Friday, December 23, 2011

Picture this...

15/12/11 - You see, we do exist. Looking like a cross between Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' and the cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, here's a picture of the CBP in the Marlbororough Arms on the final night. Creepy eh ?

Click on the image for a bigger version.
(Thanks to Trevor - the man behind the lens)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Post script - beyond the end...

15/12/11 – into the night. It’s all coming back to me now. Algy had heard that Oswestry microbrewer Stonehouse had a new ale out called Sunlander – a rare event as Stonehouse don’t churn out ales willy or indeed nilly like some brewers. In fact last time they brought an ale out was several years ago and as there’s only one pub in town that regularly serves Stonehouse beers, our next choice of venue was made easy. It was off down Eastgate st. to the Marlbororororough Arms (No. 56), previously visited back in early June. Although we left ‘the Vic’ in dribs and drabs, we all managed to get there – including Trevor and Jean, our new recruits. The Sunlander was fantastic and definitely enters the running for best beer of the CBP. We even had a group photo taken. I don’t have a copy and don’t even know who took it, but if it emerges, I’ll post it later. After ‘the Marlborororough’ some of our number had to get trains, so we headed towards the station. There was however just enough time for another swift one at, erm, Swifty’s or ‘the Cellar Bar’ (No. 45) to be precise. I can’t remember how many people we lost on the way. It was definitely er, some - but I can remember the ale when we got there. Most of us went for the frothingly retro Higson’s bitter – the famous olde scouse quaffing ale, now reincarnated under the Liverpool Organic label. Excellent it was too. One or two of the CBPers who are into nouvelle cuisine preferred the keg K√∂stritzer Schwarzbier though. Black lager. Indeed. I might suggest Mr. Mercer puts that on in ‘the Albion’ (No. 118) for ‘Christmas in the trenches’, his annual yuletide celebration which involves guests being bombarded by heavy artillery whilst wading round in waist deep freezing mud then contracting trenchfoot and frostbite. It’s not all gloom and doom though – far from it - they stop for a game of football and a singsong half way through the evening and eat tins of ‘bully beef’. Anyhow, back to ‘the Cellar bar’ and once again Swifty had an ace ‘turn’ on the bill. ‘The Spare Ribs’ are a sort of sister/brother nu-folk rock house punk type er combo or beat duo or summat. Anyhow they’re brilliant and put on a great show. The volume was perfect as well, as it was possible to enjoy the music and still have a conversation – albeit a very drunken conversation in our case. After a short while we had to split though. Some (like me) went home, some caught trains, some got lost and some went for an Indian (and more ale !). All in all it was a great night and a fitting end to the Chester Beer Project.

All that remains is for me to wish all of our followers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -  whoever you are ! We’ll be back in early January with some lists (I’ll explain) AND the eagerly awaited announcement of which boozer is to be awarded the coveted title of CBP PUB OF THE YEAR.

Please note that the landlord of the winning pub will be interviewed by former Chesterville MP and patron of the CBP, Gyles Brandreth on ‘the ONE show’.

Imagine that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No. 120 The Victoria

Visited on 15/12/11. Entering ‘the Vic’ through the back door, you’re faced with a choice as the bar is in the middle of the pub with rooms to either side. When we walked in, to the right there were about twenty ‘middle-aged fatty’ once a year drinkers wearing Santa hats and bawling incomprehensible, unfunny shite at each other whilst choking on ‘Jaeger-bombs’. Reckon they were about half an hour from a minor kick-off followed by a stumbling sweaty and utterly repulsive group hug. Way-hey, its Christmas. Many of em’. You and yours etc. etc. Bah friggin’ humbug. We went to the left. This is a magnificent 13th century building that’s got 21st century PubCo stamped all over it. It really must be quite a difficult task to suck the history and grandeur out of such a place and replace it with formula tat. If nothing else, Punch Taverns or whoever are masters at pushing back the boundaries of crassness. The ale in here was alright though, to be fair – just Theakston’s best bitter but on fine form and under such circumstances, it’s actually a half decent quaffer. What wasn’t alright was the price – three English pounds and fifty English pence per imperial pint. Yes that’s right – three fifty for Theakston’s ! Didn’t stop us downing at least three rounds though ! Part way through the first, I was alerted to the fact that ‘a bloke’ was asking if anyone knew Tarquel. A cold icy fear gripped me when my gaze fell on ‘the bloke’ in question – a six foot four bearded biker type. I was slightly re-assured when I realised he wasn’t carrying an axe, but nevertheless thought this was pay-back time. I knew it was a mistake to publicise our itinerary beforehand ! Here was the hit man sent by the Amphitheatre bar (No. 76), the Dee Miller (No. 71), Watergates (No. 106) or any number of other tawdry establishments that have received less than favourable comments on this blog over the past ten months. Eventually we were face to face… “Alright mate, pleased to finally meet you”, came the greeting from the hit-man as he shook me firmly by the hand. Turns out it was none other than Trevor, aka Chunkamunka, landlord of the Olde Cottage (No. 25) and CBP aficionado. The power of the interweb eh ? Well it was great to meet Trevor and his missus Jean, who both joined the party for the rest of the night. So that was it then. We stumbled out of the front door of ‘the Vic’ and then down the steps to Chester Cross – the dead centre of town, with all one hundred and twenty of the City’s pubs behind us. The end. Game over. Finito...    It was only a quarter to ten though. And there was still plenty of drinking time left...

No. 119 The Commercial Hotel

Visited on 15/12/11. Built by one of Chester’s most famous architects, Thomas Harrison, in 1817 (he of the Grosvenor Bridge and other fine early 19th century Chester buildings), ‘the Commercial’ is located in St. Peter’s churchyard right in the heart of Chesterville. What a magnificent building it is. And what a magnificent turnout there was to mark the occasion. All bar one of the CBP regulars (hardcore plus ‘casuals’) were out, plus a number of guests. So thanks to Algy’s mates and in particular Andy from C-BAS for coming along. It was nice of Luke from the Pied Bull (No. 86) to pop in and say hello as well. I remember this place back in the 80s being a largely unaltered, quirky old school boozer with a time-warp feel, full of old people drinking keg mild. Since then, it’s suffered at least one disastrous refurbishment followed by a failed re-launch. However, the current proprietors have now created a pub (with associated restaurant and hotel) that strikes the right balance between the old and the new. ‘Traditional trendy’ – it’s the new ‘shabby chic’, dontcha know ? Imagine Oddfellows (No. 43) on a smaller scale, without the excess and with added real ale – and even then, that’s nothing like this place. I don’t know why I wrote that to be honest. Anyhow, in terms of ale, it was a great start to the night – Everard’s Sleighbell, a light and thankfully quite dry Christmas beer. Twas excellent. So good we had a couple of rounds in fact. It was soon time to leave though, and after pausing briefly to admire the original stained glass window above the front door, we headed aross the courtyard to the FINAL pub of the Chester beer project...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This is the end...

As it turned out then, 'between 100 and 120' wasn’t a bad guess back in February when the Chester Beer Project was conceived, because we now know that the total number of pubs in Chester is exactly 120. That means there are just two more to visit – the Commercial hotel and the Victoria. We’ve left these until last because they’re the two pubs closest to the centre of town. So next Thursday (December 15th), we’ll meet in the Commercial at 8:30 then move to the Vic around 9:15. After that, we’ll argue for a while about which is the best pub in Chester and once it’s been established, we’ll head there to finish the evening off. We might even have a photo call on Chester Cross. Yes indeed, it could get that exciting ! So if any regular readers of this blog would like to be able to say they took part in Chester’s biggest ever pub crawl, then please feel free to come along. Go on, you know you want to ! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Golden Eagle (slight return)

Visited on 1/12/11. This famous old Chester pub that people ‘of a certain age’ have very fond memories of, has been struggling of late. In fact when we visited back in September (No. 91), it was closed - and it looked terminal. However, it might now have been given a new lease of life, as Martin Ellis (formerly of Jones; now the Chester Hangman, the City bar; now the Cellar bar and the Commercial hotel; now erm, the Commercial hotel) has taken on the tenancy. Although Punch Taverns still own it and will be placing their usual moronic constraints on the business, Martin might just be the kind of chap with sufficient flair to re-invent the place. That’s precisely what’s needed and that’s precisely what he intends. Already the place looks different. Subtle changes have been made to the interior and exterior d√©cor and it now has a ‘cool’ feel. Martin recalls the vibrancy of the place back in the ‘80s, describing how there might have been a gang of punks in one corner, rockers in another and solicitors holding court in the centre of the room. There was often an air of tension and more than the occasional ‘kick off’ then. Indeed. Those solicitors could be rum bastards at times ! So the new ‘Golden Eagle’ will be different, but will acknowledge its history. We saw some impressive artwork involving various Eagle motifs and icons including the Eagle comic and Ramones eagle being woven into more traditional Eagle representations. It was great stuff – attention grabbing and very cool. Real ale was also being served and although it was just Spitfire bitter, it was in good nick. No doubt the ale range will be expanded as the business is developed though. Hopefully this is a new beginning for this cherished boozer. And maybe the new customer base will include affluent adults who were once the rebellious kids of the 80s. Maybe one or two solicitors might even drift back an’ all !

No. 118 The Albion

Visited on 1/12/11. “ GO AWAY – WE DON’T WANT YOUR SORT IN HERE* ” proclaims the blackboard wedged into the doorway of this perfectly preserved Victorian street corner boozer. Indeed, according to its legendary 137-year-old landlord, Mike Mercer (he of the chalk and trademark misanthropy), the Albion is the only perfectly preserved street corner Victorian boozer remaining in Chesterville. Hmm… I think there might be one or two others to be honest. I guess it depends on how you define ‘perfectly preserved’. Without doubt the phrase definitely applies to ‘the Albion’ though and Mr. Mercer has gone to great lengths to maintain the pub’s original features. For example, the open fires are all still in operation and the rooms, including a snug are still pretty much as per the original building design. He’s also packed the place with early 20th century relics, many related to the 1st world war, including a number of original propaganda posters, ‘PUT THE HUN ON IRON RATIONS’, being my personal favourite. It’s a great place in which to entertain German colleagues I find – brings their famous sense of humour to the fore. Unsurprisingly this is a solid real ale pub with two constantly changing guest bitters always on the bar - on this occasion, Black Sheep bitter and Titanic Anchor. We gave the Black Sheep a swerve because the Titanic is an infinitely superior ale – and it was on very fine form indeed. Incidentally, the ‘guest lager’ according to more of Mr. Mercer’s blackboard invective was ‘GNAT’S PISS’ or some such (it was Carling – and it’s on permanently, although I doubt many people drink it). This is a fascinating boozer in many ways then, and maybe one that people should enjoy while they can because I can’t see it remaining in it’s current form once Mr. Mercer finally hangs up his boots (we’ve been saying this for years !). In addition to the various sleb chefs and other luminaries it definitely gets our seal of approval as well. I’ll not be surprised if the list of excluded groups is extended in the near future though: “ NO PUB CRAWLS, NO STAG NIGHTS, NO HEN NIGHTS, NO CHILDREN AND DEFINITELY… NO BLOGGERS “ You read it here first.

* OK, this is paraphrased, erm, ‘a bit’.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No. 117 The Plumber's Arms

Visited on 1/12/11. Tucked away behind the Grosvenor shopping precinct on Newgate Street, the ‘Plumbers’ has carved out a bit of a niche in recent years as a late night retreat for bar workers from other pubs who gravitate there after their shifts have finished. It stays open until 4 am and does most of it’s trade after midnight, so it came as no surprise to find the place completely empty when we turned up early in the evening. However, the complete lack of customers might be connected to the fact that there was a complete lack of ale also – unless you count Fosters. That and industrial cider was all they had on. No cask ale (despite the presence of four hand pumps), no keg ale, no Guinness, no poncey lager. Nowt. Just Foster’s and cider. Pathetic. It was with a heavy heart then and with much scowling and begrudgery, that we ordered up a round of ‘the amber nectar’ and prepared to reacquaint ourselves with it’s cold fizzy tastlessness.Then as soon as we’d paid for the drinks, the bar staff (all three of them) went outside for a fag. It’s a hard life. We were left on our own to chat to ‘disco boy’ who was setting up the sound system for the night’s entertainment. “It normally gets busy around nine”, he informed us. At that point it was about five to. A tumbleweed rolled past the door. We finished our drinks and followed it.