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Pubs / Bars in Southport

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      22.08.2005 17:53
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      With thumping beats and comfy seats, Southport's pub and bar scene's a real treat.

      Having been drinking in this fine Victorian seaside town for more years than the argument over whether Southport sits best in Lancashire (snobs) or Merseyside (realists), I sit firmly in the "proud to be a Sandgrounder" camp when it comes to its pub and bar scene.

      Pub. Bar. It's sometimes trying to distinguish between the two genres of convivial meeting establishment. Some people think the pub is somewhere you wipe your feet before leaving for the street; where the wood shavings on the floor came from the nearest cask of real ale; where the barmaid is as likely to spit in your beer as serve you.

      But in common with its fellow Merseyside (I'm in no doubt) communities, and polarised to the conventional stereotype, Southport's pubs are eminently more sophisticated than its bars.

      Take The Guest House on Union Street as a prime example of how a pub should be. A series of cosy rooms line the left-wing corridor to the toilets and dimunitive outdoor area while the bar area is flanked with a generously-appointed suite of tables and free-standing chairs. And the nectar? As bountiful a range of ales as you will find anywhere in north Merseyside. And prices equally pleasing - a donation of £2 to the nearest barperson will find you a fine foaming pint of hops, malt and barley with change to spare.

      On to the elegant and tree-lined shopping boulevard of Lord Street and you've a raft of choices to savour. The Bold Hotel has its own bar/pub example, on the opposite corner to Union Street. Some hundreds of yards into the town centre and away from the fire station you'll find The Scarisbrick Hotel.

      This is the only place in Southport where bar and pub truly collide, but in blissful harmony. Entering the hotel and to your left is Baron's Bar. But it's a pub. You can tell it's a pub because it has patterned carpet on the floor. And a bar area behind which lies one of those cardboard squares that hosts packets of peanuts which, when plucked one by one to feed hungry punters, eventually reveals a picture of a woman in the scantiest of denim shorts.

      If you hadn't turn left when you came in you would have walked across some exposed, polished floorboards (here since way before it became fashionable to stick two fingers up to carpets, natch) into a chasm of blackness. You may just have spotted a sign above the dimly-lit arena of loudness that proclaimed you were about to enter "Maloneys". This, while not having "bar" in its title like the Baron's oxymoron, is in fact the bar of the two. It's a bar because you can't see what you're ordering. It has none of the civility of its brother; it became famous when cocktail hurlers used to pick the prettiest client and lay her down on the bar before filling every vacant orifice with some form of liquid never seen outside of Frankenstein's laboratory.

      You can have an enormous amount of fun in the face of such oddity. Southport's bars are rammed at weekends, and the best of its pubs also teem but in a laid-back, relaxed manner.

      The third drinking hole I'd recommend you visit is the Berkeley Hotel. It lives up to its name - it has rooms, but you wouldn't stay there. The clientele is varied, from lairy golfers in residence to families fresh from visiting nearby Hesketh Park.

      But whatever the weather you'll find a warm welcome and a refreshing beverage. Try the Hawkshead Bitter. Try the Pendle Witches Brew, if you have an enormous propensity for strong beer.

      And don't leave without trying one of the Berkeley's trademark pizzas. The chef plies his wares from 5pm most evenings and there's something for all tastes. Wednesday, if I recall well, also involved some special deal or other though you may wish to check in advance.

      Brains behind the Berkeley conceived the Political Pizza - on the one hand you could have a Tony Blair: bit spicy with its pepperoni; or if your pangs of hunger sought a more subtle encounter, the John Major's all-cheese topping would be more than enough to satisfy. The Berkeley's good humour is still there, while the pizzas live on in more subtly-monikered variants.

      There are plenty more pubs to take your fancy, from The Victoria on the prom which attracts "all sorts" to The Lakeside Inn not a million miles away, that hangs over the Marine Lake and reckons on being the smallest pub in the universe, or something. It IS tiny - don't reckon on taking a big bunch of mates there on a pub crawl in winter as there's a good chance at least one of you would be contracting hypothermia.

      Yes, there's a Wetherspoons, and I'm afraid there's also a Yates' Wine Lodge. Yes, they are atrocious, but neatly-priced.

      If you like buses then take one to the thatched village of Churchtown, just a few miles outside the town centre. The pubs of The Bold Hotel (mk II - no accommodation available) and The Hesketh Arms will bring you good food and ales.

      The best of Southport, then. You fancy trying your chances with the opposite sex after all this Bacchanalia? There can be only one choice.

      If your stomach is of steel, and your mental strength is peaking, get yourself down West Street. With drinks specials every day of the week and the girl or boy of your dreams just six more pints away, Waverley's is the place to swap spittle and guffaw as the Burberry monkey swinging on the dancing pole finds himself in urgent need of the floor's horizontal support.

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