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