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And The Beat Goes On....

I visited the lovely old Victoria Theatre in Halifax the other evening, which also provided the opportunity to visit the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe situated a stone's throw away. This is a comfortable place with seating and nooks and crannies on a number of levels, with around 8 beers on cask, 10 on keg, and a couple of ciders, as well as the usual wines and spirits. The beer choice is top notch, featuring the likes of Salopian, Track, Squawk, and Hawkshead on a regular basis, and on this visit I enjoyed an excellent pint of Jarsa from Brew York, as well as a 4.2% pale from the wonderful Black Iris brewery who have recently re-located to Nottingham. The Victorian has been open just over a couple of years, and until last year, pretty much had the town centre of Halifax to itself. It says something that despite the pressure from the fantastic micro pubs that have sprung up in the town over the past 12 months - The Grayston Unity, the Alexandra, and the Pump Room - the Victorian has upped its game considerably and it is still up there as one of the the best places in the town centre for a pint. Well done to Tom, Anth, Lee, Sam, and the rest of the crew!

I was going with a number of friends to the Victoria Theatre to the Solid Silver 60's Show, featuring a number of stars from that era. I particularly enjoyed Dave Berry, who at 76 performed excellent versions of a number of his hits including 'Little Things' and 'The Crying Game'. I also was impressed with Chris Montez, of 'Let's Dance' fame who, despite his unnaturally permanent smile, remarkably white teeth, and Californian tan, displayed some unexpected excellent skills on the guitar, notably on 'Black Magic Woman' Also on the bill were the Merseybeats, Wayne Fontana - who could almost make a career in stand-up - and Vanity Fare. Whilst I am always on the look out for new music, it is good to hear some of the golden oldies as well from time to time, and it was very enjoyable evening, our tickets having been organised by our good mate Des.

Talking of new music, I listened to a lot of Radio 6Music this week as with Simon Mayo on holiday, the Radio 2 Drivetime slot reverted to middle of the road mediocrity, and I needed to listen to some decent, advert-free music. And I was impressed! Top DJ's including Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, Mark Radcliffe, and Stuart Maconie, guys who rigourously follow the DJ etiquette of announcing the name of the track and the artist before and after it has been played, and who clearly love their music. And I heard some good stuff from the likes of Future Islands, The Mark Lanegan Band, Wire, Father John Misty, Elastica, to name just a few. I shall be going back to 6Music. In terms of albums I have been listening to of late, I have particularly enjoyed 'Citizen of Glass' by Danish singer and musician Agnes Obel, a mesmerising collection of songs with swirling harmonies and hidden depths, and I have also very much enjoyed 'True Born Irishman' from Daoiri Farrell, the best Irish folk album I have heard in years. And of course, I have to mention my other musical highlight of the week, another cracking Sunday afternoon of blues and banter from Chris Martin and Scott Wainwright at The Beck in Brighouse!

Meanwhile, on Good Friday, some friends and I went for a day out in Manchester. For me, it was a return to several familiar haunts, but for a number of the group it was a trip to some new venues. Having said that, our first port of call was new to me as well. This was the Pilcrow, which had been recommended to me by a couple of my Buffet Bar friends, and which it had not been possible to visit last time I was in town. The Pilcrow is an unusual place in that it is a newly-built Scandinavian-style wooden building, created by a community of local volunteers who came together to create the building. It is in Sadler's Yard, which is just off Hanover Street and a couple of minutes walk from Victoria Station, surrounded by the old Co-op buildings in the so-called NOMA neighbourhood. And very nice it is too, with a mixture of cask and craft ales, along with locally-produced food and snacks. It is run by one of the co-founders of the Cloudwater brewery, Paul Jones, and Jonathan Heyes, owner of Port Street Beer House and Common, and not surprisingly, there is a tap takeover by Cloudwater coming up soon. A very pleasant start to the day.

Our next stop was the Angel, 5 minutes walk away past the new Co-op building, where I enjoyed an excellent pint of Windermere Pale from Hawkshead Brewery. Someone remarked that the angel on the pub sign looked like Mick Hucknall! We moved on up Rochdale Road to number 73, where The Marble Arch didn't let us down. The place was filling up, many people opting to dine there, but we all moved outside and enjoyed our drinks in the covered smoking area. The Pint was on top form.

From there, we went to the Smithfield, where I enjoyed an excellent pint of Dead Man's Hand from Blackjack, whilst one or two opted for the Squawk, and some enjoyed a pork pie with their pint. I also noticed there was a Cloudwater beer on hand pump, and so it seems they haven't yet completely abandoned cask. We didn't call in the Bar Fringe this time, instead making our way over to The Crown and Kettle. Normally when I go in it is the evening, and with the lighting tending to be pretty subdued, it is easy to overlook the fact that the main bar is an outstanding room, with beautiful windows and a fine, high ceiling.

We then headed into Ancoats to the Seven Brothers tap, which I had visited a few weeks before, but was a new one for everybody else. Despite my previously-stated concerns about their pricing policy for cask v keg, it is a nice, friendly bar and seemed to go down well with the rest of the party. From there, we moved on to Pie and Ale, which I have enjoyed more every time I have visited. This time, with most people opting for some food, I tried one of their pies and it was superb. Mine had a Lamb and Mint filling, and served with mash and red cabbage, it is highly recommended, but everyone enjoyed their choice. The beer was very good too, although I forget what I had.

We headed across town in the rain to our final destination, another old favourite, Cafe Beermoth, before we had to get back to Victoria and catch the train back home, before a number of us finished off the day at the Market Tavern. And what a  day we had had - great company, plenty of laughs and good conversation, and some great beer along the way!

The Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Halifax

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