The last time I had a drink in the Grapes in Knight Street (corner of Roscoe Street) in Liverpool was around 30 years ago when it was a Higson's house. My friend and I had just come from Ye Cracke, a legendary Liverpool pub nearby. We ordered two pints of bitter, and were dismayed to see them served from keg electric pumps hidden behind the hand pumps ~ a con certainly, but over half of Higson's houses in those days had no real ale. A more recent visit a few years ago showed it had declined to a dirty, scruffy dive of the worst sort; I didn't stay to have a drink.
I was in the area yesterday and having noticed it was listed in the CAMRA Liverpool Real Ale Passport (from which the picture has been borrowed), I decided to call in. The place was clean, the walls had been painted in light colours with wooden relief carvings placed on them ~ and three hand pumps. The beers on were Caledonian 80/- and Everards Tiger, the Speckled Hen having run out. Both beers were in very good condition, and I'd forgotten that I do like Tiger; the 80/- was quite a different beer, and not one I am very familiar with, but it too went down a treat.
The pub was been taken over by a young couple a few years ago, Anna Slater and Paul Agoro, who learned their trade in the former Black Horse & Rainbow brew pub on nearby Berry Street. She told me that when they took it over, it had a turnover of £500 per week, which for a pub is the final stage of anorexia. They wanted to sell real ale, and in the early days ended up pouring unsold beers down the drain regularly, but that doesn't happen now; in fact, they have plans to install another 3 hand pumps. There is still quite a lot of work to do - the seats need re-covering, for example - but this is a pub that has been dragged from the brink of almost certain closure by an enthusiastic couple. I had a chat with some of the locals: one, a Scot, told me Deuchars IPA (usually on in this pub) was the best beer in the world; I replied I wouldn't go that far, but it was certainly a good beer. Then we found we were both into Thin Lizzy ~ he an ex-punk and me a sort of ex-hippy. I was told that quite a few young drinkers enjoy the real ale, and the pub is near the student area. Just then a group of students came in, taking their drinks (mostly lager, except for one young woman who chose the draught Hoegaarden) to the outdoor drinking area.
Anna says they are slowly getting rid of the insensitive modernisation that the pub had been subjected to, and are trying to reinstate original features. It's a real pleasure to see a pub that appeared to be in terminal decline, turned around and becoming a place well worth visiting. It's about 10 minutes' walk from Central Station; Knight Street is off Berry Street, where the bombed-out church is. (postcode L1 2SX) And for those who believe in such things, it's said to be haunted.
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