Wednesday 18 March 2015

BRAPA : the archives (141-150)

Ahhh, Manchester, Liverpool and Norwich.  So much in common.  Nice old buildings, plenty to see and do, funny people, irritating football teams (I won't say which ones), and of course .... great pubs!  Needless to say, I've been plenty of times to these cities, so let us revisit some of the GBG pubs I did in years gone by.

141 - PICCADILLY TAVERN, Manchester - I knew there was a Wetherspoons near here on my way back from Cardiff in a rather hazy state on the sunny morning of Wednesday 14th March 2012 (I'd been celebrating a 0-3 victory rather too much).  So with an hour to kill, I needed hair of the dog and entered this establishment at ground level, ordered a nice pint of a guest ale, and went up to a higher split level where I sat in a booth, ordered some chips and nursed my head.  Rarely for me, I didn't come here thinking it was in the GBG.  Fast forward to 1st September of the same year and after a similarly comprehensive 5-0 win (this time for Altrincham v Histon), I brought my friends in here for a post-Alty pint straight off the tram.  Then it hit me, this isn't the Wetherspoons, it's a totally different pub!  Not my most observant moment.  It feels part of a chain but with well kept ales and good simple food, who cares?

142 - PORT STREET BEER HOUSE, Manchester - Typical!  Post match at the Etihad Plastic Hole in the ground and I'd lost the entire gang.  I had to use a kindly, humble gang of Man City men (if you can imagine such a concept) to help me navigate my way back down the Ancoates road I know so well, and through the warren of backstreets towards Piccadilly where I finally reached this little modern bar, not long open, on the 31st August 2013.  It wasn't unlike a less historic Pivni in York with upstairs bar, and trendy staff looked a bit miserable to be welcoming a load of black n amber fans rather than bearded hipsters.  A group of nice student girls then walked in but looked scared and ran back out.  I was praised for my timely arrival, and our gang including the full "Andrew" contingent, some Southern Supporters, of which Julian Daniel's tiny laptop made the biggest impression.  I later recommended the Port St to my friend to take his Dad to for a shorter walk (he's a different type of Hip-ster) - he wasn't impressed, I later heard.  Oh well, you can't win 'em all.

143 - SANDBAR, Manchester - Even more "quirky and bohemian" (a good choice of words by the GBG) than the Port Street, I came down here just off Oxford Road for a great gig with JW2 on 25th July 2011 to watch Brian Setzer.  The staff were very helpful and friendly and happy to give us tasters of the local ales on offer, 6 or 7 on our visit.  We decided to sit outside and try and work out who else might have been going to our gig.  It was surprisingly calm and relaxing outside on a nice balmy Monday evening in summer, despite it's proximity to a main road & much student accomodation.  I came back here on my own for a quick pint before another gig (either Flogging Molly at the same venue or Far From Finished closer to Piccadilly), on this occasion I sat inside but it was so full with students, even I felt a bit uncomfortable having a pint on my own with annoying youth brushing past me every two seconds!    It's a strange shaped place (especially if you are drunk and looking for the loo) but I have to say, I like it.

144 - WATERHOUSE, Manchester - 28th November 2009, day of THAT penalty celebration by Bullard, and we met Ben for breakfast (I think) in a different Wetherspoons from our usual 'Paramount' option.  The experience is memorable for one reason only, "quickest breakfast in a BRAPA pub ever".  I'd done the order, and yes, it was quite busy with early football fans with the same idea, but the food was on the table by the time I got back, having come out of a back area near some metallic stairs just next to us.  It's nearest contender in this department is another Wetherspoons, the "Albert & Lion" on Blackpool seafront, but this is a pre-emptive BRAPA tick at best as things stand, and that is probably being kind.

145 - DISPENSARY, Liverpool - I have a real soft spot for this pub, not only is it my joint favourite pub in Liverpool, a great city for pubs, but also one of my favourite in the country.  What's more is the best, quickest barmaid ever works here - a totally force of nature, and always manages to be friendly and have a laugh with you, even serving about six people at once.  She deserves some kind of award for barmaidery.  10th January 2009 was my very first visit here, as me and Dad meandered down from the Crown towards the part of town where most of the good pubs on my extensive list was.  It perhaps wasn't at it's best that day though we liked it enough, a few murmurings from our Welly gang via Southern Supporters reckoned the beer wasn't so good here.  Undeterred, I returned to show friends on our July 2010 Ric birthday visit and we were suitably impressed.  We picked up a local CAMRA mag, stopped the light blinding us through the curtains, and admired the Victorian features I'd read about!  More recently, Dad and I popped in here pre match on a difficult New Year's Day, but here, I had a Titanic, Oakham and Salopian, possibly the three best breweries I know.  Heaven, and Dad's flagging down of a taxi to get us back here post match was genius.  This was when barmaid told us she was off to change into a onesie and watch Harry Potter, as we sipped Plum Porter.  Most recently, we were here with Christine and Chris D just before our trip to Everton on a cold December Wednesday evening for another Plum Porter.  Typically, we got sat with a group of locals though the young lady didn't like me suggesting people from Hull and Scousers had lots in common ....  "We are our own breed!" she gargled in typically Scouse tones.  Classic.

A pre-match New Years Day scene in the Dispensary, amazing pub!
146 - FLY IN THE LOAF, Liverpool - Dad's favourite pub of our early sojourns to Merseyside, we came here on our very first visit 13th December 2008 before a 2-2 draw at Anfield, and returned not quite sure when or even who with, perhaps on the July 2010 Ric birthday trip.   Despite being quite an old building (used to be a bakery), it has quite modern feel around the long bar area where we sat first time, but a cosier raised bit with TV's and wood paneling at the back of the pub.  The pub is Isle of Man brewery owned so quite a few Okell's on but a good range of guests too.  We tried to get in on New Year's Day but was one of the many pubs still annoyingly shut after 12 noon.  Interestingly, or not, I can't remember anything of note that happened on either visit which is quite unusual for me.

147 - LION TAVERN, Liverpool - My joint fave pub in Scouseland with the Dispensary, we came here on either first or second visit (probably the second time on 10th Jan 2009 as I remember it being a very cold day).  It's got a great old layout where you go in to a hallway area and seem to be behind all the pumps in a Bluebell, York kind of way with all the locals sat at the front bar, so I've never really got a good look at all the ales on and just panicked and ordered the first one I can fathom out!  Unsurprisingly, it's a top heritage National Inventory pub and I remember green tiles and a fantastic roof light in one of the side room snug areas.  Also, all the customers are unsurprisingly friendly and upbeat creating a great hubbub.  I returned here with Krzb after our Ormskirk day in September 2013 and it was just as good as I'd remembered it.  Sadly underused in recent Hull City trips as the SS have discovered it.  

Top roof light action at the wonderful Lion Tavern
148 - ALEXANDRA TAVERN, Norwich - 18th Jan 2014 and Dad and his crazy train bookings meant we were in Norwich at something like 7am, so after breakfast and a walk, we were delighted to find a 10:30am opener on the edge of town.  Not only that, it was magnificent and if we hadn't agreed to meet Tom later on, we'd have stayed there despite the long distance to the football ground.  After a woman with a Tesco bag strode past us to get into the pub first, we found ourselves in a nice bare boarded pub greeted by a friendly landlord (apparently called 'Tiny' Little!), a ginger cat, a wood burner and some great beers from local brewer Chalk Hill who I'd loved on a previous Norwich trip.  Dad and I have vowed to go back when we next visit Norwich, but we should beware as pubs here which we love first time always go drastically downhill from there!  Usually.  

My hilarious check-in at the Alex Tav 

149 - KING'S HEAD, Norwich - See my above comment about pubs being great in Norwich on the first visit, and then going downhill, this is what happened here.  25th September 2010 was the date of our first visit, our designated pub on that day as Dad and I sat in the tiny front bar of this wooden boarded pub which expands into quite a large back area.  There is a huge range of beers, and on this occasion there were further festival type barrels on the way to the loo.  These may have just sold real ciders but it was impressive nonetheless.  The beers were great quality, and the range included lots of breweries we liked and knew.  A man came in with baby in pushchair to give it it's first "taste of a real pub".  Not sure but it seemed an excuse for him to have a few!  Mark and Ben's decision to go to Kings Arms nearer the ground seemed ridiculous.  It did get busier before kick off, the Norwich fans reckoning they'd stroll to victory before we broke our 31 game failure to win away!!  It therefore made sense to make the King's Head our designated pub of the 2013/14 season return visit.  We met Tom here, I vaguely recollect someone going missing(!) - well, Dad or Tom, and this time we settled in the wider spaced back room as some other Hull City fans (on a major crawl of the city we discovered) came along for a quick chat and pint.  Sadly, the pub didn't seem to have the spark of a few years earlier.  The ales were more from local microbrewers but all much of a muchness, and the range didn't seem quite as full on, whilst the characters and general vibe wasn't in evidence either.  It was good enough but never going to trouble the "away pub of the season" compilers.

Landmark pint number-wise, if not taste wise, at the King's Head
150 - RIBS OF BEEF, Norwich - Right on the River Wensum, Dad and I popped in here on 25th September 2010 as our first pub of the day (it was an earlier opener back then) as it was near the cathedral and en route to King's Head where we'd decided to spend the majority of our time.  Initial signs were good as we were served from a range of 'free from tie' ales of good quality, the pub was comfy and multi-levelled if a little bit twee with lots of cushions and decoration, whilst on a huge TV above us, James Martin was cooking up a bit of sea-bass on Saturday Kitchen.  But then it hit us ... barmaid with voice of a foghorn, and did NOT stop talking to her colleague for the entire duration of our stay.  It's not an exaggeration to say she singly spoilt the experience for both of us!  When we walked past in Jan 2014, Dad gave a little shudder and scurried on past.  

So, that was an entertaining ten I thought.  We've got more to come from Liverpool and Norwich, and then we'll be venturing into uncharted territory like Northants and Notts.  I bet you can hardly contain your excitement.  See you soon, 


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