My friend and fellow blogger Evo Boozy Scribbler was in town this weekend. We’ve done some belting pub crawls together over the years – but not for a few years. This weekend we were going to put that right.
Now I know Evo loves pubs with – ahem – ‘character’, so I began compiling a map of pubs that I was a bit scared to go in on my own, as well as including Blackpool’s best pubs (it would have been remiss of me to omit the excellent new micropubs when showing a visitor around Blackpool pubs) and some I’d never heard of. I’ll leave you to decide which is which, dear reader, as I take you on our Alternative Blackpool Pub Crawl…
When I’m meeting up with someone I much prefer a rendezvous in a pub so I’m not hanging around on stations or out in the cold. I’ve already mentioned that some of today’s pubs frightened me a bit so I arranged to meet Evo in Cask & Tap, a pub I know to be a safe haven.
I was greeted warmly as always and was pleased to spot Chris (my lighting department from Wigan), Kev and Gwen at the bar.
Chris smiled contentedly, pointing at his beer. Well a 6% keg beer wasn’t an ideal start to a crawl but the barmaids conspired to talk me into it.
‘You could just have a third…’
Yes I could and I would. This was The Italian Job from Wilde Child. No pic because the taps are at the back of the bar. I did, however, snap the cask pump clips for your perusal.
Evo arrived and added his drink to my order. He did have a pint of cask but I couldn’t tell you which one. I’m not one of those people who pays any attention to what my companions are drinking/eating because I’m too busy enjoying my own quaffage/scoff.
We took my favourite table in the window. This is a controversial favourite because it’s a high table with high chairs and there are plenty of normal tables in the middle of the pub. But it’s my favourite because this was where I sat on my first post-lockdown solo pub expedition, enjoying spending time alone with a couple of pints for the first time in several months. It was such a special moment The tranquility wasn’t to last, however, as I was later interrogated by Ray from CAMRA as to who I was, where I’d come from, who I knew in CAMRA, what my credentials were – and then verbally abused to the point of tears by a pissed-up anti-masker. But it was a brilliant night – and the kind barmaids made a fuss of me and gave me a free drink – so I am still drawn to this table.
Evo observed the quirky items on the shelves around the pub and asked what they were. I’d noticed them many times but never thought to ask. I had to return to the bar anyway as I’d forgotten to note what beer I was drinking in all the excitement, so I put the question to the barmaid. Apparently they’re Andy’s collection of voltmeter type things, not related to one particular industry, that have been converted into lamps.
‘Andy would be able to tell you all about each of them if he was here.’
This weekend the Tories were in town for their party conference. This was good in a way (bear with), as it gave us a weekend off from the football as the police didn’t have the resources to cope with both events (it was meant to be the Blackpool v Blackpool East derby tomorrow). Sadly, however, this pub was teeming with suited Tories, which made for unpleasant loud background noise. I could barely make out what Evo was saying, so we quickly supped up and moved on.
Finally tonight I was going to do the long overdue Topping Street pub crawl. It was to be shorter than anticipated owing to news this morning that the Washington were falsely advertising that they were in the 2022 GBG, presumably in a bid to lure in visiting Tories. Tut tut. I toyed with the idea of defacing the sign but I’m not from Bristol…or am I…?
Now I’ll confess I walked past this one en route to Cask & Tap and had been suitably terrified. I was therefore keen for an accompanied visit while Evo was in town. So it was here we headed next.
I practically skipped there. I was imagining one of those moody small ‘local’ pubs that goes silent when you walk in and everyone turns to glare at you. But we got quite the surprise when we stepped through the door.
It was indeed steeped in silence, despite being busy. But, instead of glaring at us, the customers’ eyes were transfixed to their bingo cards. The numbers were being called out to a rapt audience.
Evo and I looked at each other and struggled to stifle our laughter. This was most unexpected! And there were no bar staff in sight. Were they playing too?
I focused on the beer offerings. I wasn’t expecting cask in most of tonight’s pubs and was fully prepared to drink the nearest equivalent. Here’s what I found.
We were finally served and managed to find one vacant high table at the rear of the pub, right next to the bingo caller’s booth.
This proved to be a great observation point. The locals were having a brilliant time (and we suspected they had been doing so all afternoon).
‘Six and nine – sixty nine.’
‘On its own – number three.’
A heckler’s head appeared round the door from the beer garden.
‘Number three – cup o’tea!’
It was simply joyful to see people clearly having such a great time. We couldn’t help but smile.
We were offered tickets for the meat raffle (enticing but we weren’t sure we’d still be around for the draw) and a card for the last round of the bingo (regretfully refused).
One member of the large raucous party approached our table, slurring.
‘I’ve come over to apologise for our drunkenness. We should have been in Benidorm but…what with everything…we’ve come to Blackpool instead.’
The music in between bingo cards was brilliant; I’ll cite The Snake by Al Wilson by way of example.
A toilet visit was a must here and this intriguing sign was the highlight.
There’s a reason behind every sign. I know there is a weird (Blackpool?) thing where people share cubicles (see the ladies in Fifteens and the gents in No 10 St Annes). The mind boggles.
Here’s what on down the Townsman on St George’s Day if you’re tempted.
Honestly we could have stayed in here all night, we were beaming that much since we’d arrived, but we had about 30 pubs on our list and we needed to get ticking them off (NB I’m still not a ticker).
This one was just across the road. It used to be something else (Gillespies?) but has been a sports bar for a while now. It, too, was busy – and full of tv screens.
We approached the bar with trepidation – and with some difficulty, as the floor was sticky. Here are the pump clips.
And here’s what I had.
I’d seen this new beer/lager pop up on my Twitter feed quite a lot in recent months so I thought I’d give it a go. What did I think? Well it’s just lager, innit? Tasted of nowt after that Tiramisu Stout I’d started on.
The man next to me at the bar ordered a JD and Disaronno with Coke. Quite why anyone has amaretto with anything other than cranberry juice is beyond me because that tastes like cherry bakewell.
We found a free table in the middle of the pub, between the bar and the front window. There was bench seating facing us and there I spotted a man giving me the thumbs up. I returned the gesture. He then gave Evo the thumbs up but he wasn’t looking, so I gave him a nudge to prompt him and he duly obliged. I turned my attention to my phone to Tweet my delight at my lager and was in turn interrupted by Evo.
‘He’s raising his glass now. Give him a cheers.’
I raised my glass in the direction of the stranger and chuckled. I suspected he’d had a great afternoon as well.
Another man came to join us at our table, despite there being other vacant tables dotted around the pub. They were a friendly lot in here.
Both Evo and I were taking copious notes, such was the night already proving very blogworthy. I hardly take any notes usually, mainly relying on photographs to jog my memory. But it was largely the people who were of interest tonight and we couldn’t very well take photos of them without having to explain ourselves.
We soon realised the karaoke was on and the singers got a free shot for taking part. Evo got very excited when ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ came on and I’ll confess to dancing in the toilets to ‘The Only Way Is Up.’ Damn this was a surprisingly fun night out already.
Other toilet highlights were the unusual corner sink…
…and the apparent lack of toilet checks…
On the way out, I paused to snap the astroturf in the doorway while I posed a rhetorical question.
‘Where next? Curry or should we squeeze in another pub?’
This attracted the attention of the man smoking (or vaping or whatever people do these days) in the doorway.
‘Ooh where you going for your curry? There’s a good new place that does Indian street food.’
‘Yeah I went there last week. The music was shit and WAY too loud.’
We made our way to the next pub on the list.
This was just next door, so it would have been rude to not go in. It used to be called The Criterion and used to feature in the GBG once upon a time.
Again we walked in to silence punctuated by a bingo caller. Seriously, what was with all the bingo round here?
Happily there was beer on in here tonight.
I had the Hobgoblin Gold but it was a bit hoppy for me.
Sadly the landlady, Margaret, passed away earlier this month and details of her funeral were read out by the bingo caller.
There were no free tables here so we perched on stools at the bar. A friendly man appeared beside me as Evo was busy making notes so I engaged him in conversation.
‘We’re from Gateshead. We’re meant to be in Leeds but they tried to move us to a hotel out of town and we weren’t having that so we came to Blackpool instead.’
I was loving all this ‘fuck it let’s just go to Blackpool’ from the tourists. Then I got confused as he appeared to be with the same party as the woman who was meant to be in Benidorm and I wondered if I’d misheard one of them.
Said Benidorm woman was very excited to see us again and, when I told her how joyful it was to see her enjoying herself so much, she rewarded me with a huge kiss right in my ear. Twice. Whether she was meant to be in Benidorm or Leeds, I was pleased she’d ended up in Blackpool. This is a town of joy and it needs people like this, who enjoy and value our little working class holiday resort for what it is. I pity those people who look down their noses at Blackpool because they’re missing out on this fun and joy.
Here’s a Guinness clock.
Now we had completed the (abridged) Topping Street pub crawl, it was time to enjoy one of its restaurants. There was a chance we’d return here later for the gig at Bootleg Social but, in truth, despite me really wanting to visit, that would only eat into our pub crawl time.
Indian food is my favourite and I’ve been for many a curry with Evo in my time. There were plenty to go at in Walsall. I had to confess that I hadn’t managed to locate a Nargis Kebab since moving back to Blackpool but the hunt continues. If anyone knows of an Indian selling our favourite starter please let us know. Maybe it’s a Walsall thing?
Anyway Akash is currently holding the BlackpoolJane number one spot for Indian food on the Fylde Coast. Not only is the food excellent, with the perfect level of spice for me (without making me regret it the next day) but the service is excellent too, with warm and friendly staff. This is something I value very highly. Indeed it’s not a rare thing in Blackpool restaurants. People are very friendly up here.
I ordered a Diet Coke, despite trying to avoid caffeine, but I’d forgotten that because I’d had a few drinks and Evo ordered one so I did the same.
One of our hosts eyed me with a look of semi recognition and clocked my Cask & Tap tee.
‘Is that Cask & Tap downstairs?’
I confirmed it was and explained that they’d given me the tee so I could promote them as I travel round the country with my blog. Our host was very excited that I was a blogger and I ended up subscribing him to Lee Charles TV and handing him a business card with my blog details on it.
We were surprised to see the man who’d been waving and raising his glass to us in Champs. We were even more surprised when he came over to talk to us and was coherent (well Scottish). We got chatting about Scottish football and Evo came out with a corking quiz question about which Scottish club played their home games at Anfield. I’ll leave you to mull on that one awhile before revealing the answer at the end of this blog.
But of course you and I and Evo are all here for the food, so I’ll not keep you waiting for that any longer. We started with poppadoms and four dips and the starters arrived before we’d even finished these.
I couldn’t resist the Paneer Tikka starter, having enjoyed it so much at Bundobust recently. Again I wasn’t disappointed. It probably wasn’t the best for the diet but fuck it I was on holiday. Well Evo was. And it was sort of a holiday from my usual weekend of football and blogging, neither of which I was bothering with this weekend.
Our host came over and apologised profusely about the noise from the raucous Oldham lot at the next table and asked if we were all right.
‘Noooooo don’t worry, it’s fine. It’s great to see people enjoying themselves.’
And it really was. After the grimness of the last two years and lockdowns and shut pubs it truly was wonderful.
Between courses I went to check out the toilets and was slighted by the heightist sign on the way back down the stairs.
The gap was a good foot over my head.
And now for the main course.
Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi. Just my level of hot. But way more than I could eat. Next time I must be prepared to transport a doggy bag.
Meanwhile things had heated up on the Oldham table, with the woman absolutely raging that she didn’t get an NHS discount applied to their bill.
‘DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE DYING OF COVID IN HOSPITALS?!’
One of her companions offered her an after dinner mint.
‘Here, suck on that.’
Who needs a discount when there’s free entertainment provided with your dinner?
What a night this was already! But there were still more pubs to visit. So, where to next?
I simply HAD to take Evo to Alberts because it’s the quirkiest pub in town. This was a short walk from Topping Street, in the direction of the Winter Gardens (where the Tories were). Roads were closed to traffic – and some to pedestrians – but happily we were able to walk directly to Alberts. En route, a friendly policeman said hello (when does that ever happen?).
To be honest I think the police were a little late on parade, as I’m sure burning the place down isn’t a feasible way out of an escape room.
But on to Alberts. This is a micropub in the basement of a B&B and you’d never find it if you weren’t looking for it – although, granted, it is easier to spot in the dark. We headed down the narrow steps and into a very quiet pub, with only Phil behind the bar and one solitary customer. Here were the beers.
I had the stout, obvs.
We took a seat in the back room because I’d never sat in here before. Here’s what caught my eye.
Even The Albert had caught on with the ‘get entertainment on and they will come’ thing and I was a little bit gutted that we weren’t here tomorrow night for this.
Although there would, of course, be other Saturdays…
While Evo was busy taking notes, I had a nose round and found some mystery sheets of paper behind my seat. What was this?
Notes from a quiz? A messy playlist?
Again this was a flying visit – although, as ever, I could have stayed here all night. As I returned our glasses to the bar, Phil spoke up.
‘I believe you’re going to be standing as our Branch Secretary.’
I had no idea Phil even knew who I was! He explained that he couldn’t get to CAMRA meetings because he was always working here. But this reminded me that I need to get nominated and seconded for this position, so I really ought to dig out the nomination slip that Rick foisted on me at Wigan Beer Festival.
Onwards to the next pub!
I’d passed this ‘Bristol wall art’ last week en route to the Waterloo.
I had puzzled for ages over who IFC were. Not Ipswich Town. Not Inverurie Locos. Not Caley Thistle. Tonight Evo offered a new perspective and read this as LFC, which made a lot more sense and was clearly Liverpool. How had I not seen that? There is of course a random mix of capitals and, er, non-capitals in there.
Anyway, I’m conscious that I’ve never blogged Thirsty?, despite having been twice (I don’t tend to blog local midweekers). So here we were tonight. And here are the beers.
I was very excited to see Green Duck but I was too intrigued by the 4.1% stout to dismiss it. And the Lords Head Cleaner turned out to be the tastiest beer of the night. I really ought to visit Thirsty? more often.
They even have a token donkey pic (honestly I see these EVERYWHERE these days).
Nice pub this but the acoustics are a little uncomfortable for me in that the background noise disturbs me when I’m trying to have a conversation, as I find myself straining to hear. Bit like in the Fountain in Walsall, which I avoid mainly for that reason.
On our way out, I spotted Alistair from Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA lurking outside the door and invited him to join us at our next stop, which we were thinking would be either Ronnie’s Wine Bar (new, never been) or the Belle Vue (not been in 25 years but I used to go in before midweek games when I last lived up here). He declined as he was making his way home, plus he seemed unimpressed with our selections.
It so happened that I was distracted by an imposing pub even closer.
Ooh the RAIKES. I can tell you exactly the last time I was in here and that was for my wedding reception in 1998 (upstairs). I wasn’t back here tonight for nostalgic reasons, I had simply forgotten it was here and how alluring does it look all lit up nice?
There was beer on too.
From our high chairs (grr) my eyes scanned the unfamiliar pub. I soon found myself scurrying over to take some photos.
A later toilet visit unearthed the following highlights.
Ooh hand cream is a rare treat.
Back at the table, I spotted something back over by Reading Corner that I couldn’t quite believe I’d missed earlier.
As I was taking this photo, I was approached by a curious local, who had spotted me taking photos earlier. I explained what I was doing and he pointed out that there was an old map of the area on the other side of the pub which may be of interest.
‘Ooh, didn’t the football ground used to be here?’
‘Yes and that’s on the map too.’
I went over to have a nose but sadly the DJ was sitting right in front of the map so I wasn’t able to gain access without causing a nuisance.
The music was great in here too (take note, Twisted Indian) and Evo was giving it portions to Lessons In Love. It was quite an apt song for the site of a celebration of a long-dead marriage, now I come to think of it.
‘All the dreams that we were building / We never lived them.’
It was probably only about 2200 (if that) by this point but we’d done seven pubs and a curry and we aren’t spring chickens any more so that was quite enough for one night, thank you very much. But we were going to do it all again tomorrow with a new set of pubs…
Next Up: Alternative Blackpool Pub Crawl – Part Two
Oh and the answer to the quiz question is Stirling Albion.
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Thank you to John for buying that lush beer in Thirsty? tonight. Your support is appreciated.