Liverpool pub The Lion Tavern has kept its doors shut this week for the first time in its 180 year existence. The reasons form part of a familiar tale of a squabble about money between landlords and tenants. We’ll leave the politics, for now, and concentrate on a story about the heart and soul of The Lion, the conscience of Liverpool’s business district. By Alan O’Hare.

I learned to play guitar in The Lion Tavern on Tithebarn Street. I also learned how to drink, tell stories and engage with people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, in that pub. Because that’s what The Lion was: a pub.

It may sound obvious, but it’s not. Let me explain. A pub is a place where people go to relax, let off steam and enjoy conversations with other people. In a boozer, people go to drink and forget. In a bar, people go to pose and post online. But, in a pub, people go to enjoy the atmosphere of what it is to be inside a hub of all life. We go into pubs to feel. To feel alive. To feel part of a community. To feel… good. Know what I mean?

I write ‘was’, above, as The Lion Tavern has been forced to keep its doors closed for the first time in its 180 year existence this week. The publicans in custody of Liverpool’s longest continually-open pub, Porter & Black Ltd, have entered into liquidation and a notice was left on the door of The Lion for regulars: “Through no fault of the company running this pub, it has been forced to close. Punch Taverns have said we may be open by Saturday. Hopefully we shall see you soon.” Punch Taverns, the chain who own the building, told the Liverpool ECHO they have been “… in dialogue with Mr Porter and Mr Black for a number of months to find a way forward and are disappointed that they have made the decision to terminate this and close the pubs. We would like to apologise to customers and assure them we will seek to re-open both pubs at the earliest opportunity.”

It’s a shame, as The Lion is arguably the cultural heart of Liverpool’s business district. Friday afternoons and evenings in the pub are legendary and there is nobody in my phone who hasn’t enjoyed a post-work pint in there with me over the years. A reminiscence, I’m sure, hundreds of you have, too. What’s your story? Here’s mine…

When I think of The Lion, I think of old friends. I think of introducing my then-girlfriend-and-now-wife to my Friday crew. I think of meeting new friends and bringing them to The Lion. I think of weekly sessions in the back room, under that beautiful skylight, singing and drinking until the early hours. I think of comradeship busy being born and prejudices busy dying. I think of sipping at the citadel of learning about life. I think of the Merseyside Bob Dylan Society. I think of tall tales and taller glasses. I think of my first tastes of real ale and whiskey. ‘Taste’, yes, that’s the word. The Lion was a place for men and women with no wealth and lots of taste.

Speaking of taste, I also think about how that famous cheese board would be passed around and everyone would take their fair share… and no more (apart from whoever was brave enough to grab the pork pie). The regulars would take their glasses back to the counter when it was time for another round. And, despite recent murmurings of owners less friendly than their predecessor, the atmosphere was always top class. Nostalgia? Hardly. These things still happen on a weekly basis.

We need pubs… and we need them more than they need us. The Lion could easily be torn apart, redecorated and rebranded as a business eatery for the local noblesse oblige to forget about the rest of us – it would take no skin off the nose of the chain owners. Liverpool’s business district, however, needs the tavern on Tithebarn. The conscience of an otherwise soulless street of admitted aspiration, The Lion is a haven for those who still value conversation, debate and drink above all. I’ve rowed with many friends in the place (hey, Led Zeppelin are shite) and I’ve hugged them on many more occasions (he’s right, you know, when the light catches the river when you step outside at dusk… ) – it’s called a night out. And they’re dying.

Who needs a night out, when ale is cheap in Asda? Who needs to bother with debate, when your mate can sort Netflix for you for less than the price of three rounds? Who needs to sit next to strangers, when you’re safe with your own? All salient points. But, what about life? What about the thrill of being in the pub and not knowing who’s going to walk in; what about catching the eye of a stranger at the bar or getting talking to an older person who’s seen it all, but wants to pass it on, and is interested in your story? These are all things I’ve experienced myself in The Lion. Sure, there are plenty of other pubs in town… but losing The Lion would be a big one. It’s a link, you see. A bridge between the business district and the rest of the city centre – a place where the lad in the high vis vest can meet his mate in her pinstripe suit at 5pm on a Friday and enjoy the craic.

Unicorns never existed. It’s time to fight to make sure lions always do.

Pic by Rod Burkey




Eric Mannion
June 16, 2016 Reply
Not having spent that much time in their Al I've never really thought of as you do, but I agree with you and hope it doesn't change.
Jim Sheehan
June 16, 2016 Reply
I remember being in there one Friday night with a gang from work. Joe kehoe used to play the frying pan (seriously) using his fingernails against the pan to make the sounds similar to a ukelele. anyway, this particular friday, the pub had a whole load of americans in and joe and i decided to put on a little act for our gang. joe got his pan and i got my spoons and off we went playing all manner of george formby stuff. the americans loved it and after we'd finished they said "you guys are great...are you on again tomorrow?" they thought we were a band been booked for the night. great pub, great atmosphere and great shame if it is allowed to close.
June 16, 2016 Reply
We go there ritually twice a year on a pub crawl. About 20 of us trading in the best real ale pubs in Liverpool and the lion is one of my favourites. Proper old world feel with the c little snug in the back and purport pork pit's behind the bar. It will be a sad day indeed if this pub doesn't reopen!
Rod Burkey
July 4, 2016 Reply
I truly hope this fine pub reopens soon. I used to go quite regularly, but on the last few occasions was less than impressed by the beer quality. Hopefully when it does open again this problem will not exist.
Rod buRkEy
August 4, 2016 Reply
Still closed.
Dave Hardman
November 16, 2016 Reply
It's re-opening today at four o'clock under new management.
Rod buRkEy
February 11, 2017 Reply
Closed again , but being RENOVATEd. Due to open MArch. 2017, i think.
Rod buRkEy
May 20, 2017 Reply
Now open and selling good ale.
    Alan O'Hare
    May 22, 2017 Reply
    Great news
George price
February 20, 2018 Reply
I was lucky enough to drink at that trough of life with al. Nights Never to be forgotten. Friendships to never end. Nights of musical illumination that broke down prejudices and instigated debate. The lion was the physical embodiment of How we felt. To tear it down is not just an act of vandalism bUt also of ignorance. The lion anD places like it provide the arena within which we can physically connect with each other to debate, listen, laugh and cry and not to have our Life experiences confined to the dark mirror of the digital age.
    Alan O'Hare
    February 20, 2018 Reply
    Thanks for the memories, George. You're beautiful soul is all over the spirit of this piece. Let's hope all is not lost...