A few weeks ago, in a feature on the Georgian Quarter’s real-ale scene, I promised to drop in on a pub ever couple of weeks and simply enjoy some beer and the environment. And I decided i’d call it Bitter Experience. It’s a pun, see?

I thought I’d focus on pubs that sell real ale – or pubs that make a point of selling a variety of beers and interesting lagers and might be of interest to people who go to a pub not necessarily for food, music or footy – but simply to goto the pub.

The Dovedale Towers is the closest pub to which I’ve ever lived. From my bedroom I could often make out whether my friends were in the pub or not. I never needed Sky in those days because I had a second front room a literal pint-of-Stones-throw away from my house. Did I like it? No.

I loved its handiness, but the Dovedale Towers always bemused me. Despite the obvious grandeur – it’s such a strange building, somewhere between Gothic and Georgian villa – the interior always seemed awkward; too big and impersonal and a strange use of space.

In its previous incarnation it did not sell beers of interest either, though it is noteworthy for the time that, suffering some sort of brainstorm, I asked a nonplussed barmaid for a ‘scotch on the rocks’.

The Dovedale slowly wound down over the last decade before a regeneration as one of Pax Leisure’s bizarre Alma stable. Where Alma de Cuba might work in its abandoned church idiom, Alma de Santiago just felt out of place, like a Lovecraftian hotel in suburban Merseyside.

Again, the pub did not seem popular and closed its doors again in 2010 and became a sorry sight. So we’re pleased that this South Liverpool outpost, which should by rights be a thriving business, has reopened its doors under Urban Gastro Pubs.

This now-sprawling empire currently includes Bier on Lark Lane and Newington, The Lodge (also on Lark Lane) and the intriguing Tavern On The Green in Chavasse Park. The pubs make a big thing of real ale, a wide choice of ales and lagers – including fruit beers and ciders – some good food and unusual surroundings. They also tend to be oddly protesting of their love of real ale, with slogans praising the hoppy juicings daubed all over the walls of pubs.

The Dovey follows this recipe – which, to be fair, seems to be working very well – to the letter. The interior has been reined in a bit since its haunted-house days as Alma de Santiago and speaks of visits to house clearance shops in search of kooky, antique items. But it’s not overpowering and is largely comfortable; the addition of white-tiled walls brightens things a bit and is a subtle but important makeover. The raised mezzanine-like level still seems awkward and rather pointless though – and the entrance and bar area so large that anything within it seems a bit overpowered.

Outside are wooden tables and chairs that should be brilliant on a sunny day or evening – not that we’ve had any chance to try them out recently. The car-park is a rather odd place though. It’s big, so big that it’s a little bleak and blustery. Attempts have been made to brighten the exterior, like painting the tables and chairs in primary colour. It’s a good idea, but the Dovey’s exterior only really works if it’s nice out.

The most successful part of The Dovey is a long room off to the left that’s the designated dining area. It’s neat, smart and feels a good size – and there’s a lovely little area at the end that looks out to the car-park that has an old-fashioned nursery feel. Inevitably there are massive flat-screen TVs everywhere; the kind that seem to be showing Sky Sports News 24-7 – and some music that seems just a little bit too loud and a little unsympathetic, something I’ve found to be the case in some of The Dovey’s sister pubs too.

On my trip there, on a Wednesday night with the students now a distant memory, The Dovey was not busy. There were perhaps a dozen people there over the two hours I was supping my beer. The choice of beer was disappointing. Just Deuchars IPA and Tim Taylor’s Landlord, both very drinkable session beers, were on handpump despite a menu that promised Hawkshead, Ringwood Boondoggle and Jennings Cumberland Ale.

My IPA was on the verge of turning, a fusty, slightly vinegary aspect to it. I sometimes wonder how often people drink the ale in these pubs, how long a pint of beer has been in the pipes. And, to be fair, there’s a question to be asked about whether bar workers always understand the peculiar demands of keeping real ales. I have returned a pint of beer in more than one of these gastro pubs; once explaining to a fascinated barman in The Tavern On The Green how you could tell if beer was off.

There are a good range of interesting draught lagers on at The Dovey, however, including a number of Czech and Belgian beers and the lesser-spotted Red Stripe on draught. The real ace up the sleeve is, however, the massive choice of bottled European and World beers.

There are dozens of fascinating beers and lagers to choose from here. Beers that are delicate; beers that will make your head spin; light beers and dark beers. Dangerous beers, even. Try a Chimay Blue at nine per cent – and then move onto something else. Sample a Kwak – you won’t have seen a beer served like it before.

Two of my favourite beers – the American Goose Island IPA and Brewdog Punk IPA – are on sale at the Dovey. This makes me happy, though at £4 a bottle the price does not. Thinking about it, you might not blanch at £4 for speciality beer in town on a Friday night – but drinking in town is expensive because rents tend to be higher.

Transport that 330ml beer to Penny Lane on a wet Wednesday and it doesn’t seem quite so reasonable. To put it in context, if I were to order a pint of this beer it would cost me over six pounds. I like my beers and I’m willing to pay more for exotic or high-ABV drinks, but that’s too expensive.

Luckily they don’t leave a sour taste in the mouth – both these beers are fairly light and hoppy with distinct citrus twangs – but I’m not sure that price policy is right. The barmaid didn’t even know that Punk IPA was hidden behind the metal doors of the fridges, and I doubt there are many people asking for it.

I cast an eye over the food menu too, which is imaginative and different. I’ve eaten before at The Lodge and the menu looks very similar. Courgette chips (I simply refuse to call it zucchini frites, OK?), padron peppers, game pies and a ‘carrots in a bag’ jostle for position of a menu seemingly written by Jamie Oliver’s more annoying brother. There are sunday roast and all-day breakfasts too.

And there is entertainment here beyond the tellies. There is, apparently, a quiz night; you can book a table to watch the footy and the Dovedale Social offers a genuinely innovative suburban music night. Big tick for that.

I hope I haven’t been too harsh. I applaud the wide range of beers and the attempts to reinvent the pub have been largely successful. South Liverpool deserves a popular pub, away from Lark Lane and Allerton Road, that offers good beer, food and music.

I think the beer, and the pricing, needs a little bit of thought – and the exterior could be wonderful in the Summer with a bit more work – but I’m very glad The Dovey is there and I trust the Urban Gastro Pubs team to make it work. Like a new real ale, most of the ingredients are there – they just need a bit of tweaking and a bit of attention.

The Dovey
Penny Lane

  • http://www.formidablephotography.com Mark McGowan

    A fair review – I’ve only ever tried the (mostly super strength) lagers in there and they weren’t badly looked after so, as you say, maybe there’s an education issue.

    I know they now only serve the Weston’s Old Rosie in half pints now as there were a few incidents after people didn’t realise just how potent it is…

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    Yes, my other half had a taste of the Old Rosie – the barmaid said it was ‘like rocket fuel’ – and declined. Tasted like petrol with sugar in it to me.

  • andyohare

    it’s a shame about the Dovey. I *want* to like it, I really do – it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a local. The current incarnation is definitely having a go, with a great selection of beers. The best time I’ve had in there was Jubilee weekend when our street party was rained off and we spent the afternoon in the side room with the neighbours. But there’s something missing – I find it cold and impersonal somehow. Maybe it’s just a bit too big? Good write-up, sums it up well.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    I know what you mean. I think The Dovey (I hate that name by the way) is not helped by it’s size or layout. It’s a very impressive space but I don’t think it works. The bar and entrance area feels too much like a lobby to me and as a result feels rather impersonal. I think the room off to the left works well. Perhaps the raised area would be better off as a separate room. I dunno. But I’m with you on wanting to like it more than I do.

  • bornagainst

    A very fair review. Deuchars is a very reliable beer, so for it to be close to off, the pub isn’t handling or checking the beer correctly. I would be interested to know how the bar staff would have reacted if you took the pint back… and especially if they would have then continued to sell more pints from the same pump (to less discerning customers).

    Real ale needs a lot more attention than keg beers, especially in a pub that might not be doing much volume during the week.

    The price is also definitely an issue – I’m pretty sure the Ship n Mitre sells Goose Island for £3 a bottle.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    The pint I had was drinkable, just not very nice – and I like Deuchars. If I had to guess I’d say it was the first pint that had been pulled through for a while.

    I’ve had a pint – an actual pint – of Punk IPA for under four quid before. Neither Goose island or Punk are generally cheap in bottles but four pounds was too much for me.

  • northers

    “Lovecraftian hotel” – did you also play Call of Cthulhu when you were 14?

  • Steve Williams

    Too loud, too dear, too big.

    And I to want to like it.

  • Doug.

    good review and some good feedback from readers. I like having a potentially good pub so close by. The Richmond is poor, as are the wine bars that pepper Allerton Rd, which leaves me a walk to either the Willowbank (dubious but sells good beer), Pi on Rose Lane or the Edinburgh – by far the best pub in Liverpool.

    Lower your prices and have more reliable stock Dovey, and you’ll win over lots more regular customers.

  • Mark S

    I’m not sure about the renaming to “The Dovey”, but notwithstanding that The Dovedale Towers remains a decent local and alright for a pint. I think the gradeur and scale of the interior can seem at times overwhelming for a suburban boozer, and tends lead it away from being the cosy local to balance Allerton Road’s fake tan ridden bars and the bordering soulless Richmond. In contrast to Penny Lane Wine Bar I haven’t found the Dovedale Towers to be over priced on the few occasions I’ve been drinking there lately, but do agree with others who have commented that a little more knowledge on the part of bar staff regarding cask ales sales wont go a miss.

    Its also nice to see some effort going into the extra curricular events at the Dovedale Towers, the Dovedale Social events in particular are a welcome alternative way to spend what would be a usual bleak Thursday night.

    The previous poster mentioned the Edinburgh as being the best pub in Liverpool. I’ll see Doug’s recommendation of the Eddy and raise him the Storrsdale, a true hidden (pristine) gem on the Liverpool pub scene serving well cared for ale at reasonable prices.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    We might have to have a discussion on the best pub in Liverpool. The Baltic is probably my favourite, but The Edinburgh might run it a close second. Like The Storrsdale too – reminds me of how a lot pubs were in the 80s.

  • YORKSHIRE PUDDING

    it will always be the dovedale to me, and they have done a great job doing up the place too dark and dingy before my only criticisms are 1) the choice of beer rarely changes from the times we visit, cant they get some more local ale in for extra brownie points from us real ale fans? Not that it isnt kept well its always looked after. and also the Price. im sorry but over £3.00 for a pint of bitter is taking the michael a bit.

    despite those bits of moaning a wish the dovedale all the success for the future and look forward to dropping in.

    oh and the food is nice too the burgers are good pre sesh nosh!

  • jintys

    I cannot imagine this proud building as The Dovey! My parents owned Dovedale Towers in the 70s and early 80s and it was then the hub of Butlers Catering Services, catering for fabulous weddings and other private functions. The main function suite was on the right side of the building with a bar on the left and a further restaurant upstairs. I haven’t been in Liverpool for a number of years but I wish Dovedale Towers a prosperous future!