Friday, 21 September 2012

A real ale way to leave

There are so many opposing factors, variables and considerations which combine to make the happy event of wishing a colleague well, a potentially disastrous exercise.
Some people want to go for food, while others want to stop in for a quick drink and dash off.
There are those who crave chrome bars and over-priced lager while sensible folk prefer good pubs and real ale.
Then you have got to keep an eye out for the pint-pinchers who only go in pubs when obliged for wakes and leaving dos.
Once a few dusty moths have escaped from their wallet they will either sulk in a corner and moan or get outrageously drunk, make a pass at their boss and vomit over the rest of the group.
Last weekend I was in Preston for two consecutive leaving-do nights out and more than a little apprehensive at least one of them would go to form.
On Friday Michelle from LEP Towers was out to celebrate her return back to the wrong side of the Pennines with a good few pints of real ale.
Her department contained a slightly older crowd who have been swilling ale in Preston's best pubs for a generation or two, so I felt confident I was on safe ground.
I caught up with them at the Black Horse in Friargate at around 8.15pm where they were quietly making their way through the eight ales on offer.
I joined them in their discerning pursuit to find their preferred ale and before I knew it, everyone else had gone, the pub was shut and we were being heaved out the door.
After spending the following day with lead weights dragging on my head I was back in the Black Horse to celebrate Miss Chardonnay Sidekick's three-month sabbatical to India where she will be building wells, toilets and cask pumps (the latter was the suggested usage for my donation).
With a larger, younger crowd I expected us to be away from the pub and off into the bright lights of the city quickly. But a poorly coordinated multiple rounds system meant we were all going to the bar at different times and the night once again slipped away.
By 11.30pm I was determined my entire weekend should not be spent in just one pub and lead the stumbling rabble over to the Wellington in Glover's Court, for yet more real ale and the house's finest cocktails for Miss Chardonnay Sidekick (Bombay Smash).
Buoyed by our adventurous voyage across the city we resolved the Warehouse should be the final destination for a night of good music and awful dancing.
But when we got outside I heard the screech of taxi tyres and realised the group had thinned to just three.
So, into the trusty Old Dog it was for one last ale to make sure the lead weights would be fixed to my head the following morning.
Having spent an entire weekend observing the intricacies and pitfalls of a leaving-do night out I am now planning my own for two weeks today.
Having been lured by the promise of a world of wonderful pubs, my liver and I are moving up to the Lake District, so this will be my last real ale ramble. 
Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Golden Ball, Liverpool Road, Longton

After a week in Budapest spent saturated in the finest glasses of white wine 80p could buy, Miss Chardonnay Sidekick was well and truly off the sauce.
So she kindly clocked on for taxi duties to search out a good pub in the countryside.
For a couple of years now I have been half-heartedly toying with the idea of walking the 73-mile Ribble Way, from it's source in the Yorkshire Dales, to the Dolphin Inn, in Longton.
So in a bid to build a little motivation to take on such a challenge, I thought the best thing to do would be to visit the pub to check on the prize which would await me at the end.
'Of course I know where it is, don't worry about it', I proclaimed after a cursory glance at a map.
'It's a pub, I never have much bother finding them'.
We drove along Liverpool Road into Longton where we came upon the Golden Ball and having not seen Marsh Lane, I immediately abandoned my plan and decided to stop here instead.
But turning to park at the pub we found Marsh Lane and continued down the road.
We kept on going, finding nothing resembling a pub and eventually came out a few hundred yards from the Golden Ball.
So the Golden Ball it was.
The sun made a rare appearance for Bank Holiday Sunday and the front and back beer gardens were packed with groups of drinkers basking in every one of the luke-warm rays.
Inside the pub was similarly packed with large groups who had come together for a good few pints or a bite.
From the outside its appearance suggests a traditional village pub and I was surprised at how much modernisation had taken place within.
The main bar area was wide and open-plan while there were a number of smaller rooms tucked away, including one which had gone for a coffee shop look, with a number of settees.
I wasn't too impressed with my pint of Robinson's Blonde which seemed to taste a little musty.
But then again my beleaguered taste buds which are not so discerning at the best of times, may well have been reeling after a week spent in the company of Hungarian lager (real ale hasn't got that far yet).
I was however, impressed with a patch of grass at the back of the car park because it included one simple feature; goal posts.
As a child who spent many a sunny evening playing in fields at the back of pubs, one cheap little goal post set would have transformed a mundane bike ride to the pub, into an afternoon of endless entertainment.
Cuppie, heads and volleys, whack the football at my sisters, the possibilities would have been endless.

And though goalposts would not technically be needed for the latter, it would have provided a legitimacy for a painful strike in the event a formal complaint was lodged with my parents.
'You've made Lyndsey cry', my mum would say in a scolding tone.
'Ah but she was in goal, that's what happens', I could cunningly reply.
'And anyway she's 24 now, she's old enough to decide if she doesn't want to go in goal'.
We left just as a band was setting up and more people poured into the pub, exchanging a hearty medley of handshakes and back-slaps.
'I think I found us a popular little local there', I remarked to Miss Chardonnay Sidekick as we headed back to Preston.
'Yeah only because you got us lost immediately.
'How do you ever expect to be able to tramp across the country?'

Pear Tree, Penwortham
Bitter Suite, Preston

You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Pear Tree, Leyland Road, Penwortham

The sun was out so I scrambled for my bike and tumbled out the front door, with the intention of powering into the rolling countryside, to soak up a little serenity.
'Just me, my bike, the twisting country lanes and the sun on my back.
'This is going to be bliss', I told myself.
After a few minutes I was in Penwortham, then I found my way to Lostock Hall, then it was Bamber Bridge, followed by Lostock Hall again.
Then it was Bamber Bridge again, then it was Penwortham again....
Then I got sick of the whole caper and skulked off home, furious at myself for thinking that following my nose would actually work.
The first time I whipped past the Pear Tree, flying down Leyland Road, I made out the colourful blur of a decent beer garden and I was tempted to slam on my rusty old brakes and give it a closer inspection.
But on one of my later laps I came out of Middleforth Green, and seeing the pub head on, was put off by a 'E' missing from the sign.
'Drink in a pub with a missing E, who has ever heard of such a thing', I muttered to myself before clunking off down the hill once more.
But on Tuesday with an unexpected evening of sunshine, Miss Chardonnay Sidekick and I felt compelled to spend the evening outside. And that can mean only one thing – a beer garden.
We arrived just moments before a big rush drinkers piled into the pub and filled the bar.
I wondered whether everybody had had the same idea as us but after sharing greetings with half the pub's customers, it was clear they were regulars.
With the entire bar area full of thirsty locals I was expecting a long wait for our drinks.
But the chap, who I assume was the landlord, served a couple of people who were before us and then poured my Caledonian Flying Scotsman, keeping the banter gang waiting at the bar.
I was next in the queue but not for one second would I have begrudged him keeping his locals happy over serving a couple of silly shorts-wearing sun chasers sporting daft glasses (Miss Chardonnany Sidekick).
I nearly panicked and ordered a lager, such was my shock at the man's good grace so seldom practised.
Outside there is a good-sized grassed area with thick shrubbery and a decent covered decking for smokers. We were lucky to get the last free bench in the garden.
You would have to say the place could benefit from some money spending on it, starting with a new 'E' and a lick of paint or two inside top priorities.
The beer garden was green and pleasant but it could be much better with a few plants and a bit of love.
But taking all of that aside, when we were in on Tuesday, the pub was full of people chomping through meals or catching up with friends and the beer garden had clearly drawn in the crowds to soak up the last of the sun.
So maybe dropping the 'E' is the way to be!

Ship Inn, Fylde Road, Preston
Bitter Suite, Fylde Road, Preston
You can follow me on Twitter - @RobinsonBee

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Ship Inn, Fylde Road, Preston

Some time back I went into the Ship Inn and it seemed to be drifting rather listlessly, lacking purpose or promise.
A once favourite student haunt, the lease was available for a new tenant and there seemed to be little effort, being made to get the place going.
But last Friday after a few pints in the Bitter Suite (see previous post) and a few more in the Mad Ferret, my mate Chris and I were stumbling back home, when the Ship docked in our path.
An acoustic performer was knocking out a few tunes and the assembled crowd seemed to be appreciating his efforts.
Having decided I needed to rise before midday Saturday I was not keen to go in.
But after a moment’s arm twisting, I agreed to listen to a couple of songs and ‘then we’d be off’.
But seeing they were now serving Hobgoblin, I quickly revised my plans and we were soon settled for the rest of the night.
Despite approaching the small hours, it was clear there was more happening than the last time I was in.
Two good live acts kept people entertained when other pubs were closing and with a supply of real ale my plans for Saturday were quickly abandoned.
Whenever I have spoken to students who have studied at UCLan in the last decade, they have almost all claimed the Ship Inn had been as important to their student experience as the university itself.
And with the next intake of students arriving in Preston next month, there may well be hundreds more ready to climb aboard.

*You can follow me on twitter @RobinsonBee 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Bitter Suite, Fylde Road, Preston

'We've three bands on this evening and the first one's starting in just a couple of minutes', the woman sat at a little exam desk said.
'It's £4 entry'.
'Not so great'.
'Go on then it's Friday night, it's been a long week, a bit of live music might just do the job'.
With the backs of our hands stamped we walked into the venue to join the crowd.
Then we realised we were the crowd.
Just then the band struck up in a thrash of demonic fury.
The drummer brought his sticks down on the helpless symbols like a serial killer making sure the job was done, as the vocalist produced a terrifying guttural groan like the sounds of a devil dog ripping up a rabbit.
I was trembling.
'Do you think will notice if we slip out?', I shouted to my mate.
'Can't hear you, lets just edge backwards towards the door very slowly'.
This was my first visit to the Bitter Suite several years ago and as first impressions go, I was left with more of the 'bitter' than I normally get in a pub.
But last week we decided to make a long overdue return for a couple of Friday night pints.
Despite it being in the heart of the student strip which suffers in summer, it was packed last Friday night with a friendly crowd who have all clear been locals for a good many years.
No gimmicks to try to drag customers in here.
But my attention was very quickly diverted from the happy hum of people's week being dissected, to the bar, loaded and ready with six real ales of my choosing.
I felt like I'd been reunited with a lost relative, someone who'd left for Australia so long ago I no longer recognised their face, until their beaming smile brought it all back.
We excitedly kicked off the evening with a couple of pints of Columbus, then Forest of Bowland's Hen Harrier, before going for some dark, chewy stuff which went down a treat.
And unlike almost every other pub in Preston which displays the same nostalgic old pictures of Preston bought as a job lot from, they have got some brilliant prints of every-day sights in the city from a perspective you had never imagined.
Even if you are not a fan of real ale or friendly locals, I would recommend popping in for a drink to have a nosey at the 'pool room photo gallery'.
I waved goodbye to my long-lost brother with a genuine intention to meet again.
Maybe next time we will even have another go at a band.

*You can follow me on Twitter @RobinsonBee and let me know where I should go next

Friday, 3 August 2012

The White Hart, Watling Street Road, Preston

Once upon a time Preston built things on a humongous scale.
There were giant mills with enormous chimneys hulking out into the sky, huge factories teeming with workers who lived in thousands of terraced houses with ceilings so high you could squeeze in a couple more floors without having to stoop.
And after a long day spent at work in a huge building, where did the people stop in to relax before sidling through their  100-foot front doors?
A pub the size of the bus station of course.
Nice blooms at The White Hart
Now this potted social history of Preston is based nothing more than a few obscure, baseless musings I conjured the other day, but they seemed to fit perfectly when I arrived at The White Hart in Watling Street Road.
I have passed the pub countless times without investing in it any more of my time in it, than the occasional raised of an eyebrow as if to re-affirm it is still a 'really big pub'.
But the Central Lancashire branch of Camra reported it had starting serving real ale and it has some cracking hanging baskets outside, which was enough to draw me in.
Impressive blooms aside, my first impression of the place remained the same as it had been the countless times I drove past.
It was vast.
But while in its heyday (taking my flawed history theory) thousands of workers would have been pouring out of the mills and filling places like this, at 6.30pm one weekday evening, the appearance of my mate Big Dog Dave and I, was not enough to push the total clientèle into double figures.
With a pint of Young's London Gold we took one of the very many empty seats.
A couple of big screens were dotted around the place and with lots of streamers and banners, they were trying to get into the Olympics spirit.
But everything seemed to be swallowed up into the enormity of the place.
On a Saturday when North End are at home I am sure it gets busier but you could probably get a good portion of a 10,000 gate seated in there, in perfect comfort.
In decades long gone, your typical Preston worker pouring out of say Tulketh Mill at 5pm on a Tuesday, may well have popped into their local for a quick pint to relax after work, while your call centre crew emerging there today is more likely to head straight to yoga or spinning (which is ironically what their predecessors may have been doing all day).
The only solution is to entice more people in and they can do worse than starting with a decent pint of real ale, some cracking blooms and the sense you are in a pub which gives you plenty of room to breathe.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Harley-Davidson cafe, Strand Road, Preston

“I'm off to an American diner at the back of a Harley-Davidson showroom, so what I'm going to do is put my leather jacket on, don my Weetabix helmet and cycle into the car park making throaty revving noises like a badass.”
“For Pete's sake Ben, you're a 28-year-old man, you need to grow up.
“You'll get smacked in the face and they'd be within their rights.
“In fact I'd smack you in the face if I was there...”
“Alright mum chill out, I'll just walk instead”, I said before quickly hanging up the phone mid-tirade.
I met my friends, Bainsey Four Bellies and Big Dog Dave in the car park, before sidling painstakingly among hundreds of hypnotically shiny bikes. Gleaming exhausts stretched my face while a tiny fob sucked it in as I became transfixed by a million distorted images of myself.
Just as my nose got within a hair's length of the handle bars I caught I glimpse of the price which sent me scuttling to the cafe at the back, terrified by all the noughts.
With fixed-table booths, assorted bowling pins and swathes of chrome, Harleys captured some of the authentic American roadside joint.
Instead of savouring a sense of the States however, we took the highway dining theme a little further and sat on the terraced area, off one of Preston's most famous highways – Strand Road.
We barely scanned the menu before making our choices.
“Jeez can you imagine us out on Route 66 pulling over for a cheese and ham toastie?” said Big Dog.
“Yeah that sucks”, agreed Four Bellies.
We were all set for a 'Phat Boy Burger' apiece, which included two hearty burgers, bacon, cheese, salad and relish, (3.95) but Four Bellies hadn't eaten for over an hour and decided it might not sustain him.
So he chose a Cornish pastie (£1.65) with gravy and a hot dog (£2.45) just to be sure.
No mention had been made of French fries and I assumed they were a given but when I checked, I was told they cannot cook chips because the smell and the grease perforates through into the showroom.
My first instinct was to baulk at such a preposterous ideas as an American diner without chips but then all those mesmeric twinkling bikes shimmered back into mind and I could see the problem they faced.
The Phat Boys lived up to their billing perfectly. The waitress borrowed one of United Utilities' cranes stationed nearby to lower them onto our bench and there they sat towering over us.
With the top buns hanging backwards they looked like the mouths of angry ogres bellowing at us (perhaps about the lack of chips).
But we need not have worried because the Phat Boys were more than enough to contend with on their own.
And Four Bellies was also impressed with his plates declaring at least three of his stomachs were full and contented, which had not happened since his infamous 24 hour takeaway challenge of 2010.
With the three sodas the whole bill came to an incredibly reasonable £15.05, which is why I've decided to treat my mum next time she rides into town.