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the essentials: Mike Chapple at the bar... The James Monro pub, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool.

MOST Liverpudlians who have visited New York feel almost immediately at home and want to return.

The Pub Column is one of them.

So, when news arrived that a Manhattan-style speakeasy had opened on Tithebarn Street, the immediate thought was to take a saunter down there and become re-acquainted with some of that Big Apple ambience.

Speakeasys, by historical definition, had more than a whiff of illegality hanging over them, having sprung up during the US Prohibition, selling under-the-counter alcohol.

The term comes from the manner of ordering alcohol without raising suspicion - a bartender would tell a patron to be quiet or, in the parlance, "button it buddy" and "speak easy".

As the Yanks' cruelly-imposed dry period progressed through the 1920s and early 30s, and these establishments became more popular, they became more commonly operated by gangsters.

Now, heaven forbid we should be suggesting that this is the case with the newly-opened James Monro.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's the brainchild of those behind that other Monro, in Duke Street, which has been building up a fine reputation as a gastro pub without being so poshed-up as to alienate those who simply like good beer without the food.

Its Tithebarn Street offspring is keen to keep up this tradition of serving good cask beers, only this time with a bias to Stateside bistro. Hence the Hanger Steak with doorstep chips and the Bronx Burger of pasture-raised meat topped with melted Monterey Jack cheese and packed in Ciabatta.

City historians will also know that the name of the pub is entirely appropriate to its Doodle Dandy connection, sharing it with the first transatlantic clipper ship which served the Mersey and the Hudson.

It was formerly the Brunswick Vaults, a warhorse of a pub that, despite its spit and sawdust appeal to grumpy old gets like me, was definitely in need of a makeover which it has now duly - and tastefully - received.

The only problem was that, it being the season to be merry, the manager Ian Price and his staff had understandably set all the tables for three-course Christmas dinner, so Lady Penelope of Pensby, who was desperate to get her choppers around something not only snacky but starry and stripy, had to bide her time.

Never mind - we were still able to sample Jennings's seasonal Redbreast and a beautifully thirst-quenching pint of Ian's favourite cask, Cock A Hoop, in the cosy alcove preserved for drinkers at the back of the pub.

It's encouraging to note that, despite my snipe last week at the combination of beer and good food becoming pretentious, this latest Monro incarnation, which provides good old boy hearty food with good oldfashioned British beer, is proving to be a big hit, according to Ian, not only with the younger crowd but more specifically the ladies - or should that be the dames?

Certainly, Lady Penelope confirmed that after Chrimbo, when the old menu is Yanked back into service, she'll be there waiting to have her first bout with The New Jersey Turnpike.

Not the road, silly, but a sandwich of roasted bell peppers, red onion, Zuccini, melted cheese and Bel Pesto.

And that's all, folks! (cue Loony Toons soundtrack).


The James Monro pub, in Tithebarn Street
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 20, 2008
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