Thursday 31 January 2019

Icy Aigburth

On the coldest day of the season (so far) I put the winter spikes on my shoes and headed off to Aigburth.  On leaving St Michaels station I headed for Lark Lane, first pausing to photograph the closed Belgrave:
I continued, walking the length of Lark Lane, home to dozens of food outlets, many of which seem to change their names each time I come.  The pavement was solid ice, I was glad of the spikes!  Mind you, it was a bit embarrassing, clip-clopping across the hard floor in some of the pubs.  Better than an ambulance to A&E, though!

Today's researches will really test my definition of which establishments go in the guide.  There are many bistros and cafes along here which may serve alcohol but don't really count.

No such concerns about my first destination, the Albert:
Three handpumps on the counter offered Hobgoblin, Bombardier and Doom Bar.  Not really a selection for the real ale buff, but I'm not complaining, the Bombardier was excellent.

The rather fine interior here remains - is it fake or not? - and I was pleased to find it comfortably warm despite the (literally) freezing weather.

Gentle background music, from the jukebox I think, mixed with conversation amongst the regulars and staff as I enjoyed my ale in solitude in the comfortable back room.

On down the road to the Lodge:
According to my records this used to be The Masonic before becoming a restaurant called Negresco, perhaps related to Negresco Deco in Woolton.  In 2010 it became The Lodge Ale House, now it's just The Lodge.

I can't remember what the decor was like when I visited The Masonic in 2003.  The layout now, large bar plus side areas corresponds with my notes then, the inside is quirky and rather good, with some bare brick walls, and everything pastel coloured, grey in the main room, pale green in a side area, and so on.

A few customers were keeping the place ticking over, gentle chatter mixing with the background music.

Only two clips on the four handpumps, I selected house beer The Lodge which was a pleasant bitter.  The other option was Jennings Cumberland.  I didn't see anyone else order cask while I was here.

It was a bit colder than the Albert, I kept my coat on.

Next, Maranto's:
Really a restaurant, this, but I wanted to tick it again because I've drunk in here before so I don't want to demote it to "not a pub".

I entered to find two tables of diners, and the rest of the place empty, with no sign of any staff.  I was about to abandon my visit and designate it a restaurant when the waitress appeared, and served me a pint of Love Lane, earning bonus points for serving it in a Love Lane glass.

I must say I like the decor, Tiffany lampshades, fretwork banisters and so on.  I'm sure it's all a modern confection but it works really well.

Next, the Parkfield Inn:
The opposite end of the spectrum here, a plain pleasant down market boozer perhaps a little out of place amongst the bistros and cafes of Lark Lane.

Formerly an Oak Lodges (See this blog passim.) pub, the decor in this "corridor bar" is traditional, and well cared for.

Various regulars, aged between five and eighty-five, kept the place lively, with a pop video channel providing background music.

Good grief, they're advertising Christmas savings clubs on the telly.  Already?

That's enough of Lark Lane, is there anywhere else around here I need to tick?  Yes, so a walk along Aigburth Road took me to the Fulwood Arms:
Transformed since my last visit, much lighter inside than the dark decor I found in 2008, and now featuring bookshelf and bare brick wallpaper creating an unexpectedly pleasant ambience.

A few regulars sat at the counter chatting with the barman, while I sat on a comfortable leather sofa and drank a half of Carling.

The sounds in here were regulars' chatter and Sky Sports' reports on the transfer deadline.  It seems this is more exciting than an actual football match, judging by the frenetic commentary.  I was amused to note the transfer window countdown clock in the corner of the screen shows hundredths of a second - Considering the latency of digital satellite television transmission this is completely meaningless, in fact the whole seconds are suspect.

Finally, up Victoria Road to the Victoria.  There's no way I would have made this part of the trip uninjured without my spikes, especially on the pub's skating rink:
Last time I passed this way this pub was shut although clearly still operational, so we have to look back to 1998 when I had a drink in what was then called the Aigburth Arms.  To be honest, I don't think much has changed since then and it looks about the same - Obviously, fresh wallpaper, a new carpet and new paint will have happened in the intervening years.  Changed or not, the decor is rather pleasant, although perhaps better suited to a crowded Friday night than a quiet Thursday afternoon.

Just a few customers in the large empty-feeling room.

Twenty-one years on the real ale has gone, so I had a half of lager.

Red Dwarf aficionados will know that the Aigburth Arms has an important role in the series:  Lister was found, as a baby, in a box under the pool table.

Interestingly (or not) this is pub number one in my database.

Time to go home, I think.

Pub of the day: The Albert:  Decent ale, decent heating, pleasant decor.
Miles walked: 2
Maybe coming soon: Southport or Croxteth?

Saturday 19 January 2019

The Book

I am pleased to announce that the eleventh edition of the Merseyside Pub Guide book is now on sale.

There are 1,849 pubs listed in this edition, with details of almost thirteen hundred I have visited.

The price this year has been held at £8.00 plus postage and packing.

Thursday 17 January 2019

Dining Chain Pubs in Aintree

A bright and chilly Thursday found me at Old Roan station.  The eponymous pub has been closed for some time:

On to the dual carriageway traffic's roar on Dunnings Bridge Road, and the Bakers Dozen:
A standard Hungry Horse located on a retail park by a busy dual carriageway.  Pleasingly, there's a small corner dedicated to drinkers with no menus and no table numbers, and a pool table.

At the bar the three handpumps were out of action so I had a Guinness and settled in the drinkers' corner alone.

Observant readers of the Merseyside Pub Guide will have noticed that I have dropped the beer list, to be honest it has been an annoyance for some time:  My short term memory has always been poor so I often found that by the time I had sat down in a pub and got the tablet out, I'd forgotten what the bitters and lagers were, so I had to crane my neck or get up and have another look.  It's much easier not bothering!  As this is the first pub visited since I made the change, I'll note that from my seat I could see taps for Carling, Fosters, Coors and John Smiths.

An occasional family kept the place from being completely dead, but it was very quiet.  I suppose that's not surprising for a weekday afternoon in January.

By the way, the name comes, I think, from the fact that there is a large bread factory next door.

Next, I wandered down to the Park, where my outside observations confirmed what I had already suspected, it's just a residential hotel now:

Back past the Bakers and on to another chain dining place, the Packet Steamer:
This one is a Beefeater.  Once again there is a drinkers' area which was quite busy with a number of groups, including a wake.

Four handpumps on the counter but only one clip, Doom Bar, and I decided not to risk it, sticking to lager.

The drinkers' area was filled with a hubub of chatter and laughter, it was certainly doing better than the Bakers.  I couldn't see how busy the dining part was.

A quick check of the menu showed that with fish and chips at £12.59 it's not cheap, but I must say some of the menu items look very tasty.

Back past the Old Roan and on to the Valentine:
Another step towards the next milestone as this is my first visit, making it pub number 1,299.  It wasn't open when I passed last time.

I went in the lounge side, where there were a couple of customers standing at the counter, but no sign of any staff.  I headed through the connecting door to the bar side.  There were a couple of handpumps in the lounge side but none in the bar, so I stuck to lager.

Architectural notes:  It's hard to guess when it was built, 60s I think.  Not much original inside and the former off-sales has been knocked through into the lounge.

The barmaids chatted with the two or three regulars in the bar, while I sat in a corner and typed this.

The decor in the bar side was plain and pleasant, everything spotless and well maintained.

It's not far to the Blue Anchor:
Another dining chain pub this, Hungry Horse again, and with Fish and Chips at £7.79 it looks to be good value.  The rather fine inter-war building has been knocked through inside creating an enormous open nicely done food-oriented place.

At half three on a Thursday it was ticking over nicely, and chatter from the mostly non-dining customers was louder than the background music.

Four handpumps, three with clips, so I risked the one I'd never heard of, Anchors Away, and it was a rather good bitter.  A quick Google failed to tell me anything about it.  (Isn't the phrase "anchors aweigh" anyway?)

Now a long walk across the racecourse - I think the road is closed and the horses run across it in the Grand National - and eventually I reached the Queens.  A moment of concern when I came to an Indian Restaurant in what could have been a former pub building, but no, two doors further along was the pub:
Back in 2006 I recorded this as a two-sided pub, it has now been knocked through, with the servery forming an island between the two sides.  The plain decor is immaculate and very well done, with just a little quirkiness to lift it above the bog standard - I particularly liked the two foot tall silver stag displayed above the bar back.  Silver coloured rather than actual silver, I presume - Otherwise it'd be worth more than the pub!

The sound here was background music overlayed by chatter from a number of regulars who were keeping the place going as Thursday afternoon moved on to evening.

What I should have done now was move on to the Toby up the road, to complete my Aintree targets but I couldn't be bothered with another dining chain place so I headed back to the station and home.  Unfortunately it was too dark to take a picture as I passed the Sefton, now a curry house.

Pub of the day: The Valentine because it was a "proper pub", and a rather good one too.
Miles walked: 4.5
Maybe coming soon: Croxteth
Also coming soon:  The 2019 edition of the book is at the printers, so should be on sale before too long.

Friday 11 January 2019

Thatto Heath

I commenced a visit to a rather grey Thatto Heath at the British Lion:
I must say the external appearance didn't fill me with confidence but in fact the side door was open and I entered a warm comfortable tidy pub.

Just a few regulars were occupying the one room, the main sounds being gentle racing commentary and occasional chat.

Unusually, someone else asked where the gents was, so I didn't have to when it was time to go - I realise "go" has two possible meanings in that sentence, in fact both apply!

On my way to the gents I was able to observe the "other side" which appears to be usable but was in darkness on a Friday afternoon.

Next, the Elephant:
Now this was the reverse of the Lion; the Cask Marque badge on the outside raised my hopes, only for them to be dashed by two handpumps with no clips.

It's "only" six years since I was last here, and nothing seems to have changed, it's still a large L-shaped room, well cared for, clean and tidy.

A few regulars chatted and/or watched two different racing channels on the tellies.  The pub dog occupied my attention for a while.  It circulated around the pub, checking all the regulars, and then hovered by the gents door for someone to pass through so it could get out to the yard, where it waited patiently for a smoker to come and play with it.

Fifty yards down the road is the Vine Tavern:
I wonder what V+R means on the front of the building.  Is it old enough for it to be Victoria Regina?

Another spotless clean and tidy boozer, this.  I went in the bar side, where I was hard put to find a free table.  Perhaps there would have been more seats in the other side.

Again we had two racing channels to watch, but the majority of the customers didn't seem to interested, unlike in the Elephant.

Now a slightly longer walk, to the oddly named Brown Edge:
What a nice pub!  Partly knocked through inside, but retaining two sides.  Only two handpumps, one had the clip turned round, but the other provided a good pint of Banks's Sunbeam.

The signs say "under new management", from what I can see he's doing a good job.

Not many customers at four on a Friday, but the place was gently ticking over.

Next, the York.  Whatpub says it opens at four, but at quarter past it was still shut:
Their loss.

So I headed back towards the station, and my final target, the Springfield (Photo taken earlier, it was pretty dark by now.)
I entered the wrong side as usual, and the interconnection was not obvious so I sat in the bar side alone for my final lager of the day.

From what I could see and hear, there weren't many customers in the rest of the pub either.  I noticed a half-full pint of lager standing on the counter, as though its owner had just gone to the gents or for a smoke, but no-one came for it while I was there.

The decor in here is plain, but as usual, well cared for.  However, I sat on one of those long bench seats where there is a gap between the squab and the back, and looking through the gap I could see a lot of rubbish, so a dustpan and brush is needed!

Pub of the day: The friendly cheerful Brown Edge, also the ale of the day.
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: Aintree

Thursday 3 January 2019

Free Beer

I started a new year of ticking with a bus under the Mersey all the way to West Kirby, where I began at the Ridger:
The sign said Cask Ales and, sure enough, there were three handpumps at the end of the bar, offering Landlord, Rocking Rudolph, and Doom Bar.  Unfortunately, the first produced a little froth and no beer, the Doom Bar was cleaning fluid, and the Christmas one was very vinegary.  The apologetic barman pulled through lots of cleaning fluid and consulted the landlady, but to no avail, so I had a lager instead.  He continued to apologise, and to my surprise refused to accept any money, "because of the inconvenience".

So, not a good start to the year for real ale (Although "no real is better than a bad real"), but an excellent start from the free beer point of view!

I settled in a quiet corner to enjoy my beer - nothing tastes as sweet as free ale - and surveyed my surroundings.  The place is very well done out and carefully maintained.  I thought it looked a little down from the outside, but certainly not inside.

The majority of the customers were dining - The menu looks good value.

On to the Viking:
In the three or more renamings since I drank in the Black Horse in 2004 this place has been totally transformed from the youth oriented purple woodwork I recorded then.  Now, the modern decor in the enormous open room surrounding a three-sided servery features bare wood and bare brick walls and more bare woodwork for the ceiling.  Here's a picture from 2004:
At the entrance I ignored the staff poised to seat me and headed straight for the handpumps (5) where I quickly selected a pint of Triple Blond from Peerless.  It was spot on, but unfortunately I had to pay this time!  I slipped up here, I really should have tried the unpasteurised Budweiser which arrives in a tank from Ceske Budejovice.

Pretty much everyone else was dining and they were doing a good trade with waitresses buzzing around bringing food and clearing tables.  The soundtrack here was gentle muzak overlaid with happy chatter from the many diners.

The menu looks good but it's a lot more expensive than the Ridger.

Next, the Ring O Bells, named after the Beatles' drummer, of course  (Not really!):
Having spent some time since I last visited in 2004 as a Loch Fyne restaurant, it is now back as a pub with Greene King's Time Well Spent branding.  The name seems to have lost its apostrophe somewhere along the way.

Back in 2003 this was something of a pioneer, being the first Merseyside pub I knew of to become no smoking throughout.

An "ordinary" selection of real ales here, I had Greene King IPA, the other choices were Abbot and Rocking Rudolph.

In 2019 it's a very pleasant open room, divided up because it's built on a hill so there are four different levels.  Pretty quiet as you might expect at three on a Thursday, but gently ticking over.  I couldn't see anyone eating.

Not far to Hickory's:
In 2004 the Moby Dick was a pub/restaurant doing a good pint of Director's.  Hickory's, on the other hand, is definitely a restaurant, but they still welcome drinkers, with a row of seats at the counter.

Contrary as always, I took my rather tasty Hickory's Pale Ale - keg because the only handpump had its clip turned round - to a diners' table.  Almost immediately a waiter arrived to take my order.  He didn't complain when I said I was just having a drink, but he didn't bother to clear away the used glasses and coffee cups from the previous occupants.  I was amused to see one of their drinks was a purple colour, served in a screwtop jam jar with a straw.

The sound in here was mainly the clatter of plates and crockery, and cheerful chatter.

At last I headed for the centre of West Kirby, passing the former Hilbre Court, now an Italian:

... and reaching the Homebrew Tap:
Having photographed the off licence next door (oops), I entered the bar part to be presented with umpteen taps.  The only one I recognised was Tiny Rebel's Stay Puft, so I had one of that.

Only a handful of customers were in, and many of those seemed to be on coffee.  I headed to the back room to enjoy my delicious "marshmallow porter", I'd love to try this on cask.  Hang on, I think I have, at a beer festival?

The sounds of gentle chatter mixed with music, the whole place has a comfortable ambience.  I think the term micro-pub would be wrong here as it's quite large, especially if you include the "bottle shop" next door.  They could do with turning up the heating though, I didn't remove my coat.

Pub of the day: I think the Ring O Bells - Comfortable, friendly, and ticking over nicely.
Miles walked: 2.5 miles.
Maybe coming soon: Thatto Heath