Join in the fun and games in the historic English city of Chester and find out which pubs, clubs, bars and music venues to visit on your short break.
I’ve recommended below what I consider to be the best spaces, mainly in Chester city centre, for a drink with a touch of class, something unique, a fun but not extreme atmosphere and/or a drinks bill that won’t leave you in need of a stiff drink to steady your nerves. You’ll find lively bars, a club in which to dance the night away, a selection of magnificent pubs to sup a quiet pint or glass of wine, and a couple of live music venues.
A fairly new joint on ABode). Kick back with the well-dressed locals in the know and enjoy the knockout views of the city. A giant pouting Debbie Harry watches over the bar and a balcony adds to the glamour. Residents and diners get preference if the bar is busy, but the bar on the ground level also offers reasonable drinks in pleasant modern surroundings.
I’m just nuts about the cherry martinis in Bar Lounge (75 Watergate Street; 01244 327394; http://barlounge.co.uk). If possible, I’ll also sup my beverage of choice under the warmth of a patio heater outside. Inside the cocktail bar if you manage to get your bum on a sofa, you’re doing well. The dimly-lit, Moroccan-inspired interior is perfect for intimate tête-à-têtes but fun-loving crowds feel at home here too.
Hands down, my favourite place to drink any night of the week is Oddfellows (Lower Bridge Street; more on staying at Oddfellows). Whether you’re keeping an eye out for leather sofas, quirky chandeliers, Alice in Wonderland-inspired decor, the good-looking people, or plain old celebrities, you’re sure to find it here. See more on getting a bite to eat at Oddfellows in my guide: Cheap restaurants in Chester.
Another bar that also features in my cheap restaurants guide is the Living Room (13 St. Werburgh Street; www.thelivingroom.co.uk). Away from the main eating area upstairs, the swish bar is all chunky wood, brown silk drapes on walls, modern chandeliers – plus a white John Lennon-style grand piano. Some hate the snooty vibe of neighbouring Living Rooms (you know who you are Manchester and Liverpool), but Chester is a bit more chilled – though you’re still likely to have your fashion sense analysed of a busy Saturday night.
Get into the Latin swing at Fiesta Havana (Watergate Street; 01244 347 878; www.fiestahavana.com/fiesta/chester). The buzz in the Cuban restaurant/bar is infectious and I defy you not to at least tap your feet when the DJ gets going late at night (it can be a little too quiet early in the evening). Get your lips around a mojito and order tapas if your belly begins to rumble. Studenty types tend to frequent this place during the week, but the vibe is relaxed whenever you visit.
Turn left when you enter Duttons (12 Godstall Lane; 01244 401 869; www.duttonschester.co.uk), and head for the bar that looks out onto the lane. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you spy the rows of Champagne bottles and the comfy bar stools. The bar often hosts private parties, but you can always pop across the lane to The Living Room (see above).
Drinks and food promotions lure punters into the Pitcher and Piano (St John Street; www.pitcherandpiano.com). It’s a chain pub, and attracts a mixed clientele (last time I popped in for a drink there was a wild hen group dressed in pink with flashing wands, and a number of older couples dotted around enjoying a bite to eat). There’s a heated inner courtyard too.
Chester's biggest and best nightclub is Cruise (4 St John Street; www.cruisechester.com). Work groups and older clubbers, with cash to splash in the roped-off VIP sections, rub shoulders with only just 18 year olds with mouths for drinking and feet for dancing. There are six themed areas. The dazzling white “Svenska” club is where you’ll find the crowds. The stage at Cruise is often graced with a soap star (usually Hollyoaks) or a former Big Brother contestant, and sometimes you’ll find the odd celeb, plus hangers on, in one of the bars.
There are many reasons to visit the Brewery Tap (52-54 Lower Bridge Street; 01244 340 999; www.the-tap.co.uk): for the blokes, there’s a cracking selection of ales (including those from Chester’s own brewery, Spitting Feathers), for non ale-lovers there’s a historic setting, a jovial ambience and sensible prices. Climb the steps to the pub (mind the narrow door) and immerse yourself in not only a great pub, but a former Jacobean great hall originally home to a wealthy merchant family.
Another one of the city’s old-style boozers (with a log fire) is the Bear and Billet (94 Lower Bridge Street; 01244 311 886; www.bearandbillet.com). It’s also within crawling distance of the Brewery Tap. The magnificent windows at the front are followed by a decent choice of drinks, a sensible bill and – if you’re hungry – a whopper of a burger menu. There’s also live sports action on the big screen TV.
Cross the Handbridge from Lower Bridge Street and you’ll find The Ship Inn (18 Handbridge; 01244 678 400). I’ve stopped recommending this place for food (and hoping the standard improves, as it’s a lovely venue), but the bar offers a roaring log fire in the winter and pretty views to the river and parks, plus a wide selection of beer.
On the other side of town you’ll find the Old Harker's Arms (1 Russell Street; 01244 344 525; www.brunningandprice.co.uk/harkers). By no means is it the cheapest boozer in the city, but it oozes with charisma. Old port boxes line the ceiling and bunches of picture frames clutter the walls. The canal-side pub even has its own library, and the friendly team know how to serve up a decent drink. There’s no music, but a lively atmosphere is provided by loyal locals in-the-know and visitors with smiles delighted to have stumbled on this place. Get there early or late - especially if you want to eat - otherwise you’ll be hovering for a table.
You can almost smell the history at Ye Olde Boot Inn (9 Eastgate Row North; 01244 314 540)...at least I hope it’s the history. Said to have been a Victorian brothel and later a gambling club, this is the sort of pub for lovers of cheap ales and those who don’t mind a sticky floor. I always expect to see a man in a flat-cap with a copy of the Racing Post tucked under one arm and a whippet at his feet, but it attracts a younger crowd too. You’ll find the Boot, established in 1643, wedged into a narrow slice of the historic rows.
Live bands, DJs, salsa nights, open mic sessions: there’s always plenty going on at Telford’s Warehouse (Tower Wharf; 01244 390 090; www.telfordswarehousechester.com). Based at the canal basin in an attractive, old and spacious building with a really friendly atmosphere, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste. Check the venue’s website for forthcoming events.
Another sterling music line up, plus a good dash of comedy, can be found at Alexander’s Jazz Bar (Rufus Court; 01244 340 005; www.alexanderslive.com). Based within the in-the-know environs of trendy Rufus Court (just off the city walls at Northgate Street), Alexander’s feels intimate and exclusive. Get a bit of jazz and blues, or have a giggle, while you eat too – Alexander’s is also a restaurant.