The Pen Factory – Liverpool Revisited

Pen FactoryThe Neo Gothic monolith that is the Anglican Cathedral didn’t disappoint, but apart from that, things weren’t going too well on my Liverpool revisited trip. Wandering round the streets at the top end of Hope Street, I couldn’t for the life in me remember where The Somali club was. I kept getting a taste of the veg curry and rice they served up at 50p a bowl, but that was as close as I got, so I gave up looking and walked down to the Catholic end of Hope Street in search of The Everyman Bistro.

Now I have to say that without doubt, The Everyman Bistro is on my all time top ten list of pubs and bars, with the caveat of ‘at the time’, which was 1981- 83 roughly. On that basis, I think I’m sort of setting myself up for another disappointment, but I’m resigned to it not being the same because I read it had changed hands and the old owners had started up again in a new place.

Back in the early eighties, I wasn’t entirely sure what a Bistro was meant to be. If I’m honest I’m not entirely sure what the Everyman was, apart from something really good. It wasn’t a pub, but felt a bit like one, it was definitely more than a bar and it did food. You could always walk in and find someone you knew, an almost Bohemian, cultural hot bed, full of like minded souls where no one gave two whatnots about what you looked like, which in my case, at that time, was useful. Unusually, at a time when most public houses were tied, they had two or three different real ales on, from different breweries.

Thankfully the Everyman theatre hadn’t moved, but the bistro wasn’t obvious so we went next door into the place I had read about, The Pen Factory  and got a bit of a surprise.

Pen Factory Bar

There’s a bit of repetition and convergence here because The Pen Factory isn’t a pub neither, but it’s a lot more than a bar, it’s not a restaurant, but you can get food. You can get beer too, six real ales on hand pulls; Titanic Stout, Titanic Plum Porter, Mallinson’s SPA, Hawkshead Lakeland Gold, Ossett Silver King and Liverpool Organic Brewery Cascade. I think you’ll agree that’s quite a decent selection from across the North of England, including a local representative. We had an SPA and a Cascade, both of these excellent ales were on top form. They also serve a couple of real ciders, plus a bottle selection.

Typically, for Liverpool, whilst I’m stood at the bar weighing things up, deciding what to have, this random chap comes up to me and in a softly spoken voice asks what I was looking for? I told him I was after the Everyman Bistro circa 1982 and explained about my thirty years on re-visit. He laughed and introduced himself as Paddy Byrne, the guy who originally opened The Everyman Bistro on September 26th 1976. He put me straight on The Somali club. No wonder I couldn’t find it, it disappeared long ago. He also told me about the ups and downs of the Everyman over the years, the politics between theatre and bistro and how they had eventually bought out the whole building. Eventually selling up and opening The Pen Factory on Wednesday 3rd December 2014, sort of … well … next door!

Pen Factory Paddy Byrne

Mr Paddy Byrne

Back in the seventies, Paddy’s idea had been to create something along the lines of a German Bier Keller or beer garden. Somewhere with the feel of the old Les Routiers recommended Auberges, when you went travelling; good food, good drink, quality discourse. If you were ever fortunate enough to have been to The Everyman Bistro, then you’ll know he pulled it off and along with his team he’s managed to do it again with  The Pen Factory.

“Why the Pen Factory Paddy,” I asked?

“That’s what it was, a pen factory,” came back Paddy’s reply.

Apparently it was the Amalgamated Gold Nib Company in it’s final guise and Paddy pointed out the old strongroom with it’s massive iron door in the foyer. There’s been quite a bit of work done on the premises since and Paddy explained how they had opened up the windows on the South side and created a terraced garden area which he said was an idyllic enclosed haven in the summer. He would wouldn’t he, but then again, I believe him,  because he’s got everything else right.

Pen Factory garden

The decor is sort of a cross between Ikea and a recycled secondary school; science lab style stools and pale wooden school/church hall chairs with a slot in the back to put your hymn book, they probably had ESA stamped on them somewhere? There were even elements of the old Everyman with the original clock from behind the bar hanging on a wall.

I thought the prices were pretty reasonable, in fact, for a city centre, dirt cheap at £3 a pint for standard strength ales and I think I surprised Paddy when I told him I would expect to be paying around £3.60 in a similar sort of place at home. He told me that although The Pen Factory is keeping pretty busy the local market wouldn’t stand anything near that.

Pen Factory inside

One of the Everyman stand outs was really good food, at a reasonable price and with Paddy’s mate and chef Tom Gill in charge of the kitchen The Pen Factory is following the same theme. If I’ve got any regrets, it was that we had already planned our dining arrangements before we visited and didn’t get chance to try anything.

We made a second visit in the evening. Paddy was still there, front of house, meeting and greeting, making sure everything was just so. The bar was at 70% capacity roughly, which isn’t bad for a big space on Thursday night, plenty of people, some sitting, a few vertical drinkers around the bar. Some were eating, some were drinking, some were doing both, everyone was chatting. It’s the sort of place that can harmoniously accommodate all sorts of people, doing all sorts of things, all at the same time.

Pen Factory inside II

Overall The Pen Factory is my kind of place, nearly The Everyman Bistro Mk II. A nice selection of well kept ales in a very civilised environment. It probably wouldn’t suit the old Albert Dock type character from the Higson’s beer mats, with his flat cap and half of mild, but it suits me and I am obliged to take this opportunity to make a public thank you.

I’m a big believer that wherever we go in life we always take something away with us; sights, sounds, tastes, feelings from our experiences. Sometimes we don’t even notice what’s happened, occasionally events hit us full on. Liverpool had significant impact and I took a large piece away with me, packing it into that internal storage space where it got mixed up with lots of other stuff, becoming moulded and blended into what I am now. My piece of Liverpool contains a big slice of The Everyman Bistro, a place which fostered creativity and provided memories that will never be forgotten. I thank you Paddy Byrne for creating that place and I’m sorry that it had to come to an end, but I’m really pleased that you’ve undertaken a new venture next door. Okay The Pen Factory might not have exactly the same early eighties feel to it, but it’s got … you know that sort of feeling where everything just slots into place and immediately feels right. I can’t describe it, it’s just something you sense. Anyway Paddy, thank you for all your efforts, thank you for your time. I wish you well and I hope to see you again before another thirty years have elapsed!

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3 thoughts on “The Pen Factory – Liverpool Revisited

  1. That’s a lovely piece of writing, particularly the thread through from the Bistro to the Pen. Must revisit as I gave it short shrift (and the Mallinsons wasn’t great if I’m honest). Pleased to see it busy on a Thursday night.

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    • Last February half term when we visited Martin, and all the beers we tried (several) over two visits on consecutive days were spot on. Nice sitting, chatting and reminiscing with Paddy who is both legend and pioneer in Liverpools NTE scene.

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      • I trust your judgement on beer quality; I’ll revisit and report. There’s a fine line between OK beers (what I’d give NBSS 3 to) and very good (NBSS 3.5 up). There’s also an issue when you pick a Mallinsons as expectations areso high (and I’d been drinking Plum Porter !).

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