Beer and Beatles are still the Mersey beat
Added: Sunday, March 15th 2020
Liverpool is celebrated for the architectural glory of such pub masterpieces as the Grade I-listed Vines and Philharmonic along with the Grade II Crown opposite Lime Street station.
But there are some equally fascinating watering holes in side streets, some of them off the beaten track. If you’re a Beatles fan, no visit to the city is complete without a tour of Ye Cracke, 13 Rice Street, off Hope Street, which is a shrine to the memory of John Lennon @yecrackepub.
John used to drink there where he was studying at the nearby art college. It was also where he met and courted his first wife, Cynthia: there’s a photo of them on the wall.
There are many photos in the small front bar and in a larger room at the back. One shows John with friends who formed a group known as the Dissenters, who never actually performed. Other photos show the young Beatles and Lennon and McCartney.
Ye Cracke is an odd name for a pub, even by Liverpool standards. Perhaps it comes from the Irish craic, meaning chat or conversation. It has a large sign for Bass outside but the famous Burton beer is no longer on sale. The landlady kindly let me in even though the pub wasn’t open. The handpumps didn’t have any beer clips and as she said she didn’t like CAMRA I thought it best not to ask too many questions about the beers she sells. Whatpub says it concentrates on ales from smaller breweries.
A second pub with Beatles’ connections is the Grapes at 25 Mathew Street. This is much easier to find as it’s in the city centre and Mathew Street overflows with people on guided Beatles’ tours as the street is home to the Cavern Club where their careers took off. The pub has been given a makeover and now has an attractive green-painted exterior with carriage lamps and inside it’s decked out with Beatles memorabilia.
The group used to eat and drink there when they were performing at the Cavern. The club didn’t sell alcohol and at the Grapes was the only pub on Mathew Street. It’s now owned by Heineken’s Star Bars and Pubs and it serves beers from Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery. The pub can get raucous on karaoke nights. @grapesmathewst
For yet more Beatles connections, the White Star, 2-4 Rainford Gardens, is close to Mathew Street. The back bar is devoted to the Fab Four but there’s also maritime memorabilia as well, as the White Star was the major shipping line that had the misfortune to build the ill-fated Titanic. On a happier note, it serves a good range of beer, including ales from the Bowland Brewery along with offerings from Marston’s that occasionally includes – oh, joy! – Draught Bass.
More stars of stage and screen are celebrated at Ma Egerton’s on Pudsey Street. It’s opposite the side entrance to Lime Street station and is nicknamed the Stage Door as it stands behind the famous Empire Theatre: many performers appearing there would pop in for a drink during the interval.
A plaque on the outside depicts some of the top draw acts who have appeared at the Empire and drunk in the pub. They include Tom Jones, Judy Garland, Laurel & Hardy, Sammy Davies Jnr and Frank Sinatra. The plaque says Sinatra had to be forcibly removed from the pub during the interval of a concert next door as he said the Guinness was the best he’d ever drunk. As he was alleged to have consumed a bottle of Jack Daniels a day, I’m surprised he had room for the black stuff as well.
The pub is named after its landlady Mary Egerton who came to Liverpool from Ireland in the 1890s. Inside there’s a small, comfortable front bar with a portrait of Marilyn Monroe – who didn’t perform at the Empire -- and a larger room to the side. The beer range changes constantly but I was pleasantly surprised to find Hogs Back Session IPA all the way from Surrey. It’s worth missing a few trains to visit Ma Egerton’s.@ma_egertons
It’s obligatory for beer and pub lovers to trek to the Roscoe Head, 24 Roscoe Street. The pub is run by Carol Ross whose family have been in charge for more than 30 years. It’s one of what CAMRA calls the “Magnificent Five” – the few remaining pubs that have been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide since the early 1970s.
The small exterior doesn’t prepare you for the spacious four rooms inside, decked out with old brewery posters and mirrors. The beer range is superb and includes such regulars as Tetley Bitter and Timothy Taylor Landlord, with four regularly changing guest beers.
The pub is named after William Roscoe who was a leading campaigner against the slave trade. Today it’s the focus of another campaign: the Save the Roscoe. It was owned by Punch Taverns who sold it in 2015 to New River Retail, a company better known for mini-markets than pubs. As it has sold a number of pubs to the Co-op, Carol Ross fears the Roscoe could share the same fate.
The message from fans of the Roscoe is a simple one: “Over our dead bodies”. @RoscoeHead
In sharp contrast to the mainly 19th century traditional pubs in the city, Love Lane Taproom is new and is already called the “coolest place in Liverpool”. It’s home to the Love Lane Brewery: the brewing kit can be seen from the bar and large seating area.
The taproom concept is America meets Scouse, with a large range of beers, both cask and keg, and a distillery where a range of gins is made. It opened in December 2017 and was founded by Steve Crawley, who previously ran the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh and has vast experience of both brewing and selling beer.
The taproom is at 62-64 Bridgewater Street in the fashionable Baltic Triangle close to the Mersey. The name Love Lane stems from the area’s past: when it had busy, thriving docks with hordes of sailors coming off ships, it was notorious as a Red Light district.
It’s now more salubrious and you can drink and dine well in the taproom where, initially, Steve Crawley set out to restore one of Liverpool’s famous and much-missed beers, Higson’s Bitter. It disappeared when the national brewer Whitbread bought and closed the brewery in 1990. Steve managed to get the rights to revive the beer and it’s now available once again in cask form.
But Steve says among younger drinkers there’s limited interest in brown beers and his biggest selling brands are the craft keg Love Lane beers, of which Love Lane Pale Ale (4.5 per cent) accounts for 65 per cent of total production. The beer is so popular that it’s now widely available in pubs and bars throughout Liverpool.
Head brewer Jack Jones has a pilot plant where he can try out new recipes. The brewery also houses a distillery where gin is produced. They are a step beyond traditional gin, flavoured with juniper berries: the range includes coffee and vanilla, pomegranate, and passion flower.
The building is vast and there are rooms upstairs where wedding receptions are held while smaller rooms can be hired for meetings. The food is imaginative and chef Graham Holden offers beer snacks, rarebit cooked in Love Lane Pale Ale, gin and tonic sausage and grapefruit salad, Goan curry and a choice of burgers, including a plant-based variety. @lovelanebrewing
Love Lane is the new face of Liverpool, vibrant, modern and driven by a young generation with an attitude to beer that’s quite different to that of the older generation. But the 1960s and the Beatles still resonate and, as long as the likes of the Roscoe Head survive, there’s still plenty of fine traditional ales to sup.
*Two more highly recommended pubs are both on Dale Street: Thomas Rigby's and the Excelsior. Below, John and Cynthia Lennon: photo in Ye Cracke.