CAROL ROSS was lost for words when asked what made her petite pub so special. Luckily, her regulars were happy to do the talking.
On Monday, the Roscoe Head was named Liverpool’s pub of the year at a boozy shindig so packed that ale lovers spilled out of the tiny tavern into the street outside.
Next night, just a few regulars were in the house. It may have been a quiet night in a small music-free pub, but they were happy to make a big noise about their favourite hostelry.
Just as landlady Carol Ross was telling me about her family’s three decades in charge at the Roscoe Head, Niall Bannon walked over, beaming, and handed her a congratulatory card.
“Not only do you consistently serve the best drinks in Liverpool,” he had written, “but it is also done with professionalism and friendliness. It is always a pleasure to visit your pub.”
Glowing words indeed – but there were more to come as I sought the secret of the Roscoe Head’s success.
The pub, named after poet and anti-slavery campaigner William Roscoe, sits tucked away off busy Hardman Street. The warmly wood-lined inn boasts a snug and two lounges, all packed into a tiny space smaller than the glass collecting area in bars more lavishly endowed with floorspace.
If it’s beer you want, then this place has as good a pedigree as you could ever wish for. It is, after all, one of only seven UK pubs to appear in every single edition of the Good Beer Guide since it was first published in 1974.
It even serves beer in third-of-a- pint portions, meaning drinkers like me can unleash their inner nerd with a wooden platter of three tiny sampler glasses.
Carol, a former manager of the opulent Philharmonic pub up the road, took over in 1997 after her parents, Nicholas and Margaret Joyce, hung up their aprons.
“I’m absolutely delighted at winning pub of the year,” she said. “Who wouldn’t be?
“We’ve won it in my parents’ day. But in my day it’s always been a runner-up. Until now.”
What’s so good about it, I asked.
“The clientele,” she said, after a pause. “The good beer. And the standards – the cleanliness.”
Sensing her hesitation, a neighbouring drinker couldn’t resist chipping in.
“It’s got its own unique ambience,” said Carl Davis, who visits regularly to savour its friendly quietness. “There’s no telly blaring down.”
Carol added: “There’s no music here, and people like it that way.
“When we did a refurb a few years ago, we gave customers the option of having music. They gave us a firm no.”
And the pub proudly refuses to show football on its little-used televisions.
“We got the tellies for the World Cup,” smiled Carol. “We didn’t get any business from it. It’s not a football pub.”
And at that point, Niall handed over his card.
“I’ve been coming here for 31 years,” he told me as Carol read his words with pride.
“I’m not one of those Camra types,” he added, pointing at my sampler. “I don’t drink real ale. But the staff are brilliant. It’s a great pub regardless of the beer.”
In the snug beside the bar, a suitably small space a London estate agent would doubtless call “bijou”, perched a trio of regulars – Karl Harrison, Andy Pattinson, and Sam Holden.
“I’ve got a mate from London who comes here every time he visits Liverpool,” said Karl. “He gets his sampler, then he chooses what’s going to be his wobbling water for the rest of the night.”
“I used to be a bitter drinker,” said Andy, a regular for 30 years. “But now I’m an ardent Guinness drinker. And this is the best Guinness in town.”
The pub looks ageless, its 1930s woodwork still in fine fettle, but it has been touched up every now and again. Andy wistfully recalled when there was a couch squeezed, somehow, into the snug.
“One Christmas, he mused, “there were 28 of us in this snug.
“Everyone was like this,” he said, miming a man with elbows pinned to his side and his pint glass under his chin. “But nobody spilt a drop.”
In the front lounge, frosted glass softening views of the backstreet outside, sat Simon Macaulay and Graeme Edwards.
“I’ve never had a bad pint here,” said Simon.
“The staff are always ready to make recommendations,” noted Graeme. “They know what you usually like, and they always say ‘I know what you’d like to drink this evening’.
“But that could”, he added with a wry smile, “be a bad sign that we’re in here too often.”
We gazed around the Roscoe Head’s spotless interior. “It’s a proper pub,” said Simon. “The only theme is that it’s a pub”.
I returned to the rear lounge, and my tasting platter. I quaffed my tastily bitter Liverpool Organic 24/7, savoured my Adnams’ Sole Star, whose floral citrus toppled into a lemony sweet finish, and relished every drop of the savoury cakey richness of the Lytham Brewery Epic.
As I put away my platter, one of the regulars sidled up.
“Would you mind,” he said with a smile, “telling people it’s rubbish here? That way we won’t get too many people coming in.”
Good effort. But no.
ONE of Merseyside’s longest-serving real ale haunts has been named Liverpool’s pub of the year.
The Roscoe Head, on Roscoe Street in the city centre, was honoured last night by members of the Liverpool and Districts branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).
The pub is a longstanding favourite among Liverpool drinkers. It is one of only seven pubs in the UK to be named in every edition of Camra’s Good Beer Guide since the book was first published in 1974.
The tiny pub packs in two lounges and a snug around its central bar.
And it’s a family pub, as the current landlady is Carol Ross, who took charge in 1997 after her mum and dad retired.
Camra’s branch chairman, Geoff Edwards, said: “It’s a fantastic pub. It ticked all the boxes – good beer quality, friendly staff, and a nice environment.
“It was a tight competition this year. Half a dozen very good city centre pubs did very well. But our judges felt the Roscoe Head just edged it.”