Tuesday 30 January 2018

Edge Hill and Wavertree

I started today's trip in Edge Hill at the former Spekeland which seemed to be boarded up every time I tried to visit.  Since then it has become the Nags Head, but it's still boarded up!

On to the Boundary:
This imposing building looks increasingly worn as the years pass, but inside the magnificent ceramics and woodwork remain.  A handful of blokes constituted the custom on a Tuesday afternoon, we were all in the bar side as the larger and more spectacular lounge side was closed off.  The background noise was chit-chat and BBC news from the telly.

Oddly, as I was about half way through my Guinness, a group of four or five lads came in and formed a noisy group at one end of the bar.  The incumbent older clientele promptly left en masse.  Aggro?  I don't think so, everything was amicable and some of those leaving called "See you later" to the lads.  It was more like a shift change.

Next, just a short distance down Smithdown Road took me to the Newstead Abbey:
The door on the main road was shut but happily I was able to gain entry round the side.  A traditional street corner boozer this one, quiet apart from the racing on the telly, with half a dozen customers watching the horses or chatting at the counter.  Just one bar, plus a back room in darkness.  As always nowadays, the place was clean, tidy and well cared for.

A very elderly bloke struggled to leave, hardly able to walk with his stick, and immediately one of the regulars helped him and carried his shopping out.  I hope I have a local like this when I'm that old.

Off down a side street to cut through to Earle Road, and the Earl Marshall:
I've not been in here since 1999, and it hasn't changed much since then, although it's obviously been well looked after in the intervening years.  Actually, my notes say it spent some time boarded up (That's perhaps why it was missing from my otherwise comprehensive survey of the area in 2003.) but it's back now.

I notice a skillful salesman has sold them some of those "retro" lightbulbs, there were various bulb shapes with spiral or zigzag filaments all suspended from the high ceiling.

A small amount of original decorated glass survives around the porch, but the majority of the decor is plain and recent.  Customers were about ten, all male except one, and the background noise was quiet conversations and Sky Sports News.

The Earl Marshal or Earl Marshall, an hereditary title held by the Dukes of Norfolk, is responsible for organising major state occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament.

Next, further along Earle Road to the Ashdale Inn:
Long before micro-pubs were invented there was a previous generation of shop conversions, which in Liverpool comprised a chain called Oak Lodges.  They could be found all over the conurbation, all having identical fake traditional pub decor and no real ale.  They were also fond of split level interiors, often arranging a few steps up between the front and rear seating areas.  Many have disappeared but some carry on, although there is now no hint of the Oak Lodges brand.  This is a classic of the genre, including the split levels.

A handful of regulars were chatting with the barmaid or playing pool, and here the background noise was mainly a music channel on the TV.

My next target was the Waldeck:
As you can see I was some months or even years too late, so I carried on past the long-closed Railway, and finished at the Wellington on Picton Road:
It was too dark for a photo by now, so this one is from 2003.

Behind the splendid ceramic exterior is a pleasant plain knocked round one bar boozer.  A few original features remain, particularly the wood and glasswork of the porches, but most of the place is comfortable modern plain.  The customers were a few blokes (four including me) and a couple of young girls whose main interest seemed to be programming the juke box.

There were a couple of handpumps on the bar, one with a turned round Doom Bar clip, but I bet they haven't done real ale for some time.

Contradicting my comments in previous blog entries, I can report that all the pubs today were comfortably warm inside, despite it being another chilly January day.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Improving Liscard

Train and bus whizzed me to Liscard where I first headed to the Queens:
One of my less complimentary guide entries, from 1999:
The interior decor is a throwback to the seventies while the clientele are a throwback to the stone age.  The staff were unable to provide a lemonade with any fizz in it for my driver when we visited.
It has to be revised, as the decor has been very nicely done creating a pleasant bright two sided boozer, and retaining a distinct difference between bar and lounge.  As for the clientele, there weren't any, three drinkers leaving the bar side just after I entered (We don't want some nosey pub ticker noting our conversations.) while in the lounge side was one woman who appeared to be staff.

The Doom Bar handpump looked out of use so I didn't ask, perhaps the one in the other side was working.  I had my usual black stuff instead, and sat alone in the bar side with just Sky Sports News on three tellys for company.   There were another two TVs switched off, no problem seeing the match on a busy day!

A short walk to never before visited Stanleys for my next call:
I can't make this place's architecture out.  Is it a relatively new construction, or a conversion from something else?  If new, why build it here, hidden out of the way.

I don't know the word to describe the interior decor, bare brick walls decorated with carved woodwork, and a quarry-tiled floor.  Actually, the wood and the large fireplace caused the word "baronial" to pop into my mind.  Anyway, the important thing is that it was pleasant and comfortable.

There were three hand pumps facing me as I entered, only one with a pump clip, so I risked a pint of Theakston's Lightfoot which was excellent.

Only one or two customers in on this sunny and warm for the time of year Tuesday afternoon, I hope they get more at other times.  I checked out the menu, which offered bog-standard pub meals - fish and chips, bangers and mash etc. - at low prices, but there was no sign of anyone eating.  I always wonder in this sort of place, is there someone in the kitchen sitting wirh their feet up waiting just in case, or does the lone barmaid have to fire up the microwave?

Over the road to the Vineyard:
From the outside this looks like a bistro, but inside I found a cheerful bar with five other customers, the busiest so far!  This place was reported as having real ales, and there was a good display of pump clips next to the bar, but the two handpumps were unlabelled so I stuck to Guinness, and earwigged on the chit chat, which seemed to be mainly about hospital visits.

Next, on to Dukes which I last visited back in 1999 when it was the Wellington and I described it as a youth oriented pool hall.  In the intervening nineteen years it's changed its name and style, becoming a pleasant plain food-led pub.

They must be doing something right, because there were more customers in here than in the previous three places put together!  Some of them were eating, as well!

On the other hand, my Guinness was the worst I've had for ages, I reckon it had been festering in the pipes since yesterday.  Also, while I'm grumbling, it was very cold in here, for which there is no excuse on the warmest day of the year so far.

After sitting down I spotted four hand pumps at the far end of the bar, but I guessed they were purely decorative.  Later, passing by on my way to the gents, I saw one of them had a Doom Bar pump clip so perhaps I could have had a real ale.

Finally, the Beer Keg:
Yuk, one of my least liked pubs this one.  Converted from a frozen food supermarket, it's a chilly marble-floored room with two pool tables in front of a long counter, and a significant "dirty mop" smell.  Quite loud piped music, and the chatter of just a half dozen customers aged from 9 to 69 I should think.

My Guinness was once again of low quality, although this was pint number five so I wasn't really qualified to judge.

Oh my goodness!  When was the last time you heard the "Stars on 45 Abba Compliation"?

The regulars were a lively lot, playing pool and chatting; I felt very much the outsider, they just ignored me.

One somewhat inebriated regular decided to move all the tables and chairs around, much to the annoyance of one of the staff.  The rubbish revealed suggested the tables hadn't been moved for some time!

Having slagged the place off above, I have to confess to growing fondness for this lively, friendly boozer where everyone knows everyone else (except me).  They were all enjoying a pleasant Tueday evening so who am I to criticise?

There are still two more pubs in Liscard which are due a visit, so I'll have to come back again some time.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

County Road

And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor lost walrus shall stay this ticker from the swift completion of his appointed round. [1]
Not a good start as I walked most of the way to the bus station in a brief sunny window in the weather and then realised I'd forgotten my Walrus[2], so had to return home to fetch it, getting shot-blasted with hailstones as I did.  The bus cheered me up by arriving at the stop at the same time as I eventually did, then the bus connection also worked well so I was soon on County Road contemplating my first target:
At first I thought the Black Horse might be shut, but in fact they'd just closed the larger half of the pub, the remainder being enough for a winter Tuesday.  This also helps them to keep the place nicely warm, I think.

There were plenty of customers, of all ages, mostly dining.  I stood at the bar and waited a good five minutes before a barmaid eventually emerged from the kitchen with a couple of meals.  Once she'd delivered them to a table I got my Guinness.

The bog standard chain pub decor is rather pleasant in here.  I sat on a high bench seat - It's very unusual for my feet to dangle! - and swigged my pint, while more diners came in.

Actually, I'm surprised more pubs like this don't close one side at quiet times, it must save staff, heating and cleaning costs and it also avoids that empty pub atmosphere.

On in the teeth of an icy gale to the Stuart Hotel:
Hidden on the back streets, this imposing building contains a rather fine pub which retains many original features including some excellent ceramics and most important of all, the original layout with a drinking corridor served from a hatch in the bar back, with lounge rooms beyond.  In the bar, something bugged me about the carved wood counter front and gantry.  Could it be a modern replacement?  It's a different colour to the rest of the clearly original woodwork.

Just three other customers, actually one of them was staff I think.  Two with me in the comfortable bar, the other sitting in the corridor at the hatch.  Another pub that's warm in cold weather, I'm pleased to report.  As I consumed another Guinness, the sky darkened ominously, but then cleared again.

The barmaid emerged from behind the bar to fiddle with the jukebox.  Her comment to one of the regulars received the reply "I don't give a **** what you put on as long as you don't turn it up".  She didn't, and the music continued at a pleasant background level.

On to number three, which I knew as the Glebe, but it's now Bernie May's Bar and Bistro:
My notes from 2004 say "The plain bare-brick interior does not live up to the impressive exterior".  The inside had been very well re-decorated in modern style since then, but I still think it's a disappointment after the outside, although certainly a significant improvement on the previous version.

Anyway, no sign of "bistro" on a Tuesday afternoon, a couple of menus was the only hint that thay do food at all, and I didn't like to examine one in case they thought I wanted to eat.  Just a handful of  regulars on lager chatting at the bar.

Pleasingly, yet another comfortably warm boozer.  Mind you, I was sitting near the wood stove.

Whatpub.com lists this as having real ale but I couldn't see a hand pump so I guess not.

The weather didn't seem so cold as I moved on, possibly three pints were keeping me warm.  I passed the tinned up County, which was Hot Pants and decorated inside with glitter paint in 2004:

Next came the Chepstow Castle:
This place is basically the same as last time I was here, in 2004:  An island bar surrounded on all sides by a pleasant plain pub.  Since then it has obviously been well cared for and re-decorated, it's spotless.  Quite a few mainly older customers were in, and a gentle hubub of cheerful conversation provided the background noise, along with the usual muzac.

They were economising on heat here a little, everyone was keeping their coat on, but it was still warmer than many pubs I've visited on previous cold days.

[1] Who'd have thought it!  A Laurie Anderson reference. [3] 
[2] For readers not from Merseyside, this is our equivalent of London's Oyster.  (Or Hong Kong's Octopus.)
[3] Yes, I know.  She got it from the US Postal Service, and they got it from Herodotus. 

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Insert Witty Title Here

A cold and damp Tuesday saw me on the 82 bus along Smithdown Road, noting a few pubs due a revisit and a lot more that aren't there any more.  I headed for Penny Lane and the Dovedale Towers:
For some strange reason I've never been here before although I've known for years that it does decent real ale.  Inside the impressive building I found a great interior with excellent woodwork, stained glass windows and tiled flooring.  I've got a suspicion it's all fake but who cares, it looks great.

The barman broke off from chatting to head behind the bar and, after pulling some through, poured me a fine pint of Landlord, presumably the first of the day.  Customers were few and far between, I could only see two others as I sat down, with a couple more arriving later, one of whom wanted to discuss a wedding reception, I think.

Next call was the Penny Lane Wine Bar, which I haven't visited since 2000:
I'm sure they trade on their name with Beatles tourists, but the memorabilia is not excessive in the pleasant and comfortable, albeit very cold, interior.  There was only one other customer, an old fella standing at the bar with a half and a packet of crisps.  I've never heard of Tags crisps before, but Google has:  Apparently it's a project from Dragon's Den - So presumably overpriced and trading on their TV fame.

No real ale so I had my usual Guinness.

On to Allerton Road and a new tick, the Three Piggies:
Much warmer than the wine bar, but still a little on the cool side, despite me sitting next to a stove.  The downside of a glazed wooden frontage which can be opened in the summer is the draughts in the winter, it must cost a packet to keep this place warm in January!

Anyway, the decor inside, distressed woodwork, bare brick, etc. is very pleasant, light and airy.  More importantly, four hand pumps served ales from less well known breweries, and the one I selected from Liverpool Organic was spot on.  While it's obviously aimed at diners, drinkers seem to be welcome.  I could only see three other customers although the pop of a Champagne cork (OK, probably Prosecco.) suggested there were others round the corner.

I must say this place looks a lot of fun, for example if you play the piano on certain evenings you get free drinks!

One of the women at the next table was the spitting image of Sarah Lancashire, I wonder if it was her.  With that scouse accent maybe not.  In the time I was there she and her friend didn't eat or drink anything, just chatted incessantly.  And why not.

Apparently, there's a function room called the Barn upstairs, which explains the sign in the photo.

Finally, on to the John Brodie.  Formerly a Yates's and not much changed inside, I think, since I ticked Yates's eighteen years ago.

I risked a pint of Bombardier from the sole operational handpump, and it was fine, and very cheap at £1.95 - Tuesday is cheap cask ale day here.  This place is a sort of Wetherspoon's clone, with less real ale but, judging by the menu, better food.

For the first time today, I was comfortably warm without my coat.  It was also the first place with plenty of customers.  Coincidence?  Perhaps not.  They've got the same "seven deadly gins" pun as I saw in West Derby.

Amusingly, despite having been renamed in 2012, the free wifi still identifies as Yates's.  A close examination of the menu revealed that the place belongs to the Stonegate Pub Company.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Rice Lane

I was a little concerned that a cold and wet Tuesday 2 January isn't the best time to survey back street boozers, and when i reached the Prince Alfred the shutters were down:
I'm not sure if this is still a pub, most of the signage is for function rooms and bed and breakfast.

Fortunately, a little further down Rice Lane the Prince Leopold was open:
A plain two-sided street corner boozer, the lounge side looked dark and I was the only customer in the bar side.  A sign outside said We sell cask ale, and they do!  I tend to distrust an unexpected hand pump in a plain boozer, but I decided to risk it and the Jennings Cumberland was spot on.  Two other customers came in while I watched telly and enjoyed a quality pint.  As I seem to say in nearly every pub nowadays, the place was spotless and well cared for.  (And so was the ale.)

Just across the side turning is the Bakery Inn:
In the one open room there's no sign of the "impressionist pictures" I commented on in 2003, just rather well done "ordinary" decor.  The fine ceiling plasterwork, picked out in gold, could be original, or modern-ish fake.

A lot more popular that the Leopold, there were about a dozen other drinkers, mostly chatting and laughing.  I notice they sell Sam Smith's Alpine Lager 2.8%, might as well have a fizzy water!

As I swigged my Guinness, I eyed up the vertical pole in the middle of the room.  Was the ceiling in danger of coming down?  I recall the sadly missed Bree Louise in London, which had an "Acrow" prop holding up the ceiling for many years.  But no, this one was chromed, with a small stage at the bottom, so presumably for pole dancing.  I don't know if that sort of thing still goes on in backstreet pubs, I remember one of the pubs in Vauxhall (The Goat, I think, now closed.) used to have "exotic dancers", but never when I was there.   Honest.

I walked on along Rice Lane, past the Plough, which looks like it's only function rooms now, and a couple of former pubs - The Oakfield Inn (Couldn't find it) and the Prince Of Wales, now a hotel.  Eventually I reached the Northcote Bar:
This used to be the Shamrock Bar, and before that Raffles.  Inside I found well done plain modern decor with a 3-sided counter in the middle of the room.  Four regulars were chatting and mostly ignoring the racing on the telly.

Next, on in the gloom and rain to the Prince Arthur:
Wow!  With a great ceramic exterior (Somewhat marred by Sky banners) and a well preserved interior, this place is deservedly Grade II listed.  Inside, it's wonderful:  The lounge and a drinking corridor are served from hatches in the leaded stained glass bar back.  The corridor and the bar side have beautiful ceramics on the walls.  If this gem was in the city centre it would be nationally famous, but out here in the sticks it's only visited by locals and the occasional pub architecture aficionado.

The walls of the lounge room are completely filled with pictures, on various themes - The corner where I sat had football teams, Liverpool architecture, Mohamed Ali, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe. 

Of the pubs I've done today, this was the busiest - plenty of regulars in both bar and lounge sides creating a cheerful hubbub - and also the warmest.  I was called upon to confirm the symbols on one of the locals' scratch cards, because he couldn't read them without his glasses.  Sadly it wasn't a winning card - I might have got a drink out of it!

Finally, the Queen Victoria at the end of Rice Lane finished my survey.  A very dimly lit two room boozer, quieter than the Arthur but still ticking over.  Once again, racing on the telly with no-one watching.   

Opposite the Queen Victoria was a bus stop whence I headed back to Liverpool.

It was difficult to spot pubs in the wet through misted up bus windows but I could see County Road features a number of places in need of a visit, and the Wetherspoon's is covered in scaffolding.