train back to civilisation instead.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Towards Tuebrook

A fairly short bus ride took me in the direction of Tuebrook, and I jumped off when we reached Queens Drive, to visit the Jolly Miller.  Here it is in 2003:
and now:
This looks like it was once an impressive inter-war roadhouse and my notes from the last millennium enthuse about the art deco inside, but most of the history has been erased, inside and out, except for a few remaining bits of carved woodwork, especially the toilet doors, in the knocked through interior.

The three handpumps were offering Old Speckled Hen (Coming soon), Old Spooky Hen (Coming soon - I'm not sure if this is a Hallowe'en joke or a real beer.), and Greene King IPA, which was of good quality.  Unusually, I couldn't see any keg bitter.

A standard member of the Flaming Grill chain with a good value range of standard pub food, and at 3pm on a Friday it was ticking over, mainly with diners, and gradually getting busier as I enjoyed my pint.

I remember visiting here on a hot day many years ago to be told there was no draught beer at all because the chiller had broken. The barman said you can have some warm Pedigree if you want - I can't remember if he charged us for it. It hadn't had time to go sour or anything, but it wasn't very enjoyable - an interesting experiment though.

Just across the road (actually it involved three separate pedestrian crossings to get over the eternally busy Queens Drive.) is what I know as the Stag and Rainbow:
Almost all the signs now say Beefeater, but the old name remains over the front door.  It almost looked closed from the outside, but pushing open the door revealed the gentle murmur of chatting diners.

The decor is pleasant contemporary; no history here, I guess it was built in the 1970s or 80s.  Just two handpumps, one blank and the other with a London Pride clip turned round, so I had to make do with a Guinness.  Everyone else was there for the food, I think.

I could have walked but I lazily took a bus into Tuebrook itself, and the Flat House.  Not much difference between the 2003 and present time pictures:

What a contrast from the previous two pubs:  Loud chatter, shouting and laughter, and two cheerful friendly barmaids rushing up and down each serving two people at once to keep everyone in drink.  Exactly the same as last time I was here years ago, apart from the lack of smoke.

Someone left just as I was served, so I got a seat.  There was a steady stream of ins and outs, most of whom knew each other, it was just like boozers used to be!

A loud cry of "Anyone want any stuff?" and suddenly quite a trade in tins of salmon, chocolate biscuits etc was going on behind me.

I'm always concerned by a "For Sale" sign on a pub, let's hope this place continues.

By the way, if you're not familiar with the term flat house - I'd never heard it until I came to Liverpool - it means exactly what it says, an ale house with a flat frontage in a straight terrace, as opposed to the more common "corner house".

A little further along West Derby Road, the Victoria has long been converted into a shop.

I continued down the road, past at least eight fast-food emporia to a corner house, the Park.  I didn't take a picture this time, but here it is in 2003:
It must have been altered since my last report which referred to a lounge side, as it now seems to be all one room.  Not quite as lively as the Flat House, but still busy with noisy locals, and I had to hide in the back corner to find a seat.  The slightly manic, over the top, friendly barman gave me someone else's Guinness to save waiting for mine to settle.

I was particularly amused by the cable-tv cable which enters the premises through an antique extractor fan.  Saves drilling a hole, I suppose, as long as no-one turns on the fan!

Wednesday 18 October 2017


Not a research trip, just some drinks with friends in a few pubs.  We started with lunch in Wetherspoon's Brass Balance.  Since the closure of the other 'Spoons in Birkenhead (Some dispute over a rent increase, I'm told) this one is even busier, and at 1pm on a Wednesday it seemed to be full of babies.  We bagged the last free table.  Despite being busy, service was prompt.

Next, round the corner to the Lion:  Back in May I was surprised to find four handpumps in operation here, all with beers from Purple Moose.  This time I was disappointed and perhaps less surprised to find no real ales.  There was also no-where to sit as a big chunk of the front area has been taken up by a pool table, so we headed on.

We passed the long closed Crown and Cushion, and Copperfield:
The next destination was the Swinging Arm:
The Hobgoblin ran out but the one pint left was OK, so no problems with turnover here.  The rest of us had Hobgoblin Gold instead.  The quirky decor is great fun, in this rather odd pub.  It was very quiet on a Wednesday afternoon, although we weren't quite the only customers.

On to Gallaghers:
This place has lost its claim to fame because it no longer does haircuts, but the ale continues to be excellent, so I'm happy.  It was good to hear Poly Styrene on the background music, as I enjoyed a fine pint of something hoppy.  Oh yes, it was Salopian Oracle.

Next we passed by the Bierhaus:
I suppose I'll have to survey this place sometime, but I can't say it's high on my list of priorities!  We carried on to the wonderful Stork:
The superb interior and quality ales never change in this favourite of mine, well deserving of its entry in CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors.

Finally, having exhausted our list of real ale pubs in Birkenhead, we returned to the Brass Balance for a couple of my favourite Titanic Plum Porter before getting the train home.

Thursday's research trip is postponed due to a bus strike.

Friday 13 October 2017

Brass Monkey

Blood Donors today, so as mentioned on Wednesday, I went back to School Lane and the Brass Monkey.  Pub number 1,837 in my database, and the 1,204th to be sampled.

I'm not sure what this place is aiming to be.  On Wednesday I peered through the window and assumed it was a craft bar, but I was completely wrong, there were no craft beers, and no bitter at all.  They seem to aiming for the cocktail market - Is there one?

The bar is larger than it appears, with a long back room.  The pleasantly quirky decor is bare brick and white tiles and, inevitably, retro industrial-style lighting.  The tiled floor is fake - it's vinyl.
Amongst the comfortable bench seats and chairs there are two swings suspended from the ceiling; probably not a good idea after a few pints.
It was hard to distinguish spare staff from customers as I swigged my Heineken, I think I was the only actual customer at 2pm on a Friday. Perhaps it does better in the evening.

Having written the above, I returned my empty glass to the bar and headed for the gents.  En route, I discovered a side room in which two groups were drinking cocktails.   On returning to the front, four or five more customers had just come in, so it's clearly nowhere near as quiet as I thought.

Up The Junction

To Sutton for today's research trip. Where? It's often known by the name of its railway station, St Helens Junction.
I was a little concerned as I left the station, as I hadn't done my full research before leaving home, but things started well: I strolled through the back streets until the Boilermakers Arms hove into view, and it was open:
Inside I found a partially knocked through room, pleasantly decorated and clean and tidy. The handpump on the bar was purely decorative, so I ordered a Guinness. This came out of a can, I'm afraid, and even worse it included some of the leftovers from a previous serve. It was somehow zizzed up by a Guinness-branded gadget on the bar. Annoyingly I didn't pay enough attention to this intriguing process. It tasted OK anyway, and I sat in a corner to observe the few regulars, some chatting at the bar, others at the back in isolation.
A large array of lights and a couple of hefty speakers suggest it'll be noisy on a Friday night. (Nothing wrong with that, I won't be here.)

Update:  The mystery device is called a Guinness Surger.

Another back street stroll took me to the Victoria as was, now called the Little Pig:
Another plain friendly two-sided boozer, well cared for inside and out, and surprisingly busy at four on a Thursday. They seemed to have the same Guinness gizmo on the bar, so I had a lager instead. Everyone in the pub knew everyone else, except me of course.
I remember noting on previous research trips back in 2004 that we were often greeted with "Hello lads, are you lost?", presumably because no-one ever goes to Sutton unless they live there, and if you live there they already know you. I also noted that the locals were always friendly, and it seems they still are, although when six of them joined me in one of the lounge rooms I felt a bit of a gooseberry.
One of the regulars was so drunk he could hardly stand up, there was a loud crash as he left heading for home, I hope it wasn't him falling over in the street.

I walked on through a post industrial wasteland to the Glassmakers Arms, which is long closed.

So, on to the Red Lion:
This was previously described by me as the pub with no name, because in 2004 it looked very tatty outside and there was no name sign at all:
It's now a Holt's house, well looked after and correctly labelled. A handpump offered Holt's Bitter but I didn't like to risk it, so, as they had a proper Guinness font I chose that. The bar side was quite busy with chatting regulars so, not wishing to be a gooseberry again, I headed through to the quieter lounge to write this. At one end of the room was a stage with an enormous screen, and the barmaid came in and put racing on, despite the fact that I was the only person in there at the time. Luckily it didn't have any sound.  Later she switched it to a music channel and turned on the sound, but not too loud.
The room was decorated with Halloween stuff, surely two weeks or more early.

Next target was the Bowling Green which I found boarded up:
Here it is in happier times, in 2004:

I headed back towards the station, taking a slight deviation via the Prince of Wales, which is now a convenience store.  I must say it's a shame they've rendered the rather fine 30s brickwork:

Finally the Vulcan Inn:
I resisted the temptation of getting some free food by joining the wake in the lounge side (Have I told the story of sticking my foot in it in Hoylake? Some other time, maybe.), and headed for the plain tiny bar side, full of locals but not so full that I couldn't get a seat. The telly over the counter was showing the local news, but no-one was watching.
Don't you just hate a pub where there's no signs on the toilets? Luckily there was no-one in when I opened the door of the Ladies.

Finally, back to the station. The painted sign on The Wheatsheaf, along with the brewery name Greenalls, is still visible on the pub which I think closed long before I started researching.

I think today's research provides further proof that my assertion that the traditional street-corner boozer has gone is premature, and in places like here and Clubmoor they're surviving well. In fact, apart from the lack of smoke nothing seems to have changed since I was last here in 2004