Requiem for a wonderful pub…

It is with a heavy heart that I report the loss of an old friend. The Irby Mill pub, Greasby, Wirral, has gone — right down the pan!

Note: Check out the comments for up to date info – the Mill is currently closed and the perpetrators of these crimes against one of Wirral best pubs have apparently gone bust.

For many years this pub was one of the best real ale outlets in the area, with a wide selection of first-class, well-kept beers and friendly service. Not any more, though.

We called in yesterday lunchtime, for a truly appalling and mercifully brief experience. What had been a nice little country pub, on the edge of suburbia, had been subjected to the most barbaric of make-overs, the normal pub furniture, which fitted nicely into the tiny proportions of the bar, had been replaced with the most hideously clunky and mis-proprtioned furniture – it couldn’t have been less elegant had it been hewn from old railways sleepers – Jack must have found stuff like this at the top of his beanstalk! The thought that trees have died for this is depressing. Subtle it ain’t, and the available seating has been dramatically reduced. Oh, and the bar stool seats had knobs on the front corners – what the bloody hell is that about? If it’s to ensure customers don’t linger at the bar, hey, it works, but here’s a thought, people – the customer decides where he wants to be, not you, and setting out knobby stools says just one thing – screw you, I’m off! If you don’t want customers to sit at the bar, don’t put out stools – it couldn’t be any simpler.

In addition, right inside the front door is another monstrous table and chairs where none have ever been in the past, totally blocking access for wheelchair users who nerd to turn left to get into the only accessible room. Of course, if they hadn’t screwed up the seating, that wouldn’t be necessary. Necessary or not, it’s an infringement of the law.

The first thing that met us on opening the door was the stench of old garlic – followed a few minutes later by the overwhelming stench of fresh garlic, in quantities to match the gargantuan furniture, in a meal being served to a small group right by the bar. What sort of halfwit sells such stinky food in a room where beer is served, and in such close proximity? It contaminates everything, and my clothes still stink of it. I like garlic, I really do, but someone else’s stench should NOT be foisted upon the rest of the customers, not when they have another – and empty – room available.

So, bellying up to the bar, I was dismayed to see than the majority of the hand-pumps had been ripped out (that the bar top has just been patched and not replaced speaks volumes), and the few that remained were corroded and unpolished. Anyway, expecting the worst, I asked my usual question when I go to a pub at lunchtime (especially one I haven’t been to for a while), I asked which beers had actually been sold that day. Oh, all of them, I was assured (a good trick in a conspicuously almost-empty pub, even though there were few beers). Except one which was apparently off, as the surly barmaid – who I think may have been the manageress – quickly turned the pump-clip round.

We ordered a couple of pints of Sharp’s Doom Bar, and got two pints of murk, and the barmaid vanished so fast we thought she might have been an illusion! Oh, and there was a charmless notice on the wall stating that customers who went into the kitchen wanting service at the bar from staff who had buggered off to serve food and not come back (I know because I asked) – NEVER a problem in the past, by the way – were committing an offence. Cobblers! It might be annoying, but no laws are being broken – lighten up you tedious sods, and serve your customers. Although, given the quality of the beer when we where there, please don’t! Mind you, given the speed with which our barmaid vanished – and stayed gone for an unfeasibly long time, god knows why, the place only had a handful of customers and we were two of them – I don’t blame customers for getting impatient. You want my money, I expect an efficient and preferably friendly service in exchange!

Having first waited for the cloudy beer to clear (ha!), we then had to wait five minutes for Her Charmlessness to reappear, when the following conversation ensued as I politely gave her back the crap beer and asked for something else:-

Her: “What’s wrong with it?”

Me:  “Well, for a start you can’t actually see through it…”

“Have you tasted it?”

“No, I don’t drink cloudy beer!”

“Well, we were serving it all last night and nobody complained…”  (If that’s true then the customers surely deserve all they get; of course, that may have meant the the beer was clear the previous night, and near the end of the cask when we arrived – hence the cloudiness – but I’m certain she was saying that it was just as horrible then.)

“Well, there you go, that’s their choice; It’s my choice not to drink cloudy beer for which there’s no excuse.”

So she grudgingly gave us something else, Charles Wells’ Bombardier, which was somewhat clear, but not very, and nowhere near sparkling, and which tasted  and smelled musty, so we gave up – I left mine, it was undrinkable – and went out to phone a taxi and go to the pub we normally go to, and should have gone in the first place, but who could have guessed that such an old favourite could have become so dismal?

Now I’ve never had Sharp’s beer before, but it occurred to me afterwards that Doom Bar (named after a sandbank, of which it appeared to contain a fair portion), might possibly have been a wheat beer, which can be naturally cloudy (but if so, why didn’t the numpty barperson say so?), so I’ve checked their website and, no, it’s not. There’s no indication that it should be naturally cloudy, and the picture of a bottle of the stuff shows it to be as bright as I expected it to be.

A note for those unfamiliar with cask beers – there is absolutely no excuse for these to be cloudy or to contain any solid matter at all. Real ale is not a synonym for murky crap – real ale should be a bright as lager. That it tastes a hell of a lot better goes without saying. Never, unless it’s wheat beer, accept cloudy beer as it is ALWAYS a sign that something is wrong with it (and if you run a pub and don’t know this or, worse, don’t care, then you may like to consider a new career). It may be innocuous, if it’s just been put on a bit too soon (still wrong, though), or it may go through you like a dose of salts and leave you feeling as if you’ve been reamed out with a wire brush. Don’t drink it! Far too many people in pubs will drink any old garbage they’re given, and standards won’t improve until more customers make a stand – and stop leaving it to people like me!

(I’m tempted to form CRAPBeer – the Campaign to Reject Awful Pints of Beer, it’s such a widespread problem.)

So, out of five beers, one was off and two were undrinkable – doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it? As far as I’m concerned, the Irby Mill is beyond redemption and is probably doomed to failure. Hopefully.

By the way, my comment about unpolished hand-pumps isn’t just pickiness. I feel very strongly that if the parts of a pub that are right in front of a customer’s nose aren’t clean, then it bodes ill for the parts that are out of sight. I won’t eat in a pub with mucky bar furniture, and I’m not that fond of drinking in them.

And one final point. If bar staff didn’t bugger off for no apparent reason (serving food isn’t an acceptable reason – they have a bar to run – pay a waiter/ess you cheap sods) – and stay gone – you wouldn’t piss customers off to the point where they felt the need to go and seek out staff, and then you wouldn’t have to post such a churlish notice. Me? Bugger that, I’d just leave – any pub that puts up a stupid notice, rather than fix the problem, doesn’t deserve any custom, never mind mine. Not that it’s a problem for me, as the only thing that will get me back there is a change of management – someone who knows how to run a pub, and keep the beer in good nick, and understand the concept of a service industry. Customers are not cash-cows, to be treated with casual contempt (it’s clear the Irby Mill has restaurant pretensions, rather than being content to be a pub with food, and that’s bad news for everyone, because there are better eateries nearby, but there’s a dearth of very good pubs). And talking to a local guy, as we left, a hell of a lot of other people feel the same way.

Update, December 2 I’m getting some personal feedback to suggest that the Mill has been restored to it’s former role as a real-ale pub, which is very good news.

27 thoughts on “Requiem for a wonderful pub…

  1. You were lucky, we ate there today from the Tapas menu – Conejo a la Mostaza which apparently is a rabbit stew. It could have been anything. The meat was shredded, obviously overcooked and tasteless. We also had a side order of chips which were soggy and dark brown tending to black. My wife could eat neither the stew nor the chips, whilst I struggled through the chips but eventually gave up on the stew. At the bar, we were more fortunate because we each had two very good drinks of Cameron’s White Rabbit which had more rabbit taste than the stew. When I came to pay the bill, I found that several other drinks had found their way on to it. This was quickly rectified by the barman. Whilst we were in there, people at another table returned their meals. Perhaps we should have done the same. Needless to say, we will not be returning. This seems to be the sort of place where Gordon Ramsey would need to use his extensive vocabulary.

    • Hmm… Can’t cook, can’t keep beer in good nick (there’s no cellar there – the beer’s in a back room, worryingly close to the stinky kitchen – though come to think of it, the kitchen’s been extended it that direction, so there’s no telling where the beer is now), so all a bit pointless. Let’s hope they go belly-up soon. By the way, if you like chips, skip the Ring o’Bells – blanched white and soft, but not finished off. Vile, but shovelled down by everyone except my companion and I who complained. Not that it did much good! Mind you, that was a couple of years ago – maybe they’ve learned better by now…

  2. I don’t know if it’s the same one, but we went to the Ring o’Bells at West Kirby before going to el Molino. The Ro’B is now a Loch Fyne restaurant and, as I couldn’t see any hand pumps, we departed. Unfortunately, it was a case of out of the frying pan.

    • Yep – that’s the one. No beer’s a bummer – that was the only high-point.

      I’m off to the Travellers Rest, Higher Beb, tomorrow (to take them a box of apostrophes!). Consistent food, good beer – that’s all I need.

  3. we live near Irby and for years the Irby Mill has been the best pub in the area and a firm favourite of many people. However, as you have alluded to, recently it was taken over and has been destroyed. the UV lights on the outside were a warning, as was the white kitchen tiles put up behind the bar and switch to spanish tapas food (in irby?!). then to cap it all they ripped out all the lovely wodden benches and packed the place with oversized leather sofas and a ton of small dining tables, ripped the heart out of it. The landlady justified this to the locals (who are probably not anymore) by saying she knows what shes doing as she has ran pubs in Ibiza, australia etc. well these aren’t Irby. We never go back.

    • Hi Jim,

      Some years ago, when I lived in Oxton village, I’d ride my electric wheelchair out to the Mill (I first started going there when Tony Johnston moved there from the Shrewsbury Arms in Oxton Village) on a Saturday. These days, if I lived next door, I wouldn’t drink there.

      As I understand it, the landlady’s family has a history in car repair, when they exercised the same degree of charm!

  4. The thought of Tapas in Irby doesn’t sound right. It isn’t.

    Went last night and one of the “dishes” was tempura vegetables. To me this would be vegetables (plural) in a batter and for £8 – yep £8 you would expect something great.

    One asparagus stalk and a courgette sliced into 4.

    The meatballs £4.50 were certainly not homemade. If they were, all 4 of the tiny little beggars, someone in there must work for campbells.

    At least Dick Turpin wore a mask to rob people.

    It won’t last, punters aren’t thick.

    • No, it won’t last, but you can stagger along for quite a while on customers who go once and never return. Hopefully they won’t survive the summer, but who would buy into a pub in the current financial climate, especially one that’s lost a load of goodwill and customers?

  5. Have to agree with all the comments.
    The Irby Mill has been going downhill for years.
    Dreadful service and the Kronenbourg is just about drinkable. We only stay for one pint before getting the bus into Hoylake. The new layout/Tapas stinks. (literally). The new owners have got carried away with their own self-importance. The pub has become a venue for the owner’s personal friends. I was going to go their this week for a meal. Probably better off going to McDonalds.

  6. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel!
    I am reliably informed that the Iberian obsessed owner has gone bust and has buggered off. Two blokes are supposedly in the frame to take over.

  7. I agree with everything you say Ron regarding the Irby Mill. This was a nice little pub which had good real ale and food.It has slowly gone down the nick!! I went for a pint this year, the smell of garlic was awful so I went outside with my pint, it was flat and I left it. The pub has now closed down – it should return to what it always was a country pub with furniture thats suits it ,plus good beer and food.. If you want Tapas go to West Kirby or Spain.

    • Hi Tony,

      I agree entirely. If you check out the comment from Gaz it looks as if we might be on a winner.

      Hopefully they’re going down the pan.

      Ron.

  8. “The Iberian obsessed owner” is not the owner. She merely managed it. Unfortunately, the local country Pub does not pay the bills anymore and anyone with half a business brain would have worked that 1 out by now. Beer does not make money and your local country pub would have closed down some time ago had we not taken it over and tried to change it. Also, we did not go bust, we are in a legal battle with the brewery over finances which is why we have vacated the pub.

    Pubs cannot survive anymore on the regulars that go in for 1 or 2 pints each night.

    • I drank at the Mill for many years, and it’s hardly rural – it’s just on the edge of a green patch between two urban sprawls. And in my experience, Mill customers aren’t the 1-2 pints a night brigade, either. If that’s what they’ve become then something has gone radically wrong. Which it has, as my post and the comments here make clear.

      Dismal beer and snotty notices taped to the wall do not make for a welcoming environment, nor does the overwhelming stench of garlic, which is simply not an acceptable accompaniment for cask beer. Or anything else much. It might go down well in Seville or Madrid, it doesn’t in Greasby. Even if your beer was the best in the region – which it was under previous managers – smelling like an Iberian greasy-spoon just doesn’t do beer any favours. That shouldn’t be too hard to comprehend – the customers have clearly figured it out.

      Please – read the comments. For the most part, these are old Mill customers that you’ve lost – we all know what it was previously, and deplore what it’s become. And don’t lose sight of the fact that the people here are just the tip of the iceberg – the ones who could be bothered to make their point. This post has attracted a steady flow of visitors since March – that’s an awful lot of brassed-off people.

      I’ve spent a large part of my life in the trade, and if you give the customers what they want, they’ll come, even in these straitened times. The Travellers Rest in Higher Bebington, a pub comparable in size with the Mill, illustrates that perfectly. And, like the Mill, it’s on the edge of suburbia. (Other than as a customer, I have no connection with the Travellers Rest.) There’s no secret to a good pub, just good, well-kept, beer, good food, and friendly staff, in a setting suited to its locality. Not getting too ambitious helps too…

    • Being completely dispassionate here for a moment, there’s absolutely nothing about Alison’s post that can be argued against. It’s well known that pubs in general are suffering, perhaps even more so when they are semi rural.
      The problem with the Mill is that many of its Customers want it to be run exactly to their liking, which is understandable. The problem is that it’s not the Customers that are pouring over the accounts books each week scratching their heads.
      So it’s the Manager’s job to try tweaking things, looking for a new direction, because keeping things as they were has already proved not to work.
      If the licensee trade is as easy as some people on this blog think it is, we’d all be doing it!
      By the way, I am a (very) regular drinker at the Mill, I have been through thick and thin. I’m a friend of Tony (Suzanne’s predecessor and now back at the tiller again) and Suzanne who tried but ultimately failed (and even this failure is arguable – when you get to know the facts behind it).
      If you guys on here have an axe to grind, perhaps you should take it up with the UK Tied brewery system, it’s this system that has been partly to blame for the failure of just about every incumbent of the Irby Mill for years. And once you get to understand the politics and facts, you might have a little more sympathy for a business that tried. If not, when are you going to have a go at running it?

      • Hey, Dave, I’ve worked in the licensed trade for a large part of my life – including pub and bar management – so you can shove that crap. And you were doing so well until then, too… Well, sort of.

        And will you please get off this semi-rural nonsense. The Farmer’s has more claim to that description, and even then it’d be a stretch; the Mill is perched on the arse-end of a housing estate for pity’s sake (and if it can’t attract all that potential foot traffic, there’s no hope; it did, not too long ago, so where are they now?), and only a mile separates it from Irby and another urban sprawl. You want semi-rural, try the Cottage Loaf.

        I’m a friend of Tony (Suzanne’s predecessor and now back at the tiller again) and Suzanne who tried but ultimately failed (and even this failure is arguable – when you get to know the facts behind it).

        So, not exactly unbiased then…

        Being completely dispassionate here for a moment,

        Oh, dearie, dearie, me, my aching ribs! That’s irony then, is it?

        The facts that matter are the those perceived by customers; crap beer, surly staff, pub closed when it should be open, and that bloody, all-pervading garlic, which has no place anywhere near cask beer. I like garlic, I really do, but all I want to smell in a pub is the tang of fresh beer, and maybe food that doesn’t actively conflict with it. If you know anything about beer at all, you must know what damage strong smells – even bar-staff’s perfume/aftershave – can do to beer quality. Then again, since you’re happy to drink at the Mill, maybe you don’t know.

        There are some things you don’t do in a pub, if you want to keep the customers coming back – serve poor beer, have the food conflict with the beer, have the staff go missing from behind the bar for so long the customers are moved to go looking for them (then post a snotty notice in the bar – don’t bitch about it, fix the problem). And on a personal note, you don’t give two customers, who you might want to encourage to return, two pints of mud. Then, when they politely complain and ask for something else, bad-temperedly give them a couple of pints (probably far past their sell-by date) that were disgustingly musty, and were left. And then bugger off!

        Incidentally, we’ve both (that’s the two of us in the original blog post), over the years (though not since before the “makeover”), spent more time, and drunk more beer, in the Mill than I care to think about. And in all those years I can count the number of pints we had to send back on the fingers of one hand – and still have some to spare. And when I could no longer walk, I rode my powerchair out there, seven miles – that’s dedication – but now I couldn’t even get it in the door, since some dimwit has shoved some recycled railway sleepers, disguised as furniture, in the way. Probably a breach of fire regs, too, obstructing the door like that… Just a thought.

        And the mark of a good pub is that anyone, total stranger or every-day regular, should be able to walk in off the street, be greeted politely, and be served beer in perfect condition, by staff who don’t act as if it’s an imposition and then disappear completely. And please, don’t insult my intelligence by telling me we were just unlucky. It’s perfectly clear we weren’t.

        Food is an issue, too, and the ambience of a Costa Brava caff is simply not appropriate where quality beer is served (if, indeed, “quality beer” now has any meaning at the Mill). It’s arguable that it would work there even if it wasn’t a pub – there are so many other, better, places to eat and, currently, to drink, within easy reach, but in it’s present incarnation it’s neither what it was or what the new owners want it to be. And what they want it to be probably won’t work there.

        And I’m sorry, the arguments put forward are fallacious – as I said previously, pubs like the Travellers Rest in Higher Bebington are doing well and, hell, they don’t even have a car park (and despite the law, that matters), and so are many other pubs around the Wirral, by all accounts.

        Tony may bring some of the alienated customers back (but that rumbling noise you can hear is Tony Johnson, turning in his grave), but if nothing else changes, then I don’t think he can force a recovery. Talking to people – more than have posted here, which you seem to object to for some reason (why – allergic to the truth, perhaps?) – it should be clear, even to you, that this says there’s a serious problem and, also, that the Mill has lost a huge amount, not just of custom, but of goodwill. Getting them back will not be easy.

        And once you get to understand the politics and facts, you might have a little more sympathy for a business that tried. If not, when are you going to have a go at running it?

        The facts I have no objection too, and unlike many drinkers I am aware of the politics, and the financial problems, but I am deeply allergic to propaganda and bullshit. Could I run the place? Yes, almost certainly. Would I? Not a chance in hell in its present incarnation. I doubt anyone could, successfully.

        As I said to Alison, read the comments here, and take them on board, and hey, here’s an idea, address them, don’t just take umbrage and bitch about them because they jibe with your views. These, mine included, are all first-hand accounts of shit experiences at the Mill (and are probably just the tip of the iceberg) – so don’t whinge about that, bloody well do something about it.

  9. Wow, you’re a stroppy one. I thought I was quite reasoned in my response on your blog.

    Have fun.

    • I thought I was quite reasoned in my response on your blog.

      Really? Wow…

      Stroppy? Not really (but are you aware of this blog’s title, of which this is a tiny part?). Intolerant of a snow job? Absolutely. Read my original post – I keep saying this – and the comments posted here. Do you think we’re all saying this stuff because we find it fun? Or just to annoy you? The problems exist, yet no-one has suggested what might be done to remedy the situation. All I get is flannel.

      Oh, and if you’d had the offensive comments that I’ve had, from an assortment of assholes all using the same form of words, so obviously orchestrated by someone, probably at the Mill, you might be a bit pissed off too. And no, they’re not posted here – psychotic rants from wankers get binned.

  10. Incidentally, you’ll notice I’m a friend of Suzanne AND Tony, 2 managers with completely different approaches to running the Mill. So yes, pretty unbiased really.

    • What, pray tell, does your friendship with two different managers have to do with anything? Other than, of course – and I’ve said this – your lack of impartiality.

  11. Hi, This may be a shot in the dark but…

    You may know that a windmill used to stand behind this pub and that this building was formerlly the mill cottage where the miller lived. I am extremelery interested in local history on Wirral and I’m currently researching this mill.

    I have heard that a fragment of millstone was displayed outside the building, a relic uncovered when the cottage was converted to a pub. I also heard that a sign reading “Lumsdens Cafe” hangs above the bar “Lumsdens Cafe” being the use of the building up until the 50s.

    I intended to cycle here to look and record these items in the next few days however I just read this page and have realised that they may no longer be there.

    Does any one know the current situation here, is the pub even open? I am appealing to any old regulars for any information on the sign and the millstone. Has any one ever seen them? Are they still there? If not does anyone know where they are?

    I don’t really fancy cyling here, nine miles eachway if it will be a fruitless journey.

    • Hi,

      I believe the pub is open again, under a previous manager, Tony, who at least knows how to look after the beer.

      I think the Lumsden’s Cafe sign has been consigned to oblivion, sadly. I don’t recall seeing a fragment of millstone, but I wasn’t looking for one, so it may be there.

      Anyway, if I get any responses, I’ll post them here.

      Ron.

  12. used to go regular if ya know what a mean its been done out really nice a lot of hard work has been done in the refurb its warm yes warm even in the fridge ( toilets) they done a lot pf work 6 starters and 6 mains good choice also food is excellent and very reasonable staff freindly and helpfull will be going back a lot their chips are to dye for

    • Yep, I’ve heard it’s improved dramatically. Tony (manager), is moving on shortly, so let’s hope the next manager is actually interested in beer, as well as food. Clearly, making the place resemble a transplant from the Costa del Crapola isn’t the way forward.

  13. Thought i’d throw a little light on this saga which has provided so much entertainment lately.
    The ‘Mill has now re-opened and Iberia has been banished. The new tenant (the Irby Mill is a tenancy not a managed pub) has several years in the trade managing pubs in London but has moved back to the area. As I was involved in some of the refurbishment work I can provide a bit of insight into what has gone on.
    The work was a little more involved than was planned resulting in closure for 2 weeks rather than the original 7-10 day aim. More of this later. Put simply the mill is back to a pub – a variety of older furniture including a couple of old pews from a chapel in north-wales, the fire back working and heritage paint scheme throughout (no more white!) Real ales feature strongly and will be rotated as quickly as sales allow (presently very quickly indeed). Food is simple but of high quality and sourced locally where possible. For example the chips are made on site rather than bought in pre-cut which is the norm. However strong food smells are not a feature of the re-launch as all the extractors in the kitchen have been replaced. The old ones were completely blocked with spanish grease – no wonder the place stank of garlic. This might give you an indication of the reasons for the increase in work needed – the kitchen had to be completely gutted. Anybody reading this that sampled the tapas,….congratulations!…..
    you’re still alive! (though not sure how). Suffice to say that 3 fridges were disposed of as they were a definite health hazard. (Food was being served up until the Saturday before closure so these were still in use!) Cookers were binned, post clean-up new flooring was installed – all work that shouldn’t have been needed in a going-concern run by someone who “knew what they were doing”. It’s fairly alarming watching people from the trade, battle-hardened as-it-were, physically wretching as the next nightmare was uncovered. Problems extended into the bar – the main ice machine had to be dumped again on health grounds. The bar itself has been refreshed with a new counter top and associated joinery and yes the white urinal tiles have gone!
    Visitors may notice the outside has also been tidied up ; beer garden, car-park, even the back yard, though not open to public viewing, was full of rubbish and certainly wasn’t conducive to running an efficient business.
    In short the Irby Mill has been resurrected. Having never had the pleasure of visiting the place during its Iberian Era I can only say that all the comments found on the net come as no surprise judging from the evidence found at the beginning of November. Basically the problems weren’t just in the approach but were far more fundamental.
    Bloody hell! Just re-read all that – sounds almost like a rant – it must be catching!

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