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Previous Pint Pleasures - November 26, 2003

guinness eileen

The Railway, 18 Tithebarn Street, Liverpool, Merseyside

When I was growing up in California I was always intrigued by England. Since my parents had a number of British friends I was exposed to the accents and cultural differences at a very early age and dreamt about someday visiting London, especially after my best friend moved there with her family when we were still very young. Until the Beatles became popular I was virtually unaware of Liverpool; and by that time, as a hardcore prepubescent nonconformist, I would rather have died than admit I harboured even the slightest curiosity about seeing their home city.

Years later -- just a couple of weeks ago, to be exact -- a lifelong Beatlemaniac friend came from America for a visit. As this was Barb's first visit to the North of England she requested as part of her itinerary a pilgrimage to Liverpool. Jumping at the chance, we took advantage of the first unfoggy morning in a week and drove off in search of Beatles landmarks, not to mention lunch and a decent pint.

After making a brief stop at Liverpool John Lennon Airport -- where I took a photo of Barb in her Joe Jost's t-shirt posing in front of John's statue -- we found ourselves in suburbia driving down Penny Lane. There was a banker on the corner -- a branch of Lloyd's Bank, to be exact -- but we didn't see a fire engine. But there is a barber shop and, on a roundabout just opposite, a place called Sgt Pepper's Bistro. And we failed in our search for Strawberry Field. At first Andrew suspected it was a playing field not far from Penny Lane. But confused by the fictitious STRAWBERRY FIELD streetsigns for sale in the airport souvenir shop, we managed to find a Strawberry Road which ran through a council estate and looked like any other council estate road. We later learned that Strawberry Field is actually a Salvation Army children's home on Beaconsfield Road near Mendips, the house in which John Lennon grew up. Opened in 1936 as a girl's home, Strawberry Field is where Lennon attended garden parties as a child and received his first musical inspiration by listening to the Salvation Army Band. It's a good thing he learned to play guitar; just think how different pop history would have been had Lennon taken up the trumpet or tuba instead.

Besides being the home of the Beatles, Liverpool is England's main west coast seaport. It also boasts the largest cathedral in Britain (the Anglican Cathedral) as well as the Tate Liverpool, the largest contemporary art museum outside London. It was recently voted the latest European Capitol of Culture, and in 2008 there will be events and festivals all year long celebrating this title. And, of course, there is the Liver (pronounced with a long "i") Building topped with two copper Liver Birds, from which the city got its current name. There are various stories about the origin of the mythical Liver Birds, but they date back to 1207 and have gone through forms resembling eagles, sea gulls, and cormorants.

As I'm sure you can imagine, retracing the Beatles' childhood can work up a mighty thirst, so we headed for the city centre, not far from the Liver Building. Just around the corner from the Moorfields station and across from the old Exchange Station building we found the Railway, a large Victorian pub with tall elegant ceilings, cosy nooks, and stained glass windows everywhere. On this particular Wednesday lunchtime it was packed with business suits standing at the front bar, including one man in a baggy charcoal grey suit who was cramming his coleslaw and curly fries into his mouth at such a pace that they snaked greasily down his chin. A TV in the corner was airing a cricket match and I noticed, mildly amused, that Barb and I were the only women in the bar. The huge railway station-style clock on the wall announced the time as 7:00 sharp, which seems an odd time for lunch. But as my mobile and Barb's and Andrew's watches all said 1:30, we were relieved that in the process of winding back the pages of pop history we hadn't driven into a time warp, and that we could still order lunch.

Although Barb had her usual pint of Stella Artois, Andrew and I had fine pints of Cumberland Ale (4.0% ABV, Jennings Bros., Cockermouth, Cumbria), a welcome refreshment after our Magical Suburban Safari. The pub has a number of handpumps and a chalkboard announces the guest ales, and the staff are quite friendly and accommodating. Our prawn doorstep sandwiches were very tasty as well, although I've never been able to understand the concept of making a sandwich with such thick slices of bread. We enjoyed our bowl of curly fries as well, even though we didn't let them slither down our chins. All in all it was a pleasant city pub experience, and I look forward to future explorations into the drinking establishments of Liverpool.

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