Sunday 31 January 2016

BRAPA : Bury (are you Chiswick in disguise?)

Half time at a snowy Gigg Lane

I was jumping for joy when I saw that Hull City had been drawn away from home against "lower league opposition" in this year's FA Cup 4th round.  After all, it's been a long time since I went to Gigg Lane and in my mind, Bury is your traditional Lancashire town built on black pudding, cotton and friendly old chaps in flat caps.  I was expecting the pubs to reflect this.

793.  Robert Peel, Bury

And it all started well enough in the clamour of a busy early morning Wetherspoons, where the whole town seemed to have to come to shelter from the sideways wind and snow.  I remembered to use my "50p" off vouchers and soon was enjoying a cracking pale ale by Brightside in Radcliffe, which was the tram stop just before this one.  We'd come in via Manchester Piccadilly on the Metro, I hadn't even realised Bury didn't have a regular train service.  Dad's been asking if 'cleanliness' should be considered an important pub factor in my recent pub poll, and the sticky tables and post breakfast crumbs & sauce mean that this pub wouldn't have done well here, especially when an old man behind me swept them off the table into the back of my coat (I would have complained but he looked a bit frail). I've always thought Lancashire was one of the friendliest counties in the UK (Greater Manchester here if you are going by the Good Beer Guide) and a table of Shakers saw my Hull City top and started asking about the game and the masses of fans we were supposedly bringing.  I broke with tradition and declared I was confident of a win so glad that didn't come back to haunt me.  The police then did what they do best on football days, walking into a pub for no reason, looking lost, causing a lull in the atmosphere, and sheepishly leaving as quickly as they arrived.  It was time to go too but only after we declared this "best pint in a Wetherspoon pub for years".

Arriving at the Robert Peel for Spoons based fun.
794.  Automatic Cafe & Malt Real Ale Bar, Bury

A very short walk away, we found this scarily named place like some big clanking metal canteen, with a long thin bar and an echoing cacophony of coffee drinking females just as popular as the 'Spoons we'd just come from.  Dad found a tiny side room which should really have been the snug / the drinkers refuge but this to was light and airy with all tables laid out with knives, forks and serviettes (the latter strangely removed when Tom sat down with our drinks).  Staff were friendly, ales were good with Bury's own Silver Street doing a very warming rum porter perfect on a day like this,  This place made more sense when we realised it was a theatre bar and things took a turn for the worst when a portal to hell opened a load of kids exited from the morning matinee "Adventures with Sam on the Farm" (which as you can see from the pictures below, Dad & Tom unwittingly recreated).  Soon I had a pushchair wheeled into the back of my seat and we were surrounded, and it's fair to say we didn't belong and our presence was not entirely appreciated here.  The local paedophiles may see this as a kind of heaven, but we certainly didn't.  Interestingly, the Good Beer Guide does state "priority may be given to diners at lunchtime".  At least we weren't moved (more on that later!)  We were glad to get out, Tom shouting a hearty "goodbye" at the kids & coffee clones but getting no reply.

Tom thumbs up (playing Sam) and Dad (as Heidi the Hen) at the Automatic

Forget the mystery of the golden egg, what about the mystery of where Bury's old man pubs have gone.
795.  Clarence, Bury

"Oh well", we thought, as we walked the few short paces to our next "pub", "at least things can't be as bad as that!".  WRONG!  The street corner positioning and pub layout suggested a place that was once a no nonsense black pudding eaters boozer.  This was borne out by some placemats celebrating the pubs 110 year heritage, all of which now sadly lost apart from some very snazzy tiled flooring in the gents.   Initial signs were positive, as a friendly bar chap served us some top quality Silver Street ales.  But we thought we'd misheard when he charged us £9.70 for 2 pints and a pint of blackcurrant cordial (tap water, no ice) for Tom.  That is £3.50 for a pint of ale (bad but not unheard of, I live in York!) but £2.70 is the most Tom has ever been charged and he's been drinking blackcurrant with us for over 10 years now (he did get two straws, mind).  In fact, pubs have not charged 1p for this drink on three occasions recently (including in London).   We argued it down to £2.50 but it was little consolation.  We sat down and soon realised we were in a restaurant (and not the McDonald's variety) rather than a pub.  Dad's theory was that they didn't want to know about us drinkers, and had we been dining, Tom's drink would have cost a lot less.  A scary thought but one that resonated.  I shuddered to think what the 1st floor lounge and cocktail bar were like.  Having reached the latter stages of our pints, a nervous looking young barman appeared from the shadows and asked if he could "make a poilte request" i.e. move us for diners.  The cherry on the icing on the shit flavoured Clarence cake!  We pre-empted his request and were off anyway, Dad telling the man who would be claiming our seats to enjoy his "fart arsed ponce burger!"  Tom meanwhile told him the food was rubbish.  It was a good way to exit a truly horrific 'pub' experience.

Pubcurmudgeon writes about the issue of pub diners taking priority over drinkers here, check it out:

Nice from the outside - arriving at the Clarence.
We cut our losses after this and made a return visit to the excellent steam orientated railway pub The Trackside Bar.  It was heaving, not only full of Hull City fans but also some dirty  L**ds fans on the way to Bolton trying to avoid the long arm of the law.  Unless they thought Bolton Street meant they were in Bolton and not Bury.  Who can tell with that mob?  An 'orderly' queue was formed at the bar, not very pubby etiquette so I squashed my way in front and soon we were drinking excellent Caveman beers from Kent out on the freezing platform.

Tom & Dad enjoying the cold at Bury's Trackside Bar
We eventually got a seat indoors when the W.S. departed, it was easily the highlight of a traumatic pub day.  The match was a lot of fun, great old ground, nice straightforward win for the Tigers, and post match I nearly went to Whitefield or some new namby pamby place in Manc Victoria station but it didn't quite appeal, with another 'orderly' queue to the bar (is this a new Greater Manchester thing?) and couldn't see any cask.  

Despite everything, I'd have to say that every pint I had today was top quality, and some interesting local breweries on display.  It's enough to make me think "should I be using a "Good Pub Guide" rather than a "Good Beer" one?  But then, I'd probably just moan about poor beer quality all the time!  



  1. "A portal to hell opened" - I like your turn of phrase ;-)

  2. May I proffer a theory developed whilst in the bath? I will anyway. Bury Market has become famous, as has the town in general for its black pudding industry. This fame has brought in foodie tourists, egged on by poncy chefs on the television, some of whom are actually from such working class towns and should know better. Such trippers, largely from the Middlesex town of Chiswick (go on, prove it's not true), then need feeding, hence the sprouting of arse burger establishments. There will still be proper pubs to serve the residents of Bury, or I sincerely hope so anyway, it is just a case of tracking them down. I just hope your typical working class Bury housewife is able to buy a quarter of tasty and half a dozen breadcakes (should that be barm cakes in that part of the world? I'm not sure) for her husband's pack up the next week.

    On the pubs, having slept on it I'm going to be less harsh on the Automatic. It is what it is, it never was a pub and I don't think it claims to be one. It is more of a bonus that it serves ale, and we were perhaps unlucky with timing. The waitress was nice in confiscating cutlery, when I think she was there to take an order. A huge points deduction for the wedge of lime though. Entirely unnecessary.

    Now for the Clarence. This place did purport to be a pub proud of its history. I am aware that this blog is transmitted through social media, and that the pub use such, so if the management are reading please respond. This may be a rant, it is deserved, but it is intended as a constructive rant, the sort I would make down the pub if visiting just for a drink were allowed. How do you justify your pricing of a pint of blackcurrant squash as the most expensive encountered in the country? I'm not sure how your billing works, but the water will be either effectively free or close to it, the cordial would be around £2 public rate for the bottle, I daresay you can get it for a lower trade price. That is, say 20 pints to the bottle, so about £0.10 per pint. That is a mark up of around 2,500%.

    As for politely moving customers, if you only want diners in certain areas, then say so in advance, don't let them settle then play a round of 20 questions with them before moving them. We could quite easily have been planning to settle and put off such a decision through such a move. It could have cost you trade.

    I firmly refute the allegation that I told people the food was rubbish. I merely replied in the negative when asked whether I recommended the burger. Which was the correct answer, because having not had it I couldn't possibly recommend it.

  3. Tom is right of course.

    The Automatic is a diner/theatre bar and I defend to my deathbed it's right to be in the Beer Guide serving beer with breakfast (best anywhere).

    The Clarence is more difficult to defend. I had a quick half at 11am recently and loved the pub, pricing and lack of clear guidelines about seating are a different matter. You don't get places like the Clarence in Hull (do you ?)

    I think the point about food "residue" in Spoons is coming up too often at the moment.

    Good piece, by the way.

    Just read this back, really serious, must be drunk. Sorry

  4. Cheers Chaps! Yes, hard to be too harsh on Automatic when you have witnessed Clarence. If I'd had bury black pudding there, and the kids hadn't appeared, things may have been a lot more favourable. It's often so bound by "on the day" circs.

    Hull has a Clarence, well a New Clarence, it's like Wintersett's Anglers Retreat in comparison to Bury's Clarence!

    I've got plenty Spoons visits on the horizon so will be on the crummy food residue look out.

    Thanks for both your comments! Si

  5. Think I was a bit harsh in my comments whilst in the Clarence. In the end, they can run it as they want, BUT, if drinkers come in and sit down with a drink, then they must be allowed to choose their own time of leaving, without pressure. If the pub cannot allow that, then they must put up clear signs at the outset, such that would-be drinkers can decide whether to stay or not. Get your customer service act together, Mr Clarence.

  6. In many ways I agree with you Bernard. It is a question of honesty. If they had a sign that said 'Fart Arse Ponce Burger serving Nosebaggery - drinkers must stand outside - leave your wallet at the bar', or words to that effect, then whilst I still probably wouldn't like the place, I wouldn't be disappointed. It is the fact that they proudly proclaim to be a traditional pub proud of its heritage and then enforce such policies that largely upsets me.

    I do feel sorry for the tourists visiting the famous Bury market, presumably thinking they are experiencing a proper working class northern town with proper pubs and proper food. Particularly those who are too stupid to realise that black pudding thermidor, or whatever, doesn't fit such a description.