Saturday 24 June 2023

Picton Road

The plan for today was to do a few required ticks along Picton Road, but it occurred to me this morning that there is one other target nearby, so having got the train to Wavertree I headed away from Picton to Mill Lane where I was pleased to find the Mill Lane Sports Bar:

When I was last here, in January 1999, it was called The Sportsman and I described it as a "fairly new flat house".  It was renamed McGinty's in the mid 2000s but I never got round to revisiting.  It took on its current name in the last twelve months.

What I found today was a large open shop (shops, in fact) conversion with pleasant plain grey and white decor.  It's very well cared for in here.

Just two pool players and I forming the custom at one on a Saturday, the main sound was ITV on the tellies.

I noticed some pretty hefty speakers mounted on the walls, I imagine it can be a bit noisy in here at busy times.

Now, thanks to my changed plan I have a long walk down to Picton, to the Coffee House.  Will I get a better result than last month?
(Picture from last time)  Yes!  It's open.

The interior remains as wonderful as always, albeit in need of a slight tidy up in some places - The bench seat I chose had a tear covered in gaffer tape.

Three handpumps but no clips, so I had a second Carling.

There were two other customers sitting at the counter, but at least one of them turned out to be staff (or landlady?) so not very busy in here!  Later another customer arrived, but his half and my pint are hardly going to keep the business afloat.  I really hope it's busier later because this beautiful place needs to keep going.

Two young girls came in, but they seemed to be family rather than customers, so once again no useful income.  Then, a lad came in from the back door carrying a number of empties, so clearly there are slightly more customers than I thought, probably outside in the garden.

My mind wandered; I recall meeting in here many years ago, probably on a Friday night, for a get together with work colleagues.  It was very busy - Standing room only - What a contrast to today.  Maybe it's still busy on a Friday night; I hope so.

Two consecutive cash only pubs, contactless hasn't quite taken over yet.

Next, the excellent Edinburgh:

This wonderful gem of a pub hidden in a side street continues unchanged.  About a dozen customers made it the busiest place so far today, and everyone I could see was on real ale.  (Except the dog who was suffering a little from the humid weather, panting and guzzling water from the bowl on the floor.)

I've probably said it before but how does this gem survive in this area of lager drinkers?  I suppose I've answered my own question there; the only handpumps in quite a large radius will draw enough people in.

I enjoyed a great pint of favourite White Rat and listened to the silence of a pub with no music.  Just quiet conversations could be heard.  As soon as I typed that music started, some unobtrusive classical guitar.

No need to wait till I get home to decide the beer of the day and pub of the day!

Finally, further along Picton Road towards town is the Wellington:
The plain but nicely done interior is knocked through around the servery but retains three separate areas.  Only a handful of customers but hang on a minute - who's that behind the counter?  Yes, it's the barmaid from the Coffee House.  "Hello again" says I.  She wasn't serving, just visiting.  The actual barmaid soon poured me a Carling, serving two customers at once - A skill that seems to be becoming rarer these days.  (I also observed the "same again" skill, clearly this young lady has some bartending talent.  Even the ability to fill two glasses at once seems to be getting less common.)

The signage described the end of the room across from me as "pisshead corner" and "bullshit corner".  Both valid comments about me after a few pints, some would say, perhaps I should go and sit under the signs?

All in all, this is a rather fine boozer, friendly staff and regulars resulting in a comfortable atmosphere.

As I neared the end of my pint a large gang of regulars came in, making the pub a lot busier.  They all settled in one of the back areas, leaving me and one local to occupy the front in peace.

Strange scenes you see in pubs number 647:  Young lad grumbles about the heat and says he'll have to go home for a shower.  Barmaid disappears behind the bar and returns with some scented antiperspirant and some men's perfume.  Young lad applies same and thanks her.  That's what I call service!

Pub of the day: Edinburgh
Beer of the day: White Rat
Miles walked: 2.2
Maybe coming soon: To be decided.

Thursday 15 June 2023

St Helens

A hot and sunny Thursday and I'm off to St Helens.  I started with a long stroll up to the Turks Head:

Beautiful inside and out as always, and they have got twelve cask ales on.  I tried Rat Brewery's Mutant Rat which sounded interesting - I was drinking their wonderful White Rat in the Big House yesterday - but it wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped, if anything a less hoppy version, albeit stronger at 5%.  Still very tasty so a great start to the day's survey.  As usual I forgot to claim my CAMRA discount, but even without that it was under four quid.

The lounge side was full of groups dining, the bar side less busy.  A steady stream of drinkers and diners was keeping the lone barmaid very busy, with a queue building up at the counter in the lounge side at times.

I was somewhat surprised to see they don't take cash here, a restriction usually reserved for poncy craft bars.  Is this the future?  I guess so.

I noticed behind the counter a lot of the spirits have beer pump clips on the bottles.  Quite a clever idea to utilise the spare space between the label and the optic, instead of sticking them on the ceiling like many real ale pubs do.

Next door is the Cowley Vaults, another provider of quality cask but it isn't open at this time in the afternoon.
Drat!  I'll have to walk all the way up here again next time I'm in St Helens.  Do I recall that the same people run both pubs?

Down to the pub crawl worthy Duke Street, where most of the bars don't open until later but I'm aiming for the Duke:
I entered to an argument between the only two customers and the barmaid, one customer told her the other one was barred, and she then wouldn't serve him until she had checked by phoning her boss.  I was pleased to see the debate remained polite throughout, despite delays in making contact, and one very thirsty customer.  Eventually he was sent away!

Periods of closure (and/or bad planning on my part) mean I haven't been in here since 2004, when it was a standard traditionally decorated two sided boozer called the Duke Of Cambridge.  Here it is:
The Duke has been knocked through and has rather well done modern lively decor, lots of bright colours and arty designs.  Nothing like a proper pub but I have to say it is pleasant and cheerful.

I luxuriated in the comfort of an air conditioned interior, it was nicely cool in here while the Turk's Head had been too hot.  My Carling came with a buy four get one free card, which is branded Mollies, another bar further down the road which I had noted as being closed and for sale.  I suspect I won't be getting a free pint any time soon, not at my current rate of one visit every five years.

Next, a quick look down Westfield Street at the Wheatsheaf which I haven't ticked since 1999.  What are the chances of it being open?
Is that an open door I spy?  Yes, but it's only for the builders to get in.  So I'm hoping the place has a future as a pub and I can drink in there again some time soon.

On to the Nelson, last visited five years and two weeks ago:
This one is doing a roaring trade, with many drinkers and diners filling the place inside and in the beer yard behind.  A steady flow of meals came out while I enjoyed a decent pint of Wainwright.

I checked out the menu, it looks good value with fish, chips and peas under a tenner.  They were certainly selling a lot at three on a Thursday afternoon which I wouldn't have thought of as a peak food time of day.

The decor in most of the room is standard identikit pub, but they do have some historic wood and glasswork partitions in some places.

Once again air conditioning made it comfortably cool inside, does global warming mean this is going to be an important attribute of pubs in the future.  It's certainly very welcome today.

Now back towards the station, and a call in at the Swan:
Something of a classic, this one.  Partly knocked through but retaining separate areas, the rooms oddly shaped to fit with the surrounding roads.  Plus a popular beer yard.

Not packed, but doing a good trade at four on a Thursday with the barmaid kept busy serving umpteen Carlings, and other beers.

I stayed inside with my fizz, the room was filled with cheerful chatter and gentle background music.

The advantage of finishing in a pub near the station is that I can choose my departure time to match the train home.  Do I swig quickly or delay another half an hour?

What actually happened was that I reached the platform to find the previous train was still there due to a signalling problem, but the jobsworth guard wouldn't let me on so I stood with a number of other frustrated passengers and watched the train stand still for five minutes or more before it headed off without me.  People wonder why the railway is losing customers - This is it.
The train I was aiming for, now late because of the previous train, turned up to take me home.

Pub of the day: Turks Head
Beer of the day: Mutant Rat
Miles walked: 2
Maybe coming soon: Picton

Saturday 10 June 2023

Birkenhead Survivors

Time to visit some Birkenhead pubs last ticked in early 2018.  I wonder how many of them have survived?  I started in the Park View:

A plain well cared for two sided boozer, ticking over with half a dozen regulars chatting in the bar side.  Silent racing on most TVs, Now 80s playing gently on the other.

It was pleasant in here after the bright sunshine outside, at the back of the bar side where I sat they had left the shutters down creating a cool dark oasis.

One survivor out of one so far, but I must confess I was not expecting to maintain that level of success.

Next, a quick photo of the Grand Trunk which I had noted as closed in 2014.  I last drank in there in 2003 when my notes recorded a plain but pleasant one bar pub, knocked through with arches.

On to the Myrtle, but the barman says they'll be open in half an hour so next door is Christies Bar:

Knocked through into one open room, this is a basic friendly locals' boozer, with quite a lot of noise from two dozen regulars chatting, singing along with the music and heckling the pool players.

I repeat my comments from five years ago:  How on earth do two "ordinary" pubs survive next door to each other here in this industrial wasteland, there don't seem to be enough residential properties around here to provide the custom for one, let alone two.  Still, here we are, there are lots of pubs in areas with plenty of housing who'd kill for this crowd at two on non-football Saturday.

One of the gang fired up the jukebox.  "Summer The First Time".  Is it just me or is that the most erotic song to ever hit the charts?  Perhaps it's all in my head?  (Oh all right, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.)

Now, back to the Myrtle:

Only one or two customers in here but at least it's open now, and I was soon served a pint of fizz.  There was a distinct smell of fresh paint so I took a seat in the quiet side rather gingerly, checking the paint on the seat back was dry!  Unfortunately, I didn't check the floor and as soon as I had sat down I was chased out (apologetically) by the boss who said it was still wet.  I hope I didn't spoil their varnish with my size tens.  With no seats available I retreated to the plain beer yard where there was one table out of the sun.

After a few minutes half a dozen drinkers came out to join me in the yard, it's good to see what looks like a family group out for a Saturday afternoon and supporting this boozer.

The pool players just inside the door seemed to get rather noisy, but it was all humorous rather than angry.

Can I find the gents without spoiling the floor?  Yes.

I wandered on through industrial Birkenhead.  I recall a Thursday evening pub survey around here probably thirty years ago when we watched a group of ladies being loaded into a police van.  We didn't know for certain why, but we could make a good guess.  As I headed towards my destination I noted a very attractive blonde in a short dress who seemed to be hanging about on a street corner fiddling with her phone.  Could she be?  On a Saturday afternoon?  One shouldn't assume nor judge, but if she was lost perhaps I should stop and offer my assistance.  On the other hand, that could get me into trouble.

Next, the Vittoria Vaults:

Here I discovered a hopefully rare mistake in my database, I was about to turn left after the young lady when I spotted the pub in the other direction.  Needless to say, by the time you read this the location on the map will have been corrected.

Wow, four out of four, to be honest I had expected one or more to have closed over the last five years.  It's as if COVID never happened.

A couple of dozen customers were maintaining the level of chatter, with music very much in the background.

Just as I noted five years ago this is the most pleasant of today's four ticks.  Partly knocked through but still retaining four separate areas, the perfectly cared for interior really is an exemplar other pubs should copy.

Now, to end the day can I get a new tick?  I have walked past the Sea Dog on a number of occasions and it has always looked like an operational pub but not been open.  If I get the same result at four on a Saturday, I think I'll give up:

OK, that's it!  The lights are off and nobody's home.  I'm marking it as closed in my database.

Pub of the day: Vittoria Vaults
Beer of the day: Carling
Miles walked: 1.8
Maybe coming soon: Picton