Monday 11 September 2017

BRAPA - The Revenge of the Sith-port

"Any pubs visited in this blog should be viewed as merely 'pre-emptive', and any similarity to pubs listed in the forthcoming 2018 Good Beer Guide is purely co-incidental."

I dusted mi' sen down from the exertions of the previous night's Derby debacle for an early morning NFFD trip to Southport, a place that me, Dad and Tom had particularly enjoyed on our first visit and were determined to come back and 'finish the job'.

I felt a bit fragile first thing, but my staged photo backfired when most people just thought I was trying to blend in with the folk of Merseyside (or Lancs, as non dedicated followers of the GBG would have you believe) ......

Tom, his beard and heavy coat were lurking at Southport station on arrival, and any hangover I'd been feeling was soon cured as he walked us the wrong way (my fault too for not checking Google Maps) in torrential rain to the first pub on Lord Street, the only Southport street that really exists.  Dad borrowed my hat but wore it in such a way that he managed to look like all the blokes from "New Tricks" in one go.   By the time we got to the pub, the sun was out and the seagulls were singing happy tunes about Tim Martin.

Sir Henry Segrave, Southport

First thing's first, this felt like a cleaner, better kept 'Spoons than it's town counterpart, the Willow Grove, which was just more scroatly all round.  Staff were friendly, jolly, if maybe a bit mad as we'll see later, the guy who served me had such a thick scouse accent, I thought a phlegmmy layer was going to end up in my pint, acting as the head.  In any case, this was a supreme quality pint, Dad couldn't even do his "Pint of Wetherspoons" joke which is never not funny, if he's reading.  A blackcurrant cordial shortage was dire news for Tom, but was soon rectified.  The only downer was a miserable old codger staring at me from along the bar, so I reacted in the only way BRAPA knows how and photographed the grumpy bugger and gave him a winning smile.  I was tasked with finding the quietest darkest corner of the pub, away from the many feasting twild-led families.  I thought I'd done well, til I realised it was on a walkway between kitchen and rest of pub!  But as Tom said, there is no such thing as a prime location to sit in Wetherspoons so I felt a bit better for that.  We discussed the Wetherspoons App, where you can order without going to the bar, as covered by proper bloggers.  The chat was occasionally punctuated by an absolute racket of crashing pans, loud music, and wailing voices coming from the kitchen - I swear the staff enjoy themselves far too much here!  One young Mum told her twild it was like a nightclub was next door, but twild didn't understand.  A bubbly little brunette barmaid fell over a step next to me cos it was disguised under carpet - "you wouldn't think I'd worked here for years hahaha" she screeched, and before you could chant "there's only one Donald Campbell" or "what's it like to see a land-speed record?", it was time to move on.

Grumpy old bugger

Some ales - but I forgot my vouchers today

A pre-11am 'Spoons scene, anything more beautiful?
Lord Street is quite long for a street, this was number 90 something, our next pub was five hundred and fifty something but we found it soon enough, and I was quite interested in this one.....

Peaky blinded by the sun.
Peaky Blinders, Southport

I'm a big fan of the TV show Peaky Blinders, and so must the owners of this place be, if my sources are correct, they paid a fair bit of cash to get the rights to use the name for their bar.  But that's the problem, it is a 'bar', light airy and modern, and whilst I've been to some delightful outer Birmingham pubs with backrooms, frosted glass and snob screens where you can imagine the Shelby gang doing some betting related deal, you can't really see it here, and but for one token photograph in the corridor near the gents, they've not really embraced the spirit of Peaky B, unless you count the use of the word "Beer Mongers" maybe, which I like, or the fact that Tom is like a slightly less derranged Arthur.  Not even a mobile Stella Artois bar outside really does it!  Despite the total lack of customers when we went inside, it took a painfully long time to be served, and it was done without a smile, just an instruction for someone to "put some music on, I hate this silence".  I tried to agree, but just got scowled at.   We sat outside but coming back from the loo, I noticed a guy in Paisley shirt who I recongised, yes Matthew 'SeetheLizards' Lawrenson had jetted in from Preston to join us on his first official BRAPA outing (we'd seen him at Glebe and White Star in Stoke, but this were just re-visits).  Back outside, a weird smell in the Southport air, perhaps paint, it lasted all day.  I'd just thought it was Wetherspoons earlier!  Weakest pub of the day in my opinion.

Capturing the true spirit of 1920's Birmingham
So just across the road and down the next street, was the next pub, and it would be memorable!

Guest House, Southport

"This has been in every GBG for as long as I can remember" said Matthew as we walked in (not that we can confirm or deny it is in 2018 edition), that is the kind of pub I need to be focussing on in the coming year, those long standing entries like Delph and Tandle thing and Littleborough, not yer flimsy fly by night Pie, Soup and Wank Kitchen Craft Houses.  This was a beautiful old pub, multi roomed, wood panelling, stained glass and a nice 50/50 split of clientele engrossed in Man City v Liverpool.  "Anything said against Manchester City will be met with violence" said the stony faced barmaid, and no one was arguing.  Two Everton fans seemed to agree, and a deathly hush descended on the pub as a Liverpool player was (perhaps harshly) sent off for a raised boot, which upset a load of old blokes near us.  A cockney Liverpool fan was even brave enough to have rant, he disappeared after that,   pretty sure the barmaid disposed of him.   I was so in amongst it cos I'd had to take my pint of vinegar back.  It was returned with good grace from the young bar lad holding the fort "That one was due to go anyway!" he cheerfully declared and turned the pump clip around.  Hold that thought.  Back at the table, a friendly but slightly strange old couple overheard me talking BRAPA, and joined in.  In a very "local bloke in Bollington" move, he declared this one of the 3 best pubs in the UK.  The other two also in Southport.  "And let me tell you something" he said staring into my soul "....this pub won 'best pub on Merseyside ..... AND I'M EVEN INCLUDING ST HELENS!"  He dramatically paused for effect, which was just the most hilarious moment of the day.  Yes, I'm aware St Helens has great pubs, but for a visitor, it sounded utterly ridiculous.  He then changed the subject "free chip butties on the bar lads, go and help yourselves!"  Dad was hesitant, the bloke confirmed "yes, even outsiders like you are allowed them."  And what wonderful chips they were.  I loved this place.  Sadly, it ended on something of a negative.  Dad had gone back up for half an ale, asked for one at the far end, but for some reason, our Man City murderess decided she wanted to give him the ale I'd taken back, pump clip turned back round!  So she did.  Dad later told me, half way into his half, that it was vinegar, which it was.  I told him to return it, he said 'too late'. So what happened?  Did they change barrel but still some 'bad beer residue?' Was it a misunderstand with bar-lad where she came back from disposing of cockney scouser body, and just turned it back round without realising it was off?  Or something more sinister(!)  Who knows but it was a sour note to end such a wonderful pub experience.

Matthew and Tom, being amazing probably.

Next up, we got to the station, sorted out some tickets for next leg of journey at what appeared to be a newsagents, and headed for 'Hillside' which seems to be Southport suburb.  I was looking for one of the two pubs, when I spied the other .....

"In the pines, in the pines, in the pines!" 
The Pines, Hillside

I marched in after the others and gave the barmaid a cheerful "hello!" and wave, helped by the fact that she had the whitest teeth this side of Liverpool.  We weren't inside long, the interior didn't exactly scream "stay in and love me" so we headed to one of these tables you can see on the left in the sun.  I had plenty troubling my mind though.  Firstly and most importantly, was this a micropub?  On the surface, it might look it, but the following things convinced me it wasn't.  Our beer came in Worthington's glasses, there were TWO toilets, and they found blackcurrant cordial with no effort.  Now I don't have a Micropub Bingo Card like I do with Ember Inns, but Matthew suggested it might be useful.   A table of twilds were crawling behind me, but out of sight out of mind.  Was this a former furniture shop?  If it wasn't, I'm seriously disappointed.  Batley has a Pine Studio, so am sure there has to be a good bet (just checked, it was a hairdressers - what?)  And why did I have a song in my head which went "the Pines, the Pines, the Pines".  Luckily whilst Tom and Dad looked vacant, Matthew knew what I was on about, an old American folk song that Kurt Cobain and Leadbelly did (not together, in Southport, that'd be just weird).

Oh well, the next pub was a matter of metres away and I'd like to take a moment to recognise the poor cyclist sat outside in the photo with a dog coming out of his head - without realising at the time, he was a kindred spirit ......

Grasshopper, Hillside

The scene was dominated by an enthusiastic five month old pup, who especially loved Dad despite the fact he'd kept his summertime Miami Vice glasses on which would be sinister to any cat who caught a glance of him.  Tom got some dog-love too (if that doesn't sound wrong), but when the attention seeking Twup spied my red BRAPA shirt, it visible cowered.  YES!  Matthew hung back a bit, obviously a #Catman.  The barmaid was a lovely lass, and in the early stages, the locals were a great bunch too.  She told me the cyclist outside had been traumatised by the Twup .... #Catman.  Only one toilet, yet Blackcurrant cordial was in evidence, I think this place definitely did enough to get micropub status.  (Like I make the rules!)   The beer I drank was "Faith, Hope and Charity",  I remember a song called this where the next line went "love is the greatest of the three" but no one was particularly amused with my recollection of this, and the ale wasn't a fave of mine.  We'd done well to go this long without a "pub character" coming along to irritate, especially this close to the west coast, and surprisingly perhaps, it took on the form of an American woman from Florida.  Whilst Dad slept behind his dark glasses and Tom analysed the 2018 GBG which doesn't actually exist, me and Matthew were left to witness the full horror.  In a normal pub, you could escape, or at least expect a few locals to roll eyes and mutter under their breath, but in a micropub, such fuckwittery is actively encouraged no matter how empty the vessel.   Her constant (and I apologise to my American readers for this accent) "Wellllll, gee-whizz, isn't he the most adorable puppy,  ahhhhm from Miami, isn't this swell, would you like to see a picture of my puppy you guys?" before showing pup pics to the pub on her phone was nauseating.  When I said I liked cats, she scowled at me.  Like proper daggers.  To take the edge off, Matthew noted Tom and Plato were practically the same person.  Then we left.  Amusing place.

Great barmaid, decent twup.

Plato knows he'll never quite be Tom.
There was one pub left, to complete the wholly trinity (or however many six is) and we decided that walking from Hillside to Birkdale was a better idea than getting a train one stop.

Birkdale, only famous to me for a golf course, seemed very well heeled with some posh houses and a trendy little shopping arcade.  Blink and you'd miss the pub, because it looked like an extension of the next door cheese shop, and the only sign was on the awning outside the arcade, and not on the building itself ......

Matthew's shirt upstages front of pub.
Barrel House, Birkdale

After a few pints, it was quite hard to follow the whole "this pub only exists because of Sainsbury's forcing the newsagents to shut down" tale, but they seemed to believe it, as one of the pubs big features was a newspaper rack which included the Sun which I believe wouldn't be allowed much closer to Liverpool.  A little fluffy dog was blocking EXACTLY the same space the one in the last pub did, between bar and loo.   This felt less of a micropub, and more of a cafe bar.  Only 2 ales on, seemed a bit of a token gesture.  Having said that, it was my favourite ever pint of anything by Lancaster, superb quality too.  Dad was on the coffees, plenty of it ("are you reading Mother BRAP?"), suggesting if there was a good coffee guide, this pub would be in it.  In an emotional moment, I got the creamcake that I'd been craving since King's Stores in London when Dad and Tom stole my piece between them, and again we had to/wanted to sit outside.  What can you say?  If these last three pubs are all still open and serving ale by 2030, I will buy anyone reading this a pint in the first month of the year providing I see you in a Norfolk pub after 10pm.

"Chance in here would be a fine thing!"

A nod to the newsagents of our past

Tom considers a boutique haircut in Birkdale

Oh dear!
 We marched back up the hill (if there was one) to Birkdale station, said cheerio to our mates Tom and Matthew, and were soon back in Manc Victoria, via Southport.  Time for more coffee, at the end of a lovely lovely day.  Good company, really like Southport and this part of the world.  

I'm back in West Yorkshire on Tuesday, doing two of the last eleven pubs on that secret list.  And Thursday sees the end of this bloody embargo,  phew.  How tight lipped I've had to be ;)



  1. Argh!

    I had high hopes for the second one when I saw it was called Peaky Blinders but it would appear that you can't judge a book by its cover (or a pub by its name).

    That Guest House looks a cracker though... apart from the - literal - sour note at the end.

    Glad to see the weather smartened up to make it a luverly day.


    1. I thought of you when I realised I'd be visiting a Peaky Blinders - but what a let down! Should really be trying to do such a good programme justice.

      I noticed Guest House in my 1974 GBG the other day, so it's obviously been good for a while. I'll overlook the beer problems on this occasion.

      Thanks as always! Si

  2. That codger can't be a kindred spirit of mine as I think people who stand at the bar in Wetherspoons should be shot.

    1. I agree, and think that about most pub situations, unless it's a really quiet day and they are friendly to everyone, and 'adding something' to the ambience.