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...