Friday, May 20, 2011

No. 52 Telford's Warehouse

Visited on 19/5/11. This place is a sympathetically restored and converted pre-industrial edifice - an unusual grade 2 listed Georgian warehouse associated with Thomas Telford, which overhangs the canal and in it’s original form enabled barges to be moored inside for unloading undercover. The restoration has preserved many artefacts including a big winch which remains in the middle of the bar, but there are some modern touches as well, such as the enormous windows, which really open the place up and enhance the interior. It’s a beautiful building and is all the more remarkable considering the fact that it was almost completely destroyed by fire about ten years ago. In effect, it’s been restored twice ! As well as the bar, there is an upstairs restaurant and a stage with a bit of a dance floor. It’s a free house and is always stocked with real ales from Thwaites and Weetwood as well as a number of guests. We went for the Titanic, erm, forget which one it was ! It was towards the end of the evening to be fair. Might have been ‘Golden age’. Dunno. It was on fine form though. We then went for another guest beer and I haven’t a bleedin’ clue what that was, other than it was a wheat beer which turned out to be undrinkable. And here Telford’s scores really highly, because although they’d poured three of them and it was obvious we’d ‘had a few’, they replaced the duff ale with three pints of Cheshire Cat without question. Marvellous service. The only downside to the visit was the fact that there was yet another tedious blues band playing very loud dreary music. The dance floor bit near the band was completely empty as all the punters were forced up into the bar to escape from the worst of the din. The singer looked like Ron Atkinson an’ all. Great pub though, despite the best efforts of the ashen-faced racist's doppelganger. 

No. 51 The Little Owl

Visited on 19/5/11. Formerly the ‘Eight Rights’ and situated on the new(ish) Deva link road separating Blacon and the rest of Chester, this place has only been built 5 minutes and has already changed it’s name. Who dreams ‘em up by the way ? Personally, I’d like to see new pubs given traditional pub names but with a modern twist - ‘The Ecru Lion’ maybe, or how about ‘The Royal Bonsai’ ? First the good news anyhow – real ale was available: Marston’s Pedigree and Wychwood Hobgoblin. We celebrated by having a pint of each. Both were passable. We got one free and also got a free glass – not great when you’re travelling by bicycle with no means of carrying it, but we had it anyway. Dunno where it ended up. The bad news is that this place is very much focused on serving cheap food. Why anyone would want to eat a meal that costs less than a fiver is beyond me, but there you go. There’s obviously a market. Not on this occasion though, by the look of it. The place was practically empty. Staff were pleasant. Glad of the company maybe.

No. 50 The Highfield

Visited on 19/5/11. Just up the hill from ‘the Waggon’, this place is Blacon’s only other remaining pub. Again, it has a ‘colourful’ reputation mainly as a consequence of it’s chequered past, but these days it seems to be a perfectly respectable establishment. Maybe even a little bit boring to be honest. It was quite full, with lots of activity around the pool table and the atmosphere was friendly enough. Again it’s a keg only house and we had a couple of pints of the brown before heading off. As we rolled down the hill towards the crematorium, we passed the site of the former ‘Lord Byron’, Blacon’s third pub, now sadly bulldozed and redeveloped into flats. I wonder what happened to the row of seats from Wrexham’s football ground that was displayed as a trophy behind the bar ?

Well how about a polite cricket-style round of applause for the half century folks ?

No. 49 The Waggon & Horses

Visited on 19/5/11. First up on our sortie into the wild north west of Chester was this big 1960s housing estate pub. Built on the city side of the round-topped hill that is Blacon, it stands on open ground and now enjoys a splendid panoramic view of the greyhound retail park. The pub deserves top marks for the correct spelling of ‘waggon’ (as opposed to the American ‘wagon’) but unfortunately this is negated by a hideous pencil drawing of arch gobshite Bill Shankly, prominently displayed above the bar. These things are important. Housing estates like Blacon will always have a small minority of headcases in residence and those kind of people will usually gravitate towards the nearest hostelry. However, the reputation of ‘the Waggon’ as a bit of a rough house is largely based on myth or supposition I reckon, perpetrated by people from elsewhere in Chester who’ve never been near the place. On this occasion anyhow, it was reasonably full (the bar side anyway) and perfectly placid. I wouldn't be surprised if it got a bit more feisty at the weekend, mind. We got a few ‘looks’, but that was mainly to do with our admittedly curious choice of footwear (cleated cycling shoes ! – well we weren’t going to walk all the way out there). No real ale unfortunately, but we had a half decent pint of guinness and the barmaid was dead nice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

CBP on tour No.1 The Chester Beer Festival

Visited on 12/5/11. On tour you say ?? Well it’s outside Chester according to our defined boundary. Also, it’s not a pub. So yes, on tour ! We used to love this event. That was back in days of yore when it was all about the beer rather than all about self-indulgent mid-life crisis ridden middle-aged men poncing about on stage pretending to be rock stars and making so much friggin’ din that it’s impossible to hold a conversation without bawling at the top of your voice. I guess we were hoping the organisers would see the folly of their ways and revert to the original format which simply involved people quaffing copious amounts of ale and enjoying ‘the craic’ with a bit of background music provided by a few folkies and the odd oompah band. When we arrived though, it was clear we’d been hoping in vain, as the stage and sound system was even bigger than last year’s. Surprisingly then, it was an olfactory rather than an aural assault which provided the first challenge of the night. I don’t know what was going on but the marquee was full of acrid smoke, the nature of which seemed to suggest someone was barbequing their socks – possibly some sort of bizarre ‘Round Tabler’ initiation ceremony I guess. Fortunately the fumes soon disappeared and we could turn our attention to the ale, following our own tried and tested beer festival guidelines - initially at least, ie:

Don’t drink anything that fluoresces. This rules out some ciders and all of the Perrys.

Don’t drink anything that prevents the passage of sufficient light to enable your fingers to be visible through the glass.

Don’t drink anything that requires the use of a knife and fork.

Don’t drink anything from ‘darn sarf’.

Application of these rules eliminated about half the brews on offer, so we were immediately down to a significant subset. However, we touched lucky with the very first beer up – Titanic ‘Nine Tenths Below’. Wow, flavoursome with extreme prejudice. We’ll be on the lookout for this one. It was fabulous straight out of the barrel in a warm tent. Properly dispensed through a diffuser at cellar temperature it should be sublime. Other beers worthy of note: Titanic Plum Porter, Chester Ales Imperial ale, White Horse Village Idiot. To be honest though, after a while it all just becomes beer festival ale. We had a few cloudy ones and even a couple o’ coiderrs. We had a CBP man in the yard of ale drinking contest an’ all, but he failed miserably – didn’t even finish it, so he’s now been disowned. Overall, it was a bit of a mixed night I suppose - we had a laugh and some good conversation (in between bouts of din !), but numbers generally seemed to be down and the atmosphere was a bit muted. Towards the end of the night there were more ‘Round Tablers’ in their splendid rugger shirts than there were paying punters. So, although the organisation was excellent as usual, this event appears to have lost its way. Our advice for next year would be to ditch the big PA (and sundry idiots in ‘crew’ t-shirts strutting round like they’re running Glasto) and refocus on the main purpose of the event – the ale. Oompah ! Oompah ! 

Friday, May 6, 2011

No. 48 The Mill Hotel

Visited on 5/5/11. The Mill offers the widest choice in real ale of any venue in Chester - approximately 2000 different branded beers per year are sold here. You know what though ? I don't really like it. I find the choice of ales is so big as to be bewildering and for me, it's served too warm. In addition, it's often crowded and is dominated by massive TVs. To be fair, the night of the races probably isn't the best time to visit and on this occasion the place was heaving - it's difficult to enjoy a pint when you're in the midst of a scrum of inebriated middle-aged fatties (both male and female), all shouting and tottering. At one point I was poked in the eye by a 'fascinator', then a bloke wearing sunglasses walked into me. It was 10:45 at night. Initially, I was after a pint of the fabled Wapping Smoked Porter, but couldn't see it anywhere so we stuck to the more well known ales from Cain's and Weetwood. Maybe I'm being too critical - the ale was OK, and certainly cheap (£2:20/pint). Should go back on a quieter night really. Probably will.

No. 47 The Canalside Inn

Visited on 5/5/11. Well how were we to know No.29 and this place are basically the upstairs and downstairs of the same establishment ? I didn't even realise they were in the same building ! Anyhow, this is a strange one. It looks like a decent bar and it's in a great location on the side of the canal. It's also got potential to dispense a fair choice of real ales. We went for the Copper Dragon Golden Pippin - not bad to be fair. Can't remember what else they had on, but I don't think all their pumps were operational. Thing is, it was dead. We were practically the only people in there - and it's a big place - and Chester races were on. Not sure what the problem is, but the fact that it was staffed solely by a disinterested junior hotel employee rather than a proper landlord can't help. A bit of passion's certainly required. It's no accident that ALL decent pubs have active, visible and genial landlords or managers.

No. 46 No. 29

Visited on 5/5/11. Ever seen the Fly or Inception ? Or even Mr. Benn ? We were in for a slightly disconcerting experience as we entered No. 29, the new face of the Eaton hotel on City rd. First of all, there were no customers, which, given the fact it was races night is quite frankly odd. However, a barman was present and there was even a handpump (Black Sheep bitter). Unfortunately it wasn’t connected, but undeterred by our reaction, the barman invited us to try ‘the other bar’ downstairs and gestured towards the lift. We duly obliged and were pleasantly surprised as we emerged one floor down into a half decent looking, albeit sparsely populated bar which had a number of real ales on offer. It was only after setting up a round of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin that we noticed a barge go past the window and realised we were already in the next pub on the schedule. We’d been teleported !

No. 45 The Cellar Bar

Visited on 5/5/11. Picking a slalom course through the revellers, we left the Hangman and crossed the road to the newly refurbished Cellar bar (formerly the City bar and even more formerly the Cestrian). The design of the place is still pretty much as it was under the previous regime, with an open-fronted bar at street level and a second bar downstairs – although it was roped off on this occasion. The key difference between then and now is the ale. Real ale is now very much at the forefront, whereas previously there was only a token presence. 3 handpumps are on the bar and with no tied house or tenancy restrictions, the owners can focus on quality local brews. And what a choice they had lined up. Trapper’s Hat from the Wirral’s Brimstage brewery is a quite sublime offering packed with flavour. At only 3.8% abv, it’s a low octane session beer but gives you more hops than Phillips Idowu. Lovely. The other two ales (Brimstage Scarecrow and Facers DHB) didn’t quite reach these heady heights, but were more than quaffable. Again we were provided with some excellent entertainment in the form of the highly efficient but nevertheless comedic ejection of a few pissed-up oiks by the world-weary bouncers – and all this to a live soundtrack performed by top song and dance man Chris Fletcher with his dulcet tones and gentle guitar. Fab. Could have stayed all night, but of course we were on a mission…

No. 44 The Chester Hangman

Visited on 5/5/11. The Chester races aftermath - a nightmare for the discerning drinker looking for a quiet bevy, but a festival of fun for the not too discerning drinker who enjoys a laugh. Highlights include women falling off high heels then adjusting their knickers as their tits flop out and fat blokes in naff ill fitting suits trying to vault crash barriers and falling on their arses. Plenty of such shenanigans were on view last night from the bar of the Hangman as the flotsam and jetsam of the May meeting homed in on City rd. for the final stagger to the station. High quality entertainment indeed - wish the same could be said of the beer ! Real ale isn't served at this joint so we were forced to drink Theakston's 'Darkest Smoothflow' or some such nonsense - spectacularly unremarkable. Live music or karaoke is provided here most nights and to be fair the place was quite full. At around 9:30, a band of some description shaped up to take to the stage, but we decided to bale out before the first dreary power chord had chance to assault our eardrums. I doubt we'll be back.