Liverpool, England isn’t the first spot on most vacationers maps, but, being a Beatles fan, I knew it was somewhere I had to eventually trek to one day. Luckily, that day arrived a lot sooner than I thought. A friend was moving from London and gave me his trusty old Ford Fiesta to take back to my home in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The Chunnel hasn’t made it’s way to the Irish sea yet and there still isn’t a big bridge like they built between Denmark and Sweden (The Öresund Bridge, the longest railway and road bridge in Europe, for you trivia buffs out there), so the only choice you have in getting a car over to Ireland from the UK is by ferry. This further breaks down into three different choices:
- Drive halfway across England, then all the way across Wales. Take a ferry from a crappy town called Holyhead to Dublin.
- Drive all the way through England, then halfway across the length of Scotland. Take a ferry from a crappy town called Stranraer to Belfast.
- Drive five hours from London to Liverpool. Stay overnight in Liverpool and take the morning ferry to Belfast.
Liverpool it would be!
I set off early in the morning from London on a bright end of summer morning. I put the car into gear, pulled off down the street – and immediately smashed the side mirror off one of the cars parked along the street. Whoops. Time to hightail it to the A40.
My goal was to make it to Liverpool in time to see the Beatles museum, but a long layover in Birmingham meant that I didn’t make it to the ‘pool until almost 2pm. That was hardly enough time to check out all the exhibits, not to mention the full sized Cavern Club replica that was one of the showpieces in the museum. No worries. I was going to be seeing the REAL club later that night anyway.
I arrived at the tourist information desk located in the beautiful Albert Dock, Liverpool’s most visited tourist attraction. Yes. A dock is the most visited tourist attraction. Of course, there is the BEATLES Museum there (and the International Museum of Slavery) but I’m sure people are just there to see the dock. The helpful Liverpudlians behind the desk (the colliqual term is “Scousers” but I didn’t think we were on that level of familiarity yet), directed me to my hotel by telling me to take a right by the “old burned out church.” Directions you could only find in Liverpool.
Turns out the church wasn’t torched by some rioting Manchester United fans. Worse. It was the Germans back in 1941. The City of Liverpool decided to leave the old burned out church there as a peace garden. And so that I could find my way to my hotel 70 years later.
After checking into my hotel, I was ready for some Beatles! First stop, the Philharmonic Dining Hall, or as the Scousers call it, “The Phil.” This ornate building, constructed in 1898, stands across the street from the Liverpool Philharmonic Concert Hall and was one of the Beatles favorite pubs. John Lennon once said that the price of fame was “not being able to go to the Phil for a drink.” That’s a high price to pay indeed.
The Phil is like a church for beer drinkers. The walls are ornate wood, the windows stained glass, the floors marble and the toilets historic. Yes, historic toilets. Since the Phil is a Grade II listed historic building, that means these are the only historic toilets in the UK. At least, officially. The downside to this is that you get ladies trying to take a peek while you’re going about your business.
My thirst satisfied, it was time to head off for the Cavern Club. Nope, not the fake one from the Museum, I was going to see the real thing. I hoofed it across the city over to the “Cavern Quarter,” the hub of Liverpool nightlife. Along the way I stopped at an art exhibition and helped myself to a free drink. Liverpudlians love their art. And their free drinks. I wasn’t one to get in the way.
I finally found my way to the back alleys of the Cavern Quarter, a range of tightly knit streets that used to be a series of old warehouses. I quickly became lost in the maze of streets and decided to stop in at an Irish pub called Flanagan’s Apple. Pushing through the noisy crowd inside the door, I immediately noticed a sign on the wall with an arrow “This Way to the Beatles Table.” Intrigued, I asked one of the patrons what the “Beatles Table” was. He was really drunk and said something in Liverpudlian that I couldn’t understand, so I queried another reveler and was politely pointed to a table in the back of the room.
There, on the wall, was a picture of the Fab Four. In the very pub that I was standing in! Apparently, Flanagan’s Apple stands right down the street from the Cavern (I knew I was close) and was where the Beatles came to have their pre show drinks. The table is now a tourist attraction.
My thirst quenched with a pint, I resumed my quest. I was close now. I could taste victory. Stumbling out of the door, I walked a short way down the street and was greeted with the neon glow of The Cavern Club. But before I could make my way in, a burly doorman appeared. I thought I was going to have to show him my “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Backhand,” but he waved me right in. I’d made it!
There it was, the famous Cavern stage! The arches! The bricks! The singer on stage crooning Eagles tunes! The tattooed and pierced doorguy with the ironic T-shirt (“If found please return to pub”) taking money at the back stage door. Wait…what? The back stage? I don’t remember hearing about a back stage. Maybe that’s where they kept Ringo in between shows.
My illusions were finally shattered when I read a “History of The Cavern” poster on the wall.
I was in the Cavern Club alright, but only a 75% replica. The original Cavern was destroyed in order to make way for a ventilation shaft for the Liverpool subway system. The shaft was never constructed but the buildings above the Cavern were all razed to make way for – irony alert – a parking lot. Literally.
But Beatles fans and Liverpool musicians had banned together to save what they could of the old Cavern. The new Cavern was built on some (75%) of the old location and over 15,000 bricks from the original Cavern were saved and used in the new Cavern. This pseudo Cavern was the Cavern in name and 15,000 bricks only.
As the singer crooned the last verse of “Hotel California” from the (fake) Cavern stage, I headed back up and into the fresh smell of colitas in the air. My ferry awaited in the morning. Farewell, Liverpool! Farwell, Mersey! Farewell 75% Original Location Cavern Club!