How to start writing about a city that comes burdened with so many preconceptions? Everyone thinks they know Liverpool, they patronise or fear it and it’s inhabitants-they are ‘surprisingly pleased’ with how lovely it is as if they expected a rat filled festering sewer or talk of the inhabitants in sneery snobbish tones-thieving scallies one and all come here to steal your hubcaps.
Liverpool is glamorous-admittedly I have not spent much time or indeed any in the outskirts but stepping off the train there are so many women dripping in jewelry who actually make tracksuits look sexy. There does seem to be a Liverpool look but hark, I am now in danger of lumping people together myself so will desist and say instead that there were penguins, everywhere. There, now, you didn’t expect that did you?
Our first point of call was not one of the exotic cocktail bars or five star restaurants but up three flights of stairs down a side street into a green room filled with plants from which an old Pulp album was loudly playing. This is vegetarian The Egg Café, cheapish and cheerful, with a merry haphazard vibe and artwork lining the walls. I have broccoli and thyme soup with garlic bread with cheese (£3.25) and my partner in crime has a broccoli quiche the height of the Titanic with some rather pleasant salady things, which is about five or six quid. It is busy and lovely and I feel like I am in San Francisco, a place I have never been but like to use as a comparative measure.
Now we are healthy we can ruin it by drinking and after all it is nearly noon so we go to The Philharmonic Rooms-to call it a pub makes me think it would challenge me to a duel to reclaim its honour-so dining hall it is. It’s ostentatious yet elegant with it, every surface, every wall is corniced, painted, scrolled, beveled, lopping the loop or doing some pretty plasterwork fandango. It is beautiful and bizarre and the men’s toilets apparently put the rest of it to shame. One day I will see them. And maybe my head will explode. The Philharmonic screams that ‘More is More’, a phrase, which could belong to Liverpool. We recline, drink wine and feel like landed gentry for an hour in the pastel and gilded splendour. The food also looks excellent here and despite this being a famous historical beauty, you are not fleeced when you walk in-good wine is about a tenner a bottle and the food also seems eminently reasonable. But I am still burping thyme.
Then a stroll past the old cathedral, such old graves and names, a plethora of Eliza’s and Jabez’es, sea captains, war victims and long dead diseased children tangled in the grass only a stone’s throw from John Lewis.
Designer shops and pound shops mingle in the centre-It is busy, big, modern and makes me anxious. I like Bold Street with The Soul Café’s brilliant selection of food to make you die earlier, News From Nowhere, the independent political bookshop where even the wrapping paper sold is for civil ceremonies and children’s book are on Rosa Parks rather than the Gruffalo. Trendy clothes shops and nasty clothes shops, a fruit and veg man, an American diner, ubiquitous Beatles crap and Maggie Mays tea shop-take your pick according to your status as shopper, tourist, anarchist, person who loves the idea of deep fried cheese or just plain happy sight see-er slightly frazzled on wine and over the top Georgiana and still burping thyme.
We pop into Fact, an art gallery off Bold Street, an interactive exhibition of computer game art is on and the place is packed with all nature of humanity, playing incomprehensible games in darkened rooms, drinking tea downstairs or wine in the bar upstairs or ignoring the art to buy a card with a cat dressed as Amy Winehouse in the gift shop (sorry)
We go to The Baltic Fleet next-a place you will be amazed to hear is a pub. Another famous old landmark, it perches against broken desolate mills, abandoned forgotten architecture of the past, a motorway, new apartments and gated communities and of course the harbour. As places to perch go, it’s great. Not a scrap of nature can be seen apart from the strip of Mersey beyond the gated yuppie flats. The Baltic is also a brewery, much loved by the Camra set for it’s array of ales, well it was until the prices went up-then the local Camra publications talked about the Baltic like it was the devil incarnate (an enormous bottle of blue WKD perhaps?)
It is flagstones and old chairs, woodstoves and hand written notices without cutesy overtones and makes you want to stay all day talking rubbish to the jovial stranger next to you. But we need culture now and so on to the harbourside, huge blocks of flats here on Alexander Wharf used to be industrial buildings-where once people slogged away their life, cried and died, now are oversized white leather sofas and balconies and uncalloused hands. Boats, barges on chundering barely contained water sulking and rolling angrily alongside as if embarrassed by its tame Phillipe Starke surroundings.
The Tate is enormous, sleek and strange. The people here are as unfathomable as the art. Strange looking, at odds with their surroundings, just weird. There is some excellent stuff to be seen, world famous exhibits from the likes of Picasso and Dali, some happily pretentious crap and I like the view of the Mersey best from the upstairs window as it angrily scowls and froths. We miss the exhibit we came to see about mechanical beasts because we are too late. Hmmm, I wonder why… And then an hour later once we are back in the cold grip of reality and January the realization that wine and expensive gift shops are a fatal combination. It was such a cool robot though…
More food is needed and thus onto the Everyman bar and bistro underneath the Everyman theatre. It is canteen style food at its best-excellent quality local food plonked on your plate and a well stocked cosy bar. Superb for vegetarians’ too-I have spinach, mushroom and feta filo pie with three huge portions of salads that are a meal in themselves (pasta, couscous and beetroot) again, an excellent meal for about six or seven quid. The place is busy and friendly with more pint glasses on the table than bottles of wine and a range of accents, both international and national swirl in the hubbub.
Outside, the night is dark but the streets are getting busier despite the freezing icy rain, lights go on the empty looking flats and Liverpool is just waking up.