Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A tale of two cities - and farewell to the Everyman

OK, looks like my piece on Denmark will have to wait yet again. Last weekend saw me just outside Manchester on family duties but, on Monday, I managed to sneak off into the city centre to meet up with ReluctantScooper and Tandleman for a jaunt round a few of the choicer spots, starting at the Marble Arch. I won’t bang on about the boring details but suffice it to say there’s no finer way to spend an afternoon than sinking a few good (and occasionally not so good) beers in convivial company. Those of you who have been following the CAMRA real ale vs “craft keg” storyline will know that Tandleman is firmly on the real ale side of the fence. I tend, albeit with no great conviction, towards a broader church. But chewing the fat with fellow enthusiasts brought it home to me that we are essentially a pretty like-minded bunch and our differences are comparatively trivial. After all, we all want more good beer don’t we? Even if we have trouble defining what exactly that is and even if it doesn’t have a formal organisation to promote it.

On Tuesday I moved on to Liverpool, where I spent my university years in the 70s and had barely revisited since. So I set about hitting a few of my old favourites, not to mention a gaggle of places that either didn’t exist or bypassed my radar way back when. What struck me was how little many of the pubs had changed. Rigby’s, the Lion, the Hole In The Wall (still has the cellar upstairs apparently), the White Star, the Roscoe Head, Ye Cracke, the Philharmonic and Peter Kavanagh’s (it was called the Grapes in the old days and is now in the "Georgian Quarter" apparently) were still much as I remembered them. Except that the beer is way better now than it was then. Great boozers all. And great boozers is what Liverpool does really well. Sure, a few of them have made a nod in the direction of food. And you do often get the opportunity to booze in unspoiled, idiosyncratic and often ridiculously opulent surroundings. But, at heart, they are still boozers through and through. And long may it continue. I must remember not to leave it another 30 years before visiting again.

Sadly, even if it is not strictly a boozer, one place that will not continue as it is much longer is the Everyman Bistro. This Liverpool institution, located in the basement of the eponymous theatre, will close it’s doors for the last time in July as the building is to be demolished and rebuilt. I don’t remember it being a particularly inspiring beer venue in my day but it has certainly been a Good Beer Guide stalwart since the 80s. What you did get was cheap bistro-style food in a bohemian, artsy atmosphere where it was possible to rub shoulders with the likes of Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. Ideal first date territory, at student-friendly cost, obviously. If you didn’t have the money for the food, you’d wander down the road to O’Connor’s Tavern (now some sort of fancy dress emporium) for a drink and blather on about how Ginsberg described it as the "the centre of theconsciousness of the human universe". That sometimes worked too. Not as often though. Or, if you were flush, maybe the new-fangled Kirklands Wine Bar (now the Fly In The Loaf pub). Like CAMRA, the Everyman Bistro reaches it’s 40th birthday this year. What a shame it will be it’s last. Whilst there will be a bar/restaurant of some description in the new Everyman when it reopens in 2013 (supposedly), the founders of the Bistro, who are still in charge all these years on, have decided to call it a day and I very much doubt that any replacement will be able to come close to recreating the vibe of the original. Which, like many of the pubs I visited, was much as I remembered it too

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to Belgium for a long weekend to mark the demise of another venerable original – De Gans in Huise, a classic Belgian country pub which will close its doors for good shortly. I’m reliably informed that there’s still plenty of vintage lambic in the cellar so I’m sure a splendid, if possibly rather sentimental, time will be had.

So it looks like Denmark will have to wait again. I’ll probably have forgotten what I intended to write when I finally get round to it.

Friday, 3 June 2011

This blogging lark seems easy enough

Well, here I am with a blog. That wasn’t too difficult. Easy as pie to set up really. I’ve been blathering on inanely about beer in one way or another for years so I suppose this blogging lark should come as second nature. Wonder why I never got round to it before? For one thing I invariably get into cutting edge (for me at least) technology just as it’s becoming retro for pretty much anyone of a more recent vintage. Also, I’m just a bit too lazy.

But something happened recently that galvanized me into action. As CAMRA celebrated its 40th birthday (and maybe entered mid-life crisis territory?) its chairman took the opportunity in his address to the AGM to reaffirm its stance on the promotion of anything other than “real ale” and took a bit of a pop at those who have been fuelling murmurings that it might review it’s position. He named and shamed the group who he held responsible for these seditious rumblings, pointing the finger firmly at the “the bloggerati”. I rather doubt he intended the moniker to be taken as a compliment but it sounds pretty good to me.

I’ve never had the privilege of being called an “ati” of any description before (or noisome for that matter). Sure, I’ve read a fair few books but I can’t recall anyone ever describing me as one of the literati. And (you may have already guessed) glitterati is completely out of the question. But, I can get an “ati” just for some inane blathering about beer? I can do that. Just the job.

So should I wade in to the “craft keg” debate here? I think not. As usual, I’m a bit slow off the mark and others who are far more practised at this blogging malarkey, not to mention rather more eloquent have got there first.

What I will say is that I have the greatest respect for what CAMRA has achieved in the past 40 years. In fact, we nearly share an anniversary, as 31 May 1971 was the day on which I sunk my first pint of real ale. Not that I knew it was real ale at the time as I’d never heard of the term, or of CAMRA. I have certainly not achieved as much as CAMRA in the intervening 40 years but I like to think I have moved with the times, if sometimes a little slowly. I’ll raise a glass to CAMRA in the expectation that it will do so too.

What I will be writing about next - if I get round to it of course - is the week I’ve just spent in Denmark (and a teensy bit of Sweden), with Copenhagen beer festival as its centrepiece, enjoying some very fine beers indeed. Of course, very few of them would meet the CAMRA definition of real ale. But they were mainly foreign muck so what can you expect?

chrisobeer has left the building

Heading North for a few days for a family shindig. Hopefully, might get to a few decent boozers. My piece on Copenhagen will have to wait.