Skip to main content

Chester For The Curious....

I went to Chester the other week, my first visit there for a few years, and the first time I had gone solely to try out a selection of the city's pubs. And despite the miserable weather that day, it turned out to be a most enjoyable and interesting visit. Why not read on and find out what I came across....

I'd been planning to pay a visit to Chester ever since a direct train service from Leeds was routed through Halifax a short while ago, but until a damp Friday afternoon a few weeks back I had not taken advantage. To put it into context, previous train journeys to Chester for football-related visits had included a tortuously slow ride via Stockport and Altrincham that would have been quicker on the back of a tortoise with a dodgy knee, and another lengthy one where we headed out to distant Crewe where we had to change before finally homing in on our target. So a direct, one hour 40 minute journey from Halifax via Manchester, Newton-le-Willows, and Warrington Bank Quay was heaven in comparison....

Chester is a very popular destination for visitors, whether they are drawn by the city's history, the racing, shopping, food, drink, or whatever, and there is plenty to keep them occupied. It is situated on the River Dee with the Welsh border only a mile or two away. The city has the most complete walls, largest Roman amphitheatre, and oldest racecourse in the country, whilst the two storey Rows with their shops and a smattering of restaurants and bars are unique. The cathedral dates back over a thousand years and has some of the finest medieval carvings in Europe. The city centre with its many black and white half-timbered buildings looks medieval, although many were actually built in Victorian times, when the Industrial Revolution brought the canals and railways enabling the city's industries to prosper. 

I had earmarked 7 pubs and bars to visit on my trip. This did not include Telford's Warehouse, a mile and a half or so out of the city centre, based in a former warehouse overlooking the Shropshire Union canal. I had been a few times before, but I felt it would be a stretch to do it in the time available, and there were plenty to go at close to the city centre. It has 4 hand pumps and is an attractive bar with decent food and regular live music, and is well worth visiting if time permits.

However, I arrived in a rainy Chester to find that the first place on my list, the Artichoke, had gone. Situated in a mill beside the canal  a few minutes walk from the railway station it had sadly called time in May due to financial pressures. So 7 became 6. 

Close by, beside a bridge and also overlooking the canal, is a place I had visited before. The Old Harkers Arms is a smart conversion within another former mill, and this classy bar was today dominated by a large, smartly-dressed clientele. It turned out it was Ladies Day at Chester races and bottles of prosecco and glasses of gin and tonic were being eagerly consumed whilst the guys in suits were downing pints. The Old Harkers, which is run by the upmarket Brunning and Price group, is no slouch when it comes to cask beer; up to 9 cask beers are available with their own house beer, two from Weetwood Brewery, and 6 guests. I went for a pint of the Cheshire Cat from Weetwood, a 4% blonde session ale which was in very good condition (NBSS 3.5). It was hard to even find a spot to lean; all the tables were taken, many occupied by diners, whilst the doorways and bar area were likewise very busy. Despite that, there was a pleasant busy buzziness about the place and it had got my visit to Chester off to a good start.

Bustling: Old Harkers Arms

I went back up the steps to the main road, where a few yards away on the other side was the now-second pub on my list. The Cellar Bar is, despite its name, most definitely at ground level, although there is a function room downstairs. Walking in after the busy Old Harkers was to be confronted by its polar opposite, a quiet, chilled out bar with an impressive selection of 6 cask ales and a healthy selection on tap, all displayed on screens on the wall. It wasn't empty, but there were no fascinators nor racegoers in here, just a few people dotted around enjoying a relaxing drink, some watching the tennis on TV, some looking at their phones, some simply lost in their thoughts. I decided despite being only on my second drink to go for two-thirds of the 5.6% APA from Deya called Makes You Think. Very nice it was too. Chester's 2023 Pub of the Year, the Cellar Bar is a fine place to call in if you are in the mood for a quiet drink or looking for an interesting range of beers to choose from.

Chilled: the Cellar Bar

It was back across the road again, where a short distance along was the Cornerhouse, a large and distinctive mock-Tudor building beside a busy junction. Inside, the pub was attractively decorated with wooden flooring and bare-bricked walls. It was busy, with most of the tables in the large room taken, but I found a space by the window overlooking a temporary parking and drop-off area outside, with a large pick-up truck with its flashers on dominating my view most of the time I was there. I'd ordered a pint of My Little Sabrony from old favourites Arbor, which was a very enjoyable 5% single hop pale ale full, not surprisingly, of Sabro (NBSS 3.5). The price though was a steep £5.15, but aside from that I enjoyed the Cornerhouse, where there were friendly staff on board and a wide range of customers of all ages which made for a most pleasant ambience.

Friendly but pricy with good beer: the Cornerhouse

I headed into the heart of Chester's city centre, where I mingled with shoppers on the pedestrianised, largely half-timbered buildings having breached the city walls beneath a spectacular clock as heavy drizzle changed into rain. I turned down on to Bridge Street and about halfway down, I guess, I went up some steps on to the second level of one of the Rows. I came to a wine bar called Paysan, entered, and went up some stairs to the bizarre Cavern of the Curious Gnome. Rows of toadstools lined up beside the bar, whilst a large gnome (apparently called Stan) looked down from above. Despite these and other quirkiness to be found in this large room, the atmosphere was pretty subdued, serious almost, the guy behind the bar polite and efficient but seemingly short of personality. There were 4 cask beers on, but with nothing leaping out at me from a fairly bland selection, I opted for a pint from the keg range, going for the 4% Quelea, a juicy pale ale featuring Citra and Motueka hops, which I enjoyed. The bar is also well-known for its large number of Belgian beers. It is worth calling in to check it out for yourself, the bar is comfortable and chilled, but I am afraid the quirkiness was somewhat lost on me!

Bizarre: The Cavern of the Curious Gnome

I left Stan and his sidekick behind the bar, and went back downstairs and out on to the balcony outside the wine bar. It was still raining outside, so I walked as far as I could under cover before descending to street level. I had a few minutes walk which took me near to the red sandstone cathedral, and then I turned left and headed away from the centre and after crossing a busy road, I headed down Brook Street, lined with takeaways, vape shops, and beauty salons, eventually coming to the next place on my list.

I had been to the Olde Cottage previously following football at the Deva Stadium or whatever it's called these days when one of my mates and I had become detached from the speed walkers in our party. This traditional two-roomed pub was a welcome place for a final pre-train pint then, and it was as friendly this time, with plenty of people enjoying an early evening Friday drink; a few oldies chewing the fat, lads in high vis jackets making it their first port of call after finishing work. There was a great atmosphere and as more people came in, it was more than obvious that this is a real community pub. Four hand pumps stood proudly on the bar from which I went for the Wye Valley HPA, a 4% pale ale which acquitted itself well following the journey from its Herefordshire birthplace and was probably the best pint of cask of the tour (NBSS 3.5). Great beer in a great pub.

Welcoming: The Olde Cottage

It was a few minutes walk further along Brook Street to my final pub of the trip, a narrow building with a tower. Like the Olde Cottage, the Deva Tap was also playing host to the Friday after-work crowd. However, whilst in the former it was mainly lads from the lathes, the warehouse, and the yard who jostled and joshed over pints, here it was most definitely the crowd from the office. And as often happens in those circles, the need of some to fawn over the boss like bees round a honeypot led to additional chairs being pulled around tables, thus virtually blocking the way through to the bar. Not only that, the queue for the bar was one at the bar, one behind, and so on as if we were still in the early days of post-lockdown! And to make things worse, there was only one guy to serve the busy pub, and he kept having to disappear to collect and deliver a food order from the kitchen, a task made more difficult by the seating situation as mentioned above. To be fair, the lad was doing a great job in the circumstances and if he was annoyed or frustrated at the lack of support, he didn't display it when it was finally my turn to get served. I went for a pint of Distant Echoes, a 4.2% session IPA from Stonehouse, one of three handpumps available, with several beers also on tap. It was the first time I'd had any of their beers since I'd visited their brewery near Oswestry a year or two ago, and it was another well-kept good beer (NBSS 3.5), and meant that I left the Deva Tap with a more favourable view of the place than I would have expected before I got served. It didn't help that it's a narrow building, and that it was too wet to sit in the garden outside but I think it would help if they reviewed their seating plan. Or stopped serving the office crowd!

Busy, but good beer: Deva Tap

And from there it was a short walk back round the corner to the station. It had been an interesting, varied trip, with a mix of bars and pubs that were all different with a varied choice of beers that were consistently good. That one hour 40 minute train journey had been worth it....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. I'm not sure if I'm following you or vice versa, Chris ! First, Liverpool, now Chester. Good to see such consistent beer scores, something which I've seen most of this year across the country.

    1. This is actually based on a trip from a month ago, Martin, and before my Liverpool visit. So I guess you're following me!

    2. And I agree about the beer! The general level has been above average this year in my experience.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

1872 And All That....

News has broken over the past few days that Elland Brewery, famous for their 1872 Porter which was voted the Champion Beer Of Britain in 2023 have ceased trading. And with other breweries also struggling, the upheavals I wrote about last month are showing no signs of letting up.... I was out with some friends last Saturday afternoon, celebrating one of our number's birthday. With the drinks and conversation flowing as we enjoyed a most enjoyable catch up, we were joined by another friend who mentioned that he'd been out a little earlier and had heard a story from a good source in one of the local pubs that Elland Brewery who, a mere 6 months ago had won Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival for their flagship 1872 Porter, had gone bust. During a break in the conversation, I scoured Google for news about Elland Brewery. Nothing, apart from that win at the GBBF last year. I mentioned it to a couple of people when I was working at the Meandering Bear in Halif

A Calder Valley Ale Trail - UPDATED December 2023

The essential guide to the pubs and bars that line the railways in the towns and villages of the beautiful Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, an area which has a lot to offer and captivate the visitor. Here's the latest, updated version.... The original Rail Ale Trail heads through the Pennines from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to Stalybridge, or vice versa, depending on your starting point. Made famous by Oz Clarke and James May on a TV drinking trip around Britain several years ago, it reached saturation point on weekends to such an extent that lager and shorts were banned by some pubs and plastic glasses introduced to the hordes of stag dos, hen parties, and fancy-dressed revellers that invaded the trans-Pennine towns and villages. There are some great pubs en route and whilst things have calmed down from a few years ago, they can still get very busy on a summer Saturday in particular. However, only a few miles away to the north, there is another trail possible which takes in s

There Used To Be A Bar There....

Last weekend a little bar in Wesley Court in Halifax, closed its doors for the last time. But unlike the sad fate that has befallen so many pubs and bars in recent times, The Grayston Unity will be re-opening in a few weeks' time in a brand new home on the other side of town. And so this weekend was a chance for a final drink and catch-up at its original home.... It was emotional, it was fun, it was inevitable. The final weekend at the original home of the Grayston Unity occurred this weekend, the last pints being poured around 9pm on Sunday evening with the price of a pint dropping first to £2 and then they were free. The little bar had attracted large numbers over the previous few days; Grayston stalwarts, regulars on the Halifax drinking scene, a host of old faces from over the years, and plenty of bemused first-timers, many here from out of town to see the likes of Orbital, the Charlatans, and Johnny Marr playing down the road at the Piece Hall.  Michael enjoying a quiet chat w