Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Four Ashes micropub, Waterloo

The Four Ashes in Waterloo
The Four Ashes is a micropub in Waterloo which opened just three years ago. It is on a street corner, close to the Plaza Cinema, and has just one room with the bar on the far side as you enter. The surroundings are comfortable and the atmosphere relaxed. Rob Ashe welcomed me, remembering me from a previous visit, even though I had been there only twice before. It is run by four members of the same family, hence the name.

The choice of real ale changes and the five being served when I visited were: Coniston Special Oatmeal Stout; Bank Top Bad To The Bone Best Bitter; Stodfold Amarillo American Pale; Cwrw iâl Pocket Rocket; and Lancaster Mosaic Blonde Ale. The real ales always include a dark beer and a bitter. A real cider, Happy Daze Medium, was available, and other drinks included continental bottled beers, craft beer, premium vodkas and gins, wine (including prosecco and cava), plus alcohol-free and gluten-free beers. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and bar snacks are also served.

To encourage conversation, it has no music or large-screen sports - there is also no Wi-Fi, presumably for a similar reason - and this all works: I found myself chatting to several regulars at the bar. Board games are provided and there is a monthly quiz, the next being on Thursday 19th March.

Children and dogs are welcomed, and the pub has featured in the local paper for having raised nearly £7000 for CHICS, a local children's cancer support charity based at Alder Hey, a great reflection of the generosity of its customers.

It is one of five finalists in the CAMRA Liverpool & Districts 2020 Pub of the Year competition, the only pub outside of the city centre and the only micropub, which is a remarkable achievement.

The Four Ashes is a fine addition to what is already a good real ale scene in Waterloo, an area blessed with quite a few pubs and bars all within a short walk of each other. It is at 23 Crosby Road North, Waterloo, on several major bus routes and close to Waterloo railway station. It is closed on Monday, and you can check its other opening hours on its Facebook page.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The Philharmonic: a Grade I Listed Pub

Liverpool's Philharmonic Dining Rooms
I paid a visit to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, Liverpool, last week. This pub has just been upgraded to Grade I listing, making it the first purpose-built, Victorian public house to receive such a listing, the highest level for a historic building. It now joins the top 2.5% of protected historic buildings in England, such as Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

Sometimes referred to as a 'cathedral among pubs’, the Philharmonic is one of the most spectacular pubs from the late 19th century, considered the golden age of pub building. Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “English pubs are some of our best-loved community buildings and are often threatened with closure ... We are proud that the Liverpool Philharmonic pub, a remarkable survival from the Victorian era, has been given a Grade I listing which will help maintain and preserve its outstanding interior fittings and exterior fabric for the future.”

A stained glass window in the Liszt room
The pub has several separate rooms: the main bar, a public bar, two side rooms (named with Scouse wit as Brahms and Liszt), and a rear dining room. The gents are famously made of Victorian marble, and I expect this is the only pub in the country where women regularly visit the gents. Indeed, I was chatting to two couples from Gloucestershire who were in Liverpool on holiday, and the two women insisted on visiting them. They were also taking photos of the stained glass windows, the elaborately carved woodwork, the detailed ceilings and the mosaic floor and bar front. Everywhere you look is something interesting.

This includes the ten real ales on handpump: St Austell Nicholson's Pale (the house beer), Adnam's Mosaic Pale, Fuller's London Pride, Farm Brewery Jarl, Titanic Plum Porter, St Austell Proper Job, Black Sheep Bitter, Exmoor Fox, Wainwright and Doom Bar. I didn't try all ten, but those I did have were well-kept. There are also extensive gin and whisky ranges, a choice of wines and craft beers.

The menu is quite extensive and includes starters, a pie menu, choice of main dishes, salads, burgers, sandwiches and desserts.

When John Lennon was asked about the downside of fame, he replied that it was not being able to go to the Phil for a pint. This magnificent pub is on Hope Street, close to the famous Philharmonic Hall, and is an easy train ride from the Southport and West Lancs areas.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Women and pubs

Two discriminating women drinkers at the GBBF
Photocredit: Tom Leishman
This year sees a couple of important anniversaries. Firstly, this month is the 50th anniversary of the UK's first Women's Liberation conference which was held at Ruskin College. Secondly, it is 45 years since the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) became law. I believe these two events are connected.

The SDA had a profound effect on pubgoing, enabling changes that still resonate today. It would seem strange to a younger generation of drinkers that there were pubs that excluded female customers (but not always female staff), either from the entire building or from particular rooms.

A famous example was the Hole In The Wall, Hackins Hey, Liverpool. This pub claims to be the oldest in the city, dating from the eighteenth century, and it has an old-fashioned charm as well as good beer, but until the SDA, women were barred entirely. Even after the Act became law, they were slow to provide toilets for women who had to go to the neighbouring Saddle Inn. A CAMRA local beer guide at the time wrily described the pub as “coping manfully with the Sex Discrimination Act”.

More locally, the very fine Guest House on Union Street in Southport had one room restricted to men. The door to the room on the right was permanently shut with a sign saying, “Gentlemen only”. Out of curiosity, I entered the pub shortly after the SDA became law: the sign had been removed and the door wedged open. I don't recall seeing it shut since.

Although this is all now history, it's a fact that even today some women feel wary of going into a pub on their own, and are much less likely than men to do so. Any who do might take something, such as a book to read, to suggest that they have a specific reason for being there – and are not seeking male attention. In a way, it is a pity that such worries still exist 45 years after the SDA became law.

However, things are changing for the better with groups of women more inclined to patronise pubs than formerly and with many pubs becoming more family friendly. While this is not entirely popular with some traditionally-minded beer drinkers, CAMRA as an organisation welcomes the increasing inclusiveness of our pubs and bars.

I am conscious of the incongruity that I'm a male writing this.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Peter Walker - a personal reflection

The Crown, Lime Street, Liverpool
I was a student at Padgate College in Warrington in the 1970s. The area at that time had three breweries: Burtonwood, Greenall and Tetley, although you wouldn't have known it because the vast majority of pubs were Greenall's. The brewery's adverts told us to, "Smile please, you're in Greenall Whitley land". They produced funny beer mats and even 'GWL' car stickers, like the 'GB' plate you use when driving abroad. I sometimes used to wonder whether they had ever caused any confusion at border checks on the continent. If only they had put as much effort into the beer as they did into the hype because, at best, Greenall's beers were mediocre.

I don't recall any Burtonwood pubs in the town, and most of the few non-Greenall pubs were Tetley. Tetley's beers were better than Greenall's but not by a great margin. Tetley had merged with Peter Walker in 1960, and in the 70s, they were still brewing the old Walker's Bitter, although they sold it under the Tetley name, which I found slightly odd seeing that most beer drinkers I knew preferred the Walker's Bitter to the Tetley's. The local CAMRA branch produced stickers for the few pubs that still sold Walker's to put in their windows, something my friends and I found very useful.

I had a sort of family connection to Walker's because my maternal grandmother had worked in Walker pubs for many years, as did her son, my Uncle Bernard. He rose to be manager of several pubs, and I can remember visiting two as a child, the Sefton Arms in Croxteth and the Victoria in Bootle. My grandmother used to be his relief manager on his day off. I remember calling into the Victoria for a pint a couple of times when I was older and working in Bootle; he was rightly proud of the quality of his beers. In later years, knowing about my involvement with CAMRA, he was pleased when I told him that he had kept an excellent pint.

At some point in the 1980s, Tetley Walker decided to relaunch the Walker brand. Some Tetley pubs were re-badged as Walker's and new beers formulated. In the process they scrapped the old Walker's recipe, which had been around 3.5%, like many beers at the time, and replaced it with Best Bitter (3.5%), Bitter (3.3%), and an even weaker mild. The beers weren't bad but I preferred the old brew. Later added to the range was a stronger Warrington Ale and a Winter Warmer, both of which I did quite like.

The 3.3% strength of the new Walker's Bitter became something of a joke in Liverpool:
Policeman: "Excuse me sir, have you been drinking?"
Driver: "Yes, officer, Walker's Bitter."
Policeman: "Very good, sir, carry on."

Walker's beers are no more, possibly disappearing around the time of the 1989 Beer Orders, but the name can still be seen on quite a few pubs in Merseyside, as shown in the photographs which I took in Liverpool yesterday.
The Vines, Lime Street, Liverpool
P.S. Since I posted this less than an hour ago, it has correctly been pointed out to me that someone is brewing a smoothflow version of Walker's Bitter, although I've no idea who or where. When saying that Walker's beers were long gone, I was thinking of the Warrington-brewed beers. Anything else would be a poor facsimile just to cash in on the name.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Ralph's Wife's bar, Banks

Ralph's Wife's bar in Banks
A friend told me about a new bar that had opened about five months ago in Banks, Ralph's Wife's, that I hadn't heard about before, so I decided to pay a visit.

The bus (Stagecoach 2 or X2) takes around 25 minutes from Lord Street, Southport, and drops you just yards away. The building was originally a bank, the logo of which is still in one window, after which it became the Village Pantry. It is just across the road from the New Fleetwood pub.

I arrived just as it had opened, and saw that it had two handpumps, one of which was serving Parker Barbarian Bitter, the other not being in use at the time. As I entered, Mal, the owner, said “You look like a real ale type”, which surprised me slightly as I don't have beard and wasn't wearing sandals! I found the beer to be on good form.

He explained that they usually had two real ales on at weekends, but sometimes during the week it needed to drop to one while custom builds up. He is aiming to have three ales available in time. Previous real ales have included: Neptune Ezili; Neptune Lorelei; Southport Golden Sands; Red Star Formby IPA; Parker Golden Samurai; and Parker Viking Blonde.

Two fonts were dispensing Hop House Lager and Guinness, and there was a fridge full of various bottles, including, Belgium, Trappist and German beers. There was a good choice of wines and the usual spirits, but with one interesting addition: among the gin selection was Forgan's, a hand-crafted gin made in Banks.

Tea and coffee are also served, including a range of speciality teas. They have held tapas nights and cheese and wine events. Children are welcome until 8.00 p.m. and dogs are admitted. There is free WiFi for customers, and he intends to offer snacks soon. One interesting feature is that the original night safe from its days as a bank is still in use.

As other customers came in, I found them to be friendly and ended up chatting to several at the bar. It is pleasantly decorated and has a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.

Ralph's Wife's bar is at 4 Hoole Lane, Banks, Lancashire PR9 8BD; tel: 01704 214678. See their Facebook page for more information, including opening hours.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.