Monday, February 20, 2012

CBP Best Pub (Pt. 2)

Ok first of all, apologies for the delay in posting this final update, but I’ve been a bit busy of late and have also experienced one or two technical difficulties. Sometimes the interweb just doesn’t work properly, I find. Anyhow, everything seems to be in order now, so on we go
  ...but before I get to the final liszt (enters Ronnie Corbett ‘monologue’ mode)… I was only speaking to the producer the other day… and he suggested it would be a good idea, if prior to announcing the top 5 pubs, I listed the best, ie. the funniest postings. Who am I to argue, I thought. So here they are…
  …voted for by a random selection of people in the street who’s cats prefer Whiskas and who can’t believe margarine isn’t butter… and not by me, I hasten to add… I think they’re all rubbish, [Enough Corbett] here is…

  …the best of the CBP: 

Tres drole, I’m sure you’ll agree, but now to the main event. In reverse order, from five down to one, here are the CBP top five pubs:

5. The Royal Oak (No. 20)

It’s a rare event these days to find a traditional pub that’s still in its original state with all the small rooms and snugs intact. It’s even rarer to find such a place which is also a healthy thriving business, but that’s exactly what we have here. And it’s not hard to see why. Despite being tied to a brewery, a wide selection of real ales is always on offer and the landlord and landlady are usually behind the bar themselves, ensuring the atmosphere is both friendly and lively, due to the happy way they go about their work and their clear enthusiasm for the job. Add to the mix the fact that there’s bagatelle - the Chester game, and a really nice outdoor covered seating area - and what you end up with is a superb community boozer that’s always busy. It’s a great local pub.

4. The Old Harkers Arms (No. 36)

What Brunning & Price tried to do with a derelict old canalside warehouse a number of years ago was to create a ‘city of London’ pub in the heart of Chester. What they’ve actually created is better than that – primarily because it’s not full of bankers ! Unless of course you count crumply-suited provincial mortgage consultants and pensions advisors, who along with estate agents, solicitors and various other ‘professional’ types seem to have made this place their second home. This is Chester’s busiest pub for a reason though. It’s very well run, the wide range of real ales is always in excellent condition and the atmosphere is usually lively. It can even be full on a Monday or Tuesday night. Downsides are the ‘aloof’ disposition of some of the staff, the draconian policy on closing (you’re often forced out of the door by 11:30 !) and the high prices. Still a fantastic boozer though. 

3. The Carlton Tavern (No. 5)

Quite simply, this is Chester’s best community pub – a street corner boozer that’s been brought into the 21st century by a dynamic, hard working landlord who’s been given the freedom to develop the business by a brewery (Hyde’s of Manchester) which is perhaps a little more forward thinking than most. It’s a pub that’s popular with the locals but good enough to draw customers from a much wider area as well. This is particularly the case when one their famous twice-yearly beer festivals is being held. Excellent real ales from Hyde’s (naturally) and other Manchester brewers such as Marble and Allgate’s are usually available, as are beers from ‘Chester Ales’ – a Saltney based micro-brewer in which the Carlton has an interest. Across the river and up the hill – it’s well worth the short walk from the town centre, people. 

2. The Cellar (No. 45)

We’re now in the realms of pub perfection and we had a very difficult job separating these last two. I was trying to find a word that best describes the Cellar – and I think the word is modern. This place represents evolution – maybe it’s even the forerunner of the next generation of Chester pubs. Whether or not the craft beer revolution will ever completely eclipse the traditional brewers is open for debate, but the Cellar certainly has more in common with a Brewdog bar for instance than the ‘Olde Dog & Duck’,* for here you will find beer heaven. On one side of the bar, there are three constantly changing cask ales, usually from local micro-brewers, which are always in perfect condition. These are complimented by an array of keg fonts across the rest of the bar carrying a wide range of imported German and Belgian beers, from black lagers and wheat beers to strawberry lambics** and unusual ciders. In addition, the fridges are well stocked with more Belgian beers and some quite frankly ‘wacky’ offerings from the rest of the world and beyond. Add to the equation, some high quality live music and late opening at the weekends and what you get is the perfect city centre pub. This is the future. Others will follow their lead.

  * this place doesn’t exist – it’s a cipher – a stereotypical ‘traditional English pub’ reference point. Don’t look for it in the list. It’s not there !

** I’m making this up.

1. The Pied Bull (No. 86) & (Beer Festival)

And finally ! If Harkers (No. 36) is a ‘City of London’ pub in the heart of Chester, then the Pied Bull is a ‘City of Chester’ pub in the heart of Chester ! If that makes any sense. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it epitomises Chester – ancient architecture within the famous city walls, staffed by friendly local people and it epitomises a modern English pub – focus very much on the traditional pint rather than, ahem ‘poncey’ beers, but with the net cast wider than the traditional brewers. The place was wrestled from the grip of the appalling PubCo, Punch Taverns a few years ago and the business has steadily been developed since then by focusing on providing quality real ales. This philosophy even extends to brewing beer on the premises. A small micro-brewery is in operation in the cellar, producing a range of ‘Pied Bull’ brews, one or more of which is usually available at the bar – and they’re not afraid to experiment either. For example, I think their ‘Raging Bull’ is the hoppiest ale I’ve ever drunk ! Apart from the micro-brewery, the other thing the Pied Bull is famous for is organising it’s own twice yearly beer festival at which there is usually a ‘meet the brewer’ event. These are not to be missed for any Chester based real ale fan – and for anyone who isn’t, attending one of these events is likely to convert you. The Pied Bull is still a work in progress – it could do with a refurbishment for instance, but we sort of like the rough edges to be honest. The fact that they brew their own beer is what swung the decision in the great Cellar vs. Pied Bull debate. Best of luck to them anyhow. Long may they continue to serve fantastic ale and long may they continue to brew. 

Right then, that’s it. It’s been a lot of fun. I hope we’ve provided a few laughs – that’s been the main objective of chronicling this odyssey to be honest. I hope nobody feels offended in any way at the comments made – that certainly wasn’t our intention, although neither was it our intention to offer a flaccid uninteresting story. Maybe we’ve been a bit controversial at times, but we just walk into pubs on a Thursday night and ‘say it how it is’ ! I hope we’ve managed to stimulate some interest in the pubs of the great city of Chesterville anyhow – viewing figures for this site would indicate that we’ve been successful in that respect and hopefully that’s to the benefit of the Chester pub and beer drinking community in general.

We’ve been the Chester Beer Project and my name’s Tarquel. Thank you and goodnight.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

CBP Best Pub (Pt. 1)

Blimey, it’s all gone a bit serious hasn’t it ? Gone are the days when I used to type any old rubbish on here, safe in the knowledge that hardly anyone would read it. It’s clear from the number and frequency of page views we’re getting that we now have a significant erm, ‘following’. The pressure, particularly over these next two blogposts is most definitely on then !

Before we get to the CBP ‘hit parade’, which this week will feature the top pubs of Chester from ten down to six, I’d first of all like to list the ‘honourable mentions’. These are pubs we consider to be outstanding in many respects, but haven’t quite made it to the top ten. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that pubs we visited ‘on tour’ during 2011 such as the superb ‘Wheatsheaf’ in Raby (tour 2) and the even better ‘Gallaghers Pub & Barbers’ in Birkenhead (tour 3) don’t qualify because they’re outside the city.

CBP Best Pub ‘honourable mentions’ 

There’d be a strong argument for putting any of these into the top ten, so it gives some idea of how difficult our task was. It also means there are well over thirty excellent pubs in the city – and for a place the size of Chester, that would appear to be a lot. Anyhow, without further ado, here comes the first part of the CBP list of Chester’s best pubs:

10. The Brewery Tap (No. 42)

If the Amber Lounge (No. 107) & (CBP Worst Pubs) needs any clues as to how the fantastic architecture of Chester’s famous medieval rows can be incorporated into a modern pub, they need look no further than this place. Set inside a sympathetically restored Jacobean great hall, the pub interior is stunning. Ok, ‘Spitting Feathers’ ales might not be to everyone’s taste, but there are always plenty of other great beers on offer, with Welsh microbrewers being particularly well represented. Can get a bit ‘beardy’ at times. Still a great boozer though. 

9. The Ship Victory (No. 100)

This excellent boozer stands alone, surrounded by car parks, the original buildings around it having been demolished a long time ago. It’s like a plug of hard volcanic rock that’s resisted glacial erosion. And the metaphor can be extended to cover the character of the pub itself, because this place is wholeheartedly ‘old school’. You will not find ‘Horseradish Stout’, ‘Walloonian Wheat Beer’ or ‘Blue Lager’ being served here. What you will find is an excellent pint of Tetley Bitter (CBP Best Ale Pt. 2), friendly staff, good conversation and a great atmosphere. They don’t make them like this anymore.

8. Telford’s Warehouse (No. 52)

Another great pub set inside a beautifully restored building, with food, live music and drinking all in separate areas within a single intricate space. The design of the interior is superb – as is the ale and service. Also, it attracts a wide cross-section of society – students, urban sophisticados, metrosexualists, grizzled misanthropes and real ale blerts* will all feel at home here and apart from when the odd rubbish band is on, it’s always a cool and vibrant place.

7. The Olde Cottage Inn (No. 25)

The reason this place has been transformed from a good pub to a great pub in recent years is the commitment of the team that’s running it - landlord and landlady, Trevor and Jean are proud of what they’ve achieved here – and they’ve got every right to be. They are bucking the trend – this is a community pub that’s always busy - and it’s not hard to see why. Most importantly, three real ales are always on and are always in good nick. Also, there are two (yes two) dartboards and in addition to the pool table, a bagatelle table has recently been retrieved from the midlands. Bagatelle is ‘the Chester game’ and it’s great. If you’ve not played it, try it. In fact try it here ! Don’t want to sound too poncey, but this is the quintessential local.

6. The Bear & Billet (No. 39)

The medieval frontage of this boozer is one of the iconic images of Chester and fortunately, after many years of neglect, what now lies behind it is worthy of its status. It’s probably the pub you would recommend to a tourist if asked – and most people would be impressed with it I guess. It’s a stunning building, the quality of the ale is first class and as a consequence, it’s always busy. I love drinking in here. It makes me laugh when I think about what it used to be like in ‘the bad old days’ though. Mind you, I loved drinking in it then as well !

* © Pete ‘the Mighty Wah !’ Wylie 

So that’s it – just one more liszt to go then. Stay tuned next week people for the top 5…

…the FINAL blogpost of the CBP (maybe)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CBP Worst Pub

Considering the fact that pubs are in decline across the nation and have been disappearing at an alarming rate for a number of years, Chester hasn’t been too badly hit. The pub scene remains relatively healthy and in some ways eg. the wider availability of quality ales, is in better shape than it once was. We’re fortunate to have a high number of excellent boozers in the city then, but nevertheless, at the other end of the spectrum there are a few absolute duffers ! These are listed below, starting with the pub fifth from bottom and finishing with Chester’s worst pub:

* dons tin hat *   

5. The Twirl of Hay (No. 14)

If remoteness, terrible keg ale, total lack of atmosphere, poor service and the smell of stale food is your thing, then this boozer is for you. It would be worth taking the trip out to the edge of town. There’s not a lot else for me to say to be honest. This is an arse-achingly uninteresting pub.

4. The Flookersbrook (No. 24)

Hoole has become one of the more affluent parts of the city and this big pub should have been able to capitalise on that. The huge success of ‘the Lodge’ (No. 22) just along the road, proves that there was a demand for a smart modern boozer in the vicinity, serving quality beverages. However, this place is none of those things and I doubt it ever will be. The ale is vile and the interior is cavernous and characterless. Can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to drink in here, unless of course they’d been barred from everywhere else.

3. The Amber Lounge (No. 107)

This place is completely devoid of character, which is quite an astonishing thing to say about a building that dates from at least the 16th century. Nevertheless, it’s true. So while the ambience or whatever isn’t exactly offensive in any way, the really depressing thing is the wasted potential and the contempt with which the building’s provenance has been treated. An interior design ponce has obviously been let loose in here some time in the mid 90s and armed with a ‘minimalist sensibility’ and a few cans of white paint has vandalised the magnificent Elizabethan structures and fittings. Hopefully, someone with half a brain will restore it all at some point – and will get some decent ale in an’ all. 

2. The Dee Miller (No. 71)

Everyone sympathises with a landlord struggling to make a living under the oppressive regime of a typical PubCo in an alehouse starved of investment. Nevertheless, community boozers MUST serve cask ale (and keep it in good condition) or they might as well not bother – it’s the only product pubs can provide that supermarkets cannot. Cask wasn’t on offer when we visited this desperately run down housing estate pub, nor was any form of courtesy or even a conversation ! Sympathy can only extend so far I’m afraid. This place is doomed to failure unless there are big changes in the way it’s run.  

1. The Amphitheatre Bar (No. 76)

Easy choice. A confluence of bad service, bad attitude, bad atmosphere and bad ale made this place the worst boozer we visited in 2011 by a long way. Oh, and the puke dripping from the ceiling was also a factor. What else would you expect though, from an establishment with a cynical business plan based entirely on selling strong liquor to kids ? Reality bites.

OK, stay tuned next week folks for the one they’ve all been waiting for. It’s the CBP top ten pubs of Chester – might need to do it in two parts though pop-pickers, so next week will be ten down to five, with the top five following on in two weeks time !

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Name check

The Chester Beer Project is proud to be associated with Gallagher's Pub & Barbers (CBP on tour No. 3) of Birkenhead. The ad they've put in the latest 'Merseyale' publication, featuring a quote from this blog looks flippin' ace I reckon...

Click here (Merseyale) and scroll down to page 20

[They'll not get in the list of top pubs mind, because they're outside Chester. Them's the roolz]