Liverpool is a city with a distinct way of doing things. Despite the UK's hard march to the right, there hasn't been an elected Tory MP here for over 30 years. Liverpudlians, as one defiant unit, have mobilised to block The Sun from being sold in their city. The main shopping centre has spawned its own incredibly niche subculture, "Johnheads", which I don't fully understand, but as far as I can make out appears to mostly involve "standing around doing nowt".
These are objectively good things. But I'm not saying everything here is good. I'm not saying, for instance, that you can't have a shit night out in Liverpool, because – according to people who take time out of their days to review nightclubs on TripAdvisor – you very much can. What I am saying, though, is that I don't know exactly what a shitty night out in Liverpool looks like.
So armed with a six pack of Biers D'ors, I jump on the train from London up to The Pool, for a tour of the city's worst-rated nightspots.
ADELPHI HOTEL BAR - #74 of #99 Hotels in Liverpool (via TripAdvisor)
First, let's see what Liverpool's dance floor pundits think of the place [all sic]:
"Two large empty bar areas, giving the hotel the feeling of the hotel in 'The Shining', the executive suite was even worse than the first room. Rubbish lay outside the room and once inside, there were stains on the walls, the room was cold and smelt mouldy, the carpets were frayed and peeling away at the skirting boards."
"Used condom on bedside table upon check-in."
"A lovely group of local ladies hang out outside to offer their 'services' to the customers… but they wont get past the hotel BOUNCERS!! Yep you heard me right this hotel is so bad they need to physically stop the pond scum who are attracted by its smell of fags and beer from coming in!"
While not technically a nightclub, the hotel accommodates drinkers until the early hours, some of whom probably move their arms in vague accordance with the music, and so is – actually, technically – a nightclub.
Clutching a £1.50 bottle and walking its grand hallways, past splintered pianos, down towering staircases, I feel a bit like a Tesco Value Howard Hughes – yung princeling of my weird empty castle. That is, until I notice that the meticulously crafted gold statue of Greek god Hermes is actually made of plastic and a hen-do splutters its way past me.
Oh well, off to the "main room" to see what the vibe is like.
Within a minute or two, I'm sweating. It's not the residual body heat of the hundreds of ghosts of long-dead guests swirling around me. Nor is it a side-effect of the leather on the genuine La-Z-Boy couches arranged artfully around the space, like we're in a show home for divorced older men hoping to relive their Nottingham Poly glory days. It's in excitement for something altogether more thrilling.
An accordion conference! Right here, in the Adelphi Hotel Bar!
Time to leave!
SMOKIE MO'S – #102 out of #197 Nightlife in Liverpool (via TripAdvisor)
What say you, reviewers? [Again, all SIC. In fact, let's just remember this for the next one.]
"Wide range of music which was a tad confusing as you expext it to have a country feel but it didnt bother me too much."
"It's trying to be all things to all people & that's never going to work."
"Places like this give the city a bad name."
So: not a great start. And walking through the doors to Smokie Mo's, I am a bit confused. This is, without a doubt, a Southern American-themed rodeo bar. Yet, there's a giant shamrock painted in the corner with the message, "What's the craic?" and Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" is blaring over the sound system.
Who is this for? Is there an untapped market out there for fusion bars that make no logical sense? I'm going to assume there is not, because there's barely anyone here.
I head over to the DJ and request Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire".
"Nah, mate. Wouldn't get down well in here." I look at the American flag to the right of me; the framed photo of Paul Newman to the left. It's like it's not interested in its own own concept.
I don't know – maybe this place's saving grace is the mechanical bull they have upstairs?
I mean, yeah, it's a mechanical bull. I have a fundamental issue with inserting money into a device whose only intention is to hurl me off that device. It's like throwing a £2 in a smelting furnace.
Time for the next place – the one I'm most excited about. The Blob Shop (ranked #78 of 197 on TripAdvisor's Nightlife in Liverpool list) sounds great. While one reviewer said "don't go", another promised that "you can get a pint during the day for under £2 [and] listen to the banter". Sign me up!
I try to bound in, but the door's locked. A man inside notices me and starts laughing. My stomach turns. "No more there tonight, lad," he says. "But you should head up the road. Go for a sing at Crazy Jack's." Despite the fact this place has no presence on TripAdvisor, I'm game.
CRAZY JACK'S – Wild Card
"But you should head up the road, you fool. Sing your heart out at Crazy Jack's." – Old man in The Blob Shop.
*Wince* – Passing man upon hearing above advise.
"Big spender!" A woman, clutching a microphone, struts toward me as I walk in. "Hey, big spender!" she screams, pointing at the bar. I get a drink.
This, it turns out, is a karaoke bar. A staff member comes over to say hello. "You gonna sing then? Or just stand there like a wool?"
I am going to sing, thank you very much, and I'm going to sing a song by Liverpool's only band: The Beatles. I write my request on a slip of paper and hand it to the DJ.
"I've never heard that song, mate, nobody is going to know it."
"Are you kidding me? It's The Beatles." I pose. "Do you have it?'
"Then please. 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun'." He recoils, furious. I've won.
Finishing the track, I'm sky high. Back at the bar, I get a pat on the back and a pint from a local. I've spent around £17, I'm hammered and people have been nothing but lovely to me. This place is brilliant. Maybe going out doesn't have to be expensive and laborious after all?
If this is what Liverpool's ostensibly shit places have to offer, I've got to try the shit hot places. Now 2AM, it's time to head to a spot that people on the internet actually said nice stuff about.
MOJO - #633 of #1,363 Restaurants in Liverpool (via TripAdvisor)
"I love this bar amazing gang of boss bar tenders with passion for amazing drinks and service and also bringing a cool vibe. Sean h makes the best French Martini ever."
"Great atmosphere, the music was really good - great place for people in there 20's and early 30's I'll be back! Dancing on the tables and chairs is the norm here!"
"I visit here a lot, it is probably my favourite bar in Liverpool. There is always a great atmosphere, and every time you're here, it's just like one big party. The staff are great and the cocktails are lovely. Highly recommended."
I head straight for the bar, after one of those French Martinis I've read so much about. The barman points at me. "French Martini, please." He comes back with an Estrella. I'm confused.
Standing in the corner, my buzz starts to dissipate. Every spilt drink, extra £4.50 stubby can and jostle starts to feel familiar – a London night out 200 miles north. As 3:30AM approaches, it dawns on me. The shit places…
Turned out to be fairly good places…
And the good place…
To be shit.
My M Night Shyamalan twist, leaving me feeling the way his films do: sort of glad for the resolution, mainly glad that it's over.