Four boozers are vying for the crown of The Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) ‘champion’ Cheshire pub of 2023.
The county’s four branches – Chester & South Clwyd, Macclesfield & East Cheshire, North Cheshire and South Cheshire – recently announced their ‘pub of the year’.
The winners came from Chester, Macclesfield, Penketh and Alsager. They will now go up against each other to be named Cheshire’s best.
Here Cheshire Live looks at the branches’ winners and the reasons why they took the top award in their area of a county which is blessed with good pubs and great ale:
Chester & South Clwyd CAMRA
The Cellar in Chester city centre has claimed its third branch title – adding this year’s award to those won back in 2014 and 2015. The hugely-popular City Road venue has also taken the runner-up spot every year in between its latest award wins.
Describing itself, the City Road venue states on its website: “We are all about great beer, knowledgeable staff and excellent company in Chester”.
The venue pipped another city establishment, Brook Street-based Olde Cottage, and Ellesmere Port micropub Bondies Bar which only opened in August 2021.
CAMRA’s Chester & South Clwyd branch recently revealed on social media: “We are pleased to announce that the winner of Chester & South Clwyd CAMRA’s Pub of the Year for Cheshire is The Cellar, Chester. Congratulations to Aki and all the staff.
“A very close second was Olde Cottage with Bondies Bar at Ellesmere Port a creditable third. The Cellar will now go up against the Pub of the Year winners for the other CAMRA branches in the county for the title of Champion Pub of Cheshire.”
Macclesfield & East Cheshire CAMRA
Macclesfield pub The Castle took the branch’s top prize this year. It’s quite the turnaround for the historic watering hole that at one point appeared destined for permanent closure.
The Castle had been closed for more than six years and had fallen into serious disrepair before reopening in autumn 2021. Renovation work included the painstaking reconstruction of the pub’s ornate ceiling, which had partially collapsed due to a leaking roof.
A new heating system, rebuilt chimney and the creation of a new upper lounge to house more punters complete the works. Business owner Rebecca Prunty had grown up in the pub trade, including an eight year stint at The Park Tavern across town, and was passionate about transforming The Castle.
She told CheshireLive last year: “I’ve seen pictures of the pub before the project and parts of the building were in a pretty bad state. I think it was a massive loss to the community that the pub was closed for so long. We’ve been so busy since we opened, and that shows people wanted to be in here. It’s probably a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The branch said on its website: “It is both an great pub and an excellent example of pub conservation which has become a ‘must visit’ on any trip to Macclesfield.”
North Cheshire CAMRA
One of Warrington’s oldest pubs took the branch’s award this year. The Ferry Tavern is based in a unique spot on Station Road in Penketh which overlooks the River Mersey.
Reacting to the award win, the pub posted on its Facebook page: “For 18 years we have worked hard to ensure our standards are high and we have chased this recognition tirelessly. We’ve been amongst the top five finalists for many years but to finally take the title makes us feel proud of that hard work!
“We’d like to give a massive thank you to all CAMRA members who have honoured us with this award and for all of their support and encouragement. An equally big thank you goes to our amazing customers for all of their support through the good times and recent tough times.
“However the biggest thank you goes to our dedicated, hard working team who deliver the service and standards that have achieved this recognition. We are literally over the moon and look forward to building the standards even higher in the coming years.”
North Cheshire CAMRA announced on social media last month: “It gives me great pleasure to announce the winners of the North Cheshire CAMRA Pub and Club of the Year 2023 competitions. The winning Pub is The Ferry Tavern, WA5 2UJ and the winning Club is the Appleton Thorn Village Hall, WA4 4RT. Congratulations to them both.”
South Cheshire CAMRA
A ‘traditional’ pub in Alsager described as a ‘cask ale heaven’ was named the South Cheshire branch’s pub of the year. The Lodge Inn was described by CAMRA as being ‘very popular with locals’ with visitors being extended a ‘warm welcome and wonderful atmosphere’.
The Crewe Road venue has been owned by husband and wife team Carl and Sarah Smith, who have run it for the last 18 months. The pair have been in the pub trade for 22 years, starting out in 2001, and have won similar awards from CAMRA at previous venues three times before.
Speaking to Cheshire Live, Carl said: “We have only been in this pub for 18 months so it’s quite a surprise but a welcome one. It’s always nice to win an award. I think a lot of people coming into the trade go down the craft keg route. But we’ve always been cask – we do eight cask beers that are on at any one time and are ever changing.”