Friday, December 23, 2011

Picture this...

15/12/11 - You see, we do exist. Looking like a cross between Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' and the cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, here's a picture of the CBP in the Marlbororough Arms on the final night. Creepy eh ?

Click on the image for a bigger version.
(Thanks to Trevor - the man behind the lens)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Post script - beyond the end...

15/12/11 – into the night. It’s all coming back to me now. Algy had heard that Oswestry microbrewer Stonehouse had a new ale out called Sunlander – a rare event as Stonehouse don’t churn out ales willy or indeed nilly like some brewers. In fact last time they brought an ale out was several years ago and as there’s only one pub in town that regularly serves Stonehouse beers, our next choice of venue was made easy. It was off down Eastgate st. to the Marlbororororough Arms (No. 56), previously visited back in early June. Although we left ‘the Vic’ in dribs and drabs, we all managed to get there – including Trevor and Jean, our new recruits. The Sunlander was fantastic and definitely enters the running for best beer of the CBP. We even had a group photo taken. I don’t have a copy and don’t even know who took it, but if it emerges, I’ll post it later. After ‘the Marlborororough’ some of our number had to get trains, so we headed towards the station. There was however just enough time for another swift one at, erm, Swifty’s or ‘the Cellar Bar’ (No. 45) to be precise. I can’t remember how many people we lost on the way. It was definitely er, some - but I can remember the ale when we got there. Most of us went for the frothingly retro Higson’s bitter – the famous olde scouse quaffing ale, now reincarnated under the Liverpool Organic label. Excellent it was too. One or two of the CBPers who are into nouvelle cuisine preferred the keg Köstritzer Schwarzbier though. Black lager. Indeed. I might suggest Mr. Mercer puts that on in ‘the Albion’ (No. 118) for ‘Christmas in the trenches’, his annual yuletide celebration which involves guests being bombarded by heavy artillery whilst wading round in waist deep freezing mud then contracting trenchfoot and frostbite. It’s not all gloom and doom though – far from it - they stop for a game of football and a singsong half way through the evening and eat tins of ‘bully beef’. Anyhow, back to ‘the Cellar bar’ and once again Swifty had an ace ‘turn’ on the bill. ‘The Spare Ribs’ are a sort of sister/brother nu-folk rock house punk type er combo or beat duo or summat. Anyhow they’re brilliant and put on a great show. The volume was perfect as well, as it was possible to enjoy the music and still have a conversation – albeit a very drunken conversation in our case. After a short while we had to split though. Some (like me) went home, some caught trains, some got lost and some went for an Indian (and more ale !). All in all it was a great night and a fitting end to the Chester Beer Project.

All that remains is for me to wish all of our followers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -  whoever you are ! We’ll be back in early January with some lists (I’ll explain) AND the eagerly awaited announcement of which boozer is to be awarded the coveted title of CBP PUB OF THE YEAR.

Please note that the landlord of the winning pub will be interviewed by former Chesterville MP and patron of the CBP, Gyles Brandreth on ‘the ONE show’.

Imagine that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No. 120 The Victoria

Visited on 15/12/11. Entering ‘the Vic’ through the back door, you’re faced with a choice as the bar is in the middle of the pub with rooms to either side. When we walked in, to the right there were about twenty ‘middle-aged fatty’ once a year drinkers wearing Santa hats and bawling incomprehensible, unfunny shite at each other whilst choking on ‘Jaeger-bombs’. Reckon they were about half an hour from a minor kick-off followed by a stumbling sweaty and utterly repulsive group hug. Way-hey, its Christmas. Many of em’. You and yours etc. etc. Bah friggin’ humbug. We went to the left. This is a magnificent 13th century building that’s got 21st century PubCo stamped all over it. It really must be quite a difficult task to suck the history and grandeur out of such a place and replace it with formula tat. If nothing else, Punch Taverns or whoever are masters at pushing back the boundaries of crassness. The ale in here was alright though, to be fair – just Theakston’s best bitter but on fine form and under such circumstances, it’s actually a half decent quaffer. What wasn’t alright was the price – three English pounds and fifty English pence per imperial pint. Yes that’s right – three fifty for Theakston’s ! Didn’t stop us downing at least three rounds though ! Part way through the first, I was alerted to the fact that ‘a bloke’ was asking if anyone knew Tarquel. A cold icy fear gripped me when my gaze fell on ‘the bloke’ in question – a six foot four bearded biker type. I was slightly re-assured when I realised he wasn’t carrying an axe, but nevertheless thought this was pay-back time. I knew it was a mistake to publicise our itinerary beforehand ! Here was the hit man sent by the Amphitheatre bar (No. 76), the Dee Miller (No. 71), Watergates (No. 106) or any number of other tawdry establishments that have received less than favourable comments on this blog over the past ten months. Eventually we were face to face… “Alright mate, pleased to finally meet you”, came the greeting from the hit-man as he shook me firmly by the hand. Turns out it was none other than Trevor, aka Chunkamunka, landlord of the Olde Cottage (No. 25) and CBP aficionado. The power of the interweb eh ? Well it was great to meet Trevor and his missus Jean, who both joined the party for the rest of the night. So that was it then. We stumbled out of the front door of ‘the Vic’ and then down the steps to Chester Cross – the dead centre of town, with all one hundred and twenty of the City’s pubs behind us. The end. Game over. Finito...    It was only a quarter to ten though. And there was still plenty of drinking time left...

No. 119 The Commercial Hotel

Visited on 15/12/11. Built by one of Chester’s most famous architects, Thomas Harrison, in 1817 (he of the Grosvenor Bridge and other fine early 19th century Chester buildings), ‘the Commercial’ is located in St. Peter’s churchyard right in the heart of Chesterville. What a magnificent building it is. And what a magnificent turnout there was to mark the occasion. All bar one of the CBP regulars (hardcore plus ‘casuals’) were out, plus a number of guests. So thanks to Algy’s mates and in particular Andy from C-BAS for coming along. It was nice of Luke from the Pied Bull (No. 86) to pop in and say hello as well. I remember this place back in the 80s being a largely unaltered, quirky old school boozer with a time-warp feel, full of old people drinking keg mild. Since then, it’s suffered at least one disastrous refurbishment followed by a failed re-launch. However, the current proprietors have now created a pub (with associated restaurant and hotel) that strikes the right balance between the old and the new. ‘Traditional trendy’ – it’s the new ‘shabby chic’, dontcha know ? Imagine Oddfellows (No. 43) on a smaller scale, without the excess and with added real ale – and even then, that’s nothing like this place. I don’t know why I wrote that to be honest. Anyhow, in terms of ale, it was a great start to the night – Everard’s Sleighbell, a light and thankfully quite dry Christmas beer. Twas excellent. So good we had a couple of rounds in fact. It was soon time to leave though, and after pausing briefly to admire the original stained glass window above the front door, we headed aross the courtyard to the FINAL pub of the Chester beer project...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This is the end...

As it turned out then, 'between 100 and 120' wasn’t a bad guess back in February when the Chester Beer Project was conceived, because we now know that the total number of pubs in Chester is exactly 120. That means there are just two more to visit – the Commercial hotel and the Victoria. We’ve left these until last because they’re the two pubs closest to the centre of town. So next Thursday (December 15th), we’ll meet in the Commercial at 8:30 then move to the Vic around 9:15. After that, we’ll argue for a while about which is the best pub in Chester and once it’s been established, we’ll head there to finish the evening off. We might even have a photo call on Chester Cross. Yes indeed, it could get that exciting ! So if any regular readers of this blog would like to be able to say they took part in Chester’s biggest ever pub crawl, then please feel free to come along. Go on, you know you want to ! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Golden Eagle (slight return)

Visited on 1/12/11. This famous old Chester pub that people ‘of a certain age’ have very fond memories of, has been struggling of late. In fact when we visited back in September (No. 91), it was closed - and it looked terminal. However, it might now have been given a new lease of life, as Martin Ellis (formerly of Jones; now the Chester Hangman, the City bar; now the Cellar bar and the Commercial hotel; now erm, the Commercial hotel) has taken on the tenancy. Although Punch Taverns still own it and will be placing their usual moronic constraints on the business, Martin might just be the kind of chap with sufficient flair to re-invent the place. That’s precisely what’s needed and that’s precisely what he intends. Already the place looks different. Subtle changes have been made to the interior and exterior décor and it now has a ‘cool’ feel. Martin recalls the vibrancy of the place back in the ‘80s, describing how there might have been a gang of punks in one corner, rockers in another and solicitors holding court in the centre of the room. There was often an air of tension and more than the occasional ‘kick off’ then. Indeed. Those solicitors could be rum bastards at times ! So the new ‘Golden Eagle’ will be different, but will acknowledge its history. We saw some impressive artwork involving various Eagle motifs and icons including the Eagle comic and Ramones eagle being woven into more traditional Eagle representations. It was great stuff – attention grabbing and very cool. Real ale was also being served and although it was just Spitfire bitter, it was in good nick. No doubt the ale range will be expanded as the business is developed though. Hopefully this is a new beginning for this cherished boozer. And maybe the new customer base will include affluent adults who were once the rebellious kids of the 80s. Maybe one or two solicitors might even drift back an’ all !

No. 118 The Albion

Visited on 1/12/11. “ GO AWAY – WE DON’T WANT YOUR SORT IN HERE* ” proclaims the blackboard wedged into the doorway of this perfectly preserved Victorian street corner boozer. Indeed, according to its legendary 137-year-old landlord, Mike Mercer (he of the chalk and trademark misanthropy), the Albion is the only perfectly preserved street corner Victorian boozer remaining in Chesterville. Hmm… I think there might be one or two others to be honest. I guess it depends on how you define ‘perfectly preserved’. Without doubt the phrase definitely applies to ‘the Albion’ though and Mr. Mercer has gone to great lengths to maintain the pub’s original features. For example, the open fires are all still in operation and the rooms, including a snug are still pretty much as per the original building design. He’s also packed the place with early 20th century relics, many related to the 1st world war, including a number of original propaganda posters, ‘PUT THE HUN ON IRON RATIONS’, being my personal favourite. It’s a great place in which to entertain German colleagues I find – brings their famous sense of humour to the fore. Unsurprisingly this is a solid real ale pub with two constantly changing guest bitters always on the bar - on this occasion, Black Sheep bitter and Titanic Anchor. We gave the Black Sheep a swerve because the Titanic is an infinitely superior ale – and it was on very fine form indeed. Incidentally, the ‘guest lager’ according to more of Mr. Mercer’s blackboard invective was ‘GNAT’S PISS’ or some such (it was Carling – and it’s on permanently, although I doubt many people drink it). This is a fascinating boozer in many ways then, and maybe one that people should enjoy while they can because I can’t see it remaining in it’s current form once Mr. Mercer finally hangs up his boots (we’ve been saying this for years !). In addition to the various sleb chefs and other luminaries it definitely gets our seal of approval as well. I’ll not be surprised if the list of excluded groups is extended in the near future though: “ NO PUB CRAWLS, NO STAG NIGHTS, NO HEN NIGHTS, NO CHILDREN AND DEFINITELY… NO BLOGGERS “ You read it here first.

* OK, this is paraphrased, erm, ‘a bit’.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No. 117 The Plumber's Arms

Visited on 1/12/11. Tucked away behind the Grosvenor shopping precinct on Newgate Street, the ‘Plumbers’ has carved out a bit of a niche in recent years as a late night retreat for bar workers from other pubs who gravitate there after their shifts have finished. It stays open until 4 am and does most of it’s trade after midnight, so it came as no surprise to find the place completely empty when we turned up early in the evening. However, the complete lack of customers might be connected to the fact that there was a complete lack of ale also – unless you count Fosters. That and industrial cider was all they had on. No cask ale (despite the presence of four hand pumps), no keg ale, no Guinness, no poncey lager. Nowt. Just Foster’s and cider. Pathetic. It was with a heavy heart then and with much scowling and begrudgery, that we ordered up a round of ‘the amber nectar’ and prepared to reacquaint ourselves with it’s cold fizzy tastlessness.Then as soon as we’d paid for the drinks, the bar staff (all three of them) went outside for a fag. It’s a hard life. We were left on our own to chat to ‘disco boy’ who was setting up the sound system for the night’s entertainment. “It normally gets busy around nine”, he informed us. At that point it was about five to. A tumbleweed rolled past the door. We finished our drinks and followed it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

CBP on tour No. 3, Gallaghers Pub & Barbers

Visited on 24/11/11. Birkenhead is half an hour away from Chester by train. Or it should be. When the points don’t fail that is. That was how we found ourselves stranded in Rock Ferry – or some of us did at least. I can think of a lot worse places to be though. Like down in the streets. Or down in the sewer. Or maybe on the end of a skewer. Or maybe not. Even once we’d found the taxi that had been called in for us, covering the remaining distance to Hamilton square wasn’t straightforward. This was due to the fact that the Albanian driver had never heard of the place (true story). Nor did he know how to operate a satnav – or a car. Maybe it’s the law that you have to stop at green lights in Tirana, I dunno. It was more by luck than good judgement then, that we finally arrived at ‘Gallagher’s’ to be greeted by howls of derision from our Wirral-based CBPer who’d travelled independently of the ‘soul train’ and was already into the Wobbly Bob. We were an hour late. Frankie who runs this place with his missus is an ex guardsman and barber by profession. During the day he cuts hair and provides ‘hot towel’ cutthroat razor shaves in the traditional barbershop, which is situated in the middle of the pub. Ale is served throughout, but at 5:30 pm the barbershop is closed and roped off. Frankie then switches to full-time landlord mode for the evenings. The superb Brimstage Trapper’s Hat is always on here and is accompanied by five constantly changing guest ales. On this occasion, in addition to the previously mentioned ‘Wobbly Bob’ from the Phoenix brewery which is an overly sweet ale at a brain numbing six percent, the following were also present: Nervous Turkey (Ossett), Pendle Witches Brew (Moorhouses) and a porter from Liverpool Organic that I can’t remember the name of. All were in excellent condition. There was also a sort of coiderrr on draft. I say ‘sort of’ because it tasted like nothing on earth. It was called ‘la Cantina’ and according to Frankie, is an Italian Scrumpy ! I can’t find any mention of it on the world wide interweb though, so being an old cynic, would have to place a question mark over it’s provenance. It tasted like crushed ‘Granny Smith’ apples combined with stewed socks and possibly tincture of goblin’s arse-crack sweat. Not for me, that one I’m afraid ! This is a fantastic and totally unique pub though, it has to be said. Where else can a chap avail himself of the very best in gentleman’s grooming and then enjoy a couple of pints of top-notch real ale in the same establishment ? Nowhere – that’s where. I suppose it’s ironic then, that one of the best pubs we’ve visited on the Chester Beer Project isn’t even in Chester. And to think that due to the vagaries of Merseyrail, we very nearly didn’t get there in the first place. It was a very close shave to be honest. What ?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

No. 116 The Belgrave Hotel

Visited on 17/11/11. After ‘the Westminster' (No. 115), we continued up City road to this place. Again, the building probably dates from the mid to late 19th century, but if anything it needs even more renovation work doing on it than it’s slightly more upmarket near neighbour. I get the impression though, that it’s operating quite happily as a cheap boarding house for travelling labourers and tourists on a budget. It’s got a public bar (hence our visit) and this time there were even some people in it. Well, sort of. On to the ale then. We were shocked to discover that there wasn’t a fine selection of cask ales from local microbreweries or a range of craft keg and bottled ales from around the world. Once more it was Tetley’s then, but this time ‘smoothflow’ rather than straightforward keg. It tasted of absolutely nothing whatsoever and therefore represented a considerable improvement in quality compared to the ale in ‘the Westminster’. In the bogs, the décor of which is a fine example of the 1960s DIY school of design, a bloke spoke to me in Klingon then fell over. Back out front we had a little chat with the landlady who was very friendly. She guessed we were into real ale and recommended we visit the Pied Bull (No. 86). Which was nice of her.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No. 115 The Westminster Hotel

Visited on 17/11/11. Just across City road from ‘the Queen’ (No. 114) lies this 19th century commercial hotel that ‘oozes olde worlde charm’ apparently. That means ‘it’s a bit shabby’ then in plain English. Yes I know it’s probably a great  value hotel with friendly staff and is ideally situated for tourists seeking to explore the wondrous roman city of Chesterville blah-di-blah-di-blah etc. And I know we shouldn’t be reviewing it as a pub because it isn’t one. However, it does have a public bar, so it sort of qualifies. Sort of. On to the ale then. Real ale isn’t served here, so we had to drink keg - Tetley bitter to be precise. And what an interesting experience it was. It tasted of loose change, earwax and hamsters – as bizarre as it was repulsive. We drank it though – all sat round a table in the middle of an empty dance floor while some reality TV crap played on a wide-screen telly. Nobody else was there. We then decided to explore the place a bit and found a fantastic old(e) gentleman’s smoking room at the rear of the groundfloor which still had it’s original fittings, including an ornate gold radiator. This room was empty too. It felt like we were burglars in a stately home. I reckon this place has been decorated three times – once when it was built, once in the 1980s and once since then - the final effort simply consisting of a 'toning down' of some of the ‘80s ‘new romantic’ extravagances by lashing fuchsia* paint over all the main walls. It’s truly odd. Would I ever stay here ? Absolutely. It’s got far more character than the dreary Travel Lodges and Premier Inns that are taking over Chester. Would I ever drink here (again) ? No chance whatsoever.

* If I had the job of showing prospective guests around this hotel I would make a point of highlighting the décor by using the phrase “This is the fuchsia !”

Friday, November 18, 2011

No. 114 The Queen Hotel

Visited on 17/11/11. I’m not really sure what phrase best describes this rabbit warren of a Victorian hotel opposite Chester station - ‘buffed up faded grandeur’ maybe. In other words, it's been recently renovated but not to the highest of standards. It’s functional I guess. Certainly not dilapidated, but far from luxurious. And it retains a certain charm I suppose. ‘Darwin’s Waiting Room’ is the name of the public bar and real ale is served – on this occasion Weetwood Cheshire Cat and Eastgate ale. Each was lifeless and slightly tainted - typical traits of ale that's been hanging around too long I'm afraid. They were charging four English pounds per imperial bleedin’ pint of each an' all. That’s expense account pricing I reckon. Don’t think any locals drink here. Just corporate types, tourists, race-goers, wedding guests, bloggers, loggers and doggers.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Autumn Beer Festival at the Pied Bull

Visited on 3/11/11. When we arrived at the Pied Bull (No. 86), the party was already in full swing. The place was packed and although lots of CAMRA types were present, there were plenty of normal people there as well. Following the success of their last beer festival* which featured a Thornbridge ‘meet the brewer’ session, it was always going to be a popular event. Again, ‘meet the brewer’ was on the agenda, but this time the fellas from Marble (Manchester) were there to provide the spiel. Consequently Marble offerings dominated the 17 strong line up of ales. This is no bad thing though, because Marble ales are fantastic. They seem to be a bit under-represented in Chester though. As far as I can recall, the only Marble ale we’ve encountered on the CBP was the Manchester bitter at the Carlton Tavern (No. 5) way back in February. This is a clone of the original Strangeways Boddingtons bitter and was available here also. It’s a great beer then, but it wasn’t the best of the night. That accolade would have to go to either the superbly named ‘Pint’ or the even more superbly named ‘Dobber’ – again, both from Marble. The former is a session ale which is low in alcohol, but packed with hops – not dissimilar to Brimstage Trappers Hat I thought. The latter is a full on 5.9% IPA, loaded with hops and citrus aroma with hints of rambutan, durian and possibly even kumquat. An honourable mention must also go to the superb Thornbridge Sequoia, an American amber ale which actually seemed to taste a little bit of wood. Strange but true. Of course the Pied Bull’s own ales were present as well, including the excellent Bull’s Hit and another hoppy creation called Hong Kong Fooey** or summat. Which brings me onto an interesting conversation between ourselves and Pied Bull main man Luke. Laughingly, I suggested he might want to brew a special ale to commemorate the end of the CBP. Surprisingly, he thought it was a good idea ! We even discussed the style of the proposed brew. To acknowledge all the appalling cocktail bars in which we’ve had no alternative but to endure Mexican bottled beer, we thought it appropriate that the CBP special ale should be a Mexican style cask conditioned lager with lots of citrus hop action to represent fruit stuffed into bottle necks. An additional option would be to get some jalapeno chillies in there as well. Will it happen ? Well watch this space. Back to the fezza anyhow and it would be remiss of me not to mention the food, which by the way was provided free of charge. It was certainly a cut above your average pub quiz plate of minty curled up sarnies and the chilli sausage rolls in particular were superb. Great ales, great company, great food and most importantly great organisation then. I hate writing good reviews – it just doesn’t come naturally. Sometimes though, there’s simply no alternative.

* We missed it because we were poncing about down Lower Bridge St. See Bear & Billet (No. 39) et al

** This might not be 100% factually accurate

No. 113 Alexander's

Visited on 3/11/11. In the endless debate about what is and isn’t a pub, one rule has remained constant. If an establishment charges for entry or if you have to be a member, it’s definitely not a pub so doesn’t qualify for the CBP. There’s a sort of grey area though concerning some places. ‘Alexander’s’ for instance charges for entry on some nights but not on others, depending on which act they have on. What to do then ? We decided to turn up anyhow and see how we got on. Septuagenarian ‘brum-rocker’ Steve Gibbons was playing on this particular night and there was a ten English pounds entry fee. Undeterred however, we waited for a big group to arrive and then walked in without paying while the door technician was distracted. Bingo – theatre instantly reverts to pub ! Let’s get it on. This is an intimate and well-designed performance space with the stage area at a lower level than the bar and it’s a great venue for small bands and comics. But we weren’t about to wait around for any of that nonsense. Real ale from Weetwood is served here – Cheshire Cat and Eastgate ale - and both were on good form. Most enjoyable in fact. We eventually apologised for bunking in and explained that we weren’t interested in seeing the band anyway. The bar staff saw the funny side to be fair. Anyhow, we were out of there before the man arrived on stage and had chance to declare, “It’s groit beein’ back in Chester is this…” Sex and blogs and rock ‘n’ roll. Our ‘main event’ lay elsewhere...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No. 112 Artichoke

Visited on 27/10/11. This place used to be ‘the Globe’ and is situated just along the canal side from ‘the Old Harkers Arms’ (No. 36). Like Harkers, it’s housed in an old warehouse. Therefore it has that attractive Victorian industrial interior. Maybe it would be a little unfair to describe it as a ‘Harkers-lite’, but, erm that’s exactly what it is. I guess it was easier to keep the big globe from its previous incarnation mounted on the outside of the building than to take it down. Hence the name. Globe – Artichoke ? You see the globe is still relevant. Sort of. I’d have kept the globe as well if it was my boozer – it looks great. I’d have gone for a different name though. ‘Planet Ale’ maybe. Er, maybe not. On the subject of ale, I think it’s fair to say we were all under-whelmed. Some ‘good uns’ were available, including offerings from Tatton and Weetwood, but it was all served too warm. Reminded me of the Mill Hotel in that respect (No. 48). I was also curious as to why all the bar staff were wearing t-shirts with a Russian Vodka brand emblazoned on them – ‘Kutyakokoff’ or summat, so I asked the manager about them. “You know how much these shirts cost us, my man ?” he replied with a smug grin. “Er, let me guess. You’re promoting a brand, so was it nought pounds, nought pence ?” I proffered. He winked and walked away. Yep, smart work big guy. They must be worth less than a tenner each. Personally, I’d have paid a tenner not to have to wear one. T-shirts with slogans - what a naff idea ! The place was busy anyhow and a minor local sleb plus entourage was in da house. I don’t really want to say who it was. However, the nickname ‘Lipson’ might be a clue. See if you can work it out. Answers on a postcard to Granada Reports.

Friday, October 28, 2011

No. 111 The Rectory

Visited on 27/10/11. This place is situated half way along Bell End Walk, right next to the cathedral and is one of Chester’s newer bar/restaurants. I’d love to see the business plan, as I’d have thought ‘customers’ were a sort of prerequisite. However, they seem to be operating quite happily without any. The place was completely empty and when we walked in the barmaid was visibly shocked. Ok, that might have been just because it was us. A hand pump was on the bar with a Flowers IPA pump-clip attached, so we ordered up a round of said beverage. “Oh, that’s not connected,” came the barmaid’s reply. We ordered a round of Bombardier instead (fizzy version), but as she opened the tap to pour the first pint, an empty keg blurted out a little CO2 wet fart. “Oh, (giggle giggle) that’s not working either,” she helpfully explained. “We’ve got cocktails though !” “Great, why didn’t you say ? Why are we messing about with ale ? Three pints of cocktails then please.” She looked a bit uncomfortable. “Only joking. We’ll have three bottles of your finest most Mexican beer.” Ten quid. Ten bleedin’ quid to drink supermarket ale in an empty building ! Setting fire to a tenner, filming it, staring at the camera, saying “I’m mad, me”, then putting it on You-tube would have been more fun. We repaired to the verandah in order to escape from the stifling lack of atmosphere. Surprisingly, it’s quite a nice spot. A gang of male ‘yoot’ then turned up (innit). They asked if there was a DJ on. We laughed and sent them back up the road to Missoulla (No. 110). “There’s deffo a DJ on there”, we assured them. “P-Diddy his name is. P-Diddy David Hamilton.” They looked perplexed as they walked away. Probably hadn’t heard of the great man. Probably wondered why those ‘old guys’ were more hip than they were. Probably.

No. 110 Missoula

Visited on 27/10/11. Bring on the nubiles ! Jesus wept, this was our most difficult mission yet. Two choices; face the room and look like a leering pervert or face the wall and look like a weirdo. I reckon the average age of the CBP is more than double the average age of the clientele in this place, 90% of which appeared to be female. Begs the question, where were all the lads ? Cracking one off at home whilst surfing internet porn sites probably. Possibly. I dunno. What to drink anyhow ? Don’t look along the bar – risk of eye contact. “AAAAGH, that man’s staring at me. PERVERT ! CALL THE POLICE !” Straight ahead – Mexican beer in the fridge – we’ll have that. Quick look around. Phew, got away with it. Shorts seem to be popular in here. That’s the garment, not the beverage grouping. “PERVERT !” Oh shit. Glug, glug. Time to go.

No. 109 The Living Room

Visited on 27/10/11. The logical next step after finding your way up the back passage to ‘Duttons’ is to pop into ‘the Living Room’ via the rear entrance. (Apologies - even I’m getting bored with this now !) I remember this place as a late night bar cum ‘discotheque’ – but that was about twenty years ago. Jesuz, I can even remember it as ‘Joe’s Wine Bar’. Them were the days*. Anyhow, it looks as if it’s been refurbished recently - and guess what ? Lo and friggin’ behold, it’s been gastrofied. Upstairs where all the dancing, groping and fighting took place, there’s now a neat array of tables. Rocket munchers everywhere. “Can I help you sir ?”, an overpolite waitress enquired. “I doubt it”, I replied as I descended the stairs. Apparently there’s a 3rd floor to this place which is set to be a nightclub – the grand opening will be attended by, and get this, a Stoke City first team footballer AND all his mates. That’s THE Stoke City. Yep. This ‘exclusive’ came from the world’s most annoying barman - a twenty-something oik who we tried to engage in conversation. He responded by slagging off the ale in ‘Duttons’ (which was actually ok) before declaring that they didn’t serve cask ale themselves. Furthermore he insisted that keg ale was better in any case. This was an education. We drank the keg. It was shite. He then started doing all that cretinous cocktail bar bottle juggling stuff, despite the fact that nobody was actually buying any cocktails. The tit. A Stoke City player though ? Impressive.

* The superb but now sadly defunct Chester City fanzine, 'the Onion Bag' once described Joe's Wine Bar as follows: '...features 'wall to wall' seafood smells' & ' a haven for the purple-headed womb warrior'. Indeed. 

No. 108 Duttons

Visited on 27/10/11. Finbarr Saunders’ ‘up the back passage’ line has already been over-used on this blog, so I’ll make no comment about ‘Duttons’ location*. Famous for being a favourite venue of the ‘mature carouser’**, unfortunately it seems to have followed the current trend towards gastro-isation. Whereas previously it was a bar with a menu available, now it’s a restaurant with a drinking area. Tea-light laden tables fill most of the available space and the thinly scattered clientele consisted mainly of bored couples staring at each other over plates of rocket and things served with a jus. There’s more to life than this, people ! Two real ales are available here and we went for the Lees bitter (can’t remember what the other one was). It was ok. We had another in fact. Party on.

*   It’s up the back passage
** Male: Ageing sleazeball. Female: Mutton dressed as lamb

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interlude 2: CBP T-shirts

This is something we'll probably never get round to doing. However, if we ever do, we'll need an appropriate slogan. I might post some possibilities later (if I can think of any). Meanwhile, if anyone's got any suggestions, please feel free to post in the comments.

Updated - I've been having a think. What d' yer reckon ?













[No blog this week by the way - we're having a week off because some of us are going to the Chester CAMRA beer festival tonight. Taste buds to the fore casketeers !]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No. 107 The Amber Lounge

Visited on 13/10/11. Formerly the Deva hotel, this place underwent ponsification about ten years ago to emerge in it’s current form. Initially it was called ‘the Room’ before becoming ‘the Amber Lounge’, when presumably it was bought by a chain (there’s another one in Knutsford). The transformation mainly involved lashing white paint over every internal surface including the original Elizabethan beams and fireplace – it’s tantamount to vandalism to be honest. Lord knows how they were allowed to do that to a listed building. And to what end ? The place is utterly devoid of soul. It was practically empty, an appalling pub singer was crucifying songs in the corner and there was no real ale. We drank keg tiger and left. Tick.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No. 106 Watergates

Visited on 13/10/11. Bouncers – dontcha just love ‘em ? “Sorry gents, you can’t come in.” “You what ?” “You can’t come in, it’s ‘students’ night.” “That’s ageist.” “It’s students night, you won’t like it” “Listen Cletus, we are the friggin’ Chester Beer Project. We ARE coming in and if you don’t stand aside friggin’  PRONTO, we’ll blog this place into oblivion. Capiche ?” Ok that wasn’t quite how the conversation unfolded, but we managed to get in by pretending to walk off then sneaking behind the be-suited knuckle-dragger’s back while he was looking the other way. Devious eh ? I’m reliably informed by my compadres that we drank pints of Kronenberg in here – that’s grade A ‘fighting grade’ chemical lagerbeer. Lovely. The music was so loud that my ears started to bleed. We had a quick look at ‘Chester’s only roof-top terrace’, accessed via a stairway at the back of the downstairs bar – big friggin' deal, then left, pausing momentarily on the way out to marvel at the amazing gothic ceiling. What a waste of 13th century architecture. Horrible place – full of students.

No. 105 D' Meltin' Pot

Visited on 13/10/11. The reason we couldn’t specify the precise number of pubs in Chester when we embarked upon this odyssey back in February is that we don’t know how many there are. We keep finding new places - and ‘D’ Meltin’ Pot’ is a good example. We didn’t know it existed until we walked past it en route from ‘the Havana’ to ‘Watergates’. What’s with the name anyhow – is it some sort of street patwa jive-speak thang ? With a name like that, you might be led to believe that this place would be really hard edged, hip and happenin’ (innit) - where pounding dub-step, fylth and grime would cause your eyeballs to resonate in their sockets. On the contrary though – it appears to be quite straight laced. On the upper level a laydees fashion show was taking place and as we stood there supping keg Tetley’s, they all began to leave en masse, filing sedately past, carrying their new purchases. It was like a tsunami of crimplene and tweed. Hmm, fragrant.

No. 104 The Havana Cocktail Bar

Visited on 13/10/11. This place used to be a gay nightclub called ‘Connections’ and is situated below street level in an ancient cellar with a fantastic barrel vaulted brick ceiling. Maybe it’s a sign of age when you find the architecture of a bar more interesting than the other ‘attractions’ on offer, although there was certainly plenty of ahem, ‘talent’ present as well ! These days ‘the Havana’ is a formula cocktail bar serving, well, cocktails. Fortunately though, they also sell beer – but only in bottles. We’d done the cocktail thing at the last place, so ordered up a round of ‘Pacifico’, which to be honest, I’d never heard of. The barman informed us that it was the best beer they sold though – and it was also the cheapest (three English pounds per single bottle and it was the friggin’ cheapest !) It’s Mexican. It was alright. Fruit can be stuffed into the bottle neck to hide the lack of taste if required. To be honest, the atmosphere in here is alright as well. Unlike many similar places, you don’t get your brain mashed by pounding dance music and can actually have a conversation. Probably changes at the weekend like.

No. 103 The Waikiki Bar

Visited on 13/10/11. This place is tiny – probably used to be an antique shop or summat. Now it’s been transformed into a Hawaii style beach bar with an additional pirate theme. Hang on a minute though - weren’t pirates primarily in operation around the Caribbean, rather than the mid Pacific ?? No matter. To add to the amalgam the place seems to be owned and staffed by Asians. It’s a bit of a mish-mash then, to say the least. The décor is brash and garish by and large but we all agreed the dried puffer fish lampshades were actually quite cool. Only bottled beer is available, so we went for a round of ‘Red Stripe’, the famous Hawaiian beer from Jamaica, now brewed in Southampton. Then we thought bollocks to it - ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and ordered up a round of cocktails – ‘Pirate’s Grog’ to be precise – a beverage principally consisting of rum and erm, water, served over ice in a dimple pint pot – with a straw obviously. No umbrella though. Or cherry. Another group in there at the time were drinking some hideous concoction with straws from a shared brass chalice. Horrible – what if someone inadvertently (or deliberately) yocks down the straw ? Or worse !? Loved the pirate theme anyhow, although maybe they could give it a bit more impact and a modern twist by employing Somalis as barmen. Just a thought.

No. 102 Bar Lounge

Visited on 13/10/11. Who the frig are ‘the men of trees’ ? Well, I’ll tell you who they are (because I’ve just googled them) – they are men who plant trees, that’s who. And back in 1969 they planted the two beautiful lime trees adjacent to this slick city centre pub in order to commemorate Prince Charles’ 21st birthday. Strange but true. Anyhow, the trees are the main reason the patio area is so attractive and why this is such a great place to meet up at the start of a night out. Right, that’s the good stuff out of the way. Now for the bad. Frankly, I find it unfathomable that an otherwise excellent pub doesn’t do real ale. If it did, it would be one of the best pubs in Chester – provided a couple of other details could be addressed as well. Firstly, pints require beermats, not friggin’ napkins. Also, the name’s rubbish – ‘Bar Lounge’ – what the frig is that ? I don’t think the target market of metrosexualists, sophisticados and northern dandys would be alienated or even perturbed if a more traditional pub name was adopted. Like for instance, I dunno, ‘the Axe tavern’ maybe. I’m sure ‘the men of trees’ would approve.

No. 101 Rheum

Visited on 13/10/11. Well I had to rub my eyes. We began our night of poncing along Watergate street with a visit to this ‘exclusive’ establishment. It’s an absolute nightmare to find – but believe me, an even bigger nightmare once you arrive ! Built in the mid 1980s and run by a dodgy sounding organisation called ‘the Ministry of Love’, it appears to be a theme pub dedicated to the very worst aspects of modern British drinking culture. Obviously there’s no real ale – just tasteless foreign bottled beer. Glasses aren’t provided and fruit stuffed into the bottle neck is compulsory. A karaoke was scheduled for later in the evening but oddly, this would have been a relief from the repeats of ‘Big Brother’ that were constantly being looped on the massive TV screens hanging from every wall. How could I best describe the experience ? ‘Double-plus ungood’ I suppose. (Not as bad as the amphitheatre bar (No. 76) though).

Friday, October 7, 2011

No. 100 The Ship Victory

Visited on 6/10/11. To commemorate our century we decided to spend the night in just one pub - we've been holding back a couple of ‘good uns’ for just such auspicious occasions (obviously our final pub will have to be a decent boozer as well – can you guess what it is yet ?*). However, on the way out, we noticed that ‘the Railway Arms’ (No. 72) was open ! Naturally, we had to call in, having failed on three previous occasions – see comments section under that pub’s entry. Anyhow, after battling through some wild weather we finally arrived at ‘the Ship’ just in time to take part in the quiz. The first priority though was to set up a round of Tetley bitter – a traditional ale that can be insipid in the wrong hands, but when handled correctly is magnificent. It was magnificent. It always is here, because this is an old school boozer run by an old school landlord who knows his stuff (take a bow Joe). As you might expect, we assumed we’d win the quiz, but eventually finished third out of ahem, five teams. I don’t think we’ll be worrying the ‘Eggheads’ any time soon ! Shortly after the quiz finished, about twenty members of the ‘funny handshake’ brigade arrived - straight from the lodge and all looking splendid in their black ties. They got the ale in and started playing darts. It was ‘the knights templar of the blue grotto’ versus ‘the fragrant order of imperial wizards’. I asked what the score was at one point. The ‘chief banana hoo-ha-ha’ said he couldn’t tell me – it was a secret (wey-hey !) – and added, “you don’t know who I am !” Fair dos (he was right – I didn’t). I can’t remember there being a last orders bell at any point. I just remember looking at my watch and it was half past midnight ! I had to go, so exited stage left leaving the other CBPers behind. Lord knows what time they got out – I’ve not spoken to them since. Perhaps they’re still there.

*famous people on the toilet #148: Rolf Harris © VIZ

Friday, September 30, 2011

No. 99 The Dublin Packet

Visited on 29/9/11. Let’s cut to the chase. The gents bogs in here are an absolute friggin’ disgrace. The ceiling is covered in black mould, the cubicle door is covered in graffiti (‘der Lache roolz’ apparently) and the urinals leak. Just to highlight this final point, a litter bin has even been strategically placed under one of the U-bends to catch the drips. As a consequence, there’s a vile stench that permeates the entire pub. It’s verging on the primeval to be honest. If ever there was a place in Chester where you could still contract bubonic plague, this would be it. The tragedy is, this could be a great pub with just a modest sum made available for a refurb. It’s small, atmospheric, largely in it’s original state and is in a great location. It’s easy to imagine looking out over a busy market square in the Victorian era or propping up the bar in the 1960s and chatting to iconic footballer Dixie Dean who ran this place for a while after he retired from the game - for anyone interested, there’s a sort of shrine to the great man in one corner of the pub, but it’s made from reproduction stuff and is a bit cheesy to be honest. A simple blue plaque would be better. Obviously, they don’t do real ale here, so we drank brownkeg. It was practically stagnant. This could be another boozer on the ‘at risk’ list. Hope we haven’t given it the kiss of (black) death.

No. 98 The Coach House

Visited on 29/9/11. I suppose ‘the Coach and Horses’, which was the name of this place last time I looked, sounds a bit too much like a pub for this erm, pub. Whereas ‘the Coach House’ sounds like it might be a chic metrosexualised contemporary dining and drinking emporium for urban sophisticados. Or summat. Marketing – dontcha just love it !? It’s a pub that smells of food then. Probably does accommodation as well judging by the bewildered foreigners that occasionally meandered through while we were there. An extensive range of Thwaites real ales was present though – and all the ones we tried were in good nick to be fair (Lancaster bomber, Wainwright, - also daft Bass). The service from the uniformed barman was ok as well. It was just, I dunno, boring I suppose. The kind of place your nan might like – which I’m guessing wasn’t their intention when they changed the name.

No. 97 The Shropshire Arms

Visited on 29/9/11. Next to the town hall, right in the beating heart of Chesterville lies this spectacularly uninteresting boozer. At the tables outside, some ‘new age’ traveller types were twiddling with their piercings, scattering ‘rolly’ dog-ends about the place and talking cod philosophical shite in the accepted style. Indoors, things got worse. A group of grown men – yes grown men, were knocking back ‘jaeger bombs’ as if they were plook-faced virgins on the first night of ‘fresher’s week’. Real ale is served here (Bombardier or Spitfire) and was ok. It was a bit flat and a bit warm to be honest, but just about drinkable – beer which could be described as being served in ‘the Wetherspoons’ style perhaps. A number of bands were advertised, but fortunately none were playing during our visit. Barmaid was pleasant.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No. 96 The Boot

Visited on 22/9/11. Daub, wattle. Wattle, daub - Wattle, daub. Daub, wattle. A-ha ha ha. Just like that. ‘The Boot’ or ‘Das Boot’ as it’s known in German tourist guides is Sam Smith’s sister pub to ‘the Falcon’ (No. 93) and shares many of it's characteristics - prime location, important architecture, significant history – as well as cheap ale and a clientele consisting principally of loafers, sluggards, jackanapes, putterers and sundry miscreants – and of course students. And it’s a really great pub (apart from the students, obviously). Again, the Sam Smith’s ‘old brewery bitter’ wasn’t quite as repulsive as I remember it being. It was almost palatable to be honest. And the olde handpumps coming straight out of the bar (as opposed to being mounted on wooden blocks) are still in operation. Wonderful stuff. Oh yes. History – it’s the future and we’ve tasted it.

No. 95 The Pelican

Visited on 22/9/11. Where ? Exactly. I’d never heard of it either – or it’s predecessor, which was a restaurant called ‘Gotwine’ apparently. Maybe there’s a clever marketing strategy behind these daft names. Or maybe they’re just, erm daft. Anyhow, this place is tucked away up Commonhall St. It’s a wine bar/brasserie type affair and it’s most interesting feature is the large patio at the back from which there’s an excellent view of a load of brick buildings. It was deserted when we arrived though, as was the rest of the place. This is another city centre venue that relies heavily on race days – in that respect, the main attraction is that there’s a load of space. There’s nothing much else here of any interest to be honest. Most notably, there’s no real ale. We drank ‘Boddies’ – ah yes, the famously proud and vigorous northern elixir, now transformed into worthless, tasteless shite under a failing global brand. Er, then we left.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No. 94 The Slug & Lettuce

Visited on 22/9/11. This is a cavernous nondescript modern bar which is part of a national chain. It was reasonably busy and seemed to be populated mainly by twenty-something ugly women wearing unfeasibly high heels and thirty-something ugly blokes wearing unfeasibly cheap suits. At one point we thought there might even have been a ‘singles’ night on, but dismissed the possibility because none of us were chatted up. Anyhow, unlike many similar establishments, real ale is on offer here - Morland Speckled Hen - and it was half decent to be fair. Not too dear either. Doubt we’ll be back like.

No. 93 The Falcon

Visited on 22/9/11. After the small fortune spent on it’s restoration in the 1980s, you’d think this grade 1 listed building of medieval origin would be one of the most upmarket hostelries in Chester. However, under the management of Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smiths, the philosophy has very much focused on keeping the ‘riff-raff’ in rather than out – which is absolutely fine by us. And with ale at £1.89 a pint, tramps, alkies, piss-artists, drunks and sundry ne’er-do-wells abound. It’s a proper old school pub in fact. When we arrived, we went into the left hand side – the side overlooking Bridge St. but immediately had to move into the other half of the pub because there was a fella in there who absolutely stank. I think he might have shat himself to be honest. We walked into the other bar just in time to witness the first fight of the year – well, nearly. It began with a slightly raised voice, then a clearly audible “Yer pr**k !”, followed by “You’re the pr**k !”, then “Don’t you call me a f**kin’ pr**k, YER F**KIN’ PR**K !!” Just as it was about to kick off though, the barmaid stepped in and lashed one of the ‘would be’ combatants out onto the street. Then as he was walking off he threatened to “…smash her face in !”. A right hard man and no mistake. Anyhow, the ale was alright – I’ve never really liked Sam Smiths but it was better than I remember it being - perhaps they've changed it ? Cheap ale, lively atmosphere, historic surroundings and free entertainment – what more could you want from a boozer ? Possibly air freshener, come to think of it. 

No. 92 The Chester Bells

Visited on 22/9/11. From ‘the Golden Eagle’ it’s just a short walk up Bunce St. to this place – a former ‘bikers’ hang-out, now functioning as a pub/B&B. I love the attached review excerpt from ‘Trip Advisor’ written by a disgruntled customer:

“…the worst thing about this whole stay was the fact we went to leave at 8am the following day to find two people having sex in the hotel reception…”

Check it out if you don’t believe me. Needless to say, nothing quite so exciting occurred during our visit. It was nearly empty when we arrived and for some reason, the previous night’s footy was being played on the telly. It was too loud an’ all. We ordered up a round of Bombardier – the national beer that’s just about average, even at it’s best. It was average. A croonist then set up and began performing to his backing tapes. To be honest I could have sung better, and I can’t sing. Some members of his little entourage glared at us when we didn’t applaud. I like this place though – particularly the location and the quirky shape. It must have been ace before all the dividing walls were knocked down. The barman seemed friendly enough as well, although I couldn’t help wondering whether or not he was the phantom shagger. Maybe we should’ve asked.

No. 91 The Golden Eagle

Visited on 22/9/11. We started the evening at ‘the Golden Eagle’, but arrived to find the lights were out and a big ‘For Sale’ sign was attached to the wall. Although it holds happy memories for many of us, including a prominent CBPer who had his first pint there, aged eleven, it wasn’t a great pub. In recent memory at least, it never served cask and has been closed for extended periods on a number of occasions over the last few years. Who knows what the future holds now. Is it the end ? Beautiful friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No. 90 The Wheatsheaf

Visited on 15/9/11. From Saughall, we found our way through the lanes back to the main road and this place – an old roadhouse pub with it’s own bowling green (long gone sadly), which has now become a carvery. “Give the kids a treat (and diabetes) with our ‘all you can eat’ ‘five for the price of one’ ‘real meal deal’ and put a family photo on the wall of death”. "Then win a cuddly toy. * " Everything was sticky and there was more than a whiff of urine in the air – kid’s wee probably (hopefully !). In ‘pub grub’ terms, this is about as low as you can go. It probably does a roaring trade early evening, but when we arrived it was empty apart from a few staff looking at their watches. No cask obviously and the John Smith’s brownkeg was rank. It was a long ride back to town an’ all.

* this bit is true.

No. 89 The Greyhound

Visited on 15/9/11. Heading into the centre of Saughall village we soon reached ‘the Greyhound’, a pub with a depressingly familiar recent history – landlord builds a healthy business and is rewarded by the PubCo ‘upping the rent’ to a ridiculous level – landlord then packs it in. The new proprietors clearly have a different business model in mind. An ace old pub has in effect become a restaurant. From can o’ peas to canapés. Drinkers are ‘allowed in’, but the sight of place settings and twee little tea lights on every single table doesn’t exactly create the right kind of environment if you’re just after a few bevies and a bit of craic with the lads. Quite frankly, I found it a little bit weird. Almost ‘Lynchian’ * in fact. In addition, when we arrived there appeared to be a 'tena lady' convention going on - about 15 middle class shrews all drinking chardonnay from over-sized glasses and cackling uproariously. I’m fairly certain there’s nothing sufficiently funny in existence that would justify the volume of such laughter. On the plus side though, the ale was absolutely spot on – Weetwood Cheshire Cat, Fuller’s London Pride, Timmy Taylor’s Landlord – all in perfect condition. Quite splendido.

*surrealist film maker David, not z-cars desk sergeant Bert.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No. 88 The Egerton Arms (Saughall)

Visited on 15/9/11. Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin, he will wait until you give yourself to him. Ah yes, the killing moon illuminated the footbridge from Saltney, over the black glass river and beyond. Through the Greyhound park, then Blacon, then nothing. We were in the middle of God knows where. Fortunately, for a pub in such a remote location, the ‘Egerton’ has managed to resist the march of gastro-isation and remains a decent boozer. It was busy when we arrived and there was a pool match on. They were playing, erm, the ‘Egerton’ (No. 28), their namesake pub from Brook Street. Spooky or what ? What are the chances of that ? Two pubs with the same name playing each other at pool – on the very night we decide to visit ? Fate up against your will. Anyhow, we enjoyed a really nice pint of Brain’s SA in here and could easily have necked another following what was after all, a massive 10 minute long bike ride ! However, you all know the score by now. We had to move on...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No. 87 The Saltney Ferry

Visited on 15/9/11. Last time we were in Saltney this place was closed, so when we heard it had opened up again, we just couldn’t wait to get back there. No really. We’d even heard they’d started doing real ale, so were shocked, mystified, perplexed and nonplussed to discover this wasn’t the case. Four handpumps were present on the newly refurbished bar, but all of them had their pump-clips turned around. Brownkeg it was then – and it was hideous. Of the handful of people in there, it was impossible to tell who were staff and who were customers. All were gawping at the telly and none of them said a word. The carpet was curiously spongy. Er, that was it. Not even a whiff of menace to liven the place up. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No. 86 The Pied Bull

Visited on 1/9/11. Until relatively recently, this historic coaching inn was looking tired and in need of ideas. Fortunately though, the current proprietors have somehow managed to loosen the shackles of the pubco and are now operating the place in a more independent fashion. Key to their strategy is to focus on real ale with the emphasis very much on local microbreweries including their own, which is situated in the cellar. Anything up to six ales are on offer at any one time, although on this occasion none of the homebrews were represented. It was busy though – and there wasn’t a single lager drinker in sight. Excellent stuff. Slightly less excellent was the fact that there wasn’t a single woman in sight either, largely due to the massive nerdfest that is their evidently popular Thursday night music quiz – male bonding for charts anoraks – a sort of ‘fight club’ without the violence [what the hell are you going on about ? Ed.] No matter. Hopefully, the homebrew production capacity can be ramped up to the point where it’s permanently available in the pub – I’ve been here three times now and it’s never been on. Further work needs doing on the décor also, but everything is heading in the right direction. This is a boozer re-born – and maybe a model others can follow. Another beer festival is scheduled to take place here in October and we’ll deffo be back for that – if not before.

No. 85 The Red Lion (Northgate Street)

Visited on 1/9/11. Not all pubcos are malevolent asset-strippers, hell-bent on destroying our heritage by twatifying decent establishments, strangling investment and restricting trade in others that don’t fit their bizarre economic model, then selling the run-down properties off for housing or other retail use. Not a bit of it. Nicholson’s (they’re from darn sarf) actually believe the route to success lies in providing quality ales in a civilised environment – a mad idea that might just catch on. And if the ‘Scruffy Murphy’ years of the 1990s represent this place’s nadir, it could well have reached it’s zenith under the present regime. It’s certainly a very smart pub now, providing good food (supposedly) and a fine range of ales. Currently they’re showcasing IPAs from around the country – 26 in total, but with just 5 or 6 on at any one time. Great idea this, but session beer it ain’t ! A 'half' was therefore in order for the magnificent Moor Pacific IPA – 6.0% abv, hopped to hell and beyond, yet blusteringly quaffulescent. Other ales we sampled included the less impressive (Tony) Hadley’s IPA – another sixsh percenter brewed by the ex Spandau Ballet croonist at his Red Rat brewery in Suffolk – I guess some of you might already have known that much was true to be honest. We also tried the quite frankly unpleasant Mahseer IPA from Green Jack – a vile, cloying creation that I hope we don’t encounter again. The staff here were really pleasant and well informed and it would have been nice to sample a couple more of these ‘challenging’ ales, but in the interests of avoiding brain damage, we decided to move on...

Friday, September 2, 2011


Adjacent to the Liverpool Arms is a 1970s edifice called Centurion house which stands on the site of the old Northgate brewery. The Northgate was Chester’s biggest and most successful brewery. It was built in the mid 19th century and survived until the late 1960s, although by then it was being run by Warrington based brewer Greenall Whitley. When it was demolished, the mosaic from the foyer of the main offices was rescued and re-assembled as part of the terrace behind the office block. If you want to see it, head to the Liverpool Arms then try and find your way up the back passage.

(More on the Northgate Brewery can be found here at the excellent website)

No. 84 The Liverpool Arms

Visited on 1/9/11. You want some action hombre ? Well you’ve come to the right place. The Liverpool Arms or ‘LA’ as it’s now known, is Chester’s oldest gay bar and in many ways it’s most unlikely. Outwardly it just looks like a classic street corner Victorian boozer and even when you enter [snitter, snitter] it doesn’t look that different to a regular pub. Then you notice the little chandeliers around the bar - and the prominently displayed portrait of the Queen - and, erm other stuff. Rather surprisingly, following our experience at Chester’s other main gay venue, Bar 69 (No. 35), real ale is served - Bombardier to be precise - and it wasn’t a bad pint either. Well pulled, full bodied and with a creamy head – just how the locals like it, according to the barmaid. As we were about to leave, we were surprised for a second time, as a really fit bird walked in. She headed straight for the stage, looking as if she might have been the act for the night (it was still early). She was very attractive and beautifully dressed, but unfortunately we didn't have time to hang around and see her perform. She did have really big feet though...

No. 83 The Bull & Stirrup

Visited on 1/9/11. The intricate brickwork of this late 19th century commercial hotel makes it one of the most attractive buildings in Chester. The interior is more minimalist now than it would have been in the heyday of the Arthur Parker type travelling salesman, but the décor and furnishings are actually quite tasteful. More than can be said for the ale then unfortunately, as this establishment which earned some notoriety for a brief period a few years ago as Chester’s first ‘lap dancing’ bar, remains ‘keg only’. “We’re well known for the quality of our Guinness”, commented the landlord, as if that in some way compensated for the absence of real ale. I tried it anyway. It tasted like Guinness. The commonly held belief that some pubs serve Guinness which is in some way superior to the norm is a myth. Guinness tastes exactly as it does when it comes out of the factory unless you do something bad or negligent to it. It can only taste worse – it’s impossible to improve it. That’s simply the nature of filtered, pasteurised, commodity beer product. I’d have to say this would be a decent boozer with a couple of hand pumps on the bar though - reckon they might soon see the error of their ways. One to watch maybe.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

No. 82 Wetherspoon's - The Forest House

Visited on 25/8/11. Last time I was in this place it was ‘Angels’ nightclub – good memories and all that, but it was a right scruffy hole. Top marks then to Wetherspoons (or whoever) for the renovation job, which has returned this Georgian house to something approaching its original splendour. It’s hard to understand why the magnificent atrium, which is behind the area where the bar now stands, was hidden for so long. Less impressive is the fact that the interior designer has seen fit to put a big brass plate with her name engraved on it, in the middle of the floor – an ostentatious, unnecessary and frankly cheesy gesture. The place is still a ‘Wetherspoons’ though and therefore carries all the strengths and weaknesses of the brand. A smaller percentage of the ale portfolio was unavailable here, compared to the SB (No. 81) . Nevertheless, we found ourselves quaffing Ruddles County once more because it was the only drinkable option. Again though, it was really cheap. On balance, this is the better of the two Chester ‘Wetherspoons’, but only because of the architecture. The ale quality is just as variable, ie. mainly shite.

Friday, August 26, 2011

No. 81 Wetherspoon's - The Square Bottle

Visited on 25/8/11. Ahh, a ‘Wetherspoon’s’ – real ale at last. Just look at that magnificent array of hand pumps. Hang on a minute though… that’s off, that’s off, that’s off, that’s off… and that row of 15 are all ‘coming soon’ ! One taste of the first ale poured – can’t remember what it was – I was confused, confirmed that it was most definitely off as well, and we sent it back. We eventually ordered up a round of Ruddles County. I think it was the only real ale that was actually on – and was drinkable. £1.90 a pint though – despite the shambolic service and extremely hit and miss ale quality, you can see why the place is popular, even with ale aficionados. All Wetherspoons pubs have that flaky chain décor and minty look and feel though. Can’t stand the places personally – I’d rather drink in a half decent proper local, even if it only served keg. Possibly.

No. 80 Number Fifteen

This isn’t a traditional pub – it was opened in the 1990s as an Oirish bar at the height of that particular fashion, but has since had the Oirishness extracted, to be replaced by, well, nothing really. It’s massive and was completely empty when we arrived, apart from a world-weary, half-cut, half mad, middle-aged couple who’d obviously just had a row and were sitting there staring at each other. Good atmosphere all round. Real ale isn’t served, so we drank tasteless brownkeg of some description and left. I wouldn’t say this place is bad – just sort of ‘ersatz’ and nondescript. Probably does all it’s trade at the weekends and on race days. 

No. 79 Revolution

Visited on 25/8/11. Socialist iconography being used to promote a brand. Old Vladimir Ilyich would be turning in his grave – if he were in one that is. Anyhow, there’s one of these in every town now, and they’re all the same. Like a neon sweetshop dispensing syrupy shots and pitchers of alcopops to adolescents, this is what places like ‘the amphitheatre bar’ (No. 76) aspire to. It’s different to the aforementioned in that it’s slick and smart though – something even a bunch of ageing grizzled misanthropes can appreciate. For comedy purposes, we asked what the guest ale was, to which the comedy answer should have been “Bacardi Breezers” or summat, instead of “We don’t do them !” Oh, really ? We then had to go through the rigmarole of ‘tossers night’, for which you get a half price round if you win the toss of a coin. We lost. Tetley’s ‘Smoothflow’ is the closest thing to ale that they sell, so that’s what we went for. It’s frothy man. Of course, for anyone interested, the place is packed with scantily clad babes. Not that we were about to be distracted from our mission, naturally. Two hours later, it was time to move on…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No. 78 The Queen's Head

Visited on 25/8/11. Given its ‘colourful’ reputation, this big old pub on Foregate Street is surprisingly tidy inside. In fact it doesn’t look that dissimilar to some of the more upmarket Chester hang-outs such as Harkers (No. 36). The main difference as far as I could see was the complete absence of paying customers, so not for the first time on a Thursday night, we found ourselves occupying an otherwise empty pub. A fine array of one real ale was on offer – Wells Bombardier. It was very er, ‘Bombardiery’. I don’t know whether or not it’s catching on but this pub is the second we’ve encountered that has an ‘obesity challenge’ on the menu. Consume the signature ‘Mega-death Cholesterol Special’, consisting of 4 quarter pound burgers, 2 chicken breasts, 4 rashers of bacon, 8 onion rings, half a dozen eggs and a leaf of iceberg lettuce – on a bun, in under 5 minutes and you can proudly add your name to the ‘wall of fame’ and qualify for a free pudding. We gave it a miss. Food is probably a key income stream for this place though. Also, entertainment is provided at the weekends. This Saturday they’ve got ‘Dubstep vs. Drum ‘n’ Bass’ according to the posters. I’m not sure if that’s some sort of discotheque type affair or tag team wrestling.

Friday, August 19, 2011

No. 77 The Red Door

Visited on 18/8/11. ‘The amphitheatre bar’ was supposed to be the last venue of the night, but we couldn’t leave it at such a low point. We needed to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Situated in the basement of the Blossoms hotel, ‘the Red Door’ is ‘the Snooty Fox’ re-invented as a cool New York style jazz bar. Without the jazz it would seem. Live music was on, but it was just a couple of yoofs playing Smiths songs and other jangly guitar stuff. They weren’t bad to be fair. The seating is in leatherette booths around a rectangular bar in the middle of the room and the lights are very low. The place seemed to be populated mainly by be-suited business types, who were presumably staying in the hotel upstairs and flexing the old company plastic. The atmosphere was ok, but only bottled ale was available, which is a bit of a shame. As was the friggin’ price. I quite like Samuel Adams beer, but four English pounds per single bottle !? Take a one-way ticket to Palookaville suckers !

No. 76 The Amphitheatre bar

Visited on 18/8/11. The tone was set when we walked into this place and a fat slavering Ted Baker clad dickhead insisted on shaking each of us by the hand whilst babbling something incoherent. Apart from the bar staff, he was the only person there. Fortunately he then left, leaving behind a row of shot glasses, each containing a different coloured fluorescent milky residue. Not only did this place not sell real ale, it didn’t even sell keg bitter, so for the first time in about fifteen years I drank a pint of Carlsberg. It tasted of absolutely nothing whatsoever. It’d be possible to dilute the stuff by about 50% with soda water and nobody would be able to tell the difference. I’m not suggesting this place does, mind. It’s real raison d’etre is to pedal strong liquor sweetened with energy drinks and syrups in the form of shots and cocktails to kids. It’s the sale of alcohol, purely as a drug. And while traditional pubs continue to close, these kind of establishments continue to thrive. And the results of their cynical marketing are evident on our streets and in our casualty wards every weekend. People are handing over money in these places to be poisoned, and no better illustration of this exists than in the state of the gents bogs on this particular night. The first cubicle was festooned from floor to ceiling with projectile vomit. Dripping. No carrots. The staff knew about it as well because there was a mop and bucket stationed outside the door, although no attempt had been made to clean it up. Normally, I’d sympathise, but not on this occasion. For some reason, the pouting harridan behind the bar had treated us with contempt from the minute we walked in. I reckon ‘the Dee Miller’ (No. 71) can now stand at ease. If there’s a worse pub in Chester than this place, I’ll be astonished.

No. 75 The Temple bar (The City Arms)

Visited on 18/8/11. Heading into town from ‘the Oddfellows’ along Frodsham street, the next stop is this place. It used to be ‘the City Arms’ but changed it’s name to ‘the Temple bar’ after extensive refurbishment in the 1990s at the height of the ‘Oirish pub’ boom when for some reason, a butchered church interior including pulpit and confession box were installed. It’s hard to know what it’s called now as both names are still attached to the outside of the pub. Anyhow, the original theme has been dumped in favour of some sort of yoof orientated latin beach bar vibe. Possibly. I couldn’t quite work it out. Surprisingly though, two real ales were on offer. First of all we tried the Brains Reverend James, but sent it back because it was rancid. It was swapped for the other candidate, which was Spitting Feathers Solstice. This might have been on the turn also – but as with most Spitting Feathers ales, it’s often difficult to tell. Maybe we should have gone for a round of Guatemalan Caipirinhas or summat instead. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No. 74 The Oddfellows Arms

Visited on 18/8/11. In it’s heyday I’m sure this was a charming old street corner pub. Over the years though, innumerable less than sympathetic refurbishments have obliterated all the original interior features and the décor now consists of plain white walls and plain black floors throughout. It’s a bit grim if you ask me, but it seems popular enough. There were certainly old drunks a-plenty in residence when we were there. Apparently the place goes ‘karaoke kerazy’ at the weekends an’ all. Sounds great that. The ale was alright - only Bombardier, but about as good as Bombardier gets. I wonder how many people from outside town arrive here, dolled up to the nines, instead of at ‘Oddfellows’ (No. 43) on Lower Bridge St. Anyone expecting ‘cosmopolitan, funky and sophisticated’ might feel a tad let down.

No. 73 The Frog & Nightingale

Visited on 18/8/11. Formerly the ‘Lock, Stock & One Smoking Barrel’ then more recently ‘Evergreens’, this pub in it’s current tired manifestation is a pale shadow of what it once was. I quite like it. It’s about the size of a small aircraft hangar, but is decorated in a more spartan manner. When we got there it was completely empty. A few minutes later, two women burdened with shopping walked in – and immediately walked out again. A tramp then arrived and sat in a corner on his own. Remarkably, for a pub in such a sorry state, three real ales were on (Greene King IPA, Bombardier, Adnams Broadside) and they were all in really good nick. The barman was a nice fella too. He said the place was about to get a refurb. It’ll probably ruin it.

No. 72 The Railway Arms

Visited on 18/8/11. For the third and final time we tried to gain entry to this enigmatic pub and for the third and final time we failed. On previous occasions we were simply too late to catch the 8:20pm (!?) last orders bell, but this time it was obvious the place had closed for good. The nearest we came to getting a bevy here was back in early April when we found the door locked but then peered between the curtains to see the landlord was still there. We banged on the window and after first of all making a comedy attempt to hide behind the bar, he came out and told us to go away. No such fun this time though. It was all locked up and in scrawled writing on the blackboard next to the door is the message:  “That’s all folks – see you in the Bridgewater”. Elvis has most definitely left the building. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

CBP on tour No. 2 The Wirral

Visited on 11/8/11. It’s not that we’re bored with Chester or anything – we’d always planned to do a few trips outside the conurbation, particularly on balmy evenings when the pleasant exertion of a bike ride combined with the quaffing of a few pints of refreshing real ale provides the perfect summertime drinking experience.

And so it was that we got off the train at Hooton station in full wet weather gear, mounted our velocipedes and headed out into the drizzle. 

Raby: The Wheatsheaf (The Thatch)

Concealed within a maze of country lanes, this place in many ways is the quintessential English country pub. It’s a 16th century building with a thatched roof (hence the nickname) and inside it’s barely been altered since it was built. In recent years a restaurant has been added, but this is in a separate building – a converted cowshed cleverly linked to the original pub via a sort of anteroom. It means the character of the pub is preserved and drinkers are insulated from the smell of food and the noise of diners. Flippin’ ace. An impressive range of nine real ales is on offer including beers from the Brimstage brewery which is just down the road. We went for the Trappers Hat and the Tetley bitter, both of which were excellent. Everything about this place is outwardly perfect – but it’s not quite right. It was busy, but the clientele are exclusively ancient. Everyone is middle class. Everyone is civilised. This pub has been gentrified. I remember some riotous nights here in days of yore, but now it’s about as animated as the House of Lords. And that’s a bit of a shame. 

Willaston: The Pollard Inn

The drizzle had become mizzle, but we had the wind behind us. In no time at all we were in Willaston, standing at the bar in Pollards, dripping with rainwater and steaming with sweat – an unseemly sight and enough to put the average gastronaut off their haunch of venison with red currant jus. Nobody complained mind. Despite appearances and in contrast to the Thatch, this place has only been in business for about 25 years. It’s a sort of mid to low-end identikit gastro pub, with the emphasis very much on the gastro. To be honest, it’s more of a restaurant with a bar in it than a pub. The ales from Theakston & Caledonian were ok – quaffable but run of the mill. Uniformed bar staff an’ all. As soon as we dried out we left.

Childer Thornton: The White Lion

This famous real ale sanctuary on the edge of Ellesmere Port was packed when we arrived. In fact we only just managed to find a table over which to drape our wet gear. Once again, we found ourselves in the middle of a pub quiz. Once again, we were the youngest people in the pub. It’s a very nice place though, it has to be said – very traditional and very well run. A range of mainly Thwaites real ales are available and ‘hop beasts’ that we are, we homed in on the Triple C – a sort of light IPA – citrus and aromatic, with a flat underside. Quafftastic. The quiz team at the next table seemed quite proud of the fact that they finish bottom every week – so we helped them out with a few wrong answers, which they very much appreciated. We’d have stayed to share their booby prize of a packet of pork scratchings, but further hostelries awaited…

Childer Thornton: The Halfway House

This place was originally an 18th century coaching inn and is so named because it lies exactly half way between Birkenhead and Chester. It’s another one of those places that offers a ‘time warp’ experience when you walk in. This is mainly because there’s been no modern makeover to obscure it’s past and it’s history still hangs heavy in the air. I love places like this. It was my favourite pub of the night. We were drinking with ghosts. We were drinking fairly rubbish ale with ghosts though, to be perfectly fair – Wychwood something or other – all their ales taste like variants of Hobgoblin to me, as if they use Hobgoblin as a sort of base ale and just add other stuff. Great pub though - they had other ales on - we just didn't try 'em. As we left, I’m sure I heard the clatter of horse’s hooves on the cobblestones. I looked round and there was nothing. Nothing apart from the gurning faces of the rest of the CBP that is.

Hooton: The Chimneys

This is a big old building on Hooton crossroads – with chimneys. Despite the distinctive external architecture, the interior is classic ‘art pubco’ circa 1990s – dark stained pine architraves, brass handrails and dull carpets. Apparently it’s got a decent reputation for both ale and food, but at 10:30 on a Thursday night, we probably didn’t catch it at it’s best. It was practically empty and the uniformed bar staff seemed bored and looked as if they wanted to knock off. The ale quality was a bit mixed an’ all – something horrible that nobody can remember (this is top notch ale reviewing folks !) and Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best, which was actually really good. We necked it and left anyhow. There then followed another highlight of the evening – the rain had stopped.

Back to Chester next week folks. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

No. 71 The Dee Miller

Visited on 28/7/11. It was dark now. We were navigating by using the stars. If we were hoping for a warm and welcoming light as we approached ‘the Dee Miller’, we were to be disappointed. It was dark outside as we locked up the bikes and it grew even darker as we walked through the door. Jesuz, what a gloomy hole. A few lads were playing pool in the back of the pub and in the front a disco was playing to an empty room. The landlord looked bored but was in no mood for conversation – possibly because our opening gambit was an enquiry as to why he didn’t bother doing real ale. At least the severe coldness of the keg disguised it's lack of taste. All in all, I think I’d rather drink in The Beehive (No. 23) – and that's shut.

Friday, July 29, 2011

No. 70 The Bear's Paw

Visited on 28/7/11. From ‘the Egerton’ it was up the hill, round the corner, through the estate, into the cul-de-sac, out of the cul-de-sac around the mulberry bush and along the lane to this place, our next stop on the Upton ‘grande boucle’. Despite being tucked away in the middle of God knows where, ‘the Bear’s Paw’ is another big pub – and yet again, it was absolutely packed. I dunno, maybe it’s packed every night, but the reason most people were there on this occasion was to take part in what is clearly a popular pub quiz. We reckon there were over a hundred in there – and not one of them under the age of forty five ! “Shushhhhh” “…WHAT IS PYROPHOBIA THE FEAR OF ? …THAT WAS QUESTION 73, WHAT IS PYROPHOBIA THE FEAR OF ?” * The tension was palpable, whatever that means. I was scared to get my mobile phone out for fear of being branded a cheat – and we weren’t even in the quiz ! I tell you what though – we certainly made sure we ‘qualified’ for the free butties. Very nice. Real ale is available here – Greene King Abbott or IPA and it was OK ish without being particularly inspiring I suppose. Still, it was good to see so many people out even though they were arguing about the shape of the Nepalese flag and asking for plus or minus an inch on the circumference of an association football. If I’m not mistaken there was more than a whiff of ‘Hai Karate’ in the room as well with maybe even a hint of ‘Blue Stratos’ !

* Pirates – get it down !

[Phoenix Nights for the uninitiated]