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.

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