A group of friends had gone for a few beers in Chester after Thursday football practice for some years. The drinks continued even after advancing age stopped the football. Then the thought entered: have we visited all the bars and pubs in the City? How many are there? How many of them are any good? And so the Thursday evening survey called the Chester Beer Project (CBP) began.
On occasion, I went along to join in the fun as some excellent watering holes were turned up, or more often revisited. And on a more salutary note, the reason some pubs are vanishing off the map was also discovered: many are not exactly well-loved, the welcome and product can be variable, and all the while the malign influence of the PubCos can be seen.
Yesterday was “The End”, as the final two pubs were visited, confirming that there are exactly 120 of them in the City. Many additional supporters turned up – it was great to see so many taking a keen interest – as we sampled Sleighbell in the Commercial (tucked away behind Chester Cross, still with several smallish rooms) but missed the jokes as we weren’t aware who brewed it (Everard’s).
Moving right along, if only to spare the blushes of the one doing the Larry Grayson impression and blissfully unaware whose beer he was drinking, we spilled out of the Commercial and into the Victoria, which has an entrance onto the same courtyard. This pub dates from the 13th Century, and the ceiling doesn’t offer too much headroom. Theakston’s bitter was on offer. We stayed for an encore.
And then came a meandering stroll to the Marlborough, one of those “long but narrow” pubs which sells beer from the Stonehouse microbrewery at Oswestry. Rather good it was, too. Someone attempted a group photo, although keeping the group still was by then challenging. Then to finish – and to assist those of us having to catch those last trains home – it was the excellent Cellar Bar on City Road.
The Cellar Bar has been one of the “finds” of the CBP: an eclectic offering of beers, including a selection of real ales, bottled beers from around Europe, and the strangely named but popular Black Lager. Spare Ribs supplied the music, giving the room an original and agreeable vibe. Those not having a train to catch stayed long enough to guarantee a hangover.
So is that the end of the CBP? Well, no: there will no doubt be more one-off fun days like the Ale Trail enjoyed last year (see HERE, HERE and HERE for the pint-by-pint account), the CBP will be en tour in the future, and there will be ample opportunities to, well, refresh the knowledge of the better pubs and bars. Plus it makes an interesting change from skewering lame politicians and hacks.