Thursday, June 23, 2011

No. 62 The Peacock

Visited on 23/6/11. This is a big 1930s pub built in the ‘roadhouse’ style which, over recent years, limped along in a dilapidated state, barely turning a profit before finally closing in mid 2010. It was boarded up for several months and there were rumours that it was to be turned into flats. However, Punch Taverns then surprised everyone by investing a significant amount of money in order to re-launch it as the latest outlet in their ‘Flaming Grill’ portfolio of ‘eat as much cheap, rubbish, unhealthy, badly cooked food as you can – then more’, conceptual pub dining emporia. This ethos is epitomised by the ‘Flaming Challenge’, their signature dish, consisting of 1 kg of meat in a bun accompanied by chips. Customers are encouraged to eat this monstrosity within 15 minutes in order to get their photograph on the ‘Wall of Flame’. Jesus Christ, they should have defibrillators stationed at every table. Anyhow, when we arrived, late evening, the place was practically empty apart from one or two refugees from the past, curious to see how their local had been transformed by the costly refurbishment. Nobody appeared to be that impressed – and with good reason. I can only assume that most of the investment has been in the kitchen, to finance the installation of the massive grillers and fryers needed to produce crap food on an industrial scale, because the interior of the pub itself has only been changed cosmetically. Everything has been painted or varnished and there are new carpets and furniture, all of which look cheap, modern and totally at odds with the style of the building. The first thing that hits you though is the oppressive smell, which is a mixture of paint fumes and fat. Highly unpleasant. Incidentally, for those of you not familiar with the area, the background picture to this blog is the Peacock, mid-refurb. At the point it was taken, everyone thought the lurid orange was the just the undercoat. Unfortunately for the residents of Boughton however, that’s the finished colour – a familiar old building transformed into an eyesore. Surprisingly, two real ales (Hobgoblin and Bombardier) are available here – if you believe ‘fast cask’ is indeed real ale – personally, I think the jury’s still out. The Bombardier came flat and warm as expected and we didn’t bother with the Hobgoblin - one round and we were gone ! We won’t be back either, but as a sort of postscript, it’s been drawn to our attention that some of the pubs we’ve visited on the CBP have printed off their blog entries and put them on the wall. Well of course, the manager of the Peacock is quite welcome to do the same. Maybe this could even go on the ‘Wall of Flame’ ! Just a suggestion.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Half time report

Well we’re over half way through the pubs of Chester now, and we’re still not halfway through the year – so we’re ahead of schedule. Just as well really as we’re now heading into the holiday season, which, combined with the demands of mid-week cricket means that for the next month or so the CBP will not be ‘riding’ every week. After the summer hiatus though, we’re hoping to pick up speed again and aim to finish with a flourish shortly before Christmas. We might even squeeze in one or two ‘CBP on tour’ nights, to exotic locations such as the Wirral. Along the way, we appear to have picked up quite a few followers (7000 page views so far !), so the purpose of this message is to inform you all that although things might go a bit quiet over the next few weeks, we most definitely have not gone away. Ale rules. Blog on.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

No. 61 ABarMC at ABode Chester

Visited on 9/6/11. So, we thought it would be a good laugh to finish the evening by going directly from one of Chester’s rougher establishments to one of it’s most poncey. To that end, we got on our bikes outside ‘the Pen’ and cycled sedately back through Saltney, then Hough Green before finally crossing the Grosvenor bridge and arriving at the street level bar of chef Michael Caines new edifice, the ABode Chester hotel. You know what though ? (I love this.) We had exactly the same friggin’ experience in this bleedin’ temple of poncedom that we’d had in half the pubs in Saltney – handpumps on the bar, but none connected. No real ale. Keg only ! And what was really amusing in a weird sort of way is that the keg here was the worst of the night. It was utterly putrescent. We didn’t bother getting it changed though. The only alternative was lager and we’d had enough ale already. We did however hang around for a bit because the barman in here was a really good laugh – the only good thing about the place to be honest. Also, it was quite entertaining watching middle-class halfwits spending sixty five quid on a bottle of champagne then only drinking three-quarters of it. What’s that all about ? I hope they were on expenses. Actually, I don’t care. Mr. Caines, your food might be the dogs bollocks but this is an absolutely woeful attempt at setting up a bar. Get it sorted.

No. 60 The Corner Pin

Visited on 9/6/11. Ok, so technically we were now in Wales and therefore deffo outside Chester as we continued westwards after visiting ‘the Anchor’. However, there’s one more pub before leaving the conurbation, so we decided to include it. Was it worth the extra bike ride ? Well not really to be honest. I wonder if the locals refer to this place as ‘the Pin’ ? ‘The Pen’ would be more appropriate as it’s a bit basic and heavily decked out with flags and banners from the North West’s ‘big three’ footy teams – that’s Everton, Liverpool and Man. Utd. by the way, just in case there are any Man. City fans reading this. Once again, and despite there being four handpumps on the bar, no real ale was available. Furthermore, the keg bitter was vile. We’d heard this place had some notoriety, but even the atmosphere was flaccid. All a bit of a non-event really. Still, at least we got some extra exercise.

No. 59 The Anchor

Visited on 9/6/11. Right, it was time for a spot of international travel now as we mounted our steeds and headed westwards and under the bridge, leaving Albion behind. Or so we thought. It turns out that the border isn’t where it’s marked on the street but in actual fact runs right through the middle of this pub. The lounge is in one country and the bar is in another. Also, with the toilets being in the centre, it’s possible to stand in England and piss into Wales – and vice versa. Didn’t try it. Honest guv. Anyhow, this is a nice tidy pub – even had flowers on the tables. Unfortunately it didn’t have any customers, apart from one bloke. He was friendly enough – as were the staff. I think they do all their trade at the weekends when they’ve got a quiz on and the place also becomes a bit of a biker hangout. Unfortunately, despite there being some handpumps on the bar, they weren’t connected and we had to drink Bass smoothflow. If they’re serious about getting some punters in during the week, they need to get those handpumps operational I reckon. Maybe they could do English ales in the lounge and Welsh ales in the bar. As it stands, it’s a bit like having a can in someone’s front room.

No. 58 The City Arms

Visited on 9/6/11. After leaving ‘the Brewery’ it was just a few strides down the road to the next venue of the night – no need even to move the velocipedes. From the outside, ‘the City’ looks like it was built in the same era as ‘the Brewery’, but on the inside it has a different feel. Rather than racing being on the telly, there was a big plasma screen TV tuned in to MTV and the clientele were all a lot younger. No ‘doms’ team here then. It’s quite a big pub and even has enough room for an indoor bicycle storage area – an odd feature which nevertheless, I’m all in favour of. There were also a few unusual artefacts scattered around the place including a signed photograph of Cassius Clay and a saddle on a plinth. Could it be that the great man had passed through this way prior to his conversion to Islam ? On a horse ? Sadly not. I’m unsure as to the significance of the saddle but the landlord had bought the picture in a job lot a few years ago and didn’t even know if it was genuine. Yet again, no real ale was available, so we drank keg Tetley’s. It tasted like, well, keg Tetley’s. Other important features of this pub include a bagatelle table, which was covered, and Chester’s most minimalist beer garden – a single table surrounded by four concrete walls. Zen and the art of drinking keg.

No. 57 The Brewery Arms

Visited on 9/6/11. And so to Saltney and first up, this place – surely Chester’s most prosaically named boozer - maybe ‘the Beer Arms’ is the only pub name that might surpass it. Actually, I quite like that. I wonder if there’s a ‘Beer Arms’ anywhere ? [checks Google] Nope. Welcome to ‘the Brewery Arms’ then, BRITAIN’s most prosaically named hostelry. This is a quintessential community pub – the kind that’s been closing in droves over the last 10 years or so – a building steeped in social history – a beautiful place. Ahem. Ok, it’s looking a bit ‘shot at’ these days and could probably do with a lick of paint, but it’s got that ace old pub atmosphere. There were quite a few folk in when we arrived, including a sleeping alky and some old lads playing ‘doms’. The racing results were coming through on the telly and beams of sunlight, filtered through the grimy windows were dancing off a baldy’s pate. Old school. No real ale (surprise surprise), so we drank Theakston’s Dark Smoothflow – a beverage almost completely devoid of taste, but drinkably inoffensive. After a while we were asked to have a go on the scratch card, so we each put a pound in for a couple of squares. “What’s it for mate ?”, we asked. “The doms team”, came the reply as our ‘hard earned’ was carried away in a pint glass. While we were still pondering the conundrum as to why the members of a ‘doms’ team need money for anything other than their own ale, a voice called out from the back of the pub. “Who the frig is Tarquel ?!?” Ha ha – we’d won ! They rather shrewdly managed to knobble us for another card before we left, but we were still up on the deal. Result.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No. 56 The Marlborough Arms

Visited on 2/6/11. And so to the final pub of the night – and at last, some decent ale. Local(ish) microbrewery Stonehouse supplies the cask for this place and the bitter was on reasonable form. Only good to average in absolute terms but infinitely better than any of the swill served at the previous three establishments. This is a small pub – one of the smallest in Chester, so it’s a bit odd that it puts on live music as the gear always takes up so much space. It seems to be popular though. There was a solo act appearing on this occasion, who seemed to be cocooned by his own fan club. They prevented the sound from reaching the back of the pub – which was nice of them, so that’s where we headed. I sort of admire what the owners have tried to do with what was quite frankly a tired old pub – emphasis on quality cask ale, supplemented by a big selection of Belgian bottled beers, aimed at a wide age range of drinkers (there's no way that all 60 odd beers from the menu were packed into those fridges though - bit of show I reckon). Sounds perfect, but the place is a bit, erm, scruffy ! Bit of a ‘back-packer’ vibe going on maybe – they should get rid of the foreign bank note collection from behind the bar and other such nonsense. Reckon we could quite happily spend an evening in here though. And it was good to see the Chester chapter of the motorcycle outlaws (over 50s section) in there, all enjoying their milk stouts. 

No. 55 The Pitcher & Piano

Visited on 2/6/11. This is another big city centre bar pitch(er)ed !? at a much wider age demographic than ‘Off the Wall’. And, lo and behold, it does real ale – Marston’s Pedigree to be precise. We ordered up a round straight away, but it was quickly returned, as it was absolutely rancid - must have been sitting in the lines for months. No dispute with the bar manager either – she sampled it with a straw and nearly gagged. Ho ho. Once again therefore, we were forced to drink Guinness. This place has no character whatsoever and was nearly empty - a great shame and a waste, as it’s housed in the old city telephone exchange – a building with a distinguished past. It would be nice if there was some link to it’s history and heritage – maybe some displays, maybe even some themes. This sort of thing can work well – good examples being ‘the Dispensary’ in Liverpool and ‘the Fire Station’ in Waterloo, London. ‘The Exchange’ would be a better name for this place. They exchanged the ale at any rate.

No. 54 Off the Wall

Visited on 2/6/11. Oh Lordy, what a friggin’ din ! As you walk from the door to the bar in this ‘yoof orientated’ city centre pub, you pass through a series of standing bass waves which create the impression that your chest cavity is about to collapse. Conversation is impossible, even with the bar staff, but after a while, a combination of grunting, grimacing and pointing resulted in us ordering up a round of luke cold ‘brownkeg’. Obviously, there’s no real ale, but at £1.50 a pint, you might think that at least this isn’t too big a sacrifice in order to tick the pub off the list. You’d be wrong. It was undrinkable. And it was in a plastic glass. Should’ve gone with the flow and ordered ‘Blue Wicked over Redbull’ or summat. Anyhow, looking around the place, I think we were the only punters present older than nineteen and also the only punters present not on a stag or hen night. We watched for a bit as pimply steroid munchers in ludicrously tight t-shirts attempted to cavort with barely dressed and barely conscious poppets to the beat of the hippety-hop. It wasn’t all that entertaining though and we left after about ten minutes. I guess this is a great pub if you’re a late teen/twentysomething after a shag. If you aren’t and you’re not, it’s rubbish. Be careful as you’re heading towards the exit an’ all - the carpet in here is as sticky as a ‘hen nighter’s’ drawers.

No. 53 The Boathouse

Visited on 2/6/11. It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are certainly jumpin’, but thus far cotton cultivation on Chester’s water meadows hasn’t really taken off. Ahem, anyhow…the Boathouse is practically on the river – if you sit by the window, it feels as if you’re afloat. The views are stunning and the location is one of the best in town. Does this mean then that it’s one of Chester’s best pubs ? Well it certainly should be, but based on our experience, the answer to that question is a resounding NO !  Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see three hand pumps on the bar – all had the labels turned around though. I asked the barman if there was any real ale on and he simply responded with a gormless expression. “That”, I said, pointing at a pump. “Oh !” he replied before attempting to pull a pint of fresh air. I ordered a pint of Guinness. The landlady then appeared and turned all the real ale labels round the right way. “Is there any real ale on”, I asked (again). “No”, she replied and walked off ! This was comedy central. The landlord then appeared with a bucket and began pulling a new cask of ale through one of the hand pumps. The landlady re-appeared and as she stood next to the landlord pulling the ale through, again I asked if there was any real ale on and again she said no. In the meantime three quarters of a pint of Guinness arrived, which I sent back to be topped up. The rest of the CBP crew then appeared. “Why are you drinking that shite ?” they politely enquired, before ordering up a round of Lees bitter, which was then promptly dispensed from the hand pump – by the landlady ! Jesuz wept. The bogs stank an’ all. And whatever happened to ‘the Ale-taster’ – the Boathouse annex which functioned as a half decent pub in it’s own right ? Closed down and moth-balled by the look of it. A bad start to the evening, but at least things couldn’t get any worse. Could they ?