Two Heatons Pub Crawl I
Easter Sunday (Sunday 8th April 2012)
Moving to Heaton Chapel in late 2009 and having a spacebaby in early 2011 put paid to any chance of maintaining a grip of the array of bars and pubs in central Manchester (especially since barney moved down south and also had a little one), hence the lack of updates on these pages.
For the uninitiated, Heaton Chapel lies between Manchester and Stockport, but much closer to the latter, basically hugging the eastern side of the A6.
However, spaceman had been meaning to explore the local hostelries of Heaton Chapel and the surrounding area for some time and, recently, a plan was hatched to do that in the form of a pub crawl, with spaceman’s local drinking partner and longer term Heaton Moor resident, The Toad (this nickname was not spaceman’s idea, it must be said – it was self-proclaimed).
There are four Heatons in total – Chapel, Moor, Mersey and Norris. Covering all four of those areas would be a daunting challenge – the pubs would be too numerous. However, restricting our remit to just the two we knew best, Heaton Chapel and Heaton Moor, meant that we could rack up a dozen or so pubs without too much distance requiring to be covered. It felt manageable (and not too crazy).
Spaceman’s initial plan meant starting at the Moor Top and heading eastward along Heaton Moor Road, but that was deemed to be scuppered upon noticing that the Moor Top was in fact shut whilst waiting in the nearby chippy. (Rumour has it that it will become an Albert’s Shed.)
So the plan was turned upside down and the Hinds Head was decided to be the best starting point. It does good, hearty lunches, and means that we end up in Heaton Moor where most of the pubs are, giving us flexibility over our choice of venue and leaving us near the many food outlets.
So, the all-new pub crawl begins. It’s been a while since the Slow Pub Crawl of the mid-00’s, and it certainly seems as if it belongs to a different era. The Hinds Head has a fair bit of history (see here) which, at the time, spaceman can’t recall. But as you can see from the website link, it has been the Ash Farmhouse, The Empress Cinema (and Cabaret Club), the Poco-a-Poco Club and Casino, and Chesters, suffering a couple of fires along the way. It has been in its current guise since December 1987.
We start as we mean to go on, with spaceman choosing a pint of lager (Becks Vier) and The Toad perusing the selection of bitters available, eventually plumping for a pint of Lancaster Bomber (combined cost: £6.50). Beers are certainly a lot more expensive than during the Slow Pub Crawl.
It’s a 12.30pm start on Easter Sunday and the pub is pretty empty – in fact, we were pretty much the first occupants other than staff. The dining area is reserved but there’s plenty of space in the bar area and, the prerogative of first arrivers, we select the table surrounded by two comfy brown sofas.
We have to complete an important task to start with – line our stomachs. Spaceman goes for a plain burger which comes with Cajun wedges, whilst The Toad opts for a steak sandwich. The Toad’s strategy was amusing to listen to, involving as it did an in-depth consideration of meals consumed in previous days, and whether the sandwich came with coleslaw or not (The Toad definitely wanted coleslaw).
Someone mentioned to spaceman the other day that this looked like a very large pub from the outside – it’s certainly spacious but spaceman wouldn’t describe it as “very large”. The Toad spots a newspaper rack and picks up the Sunday Times, selflessly taking the Sports section to leave spaceman with the rest. It has been a big sporting weekend so far: England’s Test victory over Sri Lanka (to draw the short series), Masters Golf, a crazy Boat Race, World Championship cycling, not to mention the usual array of Premier League football matches.
The Toad points out that the jukebox has featured Simply Red twice already (Money’s Too Tight To Mention and Something Got Me Started, in case you were wondering, although spaceman didn’t hear the first one of these). We hope for some more variety as the day goes on.
Spaceman debates the merits (or otherwise) of a second beer in the same pub so early in the pub crawl, but The Toad is in little doubt that it is the right thing to do. In hindsight, we perhaps should have stuck with one, but never mind. At the time we felt invincible. This time, we get a pint of Stella 4% and a pint of Cumberland for £6.35 – spaceman doesn’t have to tell you who had what.
The Toad had pointed out earlier, broadly in earshot of the barmaid, that the Lancaster Bomber bitter was (still) on the “coming soon” blackboard behind the bar. We later noticed that it been scrubbed off. Consumer power!
The Toad told of being “accosted” by a Jehova’s witness on the way whilst about to cross the A6, although The Toad was actually wanting to say hello having recognised the person in question. This was clearly the wrong choice – avoiding eye contact and frantically running in the opposite direction being two generally accepted methodologies.
It’s a damp day outside, which makes it a good day for drinking inside. There was a vague plan to have this in the summer (in spaceman’s mind), but The Toad saw no reason why it shouldn’t be brought forward to as soon as was feasible. Hence we slotted it into a not-very-busy Easter schedule.
Spaceman is the first to break the seal, and can confirm that the gentlemen’s facilities comprised three urinals and one cubicle, and on the whole they were merely functional. And cold too since the window was open. Spaceman prefers fresh in these circumstances, however.
We finish our lunch and exchange thoughts, evidently not running the risk of being asked to write articles for food magazines. The Toad thought that the steak sandwich was good, with good use of fried onions and mushrooms, and seemingly good value, although whilst it was £6, it was extra for chips. The burger, spaceman thought, was a solid staple dish, perfect for the stodge required here, and the Cajun wedges were pleasantly spicy and crunchy (the skin was in places a little overdone but that merely added to the taste). It was £9 for the burger, so not that cheap.
With our lunch devoured (well, not quite – we did leave a bit of the sides) and our two pints drained, we pulled ourselves up and onwards, spaceman failing miserably to get the newspaper back in the rack and so leaving it on the side, with a couple leaping into our sofas in the blink of an eye (The Toad theorising outside about whether they would “be in our graves as quick”).
A cut through Denby Lane and a right turn on the A6 brought us to…
In a pub located under an Innkeeper’s Lodge, we head straight for the bar (obviously) to purchase a pint of Becks Vier and a pint of Thwaites, costing us £5.45, more or less £1 cheaper than at the Hinds Head.
As we ordered the beers, the barman enquired as to whether The Toad was going to report him to the singing police for humming along whilst pouring the pint of bitter. The Toad replied that the reason for looking at him was because of curiosity about his name - The Toad had been intently staring at his name badge not his, er, vocal chords. We can't now recall the song being hummed.
We take a seat at a central table and the Toad soon points out one of those arcade “pick me up things” machines, The Toad’s first ever sighting of one in a pub, and spaceman agrees.
This is where we came up with the Toad’s nickname – apparently some girl at school gave The Toad that nickname for reasons not immediately (or indeed latterly) clear (spaceman didn’t like to probe) – kids can be so cruel. On a completely unconnected point, it smells of roast in here, which is not surprisingly really since they do a seemingly continuous multitude of roasts (not just on Sundays). More specifically, The Toad identifies it as the smell of fatty meat juices, a smell which makes us feel a little bit queasy after that big lunch.
The Toad points out a large collection of wood in a centrepiece fireplace, but is it ever lit? The Toad, growing nicely into the observer role previously held by barney all those years ago, reads out the fresh veg on the blackboard behind the roast serving section, including roast onions in veg gravy. The rules are that you can have a selection of meat and Yorkshire pudding once only, but unlimited vegetables. If you want to get away with more meat, don't wear a brightly coloured jumper, spaceman noted sagely (from experience).
The Toad tries to watch Man United vs QPR on the iPhone but struggles with bars (i.e. sufficient reception). Spaceman notices lots of pictures or photographs of Winston Churchill on the walls in one corner.
We then discuss the significance of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. There are those of religious persuasion that might not like the idea of a pub crawl on Easter Sunday – we don’t fall into that category (obviously, otherwise we wouldn't be here). Which is not unconnected to the fact that we can’t remember the exact sequence of events that was supposed to befall Jesus H. Christ all those years ago. Crucified on the Friday, resurrected on the Sunday, and took the day off work on the Monday? Did he work for a bank? Who knows (whether it really happened)?
This discussion was prompted by the BBC weather forecast (the nearby TV has the BBC News channel on, with its distracting news ticker), and its display of today as Easter Day. It missed out the word ‘sun’ and we can understand why, since the forecast for the rest of the bank holiday weekend is for rain, rain, more rain and yet more rain. In the North West anyway, just to satisfy those who like a good cliché (or perhaps a truism). Easter Monday, in particular, looks very wet and spaceman is tempted to postpone the planned bike ride (nothing to do with the seemingly inevitable hangover).
Some guy approaches the TV with the remote control and switches from BBC News to the digital text showing the United vs QPR score, demonstrating that they have recently gone 1-0 up following a debilitating (and, it turned out, controversial) red card and penalty combo. The Toad is very happy having recently made Rooney Fantasy Football team captain (awarding double points) in a work league which The Toad currently tops (and The Toad’s closest rival having recently switched team captain from Rooney to Valencia). Willing United to win and Rooney to score for the purposes of a Fantasy Football team is one of the reasons spaceman stopped playing such things some years ago. Spaceman actually enjoys watching games as a neutral.
Anyway, digital text is somewhat less interesting to watch but at least it's also less of a distraction - we don't want to be anti-social, gazing at the gogglebox. The Toad is now forced to break the seal at this point, spaceman helpfully indicating that the toilets are very close indeed (i.e. right behind). The Toad reports back thusly: alright if alone, but not great if busy. The soap station was broken so instead they had a large bottle of soap available, which meant getting a big handful of the stuff. And the hand drier works, which is a nice feature (low standards, clearly). There were 4 urinals and 1 (probably) cubicle. The Toad went on to confirm that it was quiet initially, but then “the world and his wife went in”. “Hopefully not his wife” counters spaceman.
Pints finished so time to go, further north up the A6 and then right to the junction of School Lane (which is what Heaton Moor Road turns into after it crosses the A6) and Manchester Road…
First visit here for both of us. The crowding of people by the entrance is a little intimidating, but we keep our heads down and they’re just out here smoking really. It’s fairly busy inside, mainly because they are showing the United game on a big screen and several small screens dotted around the place. So much so that it is standing room only for anywhere within sight of a TV screen.
We obtain a pint of Fosters and a pint of Adnam for £5.30, again at the cheaper end. There were a few bitters not on and the poor choice of lagers (Fosters, Carling or Stella) meant that we ummed and ahhed a bit when ordering from the barmaid. She didn’t seem too impressed by spaceman asking what lagers were on tap, seemingly undoing the deliberate attempt to look like we had been here before and therefore suggest we could be regulars and not get evicted.
United score their second, which raises a big cheer, but it is ruled offside – a very marginal decision, which perhaps makes up for the earlier error (the penalty came after a dodgy foul of a previously offside player) - or perhaps not.
Spaceman ventures mock-confidently to the toilets, past an unused pool table (its use would block visibility of one of the TV screens, hence being unused currently). There are 5 urinals, 1 cubicle, 1 sink and 1 seemingly broken hand drier, despite it seemingly being switched on. Perhaps it is a nice feature (to have one working) after all.
We stand at the bar so that we could watch the football, politely shuffling up and down to make room for patrons to be served. The pub has a dark, dingy feel because of a number of closed curtains. We are near an adjoining room which has no such light restrictions and as such is contrastingly well-lit, relatively quiet and with people eating food in a civilised manner.
The Toad’s research suggests that the bitter is Adnam’s Forté, 4.7% strength and described by The Toad as “nice” (no Roget). The nearby jukebox proclaims to have every chart since 1952 on it, which is some boast.
Valencia seemingly misses a sitter, which makes The Toad very happy given the Fantasy Football situation, although the replay shows it was in fact Rafael who did not take the chance.
Pints drained, we move on once more, with spaceman pausing outside to take a photo, the externally-based smokers thankfully absent. It was also a reminder of having forgotten to capture a picture of the Toby Carvery, i.e. having fallen at only the second hurdle. So spaceman insists on walking back via the Toby Carvery to take a photo – it’s not much of a diversion since we can quickly get back on track (by walking parallel to the railway line) to Heaton Moor Road and the explosion of bars which make up our finale. The Toad doesn't hang around anyway. We consequently make it, slightly circuitously, to…
Straight to the bar, naturally, for a pint of Carlsberg Extra Cold and a pint of The Governor (by Marco Pierre White, The Toad says), for a combined total of £6.27. The Toad gets 3p change from this transaction and eventually finds a Sooty charity box, having nearly written them off for not having one. “Give them half a point back” mutters The Toad, seemingly oblivious to the lack of a scoring mechanism in operation. “Good point that” purrs The Toad, s(l)ipping seamlessly into “Going for a slash”.
The Elizabethan was done up maybe two years ago and is much better for it, with a much stronger family focus. In fact it is (or was, at least) a regular haunt for spacegirl and spacebaby. Spaceman can’t quite remember what it looked like. “Squarer bar” thinks The Toad.
We won't be going here tonight. This is the Moor Club, of which we presume we have to be members to get in.
An array of condiments greets you as you enter The Elizabethan, which for some reason is always tempting to pilfer one from (but spaceman never does). We watch the very end of the United game on the big TV, which turns into a 2-0 canter, helped by the numerical superiority. The Premier League’s all over now, right?
We are evidently watching the live football on Sky Uno, and the adverts include the Italian X-Factor – it’s everywhere that show. The Italian TV channel presents the Premier League table in two columns, which is something we’ve not seen before. Better looking presenters, notes The Toad.
The Toad pops to the loo – “smelly toilet” is the headline comment. There was also a man with a boy in the cubicle – all above board, spaceman hopes. The Toad uncertainly confirms the presence of four (or possibly six) urinals plus one cubicle. “Disappointing for a pub that’s been done up…” the Toad continues, “half a point off”. (What scoring system is this?)
It is then spaceman’s turn for a call of duty, confirming four urinals. What The Toad didn’t mention is the Dyson hand dryer, a welcome feature. “Nice pint” is uttered again, as the Toad hums through the rest of the pint of Governor leaving spaceman floundering with his lager. It was eventually finished (obviously) so we carried on down Heaton Moor Road to…
Once more unto the bar, dear friends, once more… to buy a pint of Becks Vier and a bottle of Erdinger (no decent bitters – on draught?) for an eye-smoking £7.20, spaceman thinks. It’s quieter in here, although there are lots of kids to start with duly keeping the decibel levels high. The Toad thinks it is always fairly quiet and ponders how it is doing financially.
The kids soon leave and we realise that there is actually some chill-out music playing in the background – it had hitherto been drowned out. Spaceman recalls meeting The Toad and Mrs Toad here after looking around spaceman and spacegirl’s soon-to-be house way back in 2009.
We have a good chat about old times and relationships, probably not worth sharing. Not that we can remember. On an unrelated note, we become the only ones in the bar – apart from the staff, obviously.
This is the kind of thing we should have been tucking into to soak up the beer. Well, actually, savoury snacks would have been better (nicer), but that's just a matter of taste.
Right, it’s time to move on for the match (Arsenal vs Man City – The Toad is an Arsenal fan). Before we leave, The Toad comments that the beer selection here is not as good as at the Kro Bar – “certainly not for bitter lovers”, which The Toad is. The Heaton Beer Festival was recently here, with The Toad in attendance (does that mean that they have Italian Sky but not UK Sky?). There was a sewer issue, which is not what you want.
The Toad notices an exodus from the Elizabethan and wonders if they are not showing the game. Our next venue will be, though, as we hurry through the end of our beers for the 4pm kick-off…
It’s £6.05 for a pint of Becks Vier (so far winning the lager beer of choice) and a pint of “The Man From Uruguay” bitter (4.4%) which The Toad has a shot of to taste beforehand. Look, here's the proof. That's post swig, spaceman thinks.
We get a pretty good spot by the bar to watch the football on the nearby TV screen, although spaceman seems to steal some guy’s bar stool without realising. He didn’t seem to mind, partly no doubt because he had quickly found a new stool which he could call his own.
The Toad soon starts cursing at the TV, accusing the Gunners of “dicking about”. Meanwhile, The Toad rates The Man From Uruguay, noting it as a “nice pint”. After much deliberation and analysis of the flavours, The Toad then concludes: “It tastes like a nice pint”. That’s that one solved then.
The barman pours a particularly large one for a presumably thirsty gentleman, whilst watching the game. Multi-tasking.
The Plough seems nicer than it used to be – perhaps this one has been done up as well without us realising. Spaceman’s visit to the toilets, which, again, do not seem to have benefited entirely from the makeover, encounters four urinals and one cubicle. It’s all fairly cramped, whilst a big machine offers “toys for girls and boys” or somesuch.
The gents and ladies are themed as usual (via chalkboards on the doors) – this time Jean and Meryl. No idea why. (Aha, a bit of googling suggests it is an Oscar reference – Meryl Streep as the Iron Lady and Jean Dujardin in The Artist – spaceman did wonder why a girl’s name was on the boy’s room. The Oscars were six weeks prior so it's a bit out of date, but perhaps it becomes a bit of a drag to keep thinking of names.)
As soon as the whistle blows and not a moment later, we run (almost literally) to…
We order a pint of Guinness (no good bitters) and a pint of Becks Vier (it’s everywhere these days). But, as is usually the case with these pub crawls, spaceman forgets how much it was - £7-odd perhaps. (Spaceman later confirms with a member of staff that it is in fact £7.20.)
The Toad immediately runs to the toilets and subsequently sings the praises of the Excelsior hand dryer, saying it is better than the Dyson. Which seems harsh. Meanwhile, spaceman discusses Stella Black with the barmaid (/ manager / owner). Spaceman manages to get a free sample and we discuss its flavour – it’s a bit like Hoegaarden but not as wheaty.
They are getting rid of the Staropramen and Amstel, the barmaid confirms, and replacing them with Lowenbrau and Budweiser 4.3% (compared to the bottle which is 5%).
Spaceman suspects not having been in here before, but The Toad has – used to be often but not as much these days. The Toad would choose here for Saturday lunchtimes, but Kro Bar is better for Sunday lunches. Mrs Toad thinks Kro Bar is too cold. Conversation material has gone a little downhill. The Toad recovers from the lunch monologue to suggest that they have gotten rid of Hoegaarden because it wasn’t selling.
Right, it’s second half time. We’re a little late (thankfully, otherwise we would need to have downed our beers inside 15 minutes, including travel/pouring time), but we do get to…
It’s very busy in the Crown because of the live football. We get a pint of Carling Extra Cold and a pint of bitter, but we’re not sure how much it costs (getting too drunk to care?). We go outside, where it’s a bit cold, but it is the only area we can find seating where we can watch the football because of how busy it is. It's not my camera - the TV picture was not great.
The Toad gets increasingly unimpressed with the action and starts (hyper) vent(ilat)ing.
Spaceman had a moment of panic when trying to find the notepad in the various pockets and subsequently realising it was no longer with us. Spaceman had to take a break from the pub crawl, retracing our steps to the Town Bar, where the bar lady seems a bit gutted that the pad might have been lost.
On leaving the Town Bar in mild despair, spaceman realised the photo of the Town Bar had been taken from the road and… sure enough it was on the road lying between two parked cars. Spaceman was very relieved at having found it – all the memories of the pub crawl were here.
Arsenal score late on to win the match 1-0, which makes The Toad very happy. We take a bit more time finishing these beers, but we move on as we have a job to do and we would rather sit indoors at…
We get pints of Moretti and Deuchers IPA for which we swiftly forget the price. The Toad is clearly happy with Arsenal’s win and this will not get forgotten soon, moving on to a mini rant about Balotelli, who should have been sent off for a reckless challenge and eventually was anyway for other bookable offences. The notes then suggest that The Toad said that if Mancini tries to say anything (in Batolelli’s defence, presumably) then he deserves to be a “raging shit”, or something like that. The writing is a bit unintelligible by this stage, unsurprisingly.
It’s very quiet in Kro Bar, but perhaps because everyone has been elsewhere watching the Manchester football clubs on TV. (Or perhaps because it is still early evening on an Easter Sunday.) Mrs Toad is soon asking us where we up to via the medium of the mobile telephone.
It’s feels very chilled out, especially after having been in a crowded bar watching football – but it’s all relative. Mrs Toad will apparently be heading over to see spacegirl to have some sort of takeaway later this evening. The Toad is still chunnering on excitedly about the late victory and is clearly buzzing a little.
The Toad rates the selection here (of bitters, not toilets – that only makes sense if one of us had just arrived back from the gents). The Toad points out the presence of overhanging plants – these aren’t an issue for us but may be for some who have allergic reactions. (This is the nature of conversation at this time – we are getting just a wee bit tipsy.)
Eyeing up the wall nearby, The Toad contemplates purchasing a picture showing a montage of the Savoy Cinema, Shaw Road and other local places. We eventually finish our beers and stagger onwards to…
[NO PIC OBTAINED]
So this is our 10th pub and it’s barely 7pm (if at all). We are worse for wear, but this worseness for wear has seemingly come on quite quickly. We buy pints of Guinness and Becks Vier with little chance of recalling the cost. Again, it’s not particular busy in this venue and we comfortably get seats and a table near the back.
Sitting there, feeling a bit queasy, spaceman realises, just a few slurps in, that further sips of the beer are just no longer possible. There is just no more capacity for beer, certainly not without food. Spaceman asks The Toad if we should call it – and the Toad concurs.
We stop at 10 pints (we had two pints in The Hinds Head if you remember) plus a few sips of the beer in the 10th pub.
The thing is, spaceman can remember reasonable amounts of this time, and even managed to send a coherent text to spacegirl, so can’t have been crazy-drunk. But there was no more room for beer, disappointingly. We had been defeated.
We are handily placed for food, however, and somehow we glean the fact that spacegirl is ordering a Chinese from Bo Ho, so we pop in to add to the order. Well, spaceman does – The Toad apparently sits there giggling, as confirmed by Mrs Toad who came to join us. However, Mrs Toad refuses to give us a lift to our rendezvous point, making us walk home (understandable really).
Upon arrival with the Chinese (we had carried it) we were also forced to eat it in a separate room. It hit the spot, though, and spaceman felt like eating everything there was. We spent the rest of the evening supping water and watching the denouement of the Masters golf, although The Toad spent some of this sleeping. The Toads left later on and it was soon midnight.
Having watched the end of the golf, spaceman finally retired feeling relatively sober. The next day, there was even no hangover (although it was touch and go at about 4am)…
Well, we didn’t quite make it, a little disappointingly. We were a bit naïve (and, in spaceman’s case particularly, out of practice). We made a few mistakes, thinking we were invincible. Well, not quite - we didn't even think anything.
We did not think that two pints in The Hinds Head wouldn’t come back to bite us along the way.
We pushed the beer drinking too hard because of the football. We actually increased our pace during a frenetic two hour period in which we nailed four bars. That seemed to make a big difference when it took hold between Kro Bar and Cassidy's.
Finally, we did not have enough food. Some say eating is cheating, but spaceman disagrees. It is simply necessary. We had gone for about six hours without any food and it took its toll. There was nothing to soak up pint after pint. After The Crown, we should have popped in the local pizza/kebab outlet, had some stodgy food and perhaps a can of fizzy pop, and taken 20 minutes out from our hectic schedule. In fact, even before then we should have been looking out for bar snacks. But we were too focussed on drinking and pubs, and chatting and having fun.
So, we plan to do this again and, next time, complete all twelve pubs. The remaining two are Blue Cat, which we can’t even recall being open or not on Easter Sunday (not that it mattered) and Damson, which is part restaurant but does have a bar section. It’s perhaps a bit upmarket to finish off there but it works geographically. However, we might rearrange it on the day.
That is all, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we think we can remember we did.
Pub crawl list: