Monday, 28 May 2012

A close shave across the Mersey: 22nd May 2012

Whilst in Southport on my 'staycation' it was an obvious decision to visit the great city of Liverpool. I'd been to some of the historic pubs around the Georgian Quarter (The Philharomonic, Roscoe Head, Grapes and others, see here for more information) fairly recently so this time I though I'd try the city's only brewpub, The Baltic Fleet, and then take the iconic Ferry across The Mersey to an interesting/bizarre new pub & barbers(!) of which I think there are only a few in the UK (and probably the world).

View Birkenhead in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Southport to Liverpool Moorfields
  Ferry: Liverpool Pier Head to Birkenhead Woodside

After spending a bit of time sightseeing we headed down to the redeveloped Albert Dock area where there are now masses of tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants and chain pubs. I wonder how many know that just across the main dual carriageway in a 'funny shaped' building is a great pub called the Baltic Fleet, home of the in-house Wapping Beers.

I really like the appearance of the building - it's somewhat reminiscent of a Mississippi steam boat with multiple funnels on the top and certainly very distinctive. Inside there are 2 main rooms - a lounge/seating area away from the road (quiet today at lunchtime) and the main bar area on the other side facing the road. There were a couple of workmen around the place today, sawing & drilling away, and there's definitely been some significant redevelopment on-going. The really friendly barmaid told us that the long sweeping bar top had only been in for about 8 weeks - it really looks the part - and that it was such a relief to see the end of the temporary bar. Still present were the Baltic Fleet life-boat ring, a huge bell for last orders, displays of knot types, loads of CAMRA and other awards and (last but not least) the 7 hand-pulls.

On hand-pull today were 'only' 5 Wapping beers, to which they normally add a couple of guests at the weekend, so I had the Baggy Wrinkle - a nice light citrus ale perfect for outdoor quaffing. Food is pretty basic, either pies of various types or Scouse ('beef' stew & tatties), so I went with the Chicken Tikka pie. The workmen had stopped for their lunch so we went outside and took a seat at one of the benches in the sunshine. The pie was really tasty, if a bit dry, but a bit of HP sauce got round that problem.

This was certainly a far, far more enjoyable and interesting place to have lunch than anywhere around the Albert Dock area and I really must come back in the evening at some point when I suspect the place will be quite busy.

It was then a walk back over the dual carriageway and past the rest of the Albert Dock area and the new Museum of Liverpool to the Pier Head ferry terminal. Outwith the main rush hour period (when you can take a direct ferry) you have to take one of the River Explorer Cruises which performs a loop out to Liverpool Bay, then docks at Seacombe and then Woodside before heading back to Pier Head - the whole excursion takes about an hour. What you get are great views of the Livepool skyline and the unmistakable Royal Liver Building.

We disembarked at Woodside Terminal, Birkenhead and walked the short distance up Chester Street to Gallagher's Pub and Barbers

This is almost next door to another pub, The River View, and on a different day we would probably have stopped there due to the outside benches and the views across to Liverpool. However Gallagher's had a couple of things going for it - firstly a little blackboard across the road stating 'CAMRA Wirral Pub of the Year 2011' and secondly that striped Barbers Pole. We headed inside and found a fairly darkly wooded, long narrow place with a couple of different seating areas before the centrally located bar.

Both the windows and the inside were bedecked with Union Jacks, pictures of royalty and lots & lots of military souvenirs - some were for the Jubilee celebrations but most were because the owner had previously served in the Irish Guards before starting up a couple of barbers shops and then combining these businesses with a pub - the place really looked festive & very welcoming. The owner's wife (co-owner!) greeted us and immediately booked me in for a beer and a shave (in that order). They promote local breweries and I had a great pint of Peerless Skyline bitter brewed about 500 metres away in Birkenhead, but it was also good to see Hawkshead Lakeland Lager on tap.

Whilst waiting for the barber we headed out to the beer garden at the back, a real sun-trap in the afternoon and which seemed to attract a lot of dogs (and their owners). There weren't any views of Liverpool but the high tower of Hamilton Square Clock Tower was impressive enough.

Finally it was time to head to the barbers, located just behind the bar.

This definitely isn't a gimmick, but a fully featured barbers shop. To give the barber the most difficult test possible I had deliberately not shaved for 3 days (giving me my best terrorist impersonation) so it was going to be a full hot towel and cut-throat razor shave for me (£15 for over 40 minutes). For those interested in the minutae of these things the barber went through a fairly impressive process for me - first off a trim with an electric trimmer, lather & hot towel(#1), an initial shaping with a cut-throat razor, lather & hot towel(#2), a shave with Mach 3 razor (I blunted this), lather & hot towel(#3), a final cut-throat shave, cool towel(#1), a trim of any missed bits, cool towel(#2), some essential oils, then a face massage - really great (I was almost falling asleep at some points).

By the time that I was finished there was a queue of 2 people waiting, so business must be pretty good. The barber did say that I had been his 2nd most difficult customer of all time - always good to know that I present a challenge in some respects. I felt great at the end and I don't think my neck area had ever felt smoother. The best thing about this was that my own next couple of shaves after this were so much easier and better. It was definitely worthwhile and I would certainly recommend it, especially as a beer is on-hand when required. (Sorry there was no after photo - well there was, but I'll be impressed if anyone can get it!).

All in it was a great visit to a great pub. The pub is interesting and friendly, serves well kept, great local & further-flung beers and the barbers just gives it that additional reason to visit. I'll definitely be back the next time I'm in the Liverpool area - this time for a beer and a haircut!

Return travel:-
  Train: Birkenhead Hamilton Square to Liverpool Moorfields
            Moorfields to Southport

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