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Getting Back On Track....

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he had been on the Real Ale Trail the previous weekend and how much he had enjoyed the beer and the atmosphere at the Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Railway Station, knowing it was somewhere I visited on a regular basis.

I have been visiting the place for almost 11 years now, as I only work a short distance away and it makes an ideal stop for a post-work pint. I have always enjoyed the craic when I visit, the conversation can veer from the erudite to banal, hilarious to serious within minutes, and provides a great place to de-stress after a busy day. But, that said, I suppose when you visit somewhere regularly there is a tendency to take things for granted and forget that this is such an iconic place.

So when my mate went in for the first time he was greeted by a friendly pub, chock full of railway and other memorabilia from years gone by, with a bank of handpumps and taps, and a blackboard featuring the day's food specials. The fire may have been lit. He ordered a pint from one of the friendly staff behind the bar, and, after a wander through the pub to check out the numerous rooms, he and his companions got chatting to a number of the welcoming locals.

And that was very similar to my first visit. Back in those days the bar was owned by John Hesketh, who had spotted the potential of the old Victorian station buffet as a real ale mecca. It had originally opened in 1885, and had meandered on over the years quietly serving customers on the trans pennine route, but it was not known for its beer. John's idea paid off, and with Sylvia Wood, who had previously run the popular Station Hotel in nearby Ashton-under-Lyne, looking after the bar, the Buffet Bar built up a head of steam, and people came from near and far to sample the beers and enjoy the atmosphere. It led to the Rail Ale Trail concept, linking pubs nearby to the stations on the line towards Huddersfield and Dewsbury which really took off when it was featured on James May and Oz Clark's TV series, 'Drink to Britain'.

John sadly died, and the pub became part of the Beerhouses Group, who also have the West Riding Refreshment Rooms at Dewsbury, and which with the Buffet Bar provides a book end for the Real Ale Trail. Sam Smith, who had previously looked after the Sportsman in Huddersfield, part of the same group, took over the running of the bar for a time, and hit it off with the locals with her bubbly personality and broad Featherstone accent!

The place has carried on and you don't realise how many people you get to know over the years. Amazingly, sometimes I can walk in the Buffet Bar and know virtually everyone in the pub. And that's because people keep coming back, it is a magnet for the people of Tameside and beyond. We have inevitably had our moans over the years, for one reason or another, but with few exceptions we all keep on returning.

The Buffet Bar is though currently on a definite upward spiral with beer and food both hitting the spot. Recently I have enjoyed beers from breweries such as Shiny, Raw, and Torrside, all of which have been in tip-top condition. It is definitely somewhere you should visit if you like good beer and friendly company in a historic setting.
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And now some brewery news. Calderdale has a new one, with its beers due out in the next few days. This is the Eagles Crag Brewery, which is brewing in Todmorden. The beers are officially launched on February 2nd at The Golden Lion in the town. Certainly the marketing all looks very promising, it is great to see a new brewery starting up in the area, but as ever the proof will be in the pint!
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Meanwhile, today I attended the funeral of Sean Liquorish who sadly died at the criminally young age of 41. It was, though, a lovely ceremony, with wonderful tributes and excellent music. I had got to know Sean through his writing, but it was clear he'd had a lot of strings to his bow, and the number of people there was testament to a guy who was not just multi-talented but loved by so many. I feel privileged to have met him, albeit I only knew him for a relatively short time. RIP....

Stalybridge Buffet Bar
Stalybridge Buffet Bar, Platform 4, Stalybridge Station, Rassbottom Street, SK15 1RF.
Hours: 11(12 Mon) -11, 11 - midnight Friday, 10 - midnight Saturday. Tel: 0161-303-0007

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