Friday, September 30, 2011

No. 99 The Dublin Packet

Visited on 29/9/11. Let’s cut to the chase. The gents bogs in here are an absolute friggin’ disgrace. The ceiling is covered in black mould, the cubicle door is covered in graffiti (‘der Lache roolz’ apparently) and the urinals leak. Just to highlight this final point, a litter bin has even been strategically placed under one of the U-bends to catch the drips. As a consequence, there’s a vile stench that permeates the entire pub. It’s verging on the primeval to be honest. If ever there was a place in Chester where you could still contract bubonic plague, this would be it. The tragedy is, this could be a great pub with just a modest sum made available for a refurb. It’s small, atmospheric, largely in it’s original state and is in a great location. It’s easy to imagine looking out over a busy market square in the Victorian era or propping up the bar in the 1960s and chatting to iconic footballer Dixie Dean who ran this place for a while after he retired from the game - for anyone interested, there’s a sort of shrine to the great man in one corner of the pub, but it’s made from reproduction stuff and is a bit cheesy to be honest. A simple blue plaque would be better. Obviously, they don’t do real ale here, so we drank brownkeg. It was practically stagnant. This could be another boozer on the ‘at risk’ list. Hope we haven’t given it the kiss of (black) death.

No. 98 The Coach House

Visited on 29/9/11. I suppose ‘the Coach and Horses’, which was the name of this place last time I looked, sounds a bit too much like a pub for this erm, pub. Whereas ‘the Coach House’ sounds like it might be a chic metrosexualised contemporary dining and drinking emporium for urban sophisticados. Or summat. Marketing – dontcha just love it !? It’s a pub that smells of food then. Probably does accommodation as well judging by the bewildered foreigners that occasionally meandered through while we were there. An extensive range of Thwaites real ales was present though – and all the ones we tried were in good nick to be fair (Lancaster bomber, Wainwright, - also daft Bass). The service from the uniformed barman was ok as well. It was just, I dunno, boring I suppose. The kind of place your nan might like – which I’m guessing wasn’t their intention when they changed the name.

No. 97 The Shropshire Arms

Visited on 29/9/11. Next to the town hall, right in the beating heart of Chesterville lies this spectacularly uninteresting boozer. At the tables outside, some ‘new age’ traveller types were twiddling with their piercings, scattering ‘rolly’ dog-ends about the place and talking cod philosophical shite in the accepted style. Indoors, things got worse. A group of grown men – yes grown men, were knocking back ‘jaeger bombs’ as if they were plook-faced virgins on the first night of ‘fresher’s week’. Real ale is served here (Bombardier or Spitfire) and was ok. It was a bit flat and a bit warm to be honest, but just about drinkable – beer which could be described as being served in ‘the Wetherspoons’ style perhaps. A number of bands were advertised, but fortunately none were playing during our visit. Barmaid was pleasant.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No. 96 The Boot

Visited on 22/9/11. Daub, wattle. Wattle, daub - Wattle, daub. Daub, wattle. A-ha ha ha. Just like that. ‘The Boot’ or ‘Das Boot’ as it’s known in German tourist guides is Sam Smith’s sister pub to ‘the Falcon’ (No. 93) and shares many of it's characteristics - prime location, important architecture, significant history – as well as cheap ale and a clientele consisting principally of loafers, sluggards, jackanapes, putterers and sundry miscreants – and of course students. And it’s a really great pub (apart from the students, obviously). Again, the Sam Smith’s ‘old brewery bitter’ wasn’t quite as repulsive as I remember it being. It was almost palatable to be honest. And the olde handpumps coming straight out of the bar (as opposed to being mounted on wooden blocks) are still in operation. Wonderful stuff. Oh yes. History – it’s the future and we’ve tasted it.

No. 95 The Pelican

Visited on 22/9/11. Where ? Exactly. I’d never heard of it either – or it’s predecessor, which was a restaurant called ‘Gotwine’ apparently. Maybe there’s a clever marketing strategy behind these daft names. Or maybe they’re just, erm daft. Anyhow, this place is tucked away up Commonhall St. It’s a wine bar/brasserie type affair and it’s most interesting feature is the large patio at the back from which there’s an excellent view of a load of brick buildings. It was deserted when we arrived though, as was the rest of the place. This is another city centre venue that relies heavily on race days – in that respect, the main attraction is that there’s a load of space. There’s nothing much else here of any interest to be honest. Most notably, there’s no real ale. We drank ‘Boddies’ – ah yes, the famously proud and vigorous northern elixir, now transformed into worthless, tasteless shite under a failing global brand. Er, then we left.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No. 94 The Slug & Lettuce

Visited on 22/9/11. This is a cavernous nondescript modern bar which is part of a national chain. It was reasonably busy and seemed to be populated mainly by twenty-something ugly women wearing unfeasibly high heels and thirty-something ugly blokes wearing unfeasibly cheap suits. At one point we thought there might even have been a ‘singles’ night on, but dismissed the possibility because none of us were chatted up. Anyhow, unlike many similar establishments, real ale is on offer here - Morland Speckled Hen - and it was half decent to be fair. Not too dear either. Doubt we’ll be back like.

No. 93 The Falcon

Visited on 22/9/11. After the small fortune spent on it’s restoration in the 1980s, you’d think this grade 1 listed building of medieval origin would be one of the most upmarket hostelries in Chester. However, under the management of Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smiths, the philosophy has very much focused on keeping the ‘riff-raff’ in rather than out – which is absolutely fine by us. And with ale at £1.89 a pint, tramps, alkies, piss-artists, drunks and sundry ne’er-do-wells abound. It’s a proper old school pub in fact. When we arrived, we went into the left hand side – the side overlooking Bridge St. but immediately had to move into the other half of the pub because there was a fella in there who absolutely stank. I think he might have shat himself to be honest. We walked into the other bar just in time to witness the first fight of the year – well, nearly. It began with a slightly raised voice, then a clearly audible “Yer pr**k !”, followed by “You’re the pr**k !”, then “Don’t you call me a f**kin’ pr**k, YER F**KIN’ PR**K !!” Just as it was about to kick off though, the barmaid stepped in and lashed one of the ‘would be’ combatants out onto the street. Then as he was walking off he threatened to “…smash her face in !”. A right hard man and no mistake. Anyhow, the ale was alright – I’ve never really liked Sam Smiths but it was better than I remember it being - perhaps they've changed it ? Cheap ale, lively atmosphere, historic surroundings and free entertainment – what more could you want from a boozer ? Possibly air freshener, come to think of it. 

No. 92 The Chester Bells

Visited on 22/9/11. From ‘the Golden Eagle’ it’s just a short walk up Bunce St. to this place – a former ‘bikers’ hang-out, now functioning as a pub/B&B. I love the attached review excerpt from ‘Trip Advisor’ written by a disgruntled customer:

“…the worst thing about this whole stay was the fact we went to leave at 8am the following day to find two people having sex in the hotel reception…”

Check it out if you don’t believe me. Needless to say, nothing quite so exciting occurred during our visit. It was nearly empty when we arrived and for some reason, the previous night’s footy was being played on the telly. It was too loud an’ all. We ordered up a round of Bombardier – the national beer that’s just about average, even at it’s best. It was average. A croonist then set up and began performing to his backing tapes. To be honest I could have sung better, and I can’t sing. Some members of his little entourage glared at us when we didn’t applaud. I like this place though – particularly the location and the quirky shape. It must have been ace before all the dividing walls were knocked down. The barman seemed friendly enough as well, although I couldn’t help wondering whether or not he was the phantom shagger. Maybe we should’ve asked.

No. 91 The Golden Eagle

Visited on 22/9/11. We started the evening at ‘the Golden Eagle’, but arrived to find the lights were out and a big ‘For Sale’ sign was attached to the wall. Although it holds happy memories for many of us, including a prominent CBPer who had his first pint there, aged eleven, it wasn’t a great pub. In recent memory at least, it never served cask and has been closed for extended periods on a number of occasions over the last few years. Who knows what the future holds now. Is it the end ? Beautiful friend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No. 90 The Wheatsheaf

Visited on 15/9/11. From Saughall, we found our way through the lanes back to the main road and this place – an old roadhouse pub with it’s own bowling green (long gone sadly), which has now become a carvery. “Give the kids a treat (and diabetes) with our ‘all you can eat’ ‘five for the price of one’ ‘real meal deal’ and put a family photo on the wall of death”. "Then win a cuddly toy. * " Everything was sticky and there was more than a whiff of urine in the air – kid’s wee probably (hopefully !). In ‘pub grub’ terms, this is about as low as you can go. It probably does a roaring trade early evening, but when we arrived it was empty apart from a few staff looking at their watches. No cask obviously and the John Smith’s brownkeg was rank. It was a long ride back to town an’ all.

* this bit is true.

No. 89 The Greyhound

Visited on 15/9/11. Heading into the centre of Saughall village we soon reached ‘the Greyhound’, a pub with a depressingly familiar recent history – landlord builds a healthy business and is rewarded by the PubCo ‘upping the rent’ to a ridiculous level – landlord then packs it in. The new proprietors clearly have a different business model in mind. An ace old pub has in effect become a restaurant. From can o’ peas to canapés. Drinkers are ‘allowed in’, but the sight of place settings and twee little tea lights on every single table doesn’t exactly create the right kind of environment if you’re just after a few bevies and a bit of craic with the lads. Quite frankly, I found it a little bit weird. Almost ‘Lynchian’ * in fact. In addition, when we arrived there appeared to be a 'tena lady' convention going on - about 15 middle class shrews all drinking chardonnay from over-sized glasses and cackling uproariously. I’m fairly certain there’s nothing sufficiently funny in existence that would justify the volume of such laughter. On the plus side though, the ale was absolutely spot on – Weetwood Cheshire Cat, Fuller’s London Pride, Timmy Taylor’s Landlord – all in perfect condition. Quite splendido.

*surrealist film maker David, not z-cars desk sergeant Bert.

Monday, September 19, 2011

No. 88 The Egerton Arms (Saughall)

Visited on 15/9/11. Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin, he will wait until you give yourself to him. Ah yes, the killing moon illuminated the footbridge from Saltney, over the black glass river and beyond. Through the Greyhound park, then Blacon, then nothing. We were in the middle of God knows where. Fortunately, for a pub in such a remote location, the ‘Egerton’ has managed to resist the march of gastro-isation and remains a decent boozer. It was busy when we arrived and there was a pool match on. They were playing, erm, the ‘Egerton’ (No. 28), their namesake pub from Brook Street. Spooky or what ? What are the chances of that ? Two pubs with the same name playing each other at pool – on the very night we decide to visit ? Fate up against your will. Anyhow, we enjoyed a really nice pint of Brain’s SA in here and could easily have necked another following what was after all, a massive 10 minute long bike ride ! However, you all know the score by now. We had to move on...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No. 87 The Saltney Ferry

Visited on 15/9/11. Last time we were in Saltney this place was closed, so when we heard it had opened up again, we just couldn’t wait to get back there. No really. We’d even heard they’d started doing real ale, so were shocked, mystified, perplexed and nonplussed to discover this wasn’t the case. Four handpumps were present on the newly refurbished bar, but all of them had their pump-clips turned around. Brownkeg it was then – and it was hideous. Of the handful of people in there, it was impossible to tell who were staff and who were customers. All were gawping at the telly and none of them said a word. The carpet was curiously spongy. Er, that was it. Not even a whiff of menace to liven the place up. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No. 86 The Pied Bull

Visited on 1/9/11. Until relatively recently, this historic coaching inn was looking tired and in need of ideas. Fortunately though, the current proprietors have somehow managed to loosen the shackles of the pubco and are now operating the place in a more independent fashion. Key to their strategy is to focus on real ale with the emphasis very much on local microbreweries including their own, which is situated in the cellar. Anything up to six ales are on offer at any one time, although on this occasion none of the homebrews were represented. It was busy though – and there wasn’t a single lager drinker in sight. Excellent stuff. Slightly less excellent was the fact that there wasn’t a single woman in sight either, largely due to the massive nerdfest that is their evidently popular Thursday night music quiz – male bonding for charts anoraks – a sort of ‘fight club’ without the violence [what the hell are you going on about ? Ed.] No matter. Hopefully, the homebrew production capacity can be ramped up to the point where it’s permanently available in the pub – I’ve been here three times now and it’s never been on. Further work needs doing on the décor also, but everything is heading in the right direction. This is a boozer re-born – and maybe a model others can follow. Another beer festival is scheduled to take place here in October and we’ll deffo be back for that – if not before.

No. 85 The Red Lion (Northgate Street)

Visited on 1/9/11. Not all pubcos are malevolent asset-strippers, hell-bent on destroying our heritage by twatifying decent establishments, strangling investment and restricting trade in others that don’t fit their bizarre economic model, then selling the run-down properties off for housing or other retail use. Not a bit of it. Nicholson’s (they’re from darn sarf) actually believe the route to success lies in providing quality ales in a civilised environment – a mad idea that might just catch on. And if the ‘Scruffy Murphy’ years of the 1990s represent this place’s nadir, it could well have reached it’s zenith under the present regime. It’s certainly a very smart pub now, providing good food (supposedly) and a fine range of ales. Currently they’re showcasing IPAs from around the country – 26 in total, but with just 5 or 6 on at any one time. Great idea this, but session beer it ain’t ! A 'half' was therefore in order for the magnificent Moor Pacific IPA – 6.0% abv, hopped to hell and beyond, yet blusteringly quaffulescent. Other ales we sampled included the less impressive (Tony) Hadley’s IPA – another sixsh percenter brewed by the ex Spandau Ballet croonist at his Red Rat brewery in Suffolk – I guess some of you might already have known that much was true to be honest. We also tried the quite frankly unpleasant Mahseer IPA from Green Jack – a vile, cloying creation that I hope we don’t encounter again. The staff here were really pleasant and well informed and it would have been nice to sample a couple more of these ‘challenging’ ales, but in the interests of avoiding brain damage, we decided to move on...

Friday, September 2, 2011


Adjacent to the Liverpool Arms is a 1970s edifice called Centurion house which stands on the site of the old Northgate brewery. The Northgate was Chester’s biggest and most successful brewery. It was built in the mid 19th century and survived until the late 1960s, although by then it was being run by Warrington based brewer Greenall Whitley. When it was demolished, the mosaic from the foyer of the main offices was rescued and re-assembled as part of the terrace behind the office block. If you want to see it, head to the Liverpool Arms then try and find your way up the back passage.

(More on the Northgate Brewery can be found here at the excellent website)

No. 84 The Liverpool Arms

Visited on 1/9/11. You want some action hombre ? Well you’ve come to the right place. The Liverpool Arms or ‘LA’ as it’s now known, is Chester’s oldest gay bar and in many ways it’s most unlikely. Outwardly it just looks like a classic street corner Victorian boozer and even when you enter [snitter, snitter] it doesn’t look that different to a regular pub. Then you notice the little chandeliers around the bar - and the prominently displayed portrait of the Queen - and, erm other stuff. Rather surprisingly, following our experience at Chester’s other main gay venue, Bar 69 (No. 35), real ale is served - Bombardier to be precise - and it wasn’t a bad pint either. Well pulled, full bodied and with a creamy head – just how the locals like it, according to the barmaid. As we were about to leave, we were surprised for a second time, as a really fit bird walked in. She headed straight for the stage, looking as if she might have been the act for the night (it was still early). She was very attractive and beautifully dressed, but unfortunately we didn't have time to hang around and see her perform. She did have really big feet though...

No. 83 The Bull & Stirrup

Visited on 1/9/11. The intricate brickwork of this late 19th century commercial hotel makes it one of the most attractive buildings in Chester. The interior is more minimalist now than it would have been in the heyday of the Arthur Parker type travelling salesman, but the décor and furnishings are actually quite tasteful. More than can be said for the ale then unfortunately, as this establishment which earned some notoriety for a brief period a few years ago as Chester’s first ‘lap dancing’ bar, remains ‘keg only’. “We’re well known for the quality of our Guinness”, commented the landlord, as if that in some way compensated for the absence of real ale. I tried it anyway. It tasted like Guinness. The commonly held belief that some pubs serve Guinness which is in some way superior to the norm is a myth. Guinness tastes exactly as it does when it comes out of the factory unless you do something bad or negligent to it. It can only taste worse – it’s impossible to improve it. That’s simply the nature of filtered, pasteurised, commodity beer product. I’d have to say this would be a decent boozer with a couple of hand pumps on the bar though - reckon they might soon see the error of their ways. One to watch maybe.