Friday 25 September 2020

Stop! Thief!!

I headed out on the long train ride to Ainsdale station, from where a short walk took me to the Spitfire.  Researches last week had suggested this would be closed so I only went to get a photograph, but I arrived to find it open:

Inside this wonderful 1970s (?) building I found a very well done pub containing plenty of dining customers.  The waitress soon guided me to a table and fetched a fine pint of Landlord.

Back in 2010 when I ticked what was then called the Arion, I described it as plain, but the Spitfire is more up-market with contemporary restrained decor and, of course, quite a few pictures of the eponymous aircraft.

The audio was very quiet music mostly drowned out by cheerful chatter from multiple diners.

I didn't find the new mask rules unduly onerous, and I noticed the table service only rule was being bent slightly, with at least one customer going to the counter to order more drinks despite the "please do not approach the bar" signs.

Back to the middle of Ainsdale, and Tipple:

Never before visited, this one.  It's more of a cocktail bar and most of the customers were sitting outside in the chilly wind.

I hovered by the please wait to be seated sign for what seemed like an irritatingly long time but was probably less than 60 seconds before a waiter found me a table inside (That wind really is too cold!)  It was marked as reserved from 4.30 but I'll be long gone by then.

No handpumps so I went for Guinness.

This bar was doing really well, at least half the tables, inside and out, were occupied by cheerful drinkers and diners, and the waiting staff were kept quite busy.  Not so busy that they couldn't pull down their masks for an occasional gossip at the counter.

The decor, a little bit of bare brickwork, ivy above the counter and retro light bulbs everywhere, is straight out of the catalogue but pleasant nonetheless.

It's going to go wrong soon but not this time, I remembered to pay before I left.

Just a little way down the road is Champs:

Another one last visited in 2010 when it was called the Railway, despite not being near any railway.  I noticed the Champs logo is the same as the one in Waterloo which has now reverted to its original name, the Marine.

A large pleasant boozer with TV screens everywhere and lots of sports-themed memorabilia ranging from signed photos up to a whole motorbike.

The efficient barmaid/landlady had me signed in and drinking Guinness almost instantly, all it takes is someone on the ball to make the new normal perfectly acceptable.  No risk of forgetting to pay here, as she brought the card machine over straight away.

Quiet music mixed with animated chatter, just right for a Friday afternoon pub.  (Luckily the umpteen screens were silent.)

I must say so far today the new rules have not spoiled my pub experience to any great extent, although I will have to learn to cope with a one minute delay before I can go in, and sometimes another minute or two before I actually get a drink.  Hardly serious problems!  By the way, I haven't noticed any signs for the new NHS app yet, is anyone using it?

I noticed all the TVs were showing MUTV, I suppose if they showed Liverpool or Everton half the customers would be annoyed, whereas everyone is agreed in their dislike of Man United!!  I also noticed that many of the TVs were different, one extra wide, one in a white case and so on.  Obviously someone with more sense than money (A rare reversal of my usual use of the phrase) had bought them on the cheap.  Very wise.

Almost next door is the never visited Morrells:

A modern styled large bar with big windows letting in lots of sunlight to the contemporary interior.  Once again the new rules were handled with aplomb and I was sitting down, signed in, paid, and drinking my Carling before I could catch my breath.

Only a handful of people were inside, plus one group out in the cold, at three on a Friday; I did wonder how busy a place like this would have been at this time last year.  Actually it would probably have been the same, it's a bit early for the Friday rush.

Further to my comments above, this place has got the giant QR code that I think marks the new NHS app, but my sign in was on a bit of paper.  I almost wanted to try scanning it to see what takes up all that data, but I couldn't be bothered.

Having commented about how cold it was outside in the wind, I must say it wasn't exactly warm in here.  Considering the impressive display of air conditioning ducts, one might think they could turn it on and warm the place up!

A couple came in and then, in negotiation with the waitresses, spent ages fiddling with mobile phones.  I've no idea what the problems was, I was just given paper for my sign in.

Next, a pub which ought to have been in my database for a long time.  I've ticked a number of Toby Carveries for my guide but for some reason this one one has been ignored.  But no longer, it's time to try the Toby Carvery Ainsdale.  Can I go in for just a pint under the current rules?  Let's see...

Oh dear, it's after four on a Friday and I'm almost the only customer in this enormous pub/restaurant.  The delicious wafting smell of roast suggested to me that there would be a lot of wasted meat at the end of the day.  The cynic in me thinks there might be some rather tough roasts served tomorrow.

The friendly helpful waitress soon recorded my details and quickly had me sitting and served with a pint of fizz, no real ale here.

Again, it was quite chilly, I kept my coat on.  I overheard a staff conversation saying they're going to turn on the heating tomorrow.  At home it has been on since yesterday.

Quiet muzac and nothing else was the soundtrack here, there weren't enough customers to make any chatter, in fact after a family left I think it was me and one other solo drinker.  Actually it's a big place, there might be a few other customers out of my sight round the corner.

I noticed the actual carvery was surrounded by barriers, perhaps it's not allowed under the current rules.  To be honest, I can't see the point of a "carvery" if you can't actually go up and get your choice of meats.  Perhaps the Tobys will be in trouble under the Covid rules.

I must say five ticks, three never before visited, is better than I expected under the current rules, a very successful survey and it's time to go home...

Well, I'd predicted it would happen but I hadn't thought it would be in the first week:  I donned my mask, returned my glass to the counter, visited the gents and then as I marched across the car park a waitress chased after me "Excuse me, you haven't paid!"  How embarrassing.  I returned apologetically and paid for my pint.  Judging by the attitude of the waitress I suspect I wasn't the first to forget, she didn't seem at all annoyed.  After over forty years of walking out of a pub when I've finished, I think it might be some time before I get the hang of paying on exit.

Irritatingly, the hold-up meant I missed the train by about thirty seconds, delaying my journey home by fifteen minutes.

Pub of the day: Spitfire, for a perfect pint of Landlord
Miles walked: 1.6
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street

Thursday 24 September 2020

The New New Normal

Once again, not a pub survey as such, but some friends and I took a trip to New Brighton yesterday, giving us a chance to see how the new rules are affecting the pub experience.

We started in Wetherspoon's Master Mariner, where the friendly "guard" at the entrance soon had us signed in, then we walked up to the counter to check out the real ales, ordered Abbots, "Where are you sitting?", "Over there", and everything was sorted and the pints were soon brought to us, and very welcome they were too!  The pub was much emptier than we have observed on previous visits, but still ticking over gently.  This has never been a favourite Wetherspoon's of mine, parts of it are very dark and dingy.

Next, across the road to the Seahorse, a large dining place in the Greene King Hungry Horse chain.  Here they made a tedious palaver of signing in, giving us a table and taking our order before finally bringing us some Speckled Hen that was rather past its best.  There were only three other customers in, the four or five staff (presumably plus one or two in the kitchen) were mostly idle.  I can't see Greene King putting up with this sort of loss for long, although I'm sure it's busier at other times of the day, other days of the week, and when it's not raining.

We crossed back over the road to try the Stage Door Tap but it and the hotel seem to be closed at the moment.

Up on Victoria Road we visited the Bow-Legged Beagle.  Here a friendly barman soon sorted us out with pints of something gorgeous.  The bar was quite busy with locals who chatted to each other and the barman.  A fine pub, this, which I highly recommend.

I noticed some other changes on Victoria Road:  The Stag seems to have reverted to its previous name, the New Brighton Hotel; the Railway, closed last time I was here, has re-opened as the James Atherton; and there's a new Homebrew Tap in the same row of shops as the Beagle.

Our final call was the Perch Rock which was well filled with cheerful regulars, but not overcrowded.  The sign-in, order, and service procedures were quick and friendly and we were soon enjoying some fine Landlord.  Unlike my previous visits we sat in one of the back rooms, which was comfortable and not too full.  So comfortable, in fact, that we decided to have another round here, before heading home.

So, three out of four places we visited were still managing to provide a decent pubby experience despite the table service only rules, which I think must be good news.

A note of explanation to those who don't live in the area: The new pub rules - table service only and close at ten - which have been introduced in England today (Thursday) have applied as a local lockdown in Merseyside since Tuesday, hence we got a short preview of the new national normal. 

Tuesday 22 September 2020


Not a formal pub survey, just a local walk for other reasons, but it gave me a chance to re-visit two pubs which are long overdue for a return.  I started with the classic 1990s dining place that is the Chapel Brook:

Very quiet at one on a Tuesday, just a few other customers scattered around the enormous pub.

I was guided to my table by a cheerful waitress who took my order for Doom Bar.  A bit risky ordering cask at this time in this sort of place, but it was in excellent nick and certainly didn't have the first out of the pump taste I had feared.

Unusually there was no music, so the main noise was the staff discussing the new closing time (I think they concluded it was last orders 21:00) and clinking glasses as they unloaded the washer.

I don't think anything has changed in here since my last visit back in 2014, although the quality of the interior shows it has been well looked after in the intervening years.

Next, the Hare and Hounds, which for some reason I always think of as the Coach and Horses (This always creates confusion when it comes up in pub conversations.)

Again I was seized on entry and checked in, this time it was choose your own table and someone will come and take your order.  I did and they didn't.

Plenty of staff chatting or fiddling with mobile phones, but not coming to me.  Hmph.  Is this the new new normal?  To be fair, it was only a couple of minutes before a young lad came to collect my order, so nothing to complain about, but it just feels wrong to be sitting in a pub with no drink in front of me.

The place was ticking over gently but fairly empty.  Two elderly women struggled with the sign in process and by the time they'd managed it there was a queue behind them.

First day of the new rules and they'd no idea how it was supposed to work, my request to pay by card led to confusion and he had to ask his boss, who advised that card payments were at the counter.  He had to set up a tab for me so I could pay up when I left.  I can see me walking out and forgetting to pay somewhere soon.

Boris was on the telly, thankfully silent, confirming that today's new local rules (Table service only, close at ten.) go national from Thursday.

As usual, I kept an eye on what was going on around me.  A feller who was drinking a purple drink (Probably Strongbow Dark Fruit) ordered another, and then rejected it.  It looked a lot less purple than usual.  His replacement was back to normal.  This made me wonder, do they have one keg of cider and then add syrup in the pump for the fruity version?  It's possible, maybe, but my Google researches say no.

Miles walked: 2.8
Maybe coming soon: City Centre or Ainsdale

Saturday 19 September 2020

Fire In The Hole!

On a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon I headed under the river with the aim of mopping up a few odds and ends in Birkenhead.  I started towards the north end of the town, at the Bidston:

Here I found a plain two sided boozer, looking good inside and out.   A small lounge side and a much larger opened out bar side, both nicely appointed with spotless carpets and comfortable seats.  I described it as "well cared for" in 2009 and it still is.

Being a Saturday afternoon it was quite busy, plenty of regulars chattering, with football commentary in the background.

I soon found a comfy sofa and table at which to write this and enjoy my pint of fizz, of Danish branding for a change.

A short stroll along the road is the North Star:

Perhaps a little plainer than the Bidston, but still clean and tidy, a two sided locals boozer with just a handful of regulars chatting.  The background noise was racing this time, switching to footie when half time was over.  (Silent racing continued on the screen above my head.)

My comment back in 2003 was "rather too green for my liking", no longer applicable as the walls are cream and white, although I did notice some green upholstery in the other side.

Another proper locals boozer this, it's good to see they're continuing to survive, although who knows what's to come, with new restrictions starting Tuesday.

Almost next door is the Comet Inn, long closed:

Next, a long walk towards central Birkenhead, and the never before visited Sea Dog:

Unfortunately it was shut, as I've found it more than once before.  I'm tempted to suggest that a boozer not open at two on a Saturday is not an active boozer, but it looks operational, with Brewery signs and neons (not lit).  Perhaps I'll have to try a Saturday night visit.

I walked on to the Warwick.  I've tried to tick this one a couples of times, once I actually got as far as rattling the handle on the door, it looked so much like an open pub.  Sadly it's now boarded up so it seems this is one that got away:

By now I was in urgent need of a toilet, but I ticked all the nearby pubs only two years ago.  A repeat was called for so I selected the Cavendish, which I was relieved (pun) to see was open:

A well done out split level shop conversion ticking over with not many customers.  Footie on the telly, Everton had just won, taking them top of the league!

The hard walls here make it a bit echoey, so the main sound was the locals conversation.

I had to register before getting another pint of fizz.

Football punditry and silent racing occupied the two screens I could see.  Do we get three o'clock matches now no one's allowed in?

A plain but pleasant pub, this, but I wonder how they will cope with "table service only" from Tuesday - Or have I misunderstood the new rules?

Where next?  There's one more "target", on the other side of Birkenhead, quite a long walk...  But I can't go home after only two wanted ones, so on I marched.  Sadly, Hornblower's wasn't open, although it looked operational, complete with social distancing notices.

That's pretty much it for ticks here, but wait a moment, what about the Riverview?  This was snubbed on a recent day out with friends because it didn't seem to have any real ale, and the wonderful Gallagher's is next door, but my duties as a researcher mean it's required.  I dragged myself past Gallagher's and went in.  Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.

And jolly good it is too!  There was a forward facing clip on one of the handpumps this time, and my pint of Trappers Hat was excellent.  

Rather a quirky interior here, the main area has a fine, probably fake, tiled floor, with raised areas to either side.  There's a peculiar bare brickwork pillar in the middle, and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.  The counter and bar back are antique-style woodwork, presumably installed during the 2013 refurbishment.  The overall effect is very pleasant, and I like it.

A good cross section of customers were keeping the place ticking over, couples, old blokes, cyclists outside in the street, and one pub surveyor.

I think that's enough, so time to head for home.

I caught the Merseyrail from Hamilton Square.  Between Moorfields and Lime Street we passed quite a significant fire in the tunnel, a bright orange glow passing the windows as the carriage filled with smoke.  On arrival at Lime Street the platform was also very smoky.  After a short delay the doors were opened and everyone was able to exit, the fire alarms went off as I ascended the escalators.  More exciting than my usual journey home, but nothing to worry about, just a "pot fire", or perhaps some rubbish ignited by the live rail.

Pub of the day: Riverview, for the only real ale of the day.
Miles walked: 4.1
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street or Ainsdale

Friday 11 September 2020


One train and one bus and I was soon in Eccleston and at my first objective for the day, the Seven Stars:

A large pleasant two-sided pub, this, in Green King's Flaming Grill chain.  I was immediately grabbed by an efficient waiter/barman who, on learning I didn't have a reservation and only wanted a drink, led me through to the bar side where I was the only customer.  The lounge side was much busier with plenty of people dining.

Sign in was by QR code and text, my order for a pint of About was taken at the table but I had to go to the counter to collect it and pay.  Sadly it was somewhat past is best, perhaps the first out of the pump today.

I noticed my report from 2004 says "slightly tatty"; not true now, the bar side is plain but very well decorated and looked after.  I've said this before and I'll say it again:  People won't use a scruffy pub nowadays so they tidy up or close down.

My eye was caught by a poster advertising a "2 pint serve", I wonder if you can get a two pint glass of Abbot, on a night out it would reduce by half the number of visits to the bar!  I seem to recall Wetherspoon's experimented with a pint-and-a-half glass some years ago.  [Pause while I search my glass collection...]  Ah yes, here it is, with a standard pint conic for comparison.  Actually, it measures 940ml to the brim, which is 1.65 pints.

As I drank my pint three more customers came in.

I totally failed on the one way system as I searched for the gents on departure, oh dear.

Next, a long walk through the countryside. I had created in my head a story of taking my life in my hands on a country road with no pavement, but in fact all the drivers were courteous and slowed and moved aside as required, so I was soon safely at my destination, the never before visited Game Bird:

This is a dining pub in the middle of nowhere on the East Lancs Road, I bet I'm the only customer today to arrive on foot!  Will I get in without a reservation?

Yes, easily.  On learning I only wanted a drink the waitress guided me to a convenient table and advised me I could order at the bar or through her.  The two handpumps had the clips turned so I resorted to the black stuff.  Check in (no one asked me) was successful by QR code and text again.

Another Greene King chain, Hungry Horse this time, it was ticking over gently but with plenty of empty tables.

A brewers' Tudor roadhouse from the 1930s, I would guess, it has been well modified inside, mostly knocked through around the servery but retaining some separation between areas, I sat in solitude in a side area with four tables.  Just a few original features remain, there's some leaded glass in the windows.

The background muzac was mixed with cheerful chatter in here, both at a quiet level.

Next comes another walk down country lanes, but this time with a pavement, to the Stanley Arms:

(Sorry about the rather poor picture, I didn't fancy taking my life in my hands on the other side of the road.)

A splendid traditionally-styled pub in the middle of nowhere, once again I bet I'm the only pedestrian customer.  Pretty quiet but gently ticking over in the pub side, I didn't see the restaurant area.

I was pleased to see Landlord and Boltmaker on handpumps and the Landlord was excellent.

I suspect the "olde worlde" decor in here is all fake, but it's very well done.  This was the pub today where I most expected to be caught out by bookings only, but it was surprisingly empty, just gently ticking over.  The restaurant side might be busier.

No one asked for my details so I didn't get logged here.

Now, a slightly shorter stroll back towards suburban Eccleston, and my final pub for today, the Griffin:

What an impressive building this is, to be honest I didn't remember it from my 2004 visit.  Inside is an enormous pub/restaurant, recently refurbished with rather fine modern styling.  Everywhere I looked was quality woodwork, quality floor tiles, quality paintwork etc. - A lot of effort went into the refurbishment and it shows.

The friendly cheerful waitress guided me to a table, and fetched me a pint of Jennings Cumberland which was in fine nick.  I think she said I could have the table until five which is a bit mean at four thirty, but checking the journey home there was a good connection off the 17:04 bus from just outside, so it fitted rather well.

The rather echoey interior was reverberating with animated chatter, the pub seems doing well although there was plenty of room for more people.  Approaching five on a Friday they perhaps ought to be fuller than this, although as soon as I had written that more and more people came in.

I was chivied away from my table before I'd finished my pint and before the 5 o'clock deadline, poor customer service I think.

Three pubs last visited sixteen years ago and one never visited before is a pretty good result nowadays, time to go home.

Pub of the day: Stanley Arms
Miles walked: 4.8
Maybe coming soon: Mathew Street, Halewood

Monday 7 September 2020

Blood Donor's Bonus

I headed into town for my regular call at the Blood Donors' Centre and as I walked down Dale Street I spotted a new bar on the corner of Cheapside.  After donating, I called in to check out the Angus Tap and Grind:

This is a posh cafe bar, serving a good range of cask and keg ales, as well as gins and coffees.  It was ticking over nicely at two on a Monday afternoon.  The waitress guided me to a table and then fetched my pint, it's table service only, and cashless in here.

My pint from Bristol Beer Factory was cloudy (probably intentionally) but had a disappointingly bland flavour for a 5% pale, I was hoping for something more hoppy and tangy.

The modern decor is pleasant, and the entirely glazed frontage gives it a very open feel.

This unit used to be an estate agent, and before that a health food shop (Isn't Google streetview useful!)

On my way home I noted the Shamrock, formerly the Queens, at the back of Queens Square was closed.

Friday 4 September 2020


Four trains, ending with possibly my last ride on a class 142 railbus, carried me to Rainford Junction where just outside the station is my first target for today, the Junction:

I walked in past the "bookings only" sign, no one complained.  I had to sign in, the previous customer was Fred West!

The friendly barmaid/landlady ignored the heckling from the bar flies and soon poured me a fine pint of Wainwright.

Just before two on a Friday the place was ticking over gently, mostly with diners I think.  Always a good pub, this, nicely decorated and serving what looks like quality food along with decent real ale.

I studied the rules displayed on every table.  Bookings only for food and drinks, it says.  I don't really see the point of displaying that sort of thing if you're not going to actually do it.  Presumably if I turned up when it was busy they might turn me away?

I have been worried since lockdown about travelling a long way to a pub and then not being allowed in, so far it hasn't happened, but I've got a long walk coming up so let's see...

My printed map wasn't very clear so I fired up Google's, and once I'd told it I was walking it came up with a shorter route which turned out to be a splendid stroll along the former railway embankment, now Rainford Linear Park, under threatening skies.  I felt a couple of drops of rain but it didn't get any worse.

Next was the Eagle and Child:

The barman apologetically asked me to fill in an ID form, while he threw two pints of Pedigree down the drain before pulling me one.

It was only some time after I had sat down that I noticed the "please wait here to be seated" sign which I had walked straight past.

Not much has changed since I was last here, in 2003, and it remains a friendly two sided pub serving quality ale.  Quite a few locals were in, meaning the chatter was slightly louder than the muzac.

Next, just down the road was the Golden Lion, which my records and whatpub seemed to think was closed, but it wasn't:

More of a restaurant than a boozer but nonetheless once I had signed in I was allowed to order a pint of Wainwright which was delivered to my table and was spot on.

I paused to send an update to whatpub, before continuing my review:  The decor here is very well done contemporary, almost Ember Inns but not quite as stylish.  Does that sound like a criticism?  It's very good actually.

At half three on a Friday, only a few other customers, all diners, were in, not much to keep the two bar staff (presumably plus someone in the kitchen) occupied.

I looked at the picture on the wall beside my seat, a framed OS map; but it's centred on Garswood and doesn't show Rainford, what's the point?  Aha, the next picture along is the adjacent extract, which includes this pub.

A little further down is the Derby Arms:

Very quiet in this pleasant traditionally decorated multi area pub, only two other customers I think, and they left shortly after I arrived.

The pleasant barmaid took my details and then pulled me a pint of Mad Goose.  It seemed just a little bit tired but definitely drinkable.

No one else came in, apart from one person making a booking, while I swigged my ale.  

Next, the Star Inn:

A great pub this, with a selection of real ales on offer, I had Morehouse's Blonde Witch which was spot on.  No one asked for any contact details this time.  The serving counter was walled in with perspex which I must say I find very off-putting, but I suppose many think it's necessary nowadays.

I must say I like the sign over the counter, "whine bar"!

A dozen or so locals were keeping the place ticking over but most of the tables were empty, let's hope it's busier later.  As I enjoyed my pint, more and more people came in, and the quiet music was soon drowned out by cheerful chatter.  Nice pub!

Now I had a difficult decision to make:  There's one more tick near here, the never visited Bottle and Glass but I've already done five, it's a long walk and I might not get in.  I've already had five pints, can I cope with another?  Also, the bus service to St Helens thins out shortly after six and I don't want to get stranded.  My decision was it's time to head for home, and the Bottle and Glass will have to wait.  If the Golden Lion had been closed as expected...

Pub of the day: A difficult choice today, but I think the Star wins.

Miles walked: 1.9

Maybe coming soon: City Centre or Eccleston