Friday 27 January 2023

New Ferry

I headed under the river for my first Wirral survey of the year, starting just outside Bebington station in the Railway:

An always pleasant pub this, warm and comfortable.  The lone handpump offered Mad Goose but the barmaid advised me it wasn't on yet, so I stuck to Carling.

Disappointingly there were only two other customers at one on a Friday, I hope they get many more later.

I moved on, taking pictures as I passed various targets (In case it's too dark later) eventually reaching the trigger for today's trip.  Wetherspoon's John Masefield is on their "For Sale" list, so could close without warning if a buyer is found:

...or, experience has shown, it might survive indefinitely.  

A pleasant smaller than average 'spoons this, offering a decent selection of cask, I chose Skyline from one of my favourite breweries, Peerless, and it was very good.  They had the wonderful Full Whack in Blacklers on Wednesday but unfortunately it ran out before I could get a pint!

Custom was quite good on a Friday afternoon, some late lunches but the majority were just drinking.

I know some people, snobs perhaps, like to criticise Wetherspoon pubs but the warm friendly comfortable atmosphere and cheap food and drink in here are hard to beat.  Customers from four to ninety-four were enjoying a visit to their local boozer.  I wonder where they'll go if it closes?

After pub spotting on the way here I knew it was time to head homewards, as there are three ticks on the short walk back to the station.

Firstly, Charlies Bar:

Although I was too nice to say so in the blog, when I discovered this shop conversion four years ago I felt it was a triumph of optimism over reality and I didn't really expect it to survive.  I'm happy to be wrong, here's a lively popular boozer filled with animated chatter from plenty of customers.

What can I say?  Plain, pleasant, down market, very well maintained, friendly staff and customers, etc etc.  One of the staff who was leaving offered an elderly regular a lift home, how's that for a community pub?

It's not really my sort of place, and I expect the karaoke later will be deafening, but this really is a fine pub, long may it continue.

I carried on, passing the Wirral Hotel which has closed since I was last in this area:

Next, to compensate for the loss of the Wirral Hotel, something that seems to be happening nearly every survey at the moment:  A brand new tick, the Bulldog.  What an impressive mural:

One large square room in this conversion of a former bank, once again a comfortable space filled with cheerful chatter at three on a Friday.  There's a pool table in the middle of the room, and this was the trigger for much of the friendly banter.

As in the last pub, there were racks of betting slips on the walls, clearly the long running tradition of ale and the horses is alive in New Ferry.  My mind goes back to smoke (and drunk) filled pubs on a Saturday afternoon where everyone else was concentrating on the racing on the TV to see if they'd won.  Here, the races were on the telly on two different channels, fortunately silent.

There was something on the wireless the other day about the increasing popularity of men's shorts in winter; there was one exponent in here.  

I wonder how much it costs to set up a place like this.  The wallpaper and paint will be cheap, the false ceiling with air conditioning units much more expensive.  I imagine the alcohol industry will subsidise the fonts, optics, glasses and so on but in the end it's a question of whether the custom can pay for the staff wages, business rates, rent, and the actual beer and spirits.  I keep reading about how hard it is for a pub to make enough money to survive, and yet I keep finding new ones.  

Finally, the Good Beer Guide listed Cleveland Arms:

Only two handpumps, one clip turned away but the other provided a perfect pint of Trapper's Hat.  I'm pleased to see CAMRA rating quality above breadth of range, this is the sort of real ale provider we need to encourage.

A plain boozer mostly knocked through but still with some separation between rooms, once again the main sound was cheerful chatter and banter amongst the friendly regulars.

It felt a little chilly in here despite my seat near the wood burning stove which seemed to be producing more light than heat.  It had a pair of those "magic" fans on top, which are powered by the heat of the stove, but frankly it felt like they were blowing cold air towards me!

Judging by the notes on the blackboard, this pub still has a real darts team, next fixture is away to "Brom B" on 31st Jan.

Time for home...

Pub of the day: Wetherspoon's John Masefield
Beer of the day: Peerless Skyline
Miles walked: Just one.
Maybe coming soon: Undecided.

Saturday 21 January 2023

Match Day Anfield Again

I usually try to avoid visiting the same area twice in a month, but my Anfield trip two weeks ago had revealed some more potential football day targets, so on a Saturday with a 12:30 kickoff I made a repeat visit.

I started at the Paisley Gates which I had decided from the internet was closed, and it was, although from the outside it seems poised to open at any moment, so perhaps at full time?

On towards the ground and another one I expected to be closed, the Oakfield:

I last drank here in 1998 and I have passed by noting the shutters down on a number of occasions since (including two weeks ago), so I was startled and very pleased to find it open.

My notes described this as a two sided pub, it has been knocked through in the intervening twenty five years, creating a wide open space ideal for match day crowds.

Needless to say, twenty minutes after kick off the place was empty, just two other customers and I.  The helpful barmaid warned me they haven't got the match on before pouring me a Carling.

The decor in here is plain but very well done and beautifully maintained.  The end where I sat had some historic ceiling plasterwork.

I would like to apologise to the owners and staff of this pub for mistakenly describing it as closed for the last ten years.

Next, even closer to the stadium is the Albert.  Curses!  Two weeks ago the shutters were down, this time they're up, but the doors are still shut.  Looks like I need to be here at full time!

On to the King Harry where I had better luck:

Another one where my notes, from 2004 this time, say "two sided", but it has been knocked through since.  Now a large open space ready for the throng, and once again plain and very well cared for.

There was a slight delay at the counter, as the till system had crashed, but soon I was able to pay for my Guinness.

Quite a few people in here; unlike the Oakfield they had the match on the TVs.  

On a table near me half the the bar staff were enjoying their chippy dinners, they don't need to be on duty during the match.  But at full time it'll be all hands to the pumps - literally!

I tried to hurry my drink, because the pubs around here will all be packed come half two, even though I'm heading away from the ground.

I went out aiming for Walton Road, but hang on a minute, what's this right next door?  Thank goodness I stepped back to get another picture of the King Harry, or I never would have noticed the Lock Inn:

Now I didn't expect this!  A brand new three roomed bar with splendid decor of dark green ceramics and rough wood panelling.  Streetview reveals this building has been a noodle vendor, a chippy, and burger place in the last few years - I much prefer its new role.

Quite a few people were in but it wasn't full, I bet it is after the match.  I had a Heineken from the rather limited draft range.  The music was mostly Irish themed, until Donald Where's Your Trousers came on!

I looked at the posters, they have a deal for £40 of unlimited food and drink for ninety minutes before kickoff plus ninety minutes after the game.  That's a good deal for an ale drinking footie fan, I think.

The match was on the telly in one of the little side rooms but I couldn't see it from my seat.

Staff and customers kept saying hello to me and eventually I was offered free food at which point I revealed I was leaving soon because I was researching my beer guide.  Apparently they've only just opened.  I hope this place does well, it deserves to.

Next, the probably closed Fountains Abbey:

I think this one might be truly closed, unless it opens for Everton matches?

Not far down the road is the Halfway House:

This one is a rather good two sided boozer, the match was on the telly with about half of the twenty or thirty customers watching.  Although when the reds made a 94th minute attack everyone watched.  

I noted a database tweak, this has had an exterior redecoration and a name change from New Halfway House in the last few months.

Maybe one more?  I toured the Halfway House and couldn't find the gents, eventually giving up and heading out on to Walton Road, so obviously I couldn't go far before the next gents.  So I wandered up towards Everton territory, and into the Wetherspoon's Thomas Frost which my database says I haven't ticked since 2015.  Sorry, no picture this time.

I've been in here on a number of occasions after an Everton match, but I was a little surprised to see it just as busy after Liverpool were playing.  Still, an urgent visit to the gents and then an excellent pint of Abbot, the ale of the day, made this a good visit.

I wonder if the crowds today mean this pub won't be under threat when Everton move on?  While they will obviously only have half as many "bonus Saturdays" it's probably still a viable operation.

As I enjoyed my pint there was some kind of "fracas" with idiots throwing missiles in and out of the front door.  It was over as soon as it started, and the consensus of the fans near where I was standing was that it was the most exciting part of the day.  Which doesn't say much for the match.

I exited through the police lines and headed for the railway station only to discover that there weren't any trains to Liverpool (Poor planning on my part.), so I walked on and caught a bus which needless to say was soon stuck in traffic, taking ages to reach the city centre.  Even this cloud had a silver lining, as we passed the Phoenix which I have always believed to be closed, and it appeared to be open - One for my next time in this area. 

Pub of the day: The Lock Inn, it is always pleasing to find a new one.
Beer of the day: Abbot
Miles walked: 2.9
Maybe coming soon: New Ferry

Saturday 14 January 2023

Contrasts in Town

I began my City Centre survey today in the Pump House by the Albert Dock:

I've not been in here since 2015, and the place continues to thrive.  At half twelve on a very chilly Saturday it was doing a great trade, mainly tourists and shoppers coming for lunch, I think.  Perhaps the bitter wind off the Mersey was driving everyone indoors.

Despite the throng the bar staff were making a decent fist of getting everyone served.

Just as last time I was here, there was a very good range of quality cask ales on offer, including no less than four from local Big Bog.  I had a wonderful pint of their Stog, a creamy stout.  I have commented before that one expects to find a token handpump if you're lucky at a tourist destination like this, but one is very wrong in this case.  Mind you, at £5.60 for a pint I guess it's worth the effort for them.  £13.50 for fish and chips is not cheap either.  (Still, if it helps collect tourist pounds into local pockets I'm all in favour.)

The background music was almost inaudible under the chatter of umpteen groups.  A notice on the counter said there was a problem with their computer system which might delay food orders, and I wondered if any of the groups were getting hungry.  I did eat in here once, some years ago, and I think I recall that the food was of good quality and promptly served.

Just a side whinge:  If you want to encourage gents to wash their hands, why have four sinks but only one drier?

While I'm in the area, why not try the Long Shot, a sports bar opened in 2021:

This place doesn't really meet the "pub" criteria; I was guided to my table by a waiter who then took my drink order and promptly fetched me a pint of Neck Oil.  Very tasty but no match for the cask from the Pump House.

Rather noisy in here with a vaulted brick ceiling and stone floor amplifying the animated chatter.

The Manchester derby was in full swing on umpteen tellies but I was slightly surprised to see no one was paying attention.  Until I realised it was half time.  A significant proportion of the customers started watching when the second half began, and the music was replaced by commentary.

At the risk (Risk??  It's almost a certainty.) of making a fool of myself by commenting on something I know nothing about, it appeared to me that City had most of the ball but didn't seem to be interested in scoring, with at least a dozen passes back to the goalie in the first five minutes.  I'm the lone voice in the crowd shouting "the goal's THAT WAY".  Of course, as soon as I'd written that, City scored.

Despite being "not a pub" I quite like this place. Somehow it has the style of "sports bars" all over the world, it's done very well and doing a good trade.  I do ask myself what it would be like on a wet Tuesday, though.

I wondered how I was to pay...  In a great example of skilled waitressing, as soon as I moved to pick up my coat a young lady whizzed over with the credit card machine.  £6.00 makes the Pump House look cheap!

Now, on to the real reason I chose this end of town, an overdue first visit to Hooters:

A controversial one this, with some people - who've probably never been in - strongly objecting to the formula of attractive young ladies in slightly skimpy uniforms.  

I've not been in a Hooters since I lived in Pittsburgh more than twenty years ago, we had two to choose from.  And it hasn't changed at all.  Umpteen screens were showing the footie, with United now 2-1 up. (Ha! Told yer.) The enormous space was mostly full of younger blokes watching the match.

I read somewhere that this is the biggest Hooters in the world, if that is true it must upset the Americans, who always place great store by "biggest in" claims.  The main room certainly is an impressive space, but it's not as much floor area as, say, Blackler's.

Emily (They always make sure you know their name by writing it on a napkin) brought me another pint of Neck Oil, at the even more exorbitant price of £6.75!  Plus service!!!

Once the match was over some of the lads departed and the place got a bit quieter, and the young ladies were busily tidying up ready for the next rush.

I was intrigued and surprised to see a number of family groups coming in.  Why would they pay over the odds for beer and bar food, no matter how good the quality of service?

Where next?  Just round the corner is the Slaughter House, not ticked since '15:

Pretty busy in here just after three on a Saturday but I soon obtained a pint of Guinness and found the last free table.  The downstairs part that I had noted before was shut, I think it's only for live music?

BT Sports was on lots of televisions, fortunately silent, while I could hear music and mainly chit-chat.

After a tourist trap and two sports bars it was a great contrast and quite pleasing to find myself in a proper pub, and gratifying to find it busy.

Everton scored in their season-defining match.  Here goes the unknowledgeable expert again:  If they can't beat the bottom team at home then relegation beckons.  Will Bramley-Moore be the biggest ground in the Championship?  

The music moved on to Little Ole Wine Drinker Me, I haven't heard that one for a long time.

About time I headed towards home, but perhaps one more on the way?  I have to pass the Saddle, where I unaccountably forgot to take a photo.

This is another proper pub.  Traditional decor, traditional drinkers, this is what we want. It wasn't jam packed, but doing well at four.  The main sound here was lively chatter, as it should be in all pubs.  It was pleasing to see customers ranging from much younger than me to much older.

Gosh, there was an icy blast when the door was opened, I nearly had to put my coat back on.

Definitely time for home now.  I've had an enjoyable afternoon in contrasting styles of alehouse, although on reflection maybe I should have exploited a 3pm Goodison kickoff to tick a few pubs near the ground before Everton move.  Actually, on checking t'internet it looks like I've got a couple of years to do that, as they are expected to move during the 24/25 season.  By the way, has their new home got a name yet?  How about the Dixie Dean Stadium?  More likely a sponsor will get the rights, someone local perhaps: B&M Stadium?

Pub of the day: Saddle
Beer of the day: Big Bog Stog
Miles walked: 2
Maybe coming soon: New Ferry

Saturday 7 January 2023

Match Day Anfield

Today I set off in bright sunshine which didn't last, the bus eventually took me to Tuebrook from where I walked northwards towards Anfield and Everton.

My first call was the King Charles:

A beautifully cared for corner boozer, partially knocked through but still with a couple of separate areas, including the front room served through a hatch.

Last time I was in this area it was shut, perhaps opening hours are linked to home matches.

Just a few regulars were keeping the place going, their chatter mixing with the music.  As kick-off approaches I imagine it'll get a lot busier.

The pub's name has gained new meaning in the last few months, does that make any difference?

I wonder how many more "limited hours" places I can tick on a match day?  I wandered around some back streets to a pub I last visited in 2000, at least two attempts since then have found it shut.  But today the Midden is open.  RESULT!

Once again I found a beautifully maintained boozer partially knocked through but retaining separate areas.  No customers at all, sadly, just me and the barman, who initially thought I'd come to fix the towels in the gents, so he obviously wasn't expecting any customers yet.  

Where does the name come from?  As far as I know a midden is a dung heap or rubbish bin, which seems an unattractive sobriquet for one's local boozer.  It used to be called the Rydal, after the road on which it stands.

Nonetheless my second Guinness of the day was carefully served and in good nick.  Oh dear, you can tell today's survey is not about cask when I start reviewing the quality of the Guinness!  (If we're going down that road, the pint in the King Charles was also very good.)

The dark green decor in here is particularly attractive, it really looks nice.  The lighting, an ancient looking chandelier above my head and some impressive industrial style lamps in the main bar room, looked very good to me.

You can see an "extra" storey in the picture, I suspect the main business model here is to provide accommodation and a bar on match days, all those Liverpool fans from London, Dublin, and so on need somewhere to stay and if I was in that position a cheap room with a bar downstairs a couple of hundred yards from the ground would be exactly what I would look for.

Where next?  Closer to the ground and this survey is going better than ever, how about the never before visited Kop End:

Are you here for the match asked the barman, "er, actually no", I replied.  Come for the quality pint then, he suggested, and I agreed.

A modern shop conversion with one open room with pleasant plain decor.  Everywhere you look is a telly showing Sky, reporting the FA cup matches this afternoon.  Mr Stelling seemed back on form, I'm happy to report.

In the comfortable booth seating each seat has an LFC logo on it and there's an impressive mural of Liverpool players on the back wall of the smoking area visible through the large rear windows.  Anyone who knows anything about footie would be able to name them, I'm sure, but not I.

Another place that will get busier nearer kick-off, I think, but it was already doing fairly well with a dozen or more customers.  Their chatter was drowning out the footie.

I headed on towards the stadium, passing the splendidly named "you'll never wok alone" noodle shop.  My next match day target was the Albert, almost under the stands, but the shutters were down so I think this one has finally gone.  (But see later)

I carried on, skipping the Twelfth Man because I did it in 2018 and on to the Glenbuck:

Another one with match day related opening hours, last visited in 2004 when it was called the Stanley.  My notes from then, describing a plain well cared for two sided pub, are still precisely correct.  Another one expecting lots of customers later and mostly empty now.

Sky Sports news again, I watched as the city of my birth went from one nil up to two one down, while the bar staff ran cleaning fluid through various beer lines, getting ready for the hoped for rush.

Now, on my way here I passed another match day pub which was open, so I turned back towards the stadium.  On the way I saw at the Albert the shutters were just going up.  I didn't wait for the possibly long process of opening so I'll have to come back on another match day, perhaps for an afternoon kick-off.  I carried on to the Sandon which I last ticked back in January 2000:

Well it's good to tick a pub 23 years after the last time but a little irritating that there were no seats available and my Guinness came in a plastic glass.  With its historic connection with the club this place is obviously special on a match day, and four hours before kick-off it was already very busy.

Nice traditional decor, well maintained, makes this a rather pleasant pub, the chandelier and miniature chandeliers above the counter adding to the ambience.

Five "required" ticks - one brand new - is a good result so I think it's time to go home...

(For new readers, required ticks are firstly pubs I've never been in, and secondly those I've not visited in the last five years.  Because I was particularly busy ticking in 2018, pubs all over Merseyside are moving into the second category frequently.)

Pub of the day: Midden, I really love the dark green decor.
Beer of the day: Guinness
Miles walked: 2.2
Maybe coming soon: No idea.