Monday, 20 March 2017

The Corridor, Southport

The Corridor, Lord St, Southport
Several friends have recently been telling me that I should have a look at the Corridor on Lord Street, Southport, so I recently decided to wander in. I thought I'd call in when it would be quiet on a Sunday afternoon, only to find it was heaving. It was opened in September last year and is a very narrow venue, hence the name, with a long bar at the far end, all done out in an attractive cafĂ© bar style. There were four real ales on handpump: the two regulars, Wainwright and Hobgoblin Gold, and two guests, Salopian Oracle and Rock The Boat Dragon's Teeth, a chocolate stout. I had both guest beers and found them on very good form.

Other drinks include five different lagers, two keg ciders and a craft pale ale from Shipyard. The wine list offers 21 choices, there is a wide selection of spirits and liqueurs, and they offer a range of cocktails too. If you want a hot drink, you can choose from breakfast tea in a proper teapot, fruit teas, hot chocolate and a choice of coffees.

The food is popular here and, although I didn't eat there myself, the meals I saw looked very appetising. The menu has a good choice and is reasonably priced, including a two course Sunday menu at £9.95. Food is served until 7pm in the week, and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The brunch menu is available from 10am until 3pm.

There is outdoor seating to the front, free Wi-Fi, and they have recently introduced an acoustic and open stage night every Thursday evening. Children are welcome here. The opening hours are 11am to 11pm, except on Friday and Saturday when they close at 1am. They have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a website will be on-line shortly.

The Corridor is at 573 Lord Street, Southport, PR9 0BB. It is on most major bus routes and the railway station is less than 10 minutes' walk away. Street parking only (pay and display until 6pm). Tel: 01704 533599.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Johnny B. Goode

I've just had a wonderful evening in the Guest House playing 50s and 60s rock & roll and pop music; quite a few of my friends turned out to watch, people ended up dancing, and the whole night left me with a buzz. Then I got home and learnt the great Chuck Berry had died. John Lennon once said that if you had to have another name for rock & roll, it would have to be 'Chuck Berry'. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, seeing that he was 90, but one of our few surviving links to the golden age of rock & roll has been broken.

If rock & roll had only ever produced one song, it would be this.

Friday, 17 March 2017

From vaping etiquette to the decline in smoking

In Whitby in 2012, I was at the bar in the Endeavour in Church Street when I thought I saw a plume of smoke from the woman next to me, so I glanced over and saw that she was vaping. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I admitted I had; she showed me the e-cigarette which I looked at with interest because I hadn't then seen one close up before.

How things have changed in five years. I heard on Radio 4 today that there are now 2.2 million vapers, and it has become so common that Debrett's has issued an etiquette guide to vaping. Seeing that vaping is completely lawful, it is interesting that so many places have decided to ban it, including a lot of pubs, whereas prior to 2007, every pub I knew, other than food-driven ones, permitted smoking. I put the vaping bans down, partly to the difficulties in distinguishing smoking from vaping across a busy pub, but also to a change in attitudes since the smoking ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago.

Part of that change is due to the fact that no pub goer under the age of 27 years 8.5 months will have experienced smoking legally in pubs, restaurants or any other enclosed public spaces. It's not something they've been deprived of, because for them it was never there in the first place. Another factor is that smoking is generally in decline, with only 16.9% of adults in the UK now smoking, as compared to 21% at the time of the ban, and more than 50% of males and more than 40% of females in 1974.

The patchy tolerance of vaping suggests to me that if the smoking ban were to be relaxed, many public places, including pubs, would not now allow it to reappear on their premises. There would be a diminishing incentive to do so because, as the number of smokers dwindles, so does the the value of the smokers' pound. There is also the point, often made by opponents of the ban, that non-smokers put off by the presence of smoke didn't all flock to pubs in droves after 1 July 2007. I'd suggest that the same would now apply to smokers if the ban were eased; in both cases, the people concerned have simply shed the habit of pub going and developed alternative social lives.

However, I doubt smokers will be given the chance. The leader of the only political party committed to lifting the smoking ban has become a laughing stock after his antics during the recent Stoke by-election, and there is no will in any other party to change things back. I wrote in February 2010 about a survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which showed, among many other findings, that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs. Seven years later, I'd be very surprised if that figure wasn't the same or, as seems likely, even higher.

My position has always been consistent. I am not anti-smoking, but I dislike having to share the habit. I support the smoking ban as it stands and wish to see it neither eased - nor extended.

You've been warned!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tap & Bottles song sessions

The Tap & Bottles in Southport has asked me to run an acoustic song night once a month. This will take place on the final Monday of each month from about 8.30pm. Unlike an open mike night, there will be no amplification. It will be open to all types of music, rather than being confined to one specific genre.

The Tap & Bottles always has some interesting real ales on, as well a large selection of bottled beers - hence the name, of course. It was a micropub, but since it has expanded into the shop next door (which is where the song session will take place), I'm not sure how accurate that term is any more.

The first song session will be on Monday 27 March. The Tap & Bottles is at 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN. All welcome either to perform or just listen.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A birthday party and a festival

A couple of items of local news:

Andrew at the Grasshopper micropub at 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport, tells me that they will be celebrating their first birthday this weekend from Friday 17 March. They will be getting some special beers and entertainment for the occasion. The 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

Formby's Red Star Brewery, which was opened in 2015, and Formby Cricket Club (established 1865) are working together to present the 1st Formby Beer Festival from 31 March to 2 April, with more than 20 cask ales and a selection of ciders. It's at Formby Cricket & Hockey Club, Cricket Path, Formby, L37 7DP, a short walk from the main bus routes. More details and tickets here.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Support music venues against NIMBYs

Every so often, you hear about people moving into a neighbourhood, only to begin complaining about something already well established in the area, whether it be church bells, a factory, a music venue or, in the case of Southport, the planes from RAF Woodvale which has been there since the Second World War. I  wrote about this in July last year.

Music venues are particularly at risk from complaints by new neighbours. While I appreciate that music in pubs might not be everyone's cup of tea, to complain about something that has existed before you moved into an area is quite selfish, and has sometimes caused long-standing music venues to stop presenting music or to close down altogether. Surely it makes more sense to check out an area before committing yourself to moving there?

Here is a petition to Parliament on the subject.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

30th Wigan Beer Festival

The Wigan pieman celebrates his 30th
I returned to Southport yesterday after working for two days at the 30th Wigan Beer Festival. My first task was on the judging panel to help choose the beers of the festival, and then I was mainly on the doors. As always, I enjoyed my time volunteering there.

The funny thing about working at a beer festival is that you seem to end up drinking rather less than you might expect, considering the amount of time you're in there, mainly because the beer is an adjunct to the task you've been assigned.

How busy you are varies, sometimes with extreme peaks and troughs. On the admissions door at Wigan, we had periods of relative quiet punctuated by frantic activity each time the bus came in from Wigan town centre. As the festival venue, a sports hall, is more than a mile from Wigan town centre, the local bus preservation trust provides a free bus service to and from the festival (voluntary donations are encouraged towards their costs).

I think I've commented before that Wigan seems to attract a more diverse range of drinkers than most festivals I've been to, with groups of young women coming in without males in tow, which I've found to be less common elsewhere. Okay, the gender balance is still skewed towards men, but it's still noticeably different. Contrary to some people's expectations, they don't all gravitate towards the cider and perry bar. The DW Stadium is just across the road, so we had a large number of rugby fans, male and female, both before and after the match to add to the mix.

I didn't get to try very many beers, but of those I did try, I found that Waimea, a 5.2% single hop IPA from Manchester's Blackjack Brewery particularly suited me. I don't know how it's pronounced, but my guess is 'why me'.

I find the Wigan festival is a very friendly one, both the other volunteers and the public. Looking forward to next year already.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lion singaround starts again

The Lion, near Moorfields railway station
I'm pleased to announce that my monthly singaround in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool can begin again next week on Thursday 9 March at around 8.30 pm. As I've written previously, the pub was closed for months after a disagreement between the licensee and Punch Taverns. It reopened in January but then closed again for redecoration.
Yesterday it reopened permanently, we hope, and a few of us were there to celebrate the good news. It is a very attractive pub with etched glass, old tiles, wood panels, and a good choice of eight real ales.

All welcome next week, not just singers.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

COLAPS at the Grasshopper in Southport.

Views of the Grasshopper, home of COLAPS
I have been sent this information about a new beer appreciation group being set up in Southport. It will be a branch of Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood, (SPBW) which I joined many years ago at a CAMRA beer festival, but I let my membership lapse as it had no local presence in Merseyside or Lancashire at that time. That now looks like changing.

A new branch of SPBW is being formed in Southport by a group of local beer enthusiasts. The branch will cover Merseyside and the Coast of Lancashire and inland areas served by transport links to Southport and will name itself the Coast of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society or COLAPS for short. 

SPBW was founded in 1963 and predates the beer campaigning group CAMRA by several years. Whilst it shares many of the same aims as CAMRA, the emphasis is less on political lobbying and campaigning, and more on the social side of things. The intention is to promote good beer by drinking the stuff.

The new branch describes its aims as:
  1. to stimulate the brewi ng and encourage the drinking of traditional draught beer, drawn direct from the cask by gravity, or by a hand pump, or by other traditional methods. 
  2. to lend support to those brewers who brew good quality cask conditioned beer and those pubs who serve cask conditioned beer in excellent condition. 
  3. to encourage consumption of cask conditioned ales served in convivial environments without modern distractions such as television, loud music and gambling machines.
  4. to encourage the revival of traditional serving methods such as the use of wooden casks for beer dispense. To support and encourage breweries and pubs who use wooden casks and coopers that produce them.
The first meeting of the group is at 7.30pm on Monday 6 March at The Grasshopper Micropub, 70 Sandon Road, Southport. Everyone with an interest in beer or having a good time is welcome to attend. They plan to have regular monthly meetings on the first Monday of every month at the Grasshopper and a series of guest speakers are lined up.

Chairman Simon Barter said, "We want to make the meetings as friendly and welcoming as possible. They will be more social than procedural. We want people to come along and pitch in with ideas for outings to great pubs, breweries and beer festivals and the like."

Monday, 27 February 2017

Thomas Rigby's, Liverpool

Thomas Rigby's in Liverpool
Just around the corner from Moorfields railway station in Liverpool is the Thomas Rigby's on Dale Street. The impressive exterior of this pub was clearly visible in scenes in the 1985 film, Letter To Brezhnev, a romantic comedy made in Liverpool. The interior is very atmospheric and is divided into three rooms: a dining parlour, a large bar and a room to the rear, all wood-panelled. The main bar has beams supported by columns, and the rear room which features an impressive old fireplace is called the Nelson Room, after a local legend that the naval hero supped in the pub.

At the back there is an enclosed courtyard, very pleasant on a warm day, which Rigby's shares with its sister pub, the Lady of Mann, more of which in a future column.

The pub has six handpumps serving regular beers, Okell's Bitter and Okell's IPA, and four guests which on my visit were Banks's Sunbeam, Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Brass Castle Tail Gunner and Okell's Ale Smoked Porter. The IPA had run out when I called in with a new cask waiting to go on. The pub has been awarded Cask Marque accreditation for the quality of its beers.

The main bar
The pub also offers more than 20 bottled British and foreign beers, a choice of gins, a menu of 26 gin balloons, garnished with a range of fruits, and even a variety of tonics. Two craft beers on offer are Pint from Marble Brewery and Shipyard American Pale Ale.

Food is available 11:30am to 6:45pm Sunday and Monday, and 11:30am to 7:45pm Tuesday to Saturday. Children are allowed in the dining parlour. The pub has free WiFi, Sky and BT Sports (they will be showing the David Haye fight on Saturday 4 March). Accessibility: the toilets are down a flight of stairs. 

The pub opens between 11:30am and 11:00pm every day. It is at 23-35 Dale Street, Liverpool, L2 2EZ, on several bus routes; tel: 0151 2636 3269. Rigby's is on Facebook. Sorry: no dogs.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Breaking news: the Pope is a Catholic

Say 'please' ...
I read on the Alcohol Research UK website that a study has indicated that posters encouraging moderate drinking are largely ignored in a pub environment. Well, knock me down with a feather!

Dr Daniel Frings, Associate Professor of Psychology at London South Bank University, who led the study, said, "On average, our Pub-Lab volunteers aimed nearly eight times as many glances at their own drinks than at responsible drinking posters." Well, obviously. You don't go to pubs to read posters; you go for a drink.

I haven't wasted any money researching this, but I think I can state with some certainty that at football matches, fans spend very little time reading the adverts all around the edge of the pitch. Any cash-strapped university department that would like to charge the FA a small fortune for researching this phenomenon is welcome to the idea.

Why aren't we avidly reading these posters?
  • The 'moderate drinking' message has become somewhat self-defeating. Many people don't believe the 14 units per week limit that the anti-alcohol campaigners vacuously chant. I have written a number of times before, most recently here, that the limits are largely discredited, and rightly so. If one part of your message lacks credibility, then so will the rest.
  • People often don't notice posters, especially when there are so many displayed, or there are other visual distractions such as pictures or television, with the result that individual posters just get lost. CAMRA beer festivals make the same mistake; they put up far too many posters so that hardly any get noticed, let alone read.
  • Simplest of all: adults are bored stiff of being nagged, especially when they have gone out to enjoy themselves.
There could be some money in this: I wonder how you go about getting a grant for researching "the bleeding obvious"?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Don't you know who I am?

Time to relearn the lyrics, I think
Liam Gallagher, former lead singer with Oasis, has slagged off The Elizabethen, a Lees pub in Stockport, because it refused service to his brother (Paul, probably) because he was wearing tracksuit bottoms. He launched what the Manchester Evening News described as a '"Twitter tirade" against the place, laced with his usual coarse invective, telling his many followers to "swerve" (avoid) the place. An individual member of staff was singled out for crude abuse.

The spectacle of a foul-mouthed multimillionaire publicly abusing someone who is probably on little more than the minimum wage, and who has no effective way of responding, is unedifying in the extreme; I'd call it bullying. I suspect Gallagher sees himself as something of a working class hero, but I see him as just another rich man who expects locked doors to be opened and rules to be waived just because of who he is.

If a pub operates a dress code or any other rules that you don't like, just go somewhere else; a refusal of service on such grounds does not merit this gross overreaction. Sounding off to your mates is one thing, but to your 1.43 million Twitter followers is quite another; there will have been better ways to complain, but as they would probably not have involved abuse and swearing in public, they'd have been uncharted territory for him. 

Word has certainly got around: Oasis fans have sprung to his defence, one even describing him as "Manchester royalty", although others have taken the mick, and several newspapers have reported the spat. With any luck, it will be a storm in a teacup, but if because of his Twitter outbursts business declines in this pub and people lose their jobs, do we seriously think Gallagher would accept he's in any way to blame? *

A spokesperson for the pub said, concluding rather neatly I thought: "Overall this [dress code] is something our regulars and locals want, however, occasionally it has proved unpopular with one or two people but we don’t look back in anger.” Take note, Liam!

* Alternatively, some people may be attracted to a Gallagher-free zone.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Old Roan memories

The Old Roan (picture borrowed
from the petition set up to save it)
Unusually, I was driving towards Liverpool last Thursday (I almost always go by rail nowadays) via Aintree. I used to drive this route every day for 13 years when I worked in Norris Green, Liverpool 11, until I transferred to Southport in 1993. I was expecting changes, and there were certainly plenty. However, what I wasn't expecting to see that the Old Roan pub was boarded up. Checking on-line later, I saw that it has been closed for 3 or 4 years and is up for sale for conversion to retail premises. There was an unsuccessful petition (now closed) to Sefton Council Licensing Unit to allow the pub to reopen.

This pub was something of a highly visible landmark, giving its name to the surrounding area and to the nearby railway station;  I don't recall it ever selling real ale. However, when I worked in Norris Green, I'd sometimes offer Wally Warren, the deputy manager, a lift if we were leaving work at the same time - we both tended to work late; he lived near the pub and it saved him a slow bus trip. Sometimes he'd offer to buy me a pint, and in we'd go. I was the union rep in the office, but no cosy deals were stitched up there.

For a while, we had a manager who seemed to have a skill in getting on everyone's nerves. After he'd been moved on, Wally told me that he'd learnt about our occasional drinks and asked, "Is it fruitful?" Wally replied that I didn't let slip anything that I shouldn't, and neither did he as a member of management; he added that the boss never trusted him again.

In negotiations, Wally and I crossed swords on several occasions, but it wasn't personal. He was an old-school manager with integrity, even if he could be a bit grumpy on occasions; overall the staff liked him and tended to tolerate his little foibles with a knowing smile. I learnt a few years ago that he'd died; if I'd known I'd have gone to his funeral.

As I drove past the Old Roan, all these thoughts came back to me and, although the beer wasn't up to much, I look back on those pints in that pub with fondness and, I'd go as far to say, friendship.

One of these occasions was the last time I drank a pint of keg lager. Wally bought it for me in error and offered to replace it when he realised his mistake, but I just accepted it. After all, it wasn't as though the Old Roan's bitter was much better.

Cheers, Wally!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A penny for the pub, mister?

With the Chancellor's Budget less than a month away, CAMRA is campaigning to keep the price of the British pint down by calling on the Treasury to reduce beer duty by 1p ahead of the Budget on the 8 March. With higher inflation expected in the next year (it rose to 1.8% last month), the cut will help to cap the price of beer and benefit the pubs and brewing sector.

Although in recent years there have been three 1p cuts and one freeze in beer duty, British drinkers still pay among the highest rate in Europe at 52.2p per pint, compared to other big brewing nations such as Germany and Spain, where duty is less than 5p a pint.

The three cuts have been good news for drinkers, pubs and the Treasury, helping to limit price rises and protect the beer, brewing and pubs sector which supports nearly 900,000 jobs and contributes £23.6bn to the economy every year.

As Southport MP John Pugh has pointed out, pubs are economically important locally. He cites statistics published by Oxford Economics last year demonstrating that Southport’s 54 pubs directly or indirectly support 1,184 jobs across the pub and brewing industry, and contribute £25 million to the local economy.

In a further effort to help pubs, CAMRA is calling for a reduction of up to £5000 in business rates for pubs in England which would allow pub owners to reinvest the additional funds back into the business.

Colin Valentine, CAMRA's National Chair says: "Previous cuts to beer duty have benefited beer drinkers and supported significant growth in the brewing industry. However, we as a nation are still paying a notable amount - especially in comparison to our European neighbours. At the same time, pubs are confronted with higher taxation and cost … We are simply calling for fairer measures for beer drinkers and publicans." 

This is an article I recently wrote for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter.

Monday, 13 February 2017

The Pageant, Kew

The Pageant in Kew
In the heart of Kew, hidden from the rest of Southport, you will find the Pageant. On the outside it is an attractive modern pub, about 30 years old, with an outdoor seating area and a large car park. Inside it is open plan, pleasantly decorated, with a bar area to the right as you enter and a lounge and dining area to the left.

I visited the pub with Mike Perkins who used to write this column [in the local paper]. The pub has Sharp's Doom Bar as standard with a changing guest beer, which was Robinsons Dizzy Blonde when we called in; we tried both and were happy with them. As well as the usual choice of pub drinks, they do have a few specialities, such as Hendrick's Gin. Prices seemed reasonable too.

The pub serves food every day from noon to 9.00pm (7.00pm Sunday) and there is a range of special offers on during the week, such as children eat for £1 on Wednesdays, two meals for £12 Monday to Saturday, and a Sunday roast dinner for £6.95. You can book the pub for your function or group event.

Wednesday is quiz night, Friday karaoke, and Saturdays are themed music nights, either by musical style or by era; the last Saturday of the month features a live music act. In the bar area, there is a pool table, darts, and TV sports. 

Anthony, the new licensee, took over in November and said that his intention was to make the pub a part of the local community with a range of food and drinks his customers wanted, a variety of functions, and welcoming children - dogs too in the bar area. He wishes to encourage groups in the community to make use of the pub.

The Pageant is at 70 Folkestone Road, Southport, PR8 5PH. Tel: 01704 544244. Their website is here [under construction], and they are on Facebook. The 300 and 44 buses pass nearby on Town Lane, less than 10 minutes' walk away. They open at noon every day and close 11.00pm Monday to Thursday, 2.00am Friday and Saturday and 10.00pm Sunday.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Keep Calm and Ukulele On

EDDA Community Arts and Library will be presenting a ukulele concert performed by the two ukulele groups that are based there: The Tuesday Troupe and The Friday Gang.
  • Tuesday 21 February.
  • 7:30 pm.
  • Edda Community Arts and Library, Liverpool Avenue, Ainsdale, PR8 3NE.
  • 01704 578003.
Admission is free, and there may be a bottle bar. All welcome.