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.