Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chester Pub Reviews

Walking to the station in Liverpool I couldn't help but notice the number of scousers in suits. Women in Liverpool may be infamous for going to The Asda in their pyjamas but today they were out in their full WAG-a-like outfits. At the station it became obvious that it was race day in Chester. Oh dear. This was a bad day to get the train to Chester to visit the pubs. The train was packed with hilarious comedians, footballers wives and make-up that would have been a bit much at one of those American beauty pageants for 4 year olds. Finally the hot train arrived at Chester and the horde disgorged onto the platform. Luckily the races started at half two so they soon tottered off to the racetrack leaving the first pub suddenly much quieter.

The first stop for me and Kate (the still unpaid but official towpathtreks beer reviewer) was the Old Harkers Arms. This bar is in the basement of a large former warehouse. At canal level on the towpath side by City Road it was once a canal chandlers run by Mr Hawker.  The pub is fairly big and the decor is nice, we sat next to the wall of book shelves. 
There is a good selection of wines, spirits and beers. We had the Old Bear Goldilocks and Weetwood Ales Cheshire Cat. Both were fine but neither were particularly memorable. 
The Old Hawkers Arms has an impressive menu, plenty on there from 'Feta, potato and spinach filo pie with ratatouille' to 'Pan fried pigeon with beetroot and orange salad with blackberry dressing'. Regrettably we decided not to eat there and moved on to the next pub. 
Actually the next pub is just the other side of the bridge, the Canalside bar. We walked in, it was empty and had a lot of red walls and black furniture. We turned around and walked out and headed to the next bar along the canal.

The Mill Hotel and Spar is, unsurprisingly given its name,  a former canal-side flour mill. There is a narrow space for sitting out next to the waters edge. Unfortunately this quite nice hotel is stuck between a 1970s bridge built in the functional concrete Soviet style and a 1980's footbridge linking the hotel to a gym/pizzeria built in the 1980's bourgeois Capitalist style. Bridges aside the bar has a fair few beers on tap.

Kate had the Spitting Feathers (Special Ale I think) but its always a mistake to put something that dark in front of a daughter of √Čire if it isn't Guinness.
And even then you have to be pretty confident of its quality if you want to avoid upset. I had a bitter that was named after the old mill we were sat next to. The first mouthful was quite nice, but after that it was just the usual dishwater. I dont know why I bother, I should stick with the fizzy chemical laced commercial ciders and lagers. Which is was all they had at the next pub.

The Frog and Nightingale is probably one of the better known pubs in Chester, especially with boaters. There are usually a few boats moored up along here. They had Bombadier and not much else. I had a pint of Strongbow, in your face CAMRA! The DJ was obviously missing Ibiza of the mid-90s, so like everyone else we left him to play his records in the empty pub and went outside. We had left eating a bit late so the Frog and Nightingale won by default. I have to assume the bold sign proclaiming "Fresh and Imaginative Food" is from another time long gone. The burgers we had were not very imaginative. Plenty of other people seemed to be enjoying the food and the Fosters though. This is a city centre pub and if you dont expect much you will be fine here. 

the Frog and Nightingale

With everyone escaped from the Frog's handle-less toilet cubicles, we walked along the canal through the rock cutting below the city walls. I think this is one of my favourite bits of the canal network. I certainly visit it often. At the staircase locks there was a boat locking up. We had only seen a couple of boats on the move, mostly restaurant boats but one nice narrowboat from Riddlesden. Yes, there are some narrowboats out there that I like. We left the canal and went up into town to meet a fellow librarian for a drink in Alexanders and a couple of pitchers of cocktails in another bar. The races had finished and be-suited lads and highly heeled ladies were swarming back to the station. The Falcon was shut, the Brewery Tap full, the Cross Keys has closed down, so we squeezed into the Bear and Billet for a pint of IPA. 
Then it was back to Liverpool for far too many drinks in the Ship and Mitre and then, with my weariness amazing me, branded on my feet, home to bed through the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.

It was a shame the races were on but I still had a nice time. Other than the Bear and Billet in town, the only pub I would go back to is the Old Harkers Arms. Next time I will definitely eat in there, as long as people keep clicking the adverts on to fund these days out!