Chester is not just a great British city for history and swarms of tourists it’s also a great place for us beer lovers. There are lots of great pubs and bars in and around its ancient city walls. I tend to go a few times a year since its so easy to get there on public transport. You can either come home at the end of the night or stay in a cheap hotel it’s quite easy given the distance of Chester from the other Merseyside settlements.
Getting there as mentioned previously isn’t difficult. My preferred way is via train, you can reach Chester from any of the Merseyrail stations, you may have to change once or twice but trains are very regular and prices are quite reasonable, just over £5 for a saveaway ticket to get you there and back. Please note that currently the last train to Liverpool leaves Chester at 11pm (23:00) daily.
The route I have come up with is quite a simple one that involves the periphery of the Chester city walls, I suppose you could call it a walls pub crawl if you wanted, there are many variations on the route and this should serve as a rough guide, indeed it’s entirely possible to miss out whole sections of the crawl by going through Chester city centre. You can always plan to revisit missed pubs on subsequent visits and I’m confident you will return!
If we are to base our starting point at the train station you can either go left or right, if it’s a sunny day then you are in luck as there are ample places in the city you can enjoy the sun in the great outdoors. This article will proceed in a clockwise direction but of course you can go whichever way you want, I myself generally prefer a anti-clockwise route.
The Old Harkers Arms
This is a suitable first stop on a clockwise tour. Set in an old warehouse the Harkers has a handsome bare brickwork interior and exterior during daylight hours it can seem quite roomy when it’s not too busy, during later hours when it gets busy it really gets busy with people spilling out on to the canal side area. Over 8 hand pumps are present with a good variety of local and national ales, often from Weetwood or Spitting feathers brewery, food is also served and looks and smells quite tasty i also believe there are craft bottles beers available. The beer seems to be quite well cared for and since its popular it maintains a good turnover. Harkers though isn’t cheap, it’s probably one of the more pricey boozers in Chester but if you like a good range and a good pint you can’t grumble, so make your choice and kick back by the canalside in summer or warm yourself inside with the rest of the throng.
The Cellar Bar
With a licence til 2.30 its one of the later openings in the Chester pub crawl, it’s a small two tier bar with unsurprisingly a Cellar cum second bar downstairs, the main action remains at street level where 3 hand pulls provide good solid cask ale selections and a fine assortment of kegged draught craft beers and bottles too. The Cellar also plays host to regular live music and has a pretty friendly and lively atmosphere, it reminds me very much of Stamps Too in Waterloo. If you’re looking to really switch up your choice of beers on your trip its a worth adding this to your route. The Cellar bar was voted Chester & South Clwyd branch Pub of the Year 2014 (CAMRA). Seating is mostly of the stool and high table kind so be prepared to stand if its busy. To my mind its one of the most successful bars in our corner of the Northwest to blend together well cared for cask ales and a great range of kegged craft beer. The cellar is a real fave of mine on the Chester circuit, try not to miss is. If your taking the tour in an anticlockwise route I suggest visiting the cellar last its later opening will allow you time to head back and enjoying a drink before retiring to the night.
You’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of you now as you make your way down to the wonderful River Dee, you can take a direct route through Grosvenor Park if you wish or follow Dee Lane and Grosvenor park lane, either way eventually you will come to JW Lees Boathouse, nestled right up against the river (and sometimes in it during flood!). A large family style pub with multiple areas there is a long bar in the middle and impressive views of the river where you can watch people simply messing around in boats. Only JW Lees Beers are available on the hand pulls, I’m not a big fan of them myself but you can’t complain at having a pint down by the river on a sunny day. Expect this to be very busy during weekends and especially during good weather.
Update 2015: Recently a large disused canal boat has been moored outside and converted to extra seating, so you can enjoy being right on the river and not just next to it. Just don’t fall in.
The Ship Inn
A walk along the River Dee is in order now to reach the next port of call (nautical pun intended) you have two choices here you can either cross the magnificent Queens Park suspension bridge and hug the river bank on the other side or take the walk along the Chester city walls side, either way you get some cracking views like the photo at the top of this page. The ship Inn was disused for a number of years until it was recently brought back to life, a single large bar dominates downstairs while upstairs food is served in a restaurant section (you can still eat downstairs of course). One great dominating feature is the large fireplace which is a real welcome sight and feel on a cold winters eve. One regular ale is on offer with 2 guests usually available these are again from local and national brewers and kept very well. You can enjoy another view of the river from the back of the pub, alas there is no beer garden. Enjoy the mellow atmosphere and when your ready were off over the old dee bridge.
Update 2015: on numerous re-visits to the ship its clear that the pub has been taken over by Thwaites, and/or it appears to have changed managers several times as well. Since our first visit the pub had a somewhat uncertain outlook and seemed to stock just mostly Thwaites beers. However as of Winter 2015 it has had another makeover. The downstairs has been made more bright and welcoming and the beer list has seen some improvement with inclusions of local brewers and some nationals. sadly it seems the original fireplace shown in the above photo has been remodelled but a member of staff assured me the fire would still be in use during cold days. The ship inn is still very worthy of a visit and more support and suggestions from customers may improve the beer range in time.
The Bear and Billet
Walking back over the old Dee bridge towards the Bridge gate section of Chester walls mind the road as there is only one pavement, your next stop is one of the few Okells Outlets here on mainland Britain, and a fine stop it is too! A large imposing listed three-story white and black timber-framed building, if you have an image of the inside of a British pub this might fit its description with a fireplace and low exposed beams all around, drawing an eclectic mix of young and old, the bear and billet is warm and welcoming, especially in winter as you can no doubt see from the rather cosy gentleman in the above photo. The bear and billet have 5 pumps on offer 1 serving a regular Okells beer and others from local and national sources. Food is also available. Upstairs is a larger seating area if downstairs is a bit too busy for you. When your ready to move on head up bridge street and cross the road to your next destination.
The Cross Keys Inn
The most northerly of Joules Breweries pubs is a one room red brick pub opened in 2012 with an old-fashioned Victorian style interior with wooden panelling and etched mirrors. There’s even a retro Carling black label tap on the bar! upstairs is a function room christened as another pub “the slaughtered lamb” which hosts traditional pub games according to the website. Initially i have missed the cross keys off on previous visits but we popped in again during December 2015 to see how it was getting on. The beer on offer is Joules own beers mixed with local and further away beers. its only the second place outside of Yorkshire i have seen Fernandes brewery beers, the first being the dispensary in Liverpool which seems to have a monopoly on it in Liverpool. The beer has been well-kept the atmosphere during the festive period was busy but not ruinously so. Other times the cross keys can be a nice place for a quiet contemplative pint. I’ll definitely be back more often! Next stop requires you to cross over bridge street for another short walk.
Spitting Feathers Brewery Tap
A short bimble up lower bridge street will bring you to Gamul house, home to the Spitting Feathers Brewery tap, the first one for the brewery until 2014 when a second was opened in West Kirby. Careful of the steep steps up to the entrance, this Grade II listed Ex-Jacobean dining hall has quite some history behind it, one famous visitor included Charles the First (who may or may not have had a pint while there). The main hall in which the bar is located is a vast space with large ceiling and ornate sandstone fireplace. Beers are of course from the Spitting feathers brewery but also makes room for many national and local breweries some of them Micro’s. As with many of the other pubs in Chester quality food is available and the menu changes regularly, the ambience of this very old building is worth staying for to soak up for a good while. but when your ready mind those steps again on your way down! Note the tap can fill up very rapidly at the end of race days. Food is available during peak hours.
Taking a route across the roundabout towards the Roodee (aka Chester racecourse) you will find the Architect. Recently renovated by pub co Brunning & Price the former home of Thomas Harrison, fellow Yorkshireman and architect who worked on two bridges in Chester (amongst many other things) and then designed and built himself this fine home. Which today is the pub! A white building with added red-brick extension this pub has a HUGE garden (and it is HUGE). Looking out onto Chester racecourse (aka the roodee), expect the architect to be very busy when any kind of event is on at the racecourse. The garden is a real sun trap so if that’s your sort of thing you may enjoy a few hours at the architect. Styled as a “Classic pub restaurant” the building is split into two, with the red brick extension playing host to the bar and associated area. The rest of the house proper is given over to rooms for dining, it does feel a bit odd wandering through what used to be someone else house looking for the loo while people dine away in side rooms! two regular ales are served one from a local brewer, weetwood when i last visited and up to five other guest ales so choice is pretty good, however this is a very upmarket place and prices reflect this as such. The architect is definitely worth a visit for a good pint, an excellent view and also by all accounts good grub.
Now at this point you can take a route direct along the historic city walls of Chester to the north from the bottom of the architects garden, straight up to the next pub, Telfords Warehouse
Alternatively you could divert off into the city centre and visit some of the other pubs, these will be covered later on.
Wander north along the walls and then zig zag your way across the assortment of bridge that cross canals and railway lines to find Telford’s Warehouse, situated right alongside the Shropshire Union Canal. The building is of course linked to famed industrial revolution engineer Thomas Telford, designed so canal boats could dock directly within its structure. Today the warehouse operates as a multifunction venue but is well-known within Chester for being a place for Live music and art. But of course it does sell fine beer too three regular ales are available alongside plus three guests making for a pretty good range, wide open glass windows give a good view out onto the canal and tow-path, seating is also available outside, though mind the canal itself unless you want to go for a dip in the water. A lot goes on at the Warehouse from Live gigs to salsa classes so it’s quite a busy place! food is also available and from having looked at the menu myself it looks quite tasty. Though Telfords warehouse is right on the furthest reaches of this crawl it is well worth visiting!
PLEASE NOTE: there is an admission charge after 9pm owing to the fact it is a live events venue
The circle is complete
now if at this point you are more or less ready for home you can make your way back to Chester railway station along the city walls, taking a route back along Brook street you can pop in the last pub before ending your circular route alternatively you can dive back into the city centre, this deviation will be covered a little later on. If you are heading onwards to Kash from Telfords you can either walk the wall or follow the canal, the canal is the easier more direct option.
Sat somewhat unusually on its own wedged between brook street and a dual carriageway Kash charts its own independent course as a good establishment to enjoy both cask ale and craft beer, they even have their own brewing kit which you pass on your way in. selling its own Redball ales alongside sister Blueball and a plethora of local and national cask and craft there is a good choice available, on a few occasions I have noticed beers tend to lean towards the strong end of the spectrum so be forewarned! but that’s not to say lighter ales are not available also. A neat little sun terrace is available by Kash’s front entrance, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable about what they stock so don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure, home cooked food is available and the interior is quite eclectic with barrels for tables and colourful murals on the wall. this is a great place to end your crawl or start it depending on which way round you are doing things.
City Centre Diversion
if along your circular walk of Chester you want to cut it short or add more to the route you can’t go far wrong taking a diversion through the city centre, there are many pubs in the city centre selling a good range of beers, you can see a concise list of these on both the what pub website, and Chester CAMRA’s own printable guide for the city. On my Updated 2015 crawl I now just recommend the Pied bull listed below.
The Pied Bull
Personally I think no visit to Chester is complete without popping in the pied bull. Known for being the longest continually licensed premises in Chester and home to its own microbrewery it’s a great traditional pub, I have eaten and enjoyed the pubs own produce and i was pretty chuffed with it, staff were really friendly even suggesting other places to visit and i was even offered a sample of a beer yet to come on direct from the cellar! The Pied Bull is an old coaching Inn that dates from 1155 so its got quite a bit of history embedded in the walls, and also some ghosts apparently, the only spirits i have seen though are in optics behind the bar! The atmosphere is warm, cosy and friendly so i think it’s a great place to duck into during a cold winters eve, warm up with a Pied Bull pint, 4 hand pulls are on offer including at least one regular beer from the pied bull microbrewery itself. If you like history and beer that hasn’t travelled far the pied bull is a worthy addition to any crawl in Chester.
In Summary – The last train home
Right first things first, if you are going home by train make a note of when the last train leaves! because getting to Chester station can be a hike from certain places and unless your staying for the night you might not want to be caught out!
Chester really is a cracking place to visit for a pub crawl any time of year, in the summer you can enjoy the many outdoor venues and the riverside in the sun and in the winter many cosy welcoming fireplaces beckon you inside for a good pint and a warm place by the fire, getting to Chester is easy, getting around Chester is relatively easy as well so there is no excuse for not going, whether you live somewhere on the Wirral or within the Greater Liverpool area it’s easily in reach, you could always stop a night or two and enjoy many of the places at a steadier pace as well. You don’t have to follow my route exactly I encourage you to head off the beaten track and find new places, there are several places I’ve omitted either because I don’t think they fitted with the flow of the crawl or because i just didn’t like them. that doesn’t mean you wont, don’t be shy and go for a wonder!