Thursday 28 September 2017


No less than three buses were necessary for a slow journey to get me to my first destination of today's survey - It would have been quicker to get a train into town and out again, I think. As I trundled through Garston on the third bus, an 82, I noted the Alexandra appeared shut, and the former Queens is now a restaurant. Along Garston's main street, however, the George, the Mariners and the Dealers are all still open, and ripe for a research trip soon.

I stayed on the bus until my first target, the Toby Carvery Aigburth. Here I found a standard Toby carvery, pretty empty at four on a Thursday. The plastic interior is nicely divided into drinking and dining areas. I selected Doom Bar from the choice of one real ale, but that's not a complaint - I'd rather see one pump serving quality ale than have a choice of six tired beers, and the "boring brown bitter" was spot on. There were a few other drinkers in, watching a quiz on the TV and/or listening to the piped music. Irritatingly, from my seat both were equally audible.

Aigburth Road used to be famous for having no pubs at all until you reached Garston, but that's certainly no longer true, and a few more stops on the same 82 route brought me to the Old Bank, my 1,200th Merseyside pub.
Located in an impressive old building is a smaller than expected one room pub. Somehow it gave the impression of a keg-only boozer but it certainly isn't, and three handpumps at the end of the bar were dispensing three "uncommon" ales, and the one I tried was perfect.
The high ceilinged room was rather echoey, magnifying the chit-chat of the regulars, most of who were sitting at the bar. It's hard to make out the decor here, I'm assuming the carved woodwork such as the columns supporting the gantry above the bar is all salvaged from elsewhere, but I wonder if some is from the bank - the arches have a double keystone motif.

Back on the 82 again for another few stops, taking me to the food and drink centre that is Lark Lane. I walked past about nine bars of various sorts, and umpteen cafes and restaurants, to reach Que Pasa Cantina at the far end of the road. This used to be a "South American" restaurant, hence the name, but they seem to have given up food and now it's a busy popular bar, one of the ones in the Good Beer Guide that I hadn't visited (until today).
Inside, bare brick walls and wooden floor make for a lot of noise, while the barmaid worked hard behind the tiny counter to keep the many customers served. Only room for two handpumps, I had a splendid pint of someone's pale ale.
A number of people came in carrying bikes which they took through to somewhere in the back, and then one of them emerged carrying a back wheel - he wandered around the room a bit and then disappeared again. I'm not sure lycra shorts are suitable attire for a visit to the pub, but anyone who knows me will confirm that I'm hardly in a position to give fashion tips!

So, time to choose one more Lark Lane place that I've never done before. showed real ale at Love and Rockets.  A youth oriented pizza place, it nonetheless has a number of handpumps amongst the twenty keg taps offering a wide range of craft ales, and my pint of WPA from the very local Big Bog Brewery was OK, although a little on the warm side. The white-painted bare brick walls and wooden floor contrived to make the place very noisy, although there was hardly anyone in the place. The smokers' area out front was, by contrast, packed.
Those pretend antique lightbulbs look especially naff if you never dust them and while I'm having a moan, I don't like menus with prices like "8.5", it should say £8.50. I have previously described this as an ugly affectation.
A steady trickle of customers was heading for the back room, and I was invited to join them for the quiz, but decided it was time to be making my way home. I could just hear them starting as I left.
I suppose I'll have to get used to being the oldest person in the pub, it's going to happen more and more often.

A short stroll got me to St Michaels station for my journey home via Liverpool. Annoyingly, I got to Lime Street just after a train left, so my homeward journey was just as slow as the outward one.

Thursday 21 September 2017


Back to the northern outposts again, starting with the Barrel House in Birkdale: 

A tiny micro-pub, this, if that isn't a tautology. They've got two handpumps, and I had something very nice from Southport Brewery. In an unusual nod to non real ale fans, they also offer keg Theakston Bitter, not something you usually see in this sort of place. They also seem to be in charge of local newspaper deliveries.
Another dog-friendly place, with a jar of dog biscuits on the bar, but I note there's no equivalent for human customers!
As seems to normal in a micro, most customers know the staff and have a joke and a chat.
All along one wall is an impressive array of bottled beers for sale, including my personal favourite, Rochfort dix. (As well as six and huit.)
My next destination was a pub that's always been in my guide, unvisited, under the Southport heading, but actually it's only a few minutes walk from Birkdale station, so I've now moved it. (Defining the borders between areas can never be precise, but I do my best.)
The Up Steps is a hefty free-standing building containing a lively traditional local pub with three small rooms, partly knocked through, clustered round a small three-sided counter. Three handpumps, two in operation, and I had a spot on pint of Wainwright. The background chit-chat here included a lot more swearwords than I heard in the Barrel House! A giant telly above my head was showing Australia struggling against India in an ODI as I enjoyed my ale. The place filled up considerably as it approached 5pm.

Back to Birkdale, and some new entries to the guide that I spotted as I left the station earlier: There's the Allotment and the Tea Rooms which will need investigation on a future trip. But I headed for a small doorway at the side of the station that was the entrance to Birkers:
While certainly at the down-market end of the scale, I must say I quite liked the large, pleasant open 'shed' of a room, open to the rafters, with a rectangular island bar in the middle. My request for a Guinness caused some aggro as it needed changing and the landlord, who had appeared to be just another drinker when I came in, had to head off and do some work. The friendly barmaid was most apologetic about the slight delay. When it arrived soon after, my pint was a bargain £2.90. The food menu also looks very cheap. All the regulars, and there were a lot of them, were sitting at the bar, with only I at one of the high tables at the edge of the room. I was amused to note that the gents, up on the balcony, included a door to the dj's desk - I wonder what happens if the dj's a girl!

Enough for today, as I have things to do tomorrow morning, so I nipped to the station for a train homewards. Not a bad result for a short survey, with three pubs added to the guide, and three visited that I've not been to before, giving totals of 1,835 pubs listed, and I've had a drink in 1,198 of them - oo look, here's another century just coming up.

Thursday 14 September 2017


Off to Newton-le-Willows on the train, and then a short stroll to the new-ish micro-pub, noting on the way that the Legh Arms is surrounded by scaffolding, as it has been for ages - I wonder if it'll be a pub when (if) they finish. The Kirkfield is closed and derelict, and the Blue Lion is being gutted and refurbished - whats the betting it won't be a pub when it's finished either? Anyway, I entered the Firkin to be told it doesn't open until 5.30. Luckily I said thanks and retreated rather than giving them a rant about unreliable opening hours, because on checking whatpub I discovered I'd read the Friday hours.

So, on down the road to Greene King's Oak Tree. Nothing much has changed in the fourteen years since I was last here, a pleasant interior with dark wood floor. One change, though, is they've followed the 2010s (Is there a word for this decade? The tensies perhaps.) fashion for industrial-style lighting. Obviously aiming at diners, they were clearly missing, with a steady stream of drinkers coming in and very little food being sold. Three or four handpumps were dispensing Greene King IPA and a house beer, also by GK, which was a fine 'ordinary' bitter. By 1700 there was a hubub of chit chat around the room, but still little or no food.

Next a short stroll in the sunshine to the Pied Bull:
Another pleasant knocked through pub, with a couple of handpumps providing decent ale, this time I had Landlord. Oddly there's a large sign mounted on the end of the next door building, maybe that used to be part of the pub? A trickle of chatting regulars kept the place going while I enjoyed my pint. I could see a "residents only" door but I'm not sure whether they still do rooms. For some reason, I had a drink in here three years ago, but not in any of the other local pubs - I wonder why. It was a very tired pint of EPA, today's ale was much better.

At last, across the road to the Firkin:
It's been here since 2014, so well overdue for a visit. They're busy even at 6 on a Thursday, although half the regulars seem to be dogs!  No less than ten handpumps on the bar and I had a gorgeous porter from Salopian. I could have had a top-up on a pint I'd already swigged, but I was too honest! You should have kept quiet, said one of the locals. Typically for a micro, everyone else seemed to know the staff, the one next to me at the bar was delivering Scotch bonnet chillies he'd grown to the landlord! The new GBG was officially released today, so I'm allowed to say the trigger for today's survey was this place's appearance in the book. The new tenner's out today as well, but I didn't see one.

Finally, Stocks Tavern:
No real ale here, a plain two-sided boozer, clean and tidy but perhaps in need of some new upholstery on the bench seats.  There were quite a few regulars in here at seven on a Thursday, with a background chatter filling the large open room. I had a bit of a dilemma here, either swig the black stuff quickly, or hang around for a hour for the later train. I chose the quick option. It's pleasing to note that a dining pub, a real ale only micro, and a keg pub can coexist in a small area, and all are doing a reasonable trade.

Time to go home. I marched back to the station, and the rain which had been intermittently threatening finally started as I passed the Legh Arms and reached the railway, comfortably in time for my train to Huyton.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Back In Time on Townsend Lane

I started this research trip at the Farmers Arms in Clubmoor:
A bit of a gem, this one.  Built for Bent's Brewery in 1925 and extended and remodelled in 1930, the exterior is pretty much unchanged since then, and people more knowledgeable than I describe it as a striking Neo-Georgian design.

Inside many original features remain although the layout has been altered.  I especially like the archway linking two rooms on the lounge side which is typical of the work of the architects, Harold E Davies and Son, and similar ones were found the Gardeners' Arms in Broad Green by the same architects.

Back in the 21st century, the pub was ticking over nicely at 4pm on a Tuesday, with most of the customers known to the bar staff.  Umpteen televisions were showing two different racing channels and a music channel.  No real ale, so I had a pint of the black stuff.

Moving along Townsend Lane, the next pub is the Clubmoor:
Another product of the same architects, built in about 1932, this one has a rather plainer exterior.  Inside on the lounge side I found a wood-panelled room with two further side rooms off it.  To my untrained eye much of the interior decor, wood panelling, decorative ceramic panels, fluted lampshades and ceiling plasterwork could be original.

Only myself and one other customer occupied the lounge, which had a distinctly un-cared for and tatty appearance, a new carpet and some re-upholstering of the seats is long overdue - Not to mention a few replacement lightbulbs.

Last time I was here, in 2002, I had a fine pint of Cains, but there's no real ale now so another pint of Guinness had to suffice while I enjoyed such classics as "Save Your Kisses For Me" on the speakers, just about managing to drown out the squawking baby in the other bar.

Just across the road, the Edinburgh Park Dockers Club, which was a classic working men's club with a small bar and a giant function room when I visited in 2002, stands derelict in a fenced off demolition site.

Next along the road is the Canon, a plain traditional corner house with two bars plus a back room.  The inside is well looked after and tidy, and all that's needed to take me back to my previous visit in 2002 (or probably to 1970!) would be the thick fug of cigarette smoke.  It would probably have been a lot busier back then, as well, but it was doing OK in 2017 with a hubbub of chit-chat all round the pub. 

No real ale, of course, so the gorgeous and cheerful barmaid provided another Guinness.  One of the regulars, seeing me taking notes, commented "You're writing for England".  Goodness knows what he would have said if I'd been using my tablet to record my notes, as I sometimes do.  He went on to say that it was very quiet in here and twenty years ago they would have been three deep at the bar - Had he read my mind?

Final port of call, a little further along, was the Elm House:
Only one half of this formerly two-sided pub was in operation, a few regulars and I spread out in the spotless front room.  Like the Canon, it was ticking over but would have been much busier and much smokier years ago.

Smooth Radio is not my idea of background music, the adverts, competitions and London travel news seem to take longer than the actual music.  After some difficulty with the remote control while trying to get racing on a different TV, we got Radio 1 instead.

My pal from the Canon came in and gave me a smile of recognition as I swigged a pint of Carling for a change.

So, four pubs ticked off, and it's pleasing to see traditional local boozers are still surviving.  In many areas this sort of pub has died out.  I'll have to head back here before too long, there's plenty more pubs to go at and I want to see if the splendid ballroom still survives at the Willow Bank.