With lockdown being extended for another 3 weeks, Getintothis’ Andy Walker looks back fondly at some of Liverpool’s finest pubs and recommends local breweries who can deliver the golden nectar to your door.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely remember my dreams or my nightmares.
Sometimes I wish that I did. You know those cinematic ones that you can kinda control in some way? It’s like going to the cinema for free – and with you as one of the main characters.
Still, if it’s a nightmare maybe it’s best not to remember, hey?
But in all my dreams I have never had one where all the pubs were closed for days, then weeks on end. I mean I’m not sure I could sleep if I knew there was a risk of that.
And yet here we are. In that real life nightmare. The pubs are shut. The beers are getting flushed down the drains. And it’s already weeks in.
Forget the lockdown bollocks, we want lock-ins.
Of course we could see it coming. Each day, each meeting, the Government reeled out their stats and their methods: how we’d beat Coronavirus. Meanwhile Italy, Spain and the like all closing down.
It couldn’t happen here, could it? Damn straight.
In the final week of open hostelries, as the inevitable approached, I had to go out to support them: to see them one last time.
So it was that on the Wednesday and Thursday, before Boris and His boffins said social distancing needed to be extended to the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, I went into Liverpool for beer.
I really did go out without wanting to, just so I could say my farewells; and cry a little into a pint glass in-situ.
On the Wednesday evening I went into the Head of Steam. It was only 9pm and tellingly they’d already rung last orders to the six people there.
I headed up Bold Street next to the Dispensary – for a White Rat of course, then a quick one in the Roscoe Head before heading up to the Fly in the Loaf. The Fly was already shut for the night. It was ten o’clock.
My heart was heavy. I ended up with two pints in the Caledonia before the bus home.
As crawls go it felt a wee bit painful. It was like someone was lying in bed for their last hours and we were waiting for the inevitable (sorry, bad analogy, but it was).
I’d only visited a few pubs and there was a couple of telling omissions. I wanted to go into town even less on the Thursday, but felt duty bound to show my support. Or was it to hold the hands of the grieving?
I headed a different way this time, around Dale Street. The Ship & Mitre was quiet, with barely double figures in there: social distancing was not going to be a problem and the Excelsior was quieter still, despite selling their cask off at stupid pence a pint.
I helped them out by getting rid of one of their pints of Titanic Plum Porter, because I’m nice like that. I chatted to the bar man as he wiped the bar with disinfectant. The pub was pristine. Too clean. Any worse and it’d have stung your eyes.
Third up was across the road to Dead Crafty. Now I’m a cask man, but I recognise good beer and good people, and Dead Crafty have both, so it had to be visited. Besides, it was clearly open and there was no telling how many other bars would be.
The Lion Tavern was open but deader still; Liverpool’s just-crowned CAMRA Pub of the Year – what timing for the award. I had a pint but wasn’t even in the mood for the free juke box.
I needed to head to the Sanctuary on Lime Street. It’s one of my regulars and I didn’t want to miss it in case the pubs would be closed before I made it out again. The staff and regulars are friends; even if I do my best to put them off with the odd open mic performance.
On the way I noticed Dr Duncan’s was closed, so I popped in The Crown instead.
All this talk of social distancing and responsibility was getting to me. Was I being reckless going to pubs in a time of the virus? It’s less than four weeks – aka ‘a lifetime’ -ago and I didn’t feel so, though I still felt a bit guilty.
They kept saying the youngsters were ignoring it and would get the oldsters killed. Well hell, I’m in my 50s and in the Crown I was the younger demographic that night (apart from the stoic bar staff).
And so it was that I made it finally to the Sanctuary for a couple. There were three of us there, plus two bar staff. A suitable end to my two day wake.
And tehn came Friday. The 20th March: the announcement that all pubs and bars would be expected to close that night. It still sends shivers down my spine.
All those lovely days and nights; the great people who work in the bars and make the beer. All those empty buildings. It’s haunting. I didn’t go out on the Friday, I’d done my bit.
One landlady contacted me via Twitter to ask if I wanted a cask which would otherwise go to waste. I turned it down. I couldn’t drink it in a week – not without taking the week off anyway. Me turning down a cask of beer? Strange times indeed.
The two day pilgrimage around some of my favourite (and even the not-so-favourite) pubs of Liverpool was an unusual affair. Not exactly uplifting. But I was glad I’d done it. It was like my own version of ‘Last Chance to See…’.
I’ve hardly mentioned the beers. And of course they are integral to the way of life of a real ale fan, but they are not the be all and end all.
I’m not a ticker. I love the pubs, the ambience, the people – customers and staff alike. AND the beer.
I’m of the view that if I’m spending a few quid on a beer it’s got to be nice. Like many ale drinkers every time I go out it is not to go to one pub, it is to got to three or four.
And boy, I am missing them.
I’m still working as usual. My job has not been affected by this virus yet, but my social life obviously has. Jeez, I feel for anyone who is properly locked down. At least I get out five times a week to work.
I’m going crazy just missing the damn pubs.
As I say I love beer. Anyone who knows me probably has that as a (the?) defining feature of me – I’ve got a damn Twitter and Instagram account devoted to it.
But it’s not the beer I miss. It’s the pubs. I don’t drink much at home at all. A bottle here – and sometimes these days – a can there. It’s not the same drinking at home. It’s probably a good thing for me that I feel that way.
Well that was my pre-closure pub pilgrimage, what will the return be like?
Firstly, let’s really hope that all the pubs survive this. Margins are tight at the best of times, and this is as far from the best of times as I could have dreamt. But when they do reopen I for one will be taking a couple of days off to undertake the return pilgrimage.
It’ll be difficult as I’m sure they’ll be heaving – though many will be nervous about being in crowds again. And of course, when they first open it could be a 2m distancing thing. And a one in one out. Who knows?
But all things being equal my first days back will take in the Head of Steam, Bridewell, Dispensary, Roscoe, Grapes, Fly, Dickens & King, The Belvedere, Caledonia…. and the Sanctuary. I can’t wait. Oh, and maybe the Pen Factory (so many options). That will be some day out.
Then maybe on the second day I’ll return to the Dale Street for the Ship, Excelsior, Dead Crafty, Vernon, Lion, Hole in the Wall and Rigby’s. They’ll all need supporting when they come back and I for one will try and do my bit.
Look I can but dream – I just wish I could remember them.
Finally, that’s just the pubs, what they sell to us is the beer and we are lucky in Liverpool now to have so many good breweries on our doorstep. If this had happened a few years ago we’d only have had a couple to miss, but these days there are so many great little ones around Merseyside and the Wirral.
My favourites are Neptune, Chapter, Top Rope, Black Lodge and Peerless, and then there’s Brimstage, Love Lane, Melwood,Rock the Boat, Scrapyard,Southport, Parkers and Red Star.
I mean with these breweries you are spoiling us. Sorry if I’ve missed yours off, but you get what I mean, we have so many good options to keep it local – beer and pub wise.
So whilst I don’t drink much at home I will do a little bit and there are local supplies of local beers for lockdown.
So whilst you are waiting for our locals to reopen, if you want to go beyond Oakham Citra from your B&M (which ain’t a bad tipple), there are some options out there to slake your thirst. It’ll have the bonus of supporting local businesses too, so you can feel good twice.
Here are a few choice recommendations:
Black Lodge – Delivery only. Online order: www.blacklodgebrewing.co.uk
Carnival – Cans via online store: www.carnivalbreweing.me
Cask micro pub – Bottles and Cask cartons. (Deliveries 5-7:30pm). Check out their Twitter feed: @LiverpoolCask
Chapter – working on online shop as we speak. Check out: www.chapterbrewing.co.uk
Craft Taproom – Online store: crafttaproom.myshopify.com
Dead Crafty – Online order for delivery. Check twitter and Untappd for menu. Orders via email: [email protected]
Londis, Penny Lane – Shop. Get yerself down there. (Check stock updates on their Twitter account: @LondisPennyLane
Love Lane – Online shop for delivery or click and collect: lovelanebeer.com/
Red Star – Range limited: www.redstarbrewery.co.uk
Rock the Boat – Boxes available for delivery: www.rocktheboatbrewery.co.uk
Scrapyard (Wallasey) – Beers in a box (£20 for 5l). Check out their Twitter feed @scrapyard_bar
Ship & Mitre – Bottle sales. Email Steve for current list: [email protected]
Top Rope – online shop for deliveries: www.topropebrewing.com
Happy drinking. See you on the other side; and sweet dreams.