Saturday, March 26, 2011

No. 20 The Royal Oak

Visited on 10/3/11. This was the final pub we went to during our night out in Hoole - and we saved the best 'til last. Another Marston's pub and an absolute cracker it is too. Just look at the line up of ales: Jenning's Cumberland ale, Jenning's Cross-buttock, Marston's double drop, Ringwood Boondoggle. Marvelous. The place was packed with people who love ale and staffed by a landlord and landlady who love serving it. In addition, it has a really beautifully manicured bagatelle table (slight bias to the right mind). Ale + Bagatelle = Aceness. Huzzah !

No. 19 The Bromfield Arms

Visited on 10/3/11. Just over the road from the Faulkner, home of the 'Hoole Poseur', you could argue that 'the Brom' caters for the opposite end of the drinking spectrum. This is a big pub with about 50 odd flat screen TVs all seemingly tuned in to Sky Sport channels for the entire time the pub is open. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the clientele are fat middle-aged, replica footy shirt wearing tellyclappers. In effect, it's become a temple dedicated to the worship of Rupert Murdoch. The ale was alright (Wychwood Hobgoblin), but any pub that prominently displays a 'This is Anfield' sign behind the bar is going to get slagged off by me. Let me put it succinctly - avoid.

No. 18 The Faulkner (bar and kitchen)

Visited on 10/3/11. Without doubt, there are more ponces in Hoole than in any other part of Chester - and this place caters for them. A true haven for earing wearing male schoolteachers and sundry fey bores, it doesn't know whether it's a pub, a wine-bar, a cafe or a restaurant. The result is an uncomfortable and pretentious amalgam. This used to be a half-decent boozer but now it's got pizza recipes doodled on the mirror with whimsical abandon. Surprisingly, in addition to yellow beer, ale was available (Caledonian Lipsmacker), but was £4 a bleedin' pint ! As you can imagine, service was brusque. We drank, sneered and left.

No. 17 The Lock Vaults

Visited on 10/3/11. This is a good old regular local pub which seems to be suffering a bit in the economic climate. The barman started serving keg bitter before revealing that he did in fact have some cask (hidden around the corner). He then proceeded to pour the keg away before returning with 4 pints of Bombardier bitter. I'm not sure if this constitutes good service or bad. The ale was drinkable though and we had the added bonus of seeing some keg Boddingtons poured down the sink.

No. 16 The Gardener's Arms

Visited on 3/3/11. This is the perfect local pub in many respects. It's a fine old Victorian building with original oak panelling and roaring open fires. On Thursday nights, the 'folkies' always manage to generate a great atmosphere with their gee-tars and fiddles - so much so that spontaneous outbursts of Oirish dancing regularly occur. Service is excellent too, but the big downside is the lack of emphasis on real ale. The cask was drinkable, but nobody really knew what it was. Get a couple of local brews flowing and this place would be superb.

No. 15 The Cherry Orchard

Visited on 3/3/11. The Cherry Orchard is named after Russian playright Anton Chekov's famous tragedy, which he wrote while staying here in the summer of 1896. Not really. I guess it's probably called the Cherry Orchard because it used to be next to a Cherry Orchard. Now it isn't. Anyhow, this famous local pub in many ways still  represents what a proper pub should aspire to. Yes, it does food but only early in the day. At night it's the sole preserve of beer drinkers and is still a focal point of the community. Three ales are normally available (Theakston's bitter, Deuchar's IPA and a guest) and whilst they are sometimes of variable quality, on this particular evening all three were spot on. It's a shame the mild has recently been moved from cask to keg though. All in all, this is a great pub - the only downside being the faint whiff of decay in the air due to the high average age of the regulars.

No. 14 The Twirl of Hay

Visited on 3/3/11. There was a big debate about whether or not this place fulfils the requirements of being a pub. It's just a bar in a soulless Premier Inn complex on the edge of town to be honest. Playpens and burgers attract families by day and by night it's the domain of the itinerant business traveller. Staff consisted of a disinterested male yoof and a coquettish poppet enjoying the attention of a couple of leering reps. Choice of beers was between keg brown or keg yellow. Absolute shite to be perfectly frank. We've got to do them all though.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No. 13 The Rake & Pikel

Visited on 3/3/11. What is a pikel ? Does anyone know ? There was a heavy smell of vinegar in the air when we arrived here, indicating er, the presence of vinegar. This isn't a gastro pub though, or is it ? I'm not sure what one is, but vinegar is bad. Vinegar is bad on food. Vinegar is bad for drinkers. Why do people like vinegar ? Why does it exist ? Many questions remain unanswered. The ale in here was alright though - top notch in fact; Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Greene King IPA, Thwaites Lancaster bomber. There was a quiz on, but we left before it started. Vinegariness aside, this is clearly a tidy well run pub.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No. 12 The Spital Vaults

Visited on 24/2/11. Now you're talkin' ! The 'Spital' was closed for ages, but fortunately is now back on the circuit. This classic street corner Victorian boozer, now linked to the Marston's real ale marketing plan is an absolute gem - an 'old school' traditional pub focused on selling ale and nowt else - not even a whiff of an oven chip. Jenning's bitter/Marston's pedigree are standard with the addition of plenty of guest ales. And they've kept the bagatelle table. Darn tootin' !

No. 11 The Bridge Inn

Visited on 24/2/11. A short stroll down the road and we're back in Boughton. The 'Bridge' has many of the attributes of a really great pub. For instance, it's a sympathetically decorated grand old Victorian building in a great canalside location. However, it's let down by a number of things, most notably the beer. Timothy Taylor's Landlord is a classic English ale, but on this occasion was served flat and insipid. Also, the clientele tend towards the 'studenty' (law college nearby) with even a whiff of 'hooray Henry' about one or two. This was balanced however by the presence of several members of the community of the permanently bewildered. 'Could do better' is the verdict on this one.

No. 10 The Centurion

Visited on 24/2/11. Deep in the heart of Vicar's Cross, this is another big 1960s (or 70s ?) housing estate pub that's seen happier times. It was almost empty - the thinly dispersed clientele being a mixture of the practically dead and the barely alive. The friendliness of the barmaid provided some relief however and the ale was ok - Caledonian 'Over the Bar' - a seasonal light bitter. Twenty minutes though and we were gone.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No. 9 The Piper

Visited on 24/2/11. Situated on the outer limits of Hoole, adjacent to the A41, this is a big post war pub that's been tarted up several times. No doubt it's heyday was during the 1960s when it would have been thronged by 'Bob and Thelma' types imbibing pre 'key party' snifters and indulging in other permissive society shenanigans. Er, probably. Anyhow, back to the 21st century and we're talking poker. No money on the tables, but serious poker - games going on everywhere. We also witnessed the comedy ejection by the landlord of a paralytic foul mouthed old crone who bawled one expletive too many. Excellent stuff. Jenning's Cumberland ale on tap. Not bad either.

No. 8 The Red Lion (Handbridge)

Visited on 17/2/11. And so to the final pub of the night. Thursday night is quiz night at this neighbourhood local and we were greeted by a familiar face. Current co-landlord (and quizmaster) Darren has previously held the tenancy at some of our regular haunts, including the Little Oak and the Mount in Boughton. The man is a true pro and despite being in mid-flow on general knowledge, he recognised us immediately and guided us away from the Flowers IPA and towards the infinitely superior Weetwood Cheshire Cat. A marvelous local(ish) brew on top form. Great boozer this. We had to whisper like.

No. 7 The Handbridge

Visited on 17/2/11. You see, this is where we start getting into trouble. The imaginatively named 'Handbridge', in the heart of, erm, Handbridge is an attempt at creating a poncey wine-bar that hasn't quite worked. The day-time TV makeover show interior grates upon entry, the lighting hurts your eyes and it just doesn't feel right drinking a pint of bitter on a faux designer sofa practically at floor level. Which brings us to the ale. Black Sheep bitter is grim at the best of times, but here was woeful. Give this place a swerve.

No. 6 The Grosvenor Arms

Visited on 17/2/11. Can a pub be atmospheric with nobody in it ? Quite possibly this one can. The night was cold and the fire was roaring and this is a nice old building still with it's original tiled floors. The complete lack of clientele was a bit of a downside though. Maybe the insipid ale (Tetley Bitter or Marston's Pedigree) keeps people away. We didn't stay long anyhow. I think there might have been some people in the back room watching the footy to be fair. Onward.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No. 5 The Carlton Tavern

Visited on 17/2/11. And so to Handbridge. Walking through the doors of this fine establishment was like stepping back into an era when people socialised and pubs were popular - busy, lively, great atmosphere and superb ales; Hydes bitter, Allgate California, Marble Manchester bitter - all spot on. Great service, no gastro element and a very low ponce factor. Used to have a reputation as a bit of a rough house, but now without doubt one of the best boozers in Chester. Highly recommended.

No. 4 The George & Dragon

Visited on 10/2/11. Big pub on the edge of the town centre, used to consist of a semi-respectable lounge separated from a bar transplanted from the wild west with added violence. It's now been knocked into one and is considerably more placid. We arrived mid Karaoke (yes. some pubs still have them), but were able to ignore it and converse with the staff who were all very pleasant. Ale was Morland Speckled Hen and Greene King IPA - both not bad to be honest. Funny norf (sparkling) vs. sarf (flat) switch on the IPA. Bit of a gimmick that - hope it doesn't catch on. But Karaoke, Jesus !

No. 3 The Chichester Arms

Visited on 10/2/11. A classic back street Victorian boozer with friendly staff serving drinkable but unremarkable beer (Shepherd Neame Spitfire - it's from Kent - why is it the standard bitter in a Chester pub ?). I'm being as kind as possible. It was empty apart from a couple of cackling harridans at the bar. Hopefully this isn't another pub on borrowed time. Maybe it's busy at the weekends.

No. 2: The Bouverie Arms

Visited on 10/2/11. This was a wonderful old neighbourhood local pub which has now been transformed into what in effect is an extension of the Chester College (sorry 'university') students union. Shit decor throughout masks the original Victorian features and includes album sleeves blue-tacked to the walls. Oh so friggin' Bohemian. It looks like a student's bedsit. Fortunately there were no vodka bottles stuffed with sweets behind the bar and to be fair, the change in character has probably guaranteed it's survival. Seems quite popular wid de yoofs. Ale was the unremarkable and almost generic Deuchars IPA.

No. 1: The Bridgewater Arms

Visited on 3/2/11. And so it began. This is a quiet Victorian boozer tucked away in a side street near the station. The ale on offer was Thirstquencher from Waverton's Spitting Feathers micro-brewery - so top marks for stocking local beer. It's not great though, I'd have to say. Well it's ok I suppose. The place was full of old men and we had to endure Matt Monro on the jukebox followed by ACDC. Service was good. All in all, an unpretentious no nonsense proper pub. Good start.

Catch up

This whole thing started back in February. We were getting bored with drinking in the same old pubs, week after week. Someone suggested the idea of visiting all the pubs in Chester. Someone else thought it was a good idea. Someone else said they weren't that bothered. That's how it began. This odyssey, this road trip, this quest to celebrate the Great British local pub, before they're all closed down or worse still, transformed into 'pinot grigio gastro hell-holes' before our very eyes.

What follows is a series of posts covering the pubs we visited between then and now. Henceforth I'll post updates regularly, as the Chester Beer Project unfolds, up until the point where we've been to all the pubs or (more likely) I lose interest.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Chester Beer Project

There are between 100 and 120 pubs in Chester. Our objective is quite simple - to drink in all of them, in one year, on Thursday nights.

Who are we ? We are a shadowy group who met many years ago through playing 5-a-side football on a Thursday night. Each game was always followed by a few pints. We're now too old to play, but we're not too old to drink. We like ale.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

This is our story.