Sunday 31 December 2023

End Of Year Report

2023 has been a bit of a "steady as she goes" year for the Merseyside Pub Guide:  The COVID restrictions are a distant memory, but we have the cost of living crisis to contend with instead.

This year I've managed to tick a pleasing forty-four pubs never before tried, bringing my grand total of Merseyside pubs to 1,465.  I was cheered to note that a significant number of the new ticks were new operations:

During the year I have logged a total of 264 visits to 255 pubs.  204 of these were "required", i.e. to pubs not ticked in the preceding five years.

People sometimes ask me which is my favourite Merseyside pub and I have managed to work out a "witty" answer, which is "The one I am in!"  I am not going to be so foolish as to try and come up with a pub of the year, although I was extremely pleased to see the Big House (Vines) in town rescued from its long decline:

I was honoured just a few days ago to get a mention in Pub Curmudgeon's blog.  Fame at last!  His comments reminded me of the uniqueness of my blog and the Merseyside Pub Guide:  I don't just collect good beer pubs or good architecture pubs, I target ALL pubs and am just as happy (well, almost) swigging Carling in a backstreet boozer as I am savouring Oakham Citra in an architectural gem.  I have yet to find any other website which covers all and any pubs in this way.

My beer-fuelled odyssey has been under way for over twenty-five years so it might be worth looking at some of the changes I have seen:

  • The smoking ban obviously had a tremendous effect.  I look back with some nostalgic fondness to entering a packed pub when you couldn't see the other side for the fumes, and much less fondly to picking up my coat the next morning to go to work and suffering the stink of stale smoke!
  • The demise of the real shithole has been a definite plus.  The pubs with fag-ends and vomit on the floor, surly bar staff and customers, and tatty furnishings have either cleaned up their act (and their vomit) or closed.
  • There are many many fewer customers.  In 1998 on a Saturday afternoon survey in, for example, Tuebrook I would expect to find them three deep at the counter, and once served I would have to stand.  These days it is very rare for me to fail to get a table to sit at.
  • Opening hours have reduced in many places so that a Tuesday afternoon research trip is in danger of being fruitless nowadays.
  • Of course, we've lost a lot of pubs over the years.  Of the 1,977 recorded in my database I have 874 marked as closed.  This number is likely to be lower than the true figure as I often don't learn that a pub has gone until I try to re-visit.

Finally, let me send all my readers my best wishes for the coming year.  I wonder if I can find pub number 1,500 during 2024?

Friday 22 December 2023

New In Walton Vale

The original plan for today was to get the train to Fazakerley for a number of overdue ticks working my way towards Walton.  But my preflight researches revealed three new bars at the end of that journey, so instead I headed straight to Walton Vale, and Fazakerley will have to wait for another time.

Just across the road from the classic post-war architecture of the Windsor, is Rooney's:

Sorry about the rather blurry picture.

Not very pubby, but this attempt at American styling is rather good.  Chrome tables, red white and blue seats, I really like it.  There's a mezzanine above the counter with a pool table.

Nothing American in the beer choice, I had my usual Carling.  If I were making suggestions I would say why not add a couple of American beers, that heavily advertised Brooklyn Lager or something you don't see every day like Sam Adams.  (They did have Budweiser but that's probably brewed in Burton!  Come to think of it, I bet Brooklyn Lager is too.  Checks internet...  Close, but no cigar!  Magor (Wales) and Wolverhampton respectively.)

Not many people in at half one on the Friday before Christmas, two groups one of which left just after I arrived and a couple of lads playing pool.  I was somewhat concerned about how busy things would be today and had decided my alternative plan of a few ticks in the city centre was unwise, but passing through Liverpool on my way here it seemed, if anything, quieter than a normal Friday.

Perhaps everyone is sick of Christmas already, or are they saving themselves for the weekend?  Personally I'll visit the local supermarket early on Saturday morning and then I won't leave the house again until next Wednesday, when the blood donors need me.

Next, ignoring the splendid building that is the Black Bull I crossed the road to the Tiny Tavern:

A well done shop conversion, one room nicely decorated with lots of plastic greenery and flowers.  Just a tiny nod to Christmas decorations; well done!

No real ale so I had another Carling.

The gentle music mixed with chatter between the barmaid and regulars.

A few doors down the road and directly opposite the Spoons is Cove Bar:

Another pleasant shop conversion with no real ale, so Carling again.  The Christmas decorations in here are much more noticeable, but very tastefully done, in fact beautiful, so another well done from me.  This year I haven't seen a single pub with excessive dekkies, have I touched lucky or has fashion simply aligned with my personal taste?

After writing the last sentence I thought about the phrase "touched lucky".  Google was no help at all but I think it is a phrase unique to Liverpool, meaning "been fortunate".

Quite a few customers in here, the loudest sound being animated conversations.

I looked out of the front windows.  The roads here were extremely busy reminding me of last Friday's bus problems, the difference being I can get a train home this time.  I hope!  Cancelled trains at Lime Street on Wednesday after a very good Birkenhead crawl resulted in a perhaps unwise extra pint in the North Western.

With three new shop conversions ticked, it seems only fitting to do a slightly older example of the species, the Vale Bar:

I think this is my favourite non-cask micro pub in Merseyside, there's something about the over the top decor (Not a square inch of the walls unused.) that make the place attractive, and it was full of happy chatter and happy regulars.  Perhaps I'm biased because all my visits have been after a few pints?

I had considered finishing my 2023 researches with some cask in Wetherspoon's, despite it not being a "required" tick, but this is much more fun.  What a fine boozer.

So, a great result for my last survey of the year.  (That's last survey and certainly not last pubs!)  THREE brand spanking new ticks taking my score of new ones this year to 44 for an all time total of 1,465 pubs visited.  All those stories about pubs struggling and yet I can find six new ones in eight days.

Let's see how frantic things are as I make my way home on so-called Black Eye Friday...  The answer is the train from Lime Street was so quiet I got a table to myself.

Pub of the day: Vale Bar
Beer of the day: Carling
Miles walked: Less than 1.
Maybe coming soon: Fazakerley, Crosby, Egremont, Wallasey

Saturday 16 December 2023

West Derby or East Of Eden

Another day, another bus ride, this time towards West Derby.  It was a lot shorter and quicker than yesterday's and I was very soon at my first target: Just across the road from Alder Hey Hospital is a new tick, the Eden Bar.  Damn, the shutters are down!  I hadn't managed to find the hours on the web but I thought I was safe on a Saturday afternoon.  I passed here on the bus at about the same time last Saturday and it was OK then.

Oh well, on eastwards through pleasant suburban back streets to a pair of pubs across the road from each other.  First, the Royal Standard:

A very nicely done Greene King operation with plenty of customers in a very pleasant pub partly knocked through but retaining separation between areas.

Only one operational handpump, offering IPA, and initially it served cleaning fluid.  The friendly barmaid headed down to the cellar and returned, grumbling about the stairs, to pull a couple of pints through before serving me with a spot on one.

Fish and chips is £12.19 on the menu of pub standards, what an odd price.  The food arriving at nearby tables looks good.

The gentle muzac mixed with family chatter and the occasional gurgle of a baby as I reflected on my recent drinking experience.  I know some readers of this blog pity me as I guzzle pint after pint of Carling but it occurred to me that since the lager in the Sheil Park last Saturday I have drunk twenty pints in umpteen pubs, all cask and all high quality.  I wonder how long I can keep that up?  I fear I know the answer, and I predict at least one of the next two ticks will be keg only.

Across the road is the 1930s gem of a building that is the Crown Inn:

Every time I come here I mention that this pub appeared as the Swan in Brookside, many years ago.  The interior retains quite a lot of original features including leaded glass work and dark wood panelling and partitions.  It has clearly had the layout of the rooms modified over the years, but it is still split into two sides with limited access between.  What a nice pub, it seems more clean and tidy than I remember from last time.

Banter amongst the regulars mostly drowned out gentle football commentary from the telly, there was also racing on another screen.

As predicted it was a pint of Carling in here, oh well, my cask streak couldn't go on for ever.  Actually it was tangy and refreshing and I really enjoyed it.  Will I get kicked out of CAMRA for writing that?

I looked at the racing on the telly.  Is it snowing there?  No, I think it is poor reception.  I'm surprised there is analogue transmission anywhere in the chain nowadays, surely all satellites send digital.   My best guess is that the picture does the last leg from the satellite box to the telly by analogue UHF and the cable is defective.  It's quite hard to buy a telly that will receive analogue TV now, I managed to find one on Amazon recently when I had a need, and it is now installed in my workshop.

Next, down the road to the Bulldog:

Another Carling here, despite this being a Greene King pub.  The enormous knocked through interior has been well looked after and looks very nice.  Not busy but there were enough customers to keep the lone barman occupied with a steady flow of custom.

No sound except cheerful chatter as I relaxed in a quiet end of the pub with comfortable booth seating.

I admired my surroundings.  This is a beautifully done out boozer and I really hope it does well and survives long term.  I wonder what it's like on a Saturday evening?  Hopefully busy.

I checked my map.  With only a tiny extra walk I can go back to the Eden to find my bus home, perhaps it opened at two or three.

I'll have to check when I get home but I think today's three ticks (so far) mean I've reached my 2023 target of two hundred "required" pub visits.  If so, I can relax for the remaining two weeks of the year, although that doesn't necessarily mean I won't do some more.

Anyway, back to Eden Bar.  Aha!  The shutters are up:

Inside I found a well done shop conversion rather nicely decorated with some dark wood panelling and dark blue walls.

No cask but it didn't take me long to spot Tiny Rebel's Clwb Tropica on tap.  Always a keg favourite this, fruity and sweet.

The barman searched for a matching glass, and failed.  "It's in there somewhere" I suggested helpfully.  "I don't work here I'm just covering", he explained.  My pint in an unbranded goblet was fine.  Although I do admire pubs that serve beers in the correct glass, it tastes just as good without.  I'm reminded of classic bars in Belgium which have a hundred beers on the menu and still manage to find the proper glass for each one.

The music here was provided by the barman's phone, so had to stop abruptly when someone phoned him up!

How's that!?  Annual target exceeded and one new tick, number 1,462.  Time for home.  If I don't do any more before Christmas, have a good one and I'll see you next year.  Don't forget to support your pubs in January, they're FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS!

Pub of the day: Bulldog
Beer of the day: Clwb Tropica
Miles walked: 1.8
Maybe coming soon: Kirkdale

Friday 15 December 2023

The Black Horse At Last

So, the question is "What idiot goes on a long bus ride across the grid-locked Wirral on a Friday afternoon in mid December?"  And of course the answer is your intrepid reporter.

After an appallingly slow bus trip I eventually reached Heswall where I was hoping for some brand new ticks, starting with the Harry Beswick, a new pub opened last month by Hyde's:

Aiming at the pub food market this was naturally very busy on a pre-Christmas Friday but luckily I managed to grab a recently vacated table to enjoy a fine pint of Hopster.

Pleasant rather bland chain pub decor in here with no Christmas decorations apart from a very nice tree.

I noticed there was no music that I could hear, just a lot of cheerful chatter.  Looking round I couldn't actually see as much food as I expected, I suppose at half two I've missed the lunchtime rush.

Next, a walk down a very steep hill to Lower Heswall and the primary target of today's excursion.  I've descended this hill at least twice before and found the Black Horse to be shut.  Last year's failure was entirely my own fault, I got here at two despite the notes in my bag saying that it didn't open until three.  Would I be luckier today?  I arrived at 14:59 to see the front door being opened.  A quick picture and I was in.

One customer had managed to get in ahead of me while I was taking the picture but needless to say the large comfortable multi-room pub was otherwise deserted.

I worried about it being the first out of the pump but my Wainwright was spot on.

The other customer downed his pint (cider I think) quickly and by quarter past I was alone apart from the barman who was busy sorting nuts and bottles behind the counter, and slicing lemons.

I'm not surprised they don't open earlier, no more customers appeared until half three when two turned up, and then another.  I must say this is a rather pleasant boozer and I hope it does well at busier times; it deserves to.

Out here in the back of beyond there's no signal, so I couldn't check my sneaky plan of catching a bus back to Heswall to save walking up that hill.  Do I drag my pint out - The buses are only once an hour - or get the exercise?

I decided to be lazy and take the bus up the hill.   Big mistake, it didn't turn up.  A local advised me that sometimes it doesn't bother.  After standing for fifteen minutes I gave up and climbed the mountain anyway.  To be honest, it wasn't nearly as hard as I remembered, and soon I was in my next target, the Beer Lab:

Way too dark for a picture by now, that one is from five years ago.

This pleasant plain micro was full of happy regulars, I managed to perch at the corner of a table and enjoy a great pint of Peerless Triple Blond.

People arrived and people left, all the arrivals being greeted by their friends.  No one took any notice of the blogger writing his notes.

The blackboard of bottles and cans looks quite impressive here, they've got favourite Rochfort 10 for a start, also Kwak (Have they got the stupid glass?)

I pondered the torture of the bus ride home.  Might it be worth dawdling over my remaining drinks in the hopes that the traffic will have eased?  When will that be, midnight??

Next, how about another brand new one?  The fourth member of the Bow-Legged Beagle chain opened here earlier this year, my only worry being that it might be too full at five o'clock.

(I took the picture earlier in the day.)

Inevitably it was busy and I had to stand at the bar to enjoy a gorgeous coffee stout from Vocation.  Merseypub's Second Law (If you are going to put an unusual flavour in a beer, it should slap the drinker in the face; a "hint" is no good at all.) has been followed with this ale, it has a wonderful coffee flavour.

Coincidentally, I finished a crawl in Manchester on Wednesday in the Britons Protection with the very same beer, I think.  You don't get a blog entry for that trip because the details are all lost in an alcoholic haze, I know we started with Jaipur (6%) and Wobbly Bob (6%) and then four more pints mostly 5% or above.  I'm surprised I managed to get the right train to take me home.  Thanks for a great afternoon out, Mike.

Anyway, back to the Beagle:  People came and left but I wasn't on the ball enough to bag a table so I just had to stand at the end of the counter.  A Christmas party of women came in, a bottle of white wine kept them happy.  Maybe I should have worn my t-shirt again today?  It feels a bit fraudulent in pubs that I've never visited before.

Pleased to see they've got real Budweiser on draft, although I really hate the branded bucket they seem to serve it in here.

Time to head for home after a very successful day with three new ticks taking my total to 1,461, and I was especially pleased to finally get in to the Black Horse.  As I had hoped, the traffic had eased by now and the bus back to Liverpool had no problems and made it in record time.  I couldn't say the same for the trains home from Lime Street, mine was eighteen minutes late.

Pub of the day: Beer Lab
Beer of the day: Vocation's Coffee Stout
Miles walked: 1.7
Maybe coming soon: West Derby, Kirkdale

Saturday 9 December 2023


For today's crawl I headed to Kensington, starting my research at the long closed Phythian:

The surviving pub sign gave me hope for a moment that I might be in for an unexpected bonus, but no.

On to Boaler Street and the Newsham Park:

It looks like it might still be operational, but not open at half one on a Saturday.  I don't think I'll be back in this area any time soon, so it's their loss.  Oh well, on to the Sir Walter Raleigh:

And this one is open.  A pleasant pub knocked through into one room, nicely decorated but with the lights low because Liverpool was on the tellies with most of the customers watching.  I noted a rather good ceramic fireplace surround in the back part.

As I am pleased to have recorded a number of times this year, the Christmas decorations are tastefully restrained and look very good.

The projection TV screen at the front of the pub is truly enormous, it really fills the entire wall.  I remember last time I was here, in summer 2018, they were installing this or a similar screen in the back of the pub, and I joked with the installer that it wouldn't fit.  His reply was "I've told them!"

What a great traditional pub this is, a proper local's boozer.  Long may it continue.

Next, down to Prescot Road and the Vinebrook:

On my previous visits I have noted that this is a football fans' pub and I recall many years ago during the Euros finding all the regulars with red white and blue face paint and silly hats.  Today was no exception, and the place was busy with noisy Liverpool fans, all very happy as their team was now winning.  No face paint this time!

I watched the last few minutes of a rather scrappy game until the whistle went with 102 on the clock, welcomed with a very loud cheer.  More cheers when we learned that that LFC were now top of the league, albeit possibly for only two or three hours. 

The atmosphere gradually calmed down a little but it remained a lively pub, another proper boozer.

I eyed up the weather out of the window.  The rain was intermittently heavy and I haven't taken a picture yet, I need to cross the road.  As I departed the rain almost stopped allowing photos of this and the next pub.

On to the architectural gem that is the Kensington:

Another friendly lively traditional boozer, perhaps not quite as busy as the Vinebrook.  This one has kept quite a few original features and is on CAMRA's list of historic pub interiors, I think.

I sat in the front lounge, a small room with some wood panelling, and a tiny counter served via a small hatch in the bar back.

There was a bowl of chocolates on the counter so I helped myself to one to accompany my third Carling of the day.  I remember being surprised to find cask ale and waitress service in here many years ago, causing a pub crawl of half pints to be paused.

The TVs here were showing rugger, not many of the customers seemed to be paying attention.

It was warmish in the lounge, none of the pubs so far have suffered from the chill I've grumbled about in the past.  The majority of the regulars seemed to be keeping their coats on, but I was comfortable in just a tee-shirt (No, not that one; it would be a bit hypocritical, I think, to wear it in a pub I haven't been in for over five years!)

The next location along is the Sheil Park:

Too dark already for a picture, this one is from my previous visit.  Definitely no chance of a blue sky like that today, with storm Elin passing through.

One large open room with a high ceiling in this rather fine traditional boozer.  They have the same rugby on as the Kensington, I don't think anyone was watching.

The Christmas decorations in here were the busiest I've seen this season, but still mostly tasteful.  Perhaps the greenery, silver balls and flashing lights along the front edge of the counter top are a little too much, but apart from that the place is beautifully done.  The not oversized tree is especially attractive, although I do wonder if, had this been the first pint of the day instead of the fourth, I might have described it as excessive.

Shall I do another tick?  No I think I'll get a bus home before the weather worsens.

Pub of the day: Kensington, for the architecture and the free sweet.
Beer of the day: Carling
Miles walked: 1.2
Maybe coming soon: Crosby, Heswall, Kirkdale

Wednesday 6 December 2023

The Pub Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas

Now here's something rarely, if ever, seen on this blog.  Yes, it's a picture of me!

I was in the Vines enjoying a pint or two of an all-time favourite beer, Oakham Citra.  They also had another of my favourites, Titanic Plum Porter, so I was spoilt for choice.

Despite my tee-shirt, the Vines this evening was much busier than usual, with a surfeit of once-a-year customers clogging up the counter, ordering cocktails, and raising the noise level substantially.  Many Christmas jumpers were in evidence.

As a consequence, my friends and I have cancelled our Wednesday evening get-togethers for the remainder of the year and will be undertaking afternoon pub crawls instead.

Please make sure you support your pubs all year round and not just in the holiday season.  USE IT OR LOSE IT!