I have much love for Liverpool. It’s a savagely underrated city, with most people’s views not so much in the wrong decade as the wrong century. I recall a long weekend visiting in the noughties with a large group of friends from more southern climes who, with genuine sincerity, expressed concerns regarding their personal safety. As a Glaswegian, I have been on the receiving end of many similar misconceptions. But never from a Liverpudlian.
In reality, when meeting the locals in visits over many years, my Glasgow roots are warmly embraced as they recognise a kindred spirit. I refer to Liverpool as one of the “Holy Trinity”, along with Glasgow and Belfast. Similar in so many ways. Hard-but-fair industrial towns, shipbuilders, proud engineers of the UK, and totally football daft. A lot of grandeur and wealth from Victorian-era trade, but concentrated in the few, meaning they are working-class cities at their core. The same sense of humour in them all – brutal but playful – often indecipherable accents, but sincerely warm and friendly by nature.
With every passing decade, Liverpool goes from strength to strength. The formal industrial areas and riverfront zones have gone through the same sort of regeneration as Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Newcastle, et al. However, Liverpool has done regeneration as well as anybody and possibly better than everybody. A stroll around Albert Dock is a joy, and not a chain shop or restaurant to be found. Local, novel and original boutiques, bars and restaurants abound.
It was Meg’s first visit to Liverpool and it immediately went towards the top end of her favourite cities in the world, and possibly the pinnacle of towns in the UK. In the central urban parts, there are clear signs of gentrification but the Scousers have managed to pull off an incredible trick – hipstery without twattery – so those areas feel cool and hip but not achingly so. Our long weekend visit coincided with the Champions League final, so the natives were in particularly ebullient form, but the carnival atmosphere only added to the fun. But enough of the eulogising, I hear you scream, what about the wine?
We can’t claim to have been to every wine bar, or bar with good wine list, but we hit a few. Plenty more for next time. We have three “great”, one “good” and one “avoid”.
Bunch – 50 Berry Street
This one is a relatively new entrant, specialising solely in natural wines. This on-trend focus was reflected in a youthful crowd. The staff were all very friendly and happy to chat about their wines. A simple-but-varied by-the-glass list was very reasonably priced.
A highlight was an Australian old vine Savagnin. I know the grape from its home in Jura, in the French Alps, but hadn’t tasted any from the New World. The barman informed me that Savagnin had actually been grown and sold as Albarino in Australia for a long time (a genuine mistake) until DNA testing revealed its true self.
They don’t “push” the natural wine agenda, letting the wines speak for themselves, and all the ones we sampled were excellent. A modern vibe and a chilled-out atmosphere make it an essential stop for a wine lover in Liverpool.
Petit Café du Coin – 60 Berry Street
As you can tell from the photos, this place is as French-looking as you can get, in a very good way. It’s just down the road from Bunch, on the corner at the cross-roads, so these two are logical bedfellows for any Liverpool wine tour.
A classic blackboard features a comprehensive wine list of mainly, but not exclusively, French wine. It being a sunny day, we enjoyed both Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The staff were very friendly with a relaxed daytime ambience. Our fellow imbibers were an eclectic mix of young couples, families and groups looking for a bite of charcuterie washed down with a great glass of wine. Well worth a visit.
Buyers Club – 24 Hardman Street
This doesn’t advertise itself as a wine bar but could do easily. A very large wine glass on a sign, visible down the alley from the main road, was what drew us in in the first place. It features a large terrace with lots of benches – all full in the sunshine – and an even larger interior. The air-conditioned cool was a blessing on a hot day, so we happily stayed inside.
Another very large blackboard featured a broad and eclectic wine list, with many unusual offerings from a broad range of locations. We sat here quite merrily (in both senses of the word!) sampling many of them, and they were all good. Buyers Club didn’t come up in any of our Google searching for wine bars, possibly as it’s only been open for a few years. Mainly, I suspect, it’s because it advertises itself more as a bar; it also features many fine beers and a great cocktail list.
The presence of a DJ suggests that it’s a somewhat livelier place in the evening, so it’s got a lot to commend it at any time of the day. For wine lovers looking to kick back, with an equally eclectic selection of background music to match the diverse wine list, we recommend it thoroughly.
Ropes & Twines – 70 Bold Street
Heading down bustling Bold Street towards Central Liverpool and the Docks, you come across Ropes & Twines. Named for the former ropemaking district where it’s situated, it’s a distinct step-up in sophistication, clientele and pricing. Part art gallery, part coffee shop and part wine bar, it clearly appeals to a more well-heeled crowd than the other places on our list.
The presence of an Enomatic machine, with its promise of many wines by-the-glass, gave us cause for excitement. The wines we tried were very good, but somewhat expensive compared to other places we’d visited. Sampling a white Lebanese wine demonstrated that they’re clearly trying to justify the price premium with off-the-beaten-track wines, which is commendable.
There’s real potential here, if they broadened their horizons even more and offered more £5-6 glasses. If you’re looking for a sophisticated café vibe, as opposed to a pub/bar, and you don’t mind paying £7-8+ for a glass, it’s also worth a visit.
Veeno – The Italian Wine Cafe– 46 Castle Street
This is our “avoid” tip. It’s a classic combination of (a) the dangers of TripAdvisor and (b) the dangers of town centre locations. Situated on Castle Street, just off the pedestrianised main shopping thoroughfare of Lord Street, it had a full terrace and a fairly large crowd inside for a between-lunch-and-dinner timeslot.
Their pizza oven could only handle two at a time, meaning a long wait, with the resultant offering both good and disappointing in equal measures. Good as it was well made with an excellent thin base. Disappointing as it looked like it had chickenpox, such was the stingy sprinkling of nduja topping.
Wine-wise, we ordered a glass each of Grillo, a variety that we like immensely. The wine was good but served at a temperature one would expect from red, not white. And on a hot day, it got even warmer quickly. We complained and were told that the bottle had come from the fridge (which was either too warm or it hadn’t been in there long enough). The waitress proffered no solution so we asked for an ice bucket and were told we could have an ice cube. Which we took – one being enough to freshen the wine up without too much dilution – but begrudgingly and with a sour taste in the mouth.
If you advertise yourself as a wine café, your waiting staff ought to take the wine service a lot more seriously. It’s the top-rated wine bar on TripAdvisor but we suspect that owes more to its location than its vinous qualities. The service levels are typical of high footfall areas who don’t have to try too hard for repeat business from wine consumers. Better options elsewhere.
Top Hangover Tip
If you’re spending a night or more here, you’ll find plenty to amuse yourselves by day and by night. So much so that you’ll inevitably reap the whirlwind of punishment you deserve come the morning. An essential hangover cure is the Baltic Market on Stanhope Street. Essentially a large indoor street food market, it offers something of everything with a clear specialism for comfort food.
On the morning after a Champions League win, both stall holders and punters were still looking somewhat rough at 12:30 when we visited on the Sunday. We could happily have eaten from any of the outlets, offering everything from French to South American to Indian and most places in between.
We ate like pigs ourselves, surrounded by plenty doing otherwise, with a wide selection of chips and melted cheese, meat and any other toppings you can think of. Besides the market, there are plenty of good bars and interesting shops to keep you amused in the Baltic Quarter.
Simply put, if you haven’t visited Liverpool, or not done so for a decade or two, then you owe it to yourselves to book a weekend break. It’s a great town, with loads to do and plenty of museums and culture to soak up. There are the obvious and many Beatles landmarks, plus the Tate Modern and many more interesting shops to visit. By night, the city comes alive in a different way. This is not a place you’ll get bored too easily. For the wine lover, there are a host of places to visit – we’ve only scratched the surface – so you’ll have a great time with some lovely people as your hosts.