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.