Saturday 30 June 2018

Half Year Stats

Half the year gone already, so let's look at the score so far:

Merseyside pubs in the database: 1,849  Of which 560 are believed to be closed.

All time pubs visited: 1,250

Pubs visited this year:  168
This is already the highest annual figure since 2004 and we're only half way through the year.
(For context, the best year so far is 1999, with 345 pubs ticked.)

While we're talking about counts, I was annoyed to notice the other day that the never visited Mason's Arms in Billinge is in the Good Beer Guide.  Why had I missed it from my GBG list?  Because they've wrongly put it in Greater Manchester.  I think it has limited opening hours, I seem to recall walking there and finding it shut many years ago.

Friday 29 June 2018

Rural Wirral

I decided to exploit the continuing sunshine, and go a little further afield today, visiting some of the more out of the way pubs in rural Wirral.

After a long bus ride I finally reached Irby, where I started at the Anchor:
Would I get in at 11:15?  The door was unlocked so I headed in to the splendid higgledy-piggledy interior, full of bare brick walls and pillars, with roof beams above.  It's a Mitchells and Butlers place, obviously aiming at up market food sales, but clearly still welcoming drinkers.  (But not this early!)

There were no signs of life at all as I stood at the bar.  Eventually I spotted a waitress cleaning tables in the garden, so I headed out.  "Are you open yet?"  "Only for drinks, I'll go and find him".  She then undertook a tour of the whole pub shouting for Jack, but he was nowhere to be found, so she belatedly offered to serve me.  I decided Jack probably wouldn't have pulled the real ales through yet, so I had a Guinness.  He turned up just as I sat down.

No-one else was in, I can see why a lot of these places open at twelve or later.  Just before I left two more customers came in.

Witty remark of the day:  The waitress's next task was to remove all the melted wax from some giant glass candle holders.  The chef came out and said "Is that job getting on your wick?"  I wish I'd thought of that!

A very pleasant stroll in the sunshine soon got me to the Cottage Loaf, another dining-oriented place, this time with a Greene King brand:
Inside the contemporary decor is very well done, and there were slightly more customers than in the Anchor.  Again, mainly aiming at diners but drinkers are welcome:  The table I sat at had no menus, cutlery, condiments etc.

The most bloggable thing to happen while I drank a fine pint of IPA was the barmaid dropping an icecube over the bar.  Sorry.

This is my 1,250th Merseyside pub (The Anchor was 1,249).

Next, a jolly stroll past fields and along woodland footpaths took me to the Irby Mill:
Not visited since 1998, and to be honest I've no memories of that occasion.  My database refers to a fine very old building, and excellent beer, both of which still apply.  I selected Weetwood Eastgate from the choice of 8 or so ales and it was spot on.

Plenty of customers here, mostly dining but once again, drinkers are welcome and there are some non-dining tables near the counter.

Inside the antique building (1780 I'm told.) is a wonderful multiroom interior.  But I noted the date carved on the wooden mantlepiece is 1980 so it's not all ancient, in fact it's only been a pub since about then.

Finally, back to Irby, where I noted the Anchor's car park was now much busier, and in to the Shippons, a Thwaites house:
This wonderful barn conversion is great inside and out, and was a little busier than the preceding calls.  Annoyingly, the clips were turned round on all of the handpumps I could see, so I had another Guinness.  (I had observed on the way in that the Cask Marque sign expired in 2016.)

The staff were busy clearing the debris from lunch traffic, and it seemed that the majority of the tables inside were aimed at diners.  I headed out to the pleasant beer yard where a seat in the shade was ideal.

As I relaxed and enjoyed my beer the place emptied out, the late-lunchers disappearing.

The beer yard really is wonderfully done with umpteen well looked after pot plants making for a flowery atmosphere.  The pots weren't perfect, though, and when no-one was looking I pulled a weed (I hope) out of the hydrangea next to my seat.  I only know it was a weed because I get loads of them in my garden.  Google tells me it's rosebay willowherb.

A twittering above my head was a swallow/martin/swift sitting on the telephone line.

So, a very enjoyable survey drew to a close.  Inevitably, most of my research is in urban or suburban areas, so I must say it was good, in this glorious weather, to do some pubs in the countryside, enjoying all the sights I don't normally see, including woodland paths, llamas, and Teddy on security duty!

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Ice Cold In Addison

A couple of trains took me to Seaforth for a third visit this year, and I started today's ticks at the Railway:
The interior is knocked through into one room, but retaining a lounge end and a bar end, differentiated by carpet vs. lino, and with a pool table in the bar side.  There's also a small raised seating area off the bar side.  The entrance features a well preserved Threlfall's floor mosaic.

It's nicely decorated and generally well cared for throughout, although perhaps looking a little threadbare in places.

Only two other customers and me to keep the place going on a Tuesday afternoon, more came in while I drank.

It's not so common nowadays to see the "peddlers" but two came in, the first offering perfume and the second instant coffee.

On to the Stockwell Mount:
When I visited back in 2003 this was called Ma Kent's, and the rather fine interior featured the most amazing collection of bric-a-brac.  I particularly remember a Darth Vader helmet, and a tram control desk, but the whole place was packed with fascinating artefacts.  Sadly, it's now a residential hotel, so I'm guessing the collection is long gone.

The Saltbox:
I wonder how much it costs to care for the outside of a building like they've done so well here.  I bet it's not cheap.

The interior of this enormous pub is split into a large knocked through lounge side and a smaller plainer bar side.

I found the back of the lounge side to be cooler than outside, so I settled there and enjoyed another pint of fizz.

Again, a very few customers were keeping the place ticking over, they were a lot noisier than those in the Railway, although actually most of the noise was the bar staff, I think!

Suddenly there was a lot of noisy fussing from customers and staff over something out of sight at the other end of the room.  I couldn't work out if it was a dog or a baby until, eventually, it made some baby noises in response!

Next, the Pacific Hotel:
Inside, another plain well looked after boozer, this one all knocked through into one open room.

Once again a handful of regulars were keeping the place going, not as noisily as in the previous tick.

World cup football was on multiple tellies, I could also see two racing channels.  No-one seemed to be watching any of them.

Spotted!  The landlady came over, "Are you doing a survey or something?"  She seemed to lose interest when I showed her the book.

On to what was Qudos:
This was a very tatty snooker hall, but with lots of non-playing drinkers whwn I visited in '99 and '04.  Nowadays, the signage outside is all about membership rates, which lead me to the possibly premature conclusion that it no longer counts as a pub.

Should I have gone in?  Bearing in mind how bad it was when I was here before, I'm happy with my decision.

I took a little deviation to check out the former Madigan's Lighthouse, now a dance school:
As I trudged on in the blazing sun it occurred to me that I should finish this trip on the hottest day of the year so far in the Alexandra, so I could title it "Ice Cold In Alex".  On the other hand, organising my ticks just to get a witty blog title is probably not the best way to plan, and I was there only a month ago.

So I carried on to Bootle's town centre, and the Addison Arms which used to be Yates' but now belongs to the Stonegate chain:
What a surprise:  The place was packed!  Almost every table (I managed to find one eventually.) was occupied by Bootlonians (Bootlers?), enjoying the footie or just chattering.  All were my age or older.

I selected Robinson's Dizzy Blonde from the range of "standard" real ales with a little trepidation, but it was, to sum up in two words, spot on.  And not ice cold, just pleasantly cool.  A scan round once I'd sat down failed to spot anyone else on real ale.

They don't seem to have made any major changes since this was a Yates', but they've certainly done a good job of the general maintenance, the place is very well cared for.

I couldn't get over how busy this pub was at half three on a Tuesday, goodness knows what it's like on a Friday evening.

I had a look at the menu, it seems to be very good value, but I couldn't see anyone eating so perhaps Wetherspoon's, almost next door, is getting all the diners.

By the way, I saw no evidence of the much-reported shortage of CO2 on today's trip.

Coming soon.... Wallasey.

Monday 25 June 2018

Vauxhall Vaults

Blood Donors again today, so afterwards I headed for a pub I had skipped on my visit to Vauxhall a couple of weeks ago, the Vauxhall Vaults:
Actually, I'm not sure whether this pub is in Vauxhall or the City Centre.

Anyway, inside I found a small pleasant one-room boozer.  A handful of regulars, some chatting, some alone, were keeping the place going.  The music was perhaps a little loud but not too bad.  Bruce Springsteen's greatest hits was playing.  Here comes Born To Run!

A quick pint of Carling, and another pub ticked!

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Knowsley Village

A short bus trip took me to Knowsley Village, and I started at the Copper Pot:
This is one of those large food-oriented places constructed by a main road, the twenty-first century version of the interwar roadhouse.

Inside is the standard modern decor with pastel walls plus occasional wood panelling.  Somehow I felt the overall impression was above average for this sort of place.  There were some odd bits of wall which cleverly broke up what would otherwise be a large boring space.

On the bar were eight handpumps, but only two had clips on.  With some trepidation I ordered a Pedigree, and my fears seemed to be justified when it came out with no head despite the sparkler being used.  I grasped the glass to find it was ice cold as well.  I gingerly sniffed for the expected vinegar, but it wasn't there.  So my pint turned out to be over-chilled and under-gassed, but still tasty.  Not the best Pedigree I've ever had, but a lot better than I expected, and certainly drinkable.

At 1pm on a Tuesday there was a steady flow of dining custom, the large open room filled with the gentle hubbub of happy diners.

By the way, nought out of ten for customer service; a couple came in and sat at a table on which there was a menu.  When they tried to order food they were told they had to move to the dining side of the room.  How difficult would it be to serve them where they were?  And why have menus and a table number if food isn't available there.

I strolled along rural and residential roads until I reached the large complex which was the Millbrook Manor function suite which included a small pub called the Knowsley Arms.  I had already observed from the bus that this was out of action:
On to the Pipe and Gannex:
Curses!  Closed and tinned up.  Annoyingly, I stood in the car park here and took a picture in November 2016, at which time it was open, but we had other pubs to visit so there wasn't time to go in.  So it'll forever be "Last visited January 2003" in the database.

In case you haven't guessed, it was named after the trademarks of the local MP, Prime Minister Harold Wilson.  I wonder if he ever came here!

Next, the Derby Arms.  I seem to have forgotten to take a photo.

This was a regular haunt of mine back in the mid 90s, but I haven't been in since 1997, so it pre-dates the pub guide.  The interior seemed unfamiliar, and although I could easily spot our regular seat in the bay window everything else looked different.  I wonder if the distressed woodwork was then dark coloured.  Twenty-one years is a long time to try and remember!

Anyway, the handpumps were not in use, so I had a pint of Guinness.

There was next to no-one in, just two regulars when I arrived, and two or three more came in as I drank.  The world cup was on the TVs, Japan beating Columbia, with the commentary set to the perfect 'audible but not annoying' volume.

I had a look at the menu of standard pub food and I must say it was a lot cheaper than the Copper Pot.  Unlike there, no-one was eating while I was here.

Tuesday 12 June 2018


Intermittent sunshine saw me out for a long overdue visit to Vauxhall.  A bit of a down at heel area when I started my researches back in the 90s, and full of boozers, but recently redevelopment has begun to change things.

When I head out on one of these trips I usually have an idea in my mind of what I'm going to find.  For today it was down market pubs, no real ale, lots of pubs I expected to be closed, and probably some pubs I expected to be open but were actually closed.  Let's see how much I got right...

I started with a photo of the long closed Athol Vaults:
When I came here back in '99, my pint of bitter was from a can, and I was the only customer.  Not surprisingly, it closed soon after.  More surprisingly, it's still just about standing.

Then the closed Trinity Vaults:
This building's in much better nick!

Next, on to the Britannia:
Wow!  An unreconstructed 60s or 70s classic, this.  The interior in the bar side looks unmodified except for an odd bit in the corner which might be off sales knocked through?  The varnished matchboarding on the counter front and above the servery look original.  Old lino tiles on the floor, except for quarry tiles at the counter.  The lounge side was deserted.

No real ale of course, I had a lager.

Pleasant 70s rock was playing on the jukebox, two locals were playing pool and there was one more regular sitting at the bar.

The long-closed Jamaica:

On to the Castle:
A much older building than the Britannia, containing a pleasant two room boozer.

There was a hive of activity inside as banners and flags celebrating the imminent world cup were pinned up all over the place, the staff being heckled by the regulars;  "It's upside down" and so on.

The interior is well looked after.  A little panel of old leaded glass above the arch between bar and lounge seems to be the only original feature.

Black clouds arrived while I was drinking, was I going to get wet later?

I continued down Vauxhall Road, looking for the Green Man and the Queens, but seeing no sign at all.  A little further along I came upon the pub with no name:
It turned out to be open, and called the Glass House, although you wouldn't know it!

Back in 1999 I the outside was so scruffy I thought the pub was closed, and walked straight past.  Nowadays, the outside is tidy but lacking in signage, so that my Streetview research had once again led me to conclude incorrectly that it was no longer a pub.

Inside is a clean and tidy pub knocked through into one room, but with a rather unusual curved part-glazed partition creating a snug at one end.  In dire need of some new flooring, but otherwise spotless.

Two regulars chatting in one corner and racing on the telly were the only sounds.

One of the regulars felt the need to apologise for his cheek to the landlord "because there's a stranger in" (i.e. me.)  Once again my attempts to slip in and out unnoticed had failed - As they had in all the pubs so far today.

I continued down the road to the Eagle:
A little gem this one:  A tiny, plain, beautifully cared for one room street corner boozer, with two or three regulars and me keeping the place going.

The glass for my Carling came out of the fridge.

Any attempt to blend in here failed when I nearly went base over apex on the step up to the seating area I had chosen, to the amusement of the regulars.

A music channel on the TV mixed with regulars chattering with the landlady to form the soundtrack.

Monday 11 June 2018

Poste House

To replace fluids after a blood donor session I called in at the Poste House:
This little gem never changes.  Some years ago it was threatened with demolition, so I signed a petition to save it.  Then, for a while, it stood alone in a building site.  As you can see, the buildings either side have been completed.

Downstairs is one tiny room with a counter in the corner, upstairs is similar.  On a Monday afternoon it was doing well, there was just one table free when I arrived, so I could sit down to enjoy my beer (After a chat with the barmaid/landlady - I don't think you're allowed in the place unless you have a chat.)

There was a steady hubub of chatter maintaining the friendly atmosphere.  Swearwords were in plentiful supply, especially from behind the counter!

I'm not convinced by the story that Adolf Hitler drank here when he visited his brother in Liverpool before the First World War, but you never know.  Others say he drank in Peter Kavanagh's and the majority opinion is that he never came at all.

Saturday 9 June 2018

St Helens Again

In much better weather than last week, I started another St Helens survey at the well known Turk's Head:
A fine pub!  Three rooms, two counters and umpteen real ales.  I entered the bar side which was deserted, and then confused the barmaid by walking via the side room to the lounge side, where there were a lot more people.

I selected an old favourite of mine, Copper Dragon's Golden Pippin, which I used to drink regularly but I haven't seen for some time.  It was as tasty as ever.  Only £2.80, and in a lined glass as well.

The split-level lounge, traditionally decorated with some possibly original features, was filled with a gentle background sound of chit-chat, with the piped music taking a secondary role.

Further considering the architectural features, I decided it was probably all fake, gutted and refurbished in the 1980s perhaps.  The fireplace ceramics might be an exception to this.

Virtually next door is the Cowley Vaults:
This was the Anfield Arms when I was here back in '04, and I was expecting a down market keg place for those who don't like the Turks Head's real ales.  I was totally wrong, and when I entered I saw five or six handpumps on the counter.  I selected another favourite, Oakham Citra, and it was spot on.  I also noted that alongside the ubiquitous Carling they have Kaltenberg and Paulaner on tap.

So, two great real ale pubs next door to each other, the residents of Cooper Street really are very lucky!

Just like next door, the soundtrack here was gentle chatter over music.  Everyone knew everyone else and when Austin came in they all wanted to know how his holiday had been.

Compared with the Turk's, the decor in here was plainer but no less pleasant.  The ceramic exterior is rather good, this was the first time I've seen it in daylight.

As I enjoyed my pint I wondered if the ales might be a vain attempt to compete with the neighbours, but no:  I saw umpteen pints of real ale pulled, at this turnover they will be able to easily maintain the high quality I experienced.  Good thing too.

Moving back towards the town centre, the next pub is the Talbot Ale House:
Last time I was here, the Sportsmans was rather tatty outside, and inside was a clean and tidy keg only boozer.  Here's a picture from 2004:
The outside has been nicely tidied and, good grief, has St Helens turned in to real ale central in my absence?  I entered expecting to have a Guinness and found three handpumps on the counter.  "We've got seven more real ales in the other side" said the landlady, so I headed to the larger room and soon selected one of my all time favourites, Titanic Plum Porter.  I don't recall the price, but it included a CAMRA discount.  And it was spot on.

Again, alongside the bog-standard Carling, Stella, etc. they have Paulaner and another imported lager or two on draught.

There was a pleasant sound of chatter here just like the last two ticks, but this time with Sky Sports News as the background.

The same greyhound that I'd seen in the Turk's and the Cowley came in as I enjoyed my pint.  I guess its owner shares my taste in beer.

I could see a steady stream of cask being poured.  The customers seemed to be a mix of real ale pub crawlers and ordinary locals, which I reckon is the ideal blend for a place like this.

In contrast to last week, there was "proper" rugger on the telly, and in the few minutes I was watching England went ten nil up!

I headed towards the station, passing lots of future ticks, and eventually called in at the Swan:
This classic street corner boozer survives as an island surrounded mainly by modern developments.  Inside it has been knocked through to create a pleasant open interior around an island bar.  The decor is plain and well cared for.

No real ale here, so it was time for a Guinness.  Again a steady hum of chatter formed the soundtrack, with racing in the background.

Time for home.  Coming soon: Vauxhall, and another Smithdown Road trip.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Smithdown Road

A pleasant sunny day, and with engineering works disrupting the train service I chose a destination accessible by bus and headed to Smithdown Road, starting in the wonderful Willow Bank:
What a great pub!  I don't often get here, in fact I haven't been since 2003, but if it was walking distance from my home I'd be in every other day.

The small front room was deserted but I could hear chatter from the larger back room.

I ordered a pint of Rum Porter which came out pale.  Before I could say anything the barmaid realised this was wrong and disappeared through to the other room, soon emerging with a delicious black pint.  10% off for CAMRA members!

I noticed, too late, that they have their own house beer called Salix for some reason.  (Mr Google tells me it's the Latin name for willow, of course.)

Other customers were dining, the food looks good, or drinking, and ranged in age from a family with young children to the old boy sitting at the bar.

The decor in here is a mix of classic architectural features including some leaded glass in the partitions, and modern tiling.  The overall effect is very appealing.

Just down the road is Kelly's Dispensary:
This shop conversion opened as a pub in 1999, a member of the small chain of Cains pubs.  (Dr Duncans and the Dispensary in town, the Dispensary in Birkenhead, etc.)  I don't know who owns it now.

I selected a pint of Melwood's Father Ted from the four operational handpumps.  I didn't like it much but to be clear that's purely my taste, there was nothing wrong with it.  It was only two quid!

Inside, the decor remains deliberately tatty "rustic".  (I think I'm supposed to say distressed rather than tatty, but you know what I mean.)

The large windows onto the street were all folded back creating a cool breezy open feeling, but allowing the noise of the incessant traffic in.

There were, I think, two staff plus me in the place.  On reflection, perhaps one of the staff was actually a customer.  Eventually more people came in and, just like in the Willow Bank, everyone knew everyone else.  Except me, of course.

Continuing along Smithdown, I noted the Craft Taproom, a new place not open on a Tuesday afternoon:
 I carried on to Frank's:
Last time I was here, in '03, it was called the Vine Inn, a three room boozer.  Today I found a pleasantly decorated (Perhaps too much pale green?) corner house knocked through into one open room (It's not a 90 degree corner resulting in some oddly shaped areas.) with plenty of regulars cheerfully chattering and watching the racing on the tellies.

There were a couple of handpumps on the bar but I decided not to risk them, and had a pint of lager instead.

Relaxing in a comfortable booth, my eye turned to the telly.  Where is Bangor on Dee, I wondered?  I've been to Bangor in North Wales, and Bangor, County Down, but neither are anywhere near either of the Dees.  I consulted Google Maps to learn that it's near Wrexham.

My mind continued to wander randomly:  Is the Kelly serving behind the bar the one after whom Kelly's Dispensary was named?  Probably not, but you never know.

Next, I crossed the road to tick off a new one to me, the Handyman's Supermarket:
The Handymans Supermarket was, I'm told, a famous local institution, and the pub has retained the external appearance, in fact for a moment I thought I'd misunderstood and it wasn't a pub at all!

Inside, another deliberately tatty - I mean distressed - place, this former hardware shop now has rough bare brick walls and a brewery on a mezzanine above the counter.  I joined a handful of other customers.

As I enjoyed my tasty pint of their own Pale I mused on the layout.  Surely a brewery must eventually suffer a spillage, of beer, or wort, or water, so I hope the mezzanine's floor is well waterproofed and drained!

Behind the counter and brewery is an event space where live music is on offer regularly.

Coming soon: St Helens again, and another trip to Smithdown Road to tick the new ones not open on a Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday 2 June 2018

Pub Of The Year, and Others

Undeterred by the damp weather, I took a bus to Saint Helens for a Saturday afternoon research trip.

I started at the Liverpool Arms.  I knew it was closed, I just wanted a picture of the classic 60s building, but all I found was a patch of waste ground!

Next, the Golden Lion.  Again, just for a photo, I thought, but to my surprise it's open:
Inside I found a beautifully cared for two sided local, with a handful of regulars chatting in the bar side.  A steady trickle of customers kept the place ticking over.

There were a couple of handpumps on the bar, but they looked out of action so I stuck to lager.

Back in 2003 my notes described it as "slightly worn", certainly not true now, and I think it was the last place I saw Double Diamond on draught - In fact I vaguely recall I might have tried some DD because of its rarity.

Just a short distance down the road is the now-famous Cricketers Arms, which is CAMRA's Pub Of The Year 2018:
When I was here in 2003 it was a plain keg only boozer.  What a transformation!  Umpteen handpumps offering a wide range of ales, my pint of Wily Fox Karma Citra (fnarr fnarr) was spot on.  And only £2.60 with CAMRA discount.  AND in a lined glass for a full pint.  (I must say, sitting as I was just in front of the counter, pints with big heads kept setting off alarm bells, but of course in these now rare glasses everyone was getting a full pint of beer!)

This is a splendid real ale fan's pub (And they're building a brewery out back - Brewing in three months, says the boss.) and yet, unusually, they also sell "ordinary" beers like keg Robinsons smooth, Tetley's Mild or Carling, catering for less adventurous customers.  I often see real ale places that, out of beer snobbery or just lack of thought, don't cater for the non-enthusiast.  It costs very little to put on a keg of Carling and one of bitter, and once the Carling drinker is in and comfortable, you might persuade him to try something with a bit more flavour.

The walls are covered with pump clips and other beer ephemera, of course.

On a wet Saturday afternoon they were quite busy, with a lot of CAMRA members visiting the Pub Of The Year, as well as regulars.  There was a minibus pub crawl, from Wakefield I think - I bet they didn't do the Golden Lion!  I placed a copy of the Merseyside Pub Guide on my table in the hope someone would notice it, but no-one did.

My next destination was the only Merseyside Wetherspoon's I've never ticked, the Running Horses:
I must say I wasn't looking forward much to this place.  A Lloyds No.1, on a leisure park in St Helens, on a Saturday afternoon, it's going to be (a)noisy, (b)packed, and (c)full of "professional drinkers".  But I was completely wrong, there was (a) a gentle hubub of conversation despite the large echoey room, (b) it was doing good trade but with plenty of free tables, and (c) most of the customers were dining.

The large open room with a central island bar is well done out, completely fake, of course, but none the worse for that.  There's a giant screen at one end, which was programmed to show the test match, I think, but as it was rained off there was nothing to show!

I must say this place struck me as an above average Wetherspoon's, the beer was spot on and promptly served, the waiting staff were keenly clearing the tables, there was enough space on a Saturday afternoon for me to sit down, everything just worked efficiently.

Next, towards the town centre and the Nelson:
What a contrast.  Quite busy, very noisy, and everyone except me was watching the rugby, Wigan v Warrington.

There were two handpumps, I risked White Witch, which was somewhat past its best, I'm afraid.

Inside this large pub there are some older features including a glazed partition and a fireplace.

I've not seen rugby league for a long time, there was some kind of video referee system which looked incredibly complex, and the crowd shots suggested no-one understood what was going on.  I certainly didn't, but then I've only played Union which is very different!

Time to go home, noting en route that the Royal Alfred by the station is closed and tinned up:

Coming soon - Smithdown Road, and more St Helens.