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Bar Essentials: Peter Kavanagh's

Toxteth's finest hostelry is still standing well proud

Written by . Published on March 7th 2011.

Bar Essentials: Peter Kavanagh's

What’s the story?
What isn't the story? Whole books have been written about the hostelry standing at 2-4 Egerton Street.

It was Mary Bowman who, in 1854, eventually got the run of no 2, the residence at the end of a row of artisans' and seafarers' houses.

Mary had knocked about a bit. Having run an alehouse in the scuzzy slums of Shaw's Brow (later William Brown Street), she suddenly found herself at the heart of high-class Liverpool, and thus The Liver Inn, was born.

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Under various owners, the tiny Liver spent many years derided as a “grog shop” in the popular press. It was entirely rebuilt in 1862 with the bay façade you see today.

Then in 1897, young Irishman Peter Kavanagh (24) got hold of it and gave it some serious love, turning it into the historically fascinating pub standing now.

He commissioned the ornate wooden carvings, the Eric Robertson murals on the walls in the back and front rooms (1929), the ornate tiling on the exterior and perhaps (no one can tell us for sure) much of the curio bric a brac that dangles from the ceilings and walls in the original right hand side.

Moreover, he ran it for an astonishing 53 years. In his afternoons off, he became a city councillor, benefactor, inventor (Hull tram car seats) and floral artist of note, yes, floral artist of note.

You think it's all over?
Shedloads happened to the pub in that period, but if you thought that after Kavanagh's death in 1950, things would go quiet, then you were wrong. In the 1970s, the Meakins arrived.

Guilda and John Meakin were two of the biggest characters in living, addled memory on the Liverpool drinking scene. Full story next time (prepare for a visit, Wapping pub), but suffice to say their influence on what was now called The Grapes was dramatic. Showman “Admiral” Meakin pushed the premises through to No 4 Egerton Street, not to mention the boundaries in many things else, and they renamed the pub in honour of Kildare-born Kavanagh. That's the way it has stayed, Peter Kavanagh's. PK's to the trendy.

Who goes there?
This is the pub for everyman, says today's redoubtable landlady Rita Smith who is celebrating 20 years there this very weekend.

The rich, the poor, the professionals, the wastrels, the students, the wastrel students – and all religious denominations and things inbetween rub shoulders at the L8 gem which has survived the Blitz and was at the heart of the 1981 riots when the nearby Rialto was torched.

On our visit, we saw Muslims at prayer (pictured), doctors and nurses from the nearby Women's Hospital. Not to mention yuppies, off-duty policemen and people of great intelligence. “And all colours,” says Rita. “I think of it like a rainbow, and this is the pot of gold at the end.”

Famous faces?
Ray Davies spent New Year's Eve in here, and Quentin Tarantino has been in for a pint: “When are you going to make some nice films?” Rita asked him.

His response is unknown.

Ian Broudie Owes His Life To RitaIan Broudie owes
his life To Rita
The late Adrian Henri, a regular, turned up one time with Alex “Hurricane” Higgins on what might have been the biggest grossing night on the tills in PK's long history. The pair probably still discuss it in snooker/poetry Heaven. 

And... “We had that fella in from the Lightning Seeds a while back,” Rita recalls. “Ian, isn't it?

“I said, 'Do you remember me?' He goes, 'Oh yeah.'

“Too bloody right," she chortles. "I rescued him and his mates from a house fire on Hope Street in the 70s."

“They were living a couple of doors down. Opposite the art college. I just saw this huge terrible glow, when I was going past... I had to do something so I started battering the door down.”

Anyway, why go to Peter Kavanagh's?
Because it is one of the very few very characterful pubs left in Liverpool. Yet despite the assertion that this is the pub for “everyman”, not everyone is going to get it. You like sitting with the WAGs in Alma de Cuba? This place will go straight over your head.

What’s the crack?
The décor, the history, the cosmopolitan clientele are all reasons to go, but you will never come away without a tale for the next day.

Liverpool Confidential writer Tony Schumacher recalls: “I was in there meeting a mate, we were having a pint at the bar when an old bloke walked in, ordered a bitter and whilst waiting for it went fishing in his pockets and pulled out some cigarettes and a lighter.

201134Story-043Irish Brian, left“The pint arrived and he paid and took a sip and then lit a cigarette.

'Eh! You can't fucking smoke in here!' cried the barman.

'Oh sorry I forgot!' said the old bloke pinching the cigarette end.

“The barman looked at us and muttered 'Every fucking night,' shook his head and walked off.”

What’s yours?
The multiple Camra-award winning boozer offers four guest cask ales changing ever week and the ever present Abbot's Ale is a mainstay, all going for £2.95 a pot. Lagers (Fosters, Carlsberg and Export) a couple of bob more. Ditto the Guinness and cider. Doubles bar weighs in at £2.70.

You can stay that way. The Sunday breakfasts are a thing of the past, sadly. So it's just crisps, Big D and a scratch of the pork.

But there's a reason. Rita likes punters to be able to come in with their dogs. Actually, maybe the wagarati might enjoy it after all.

Fancy a fag?
Out in the street with you! Unless you bump into PK stalwart, professional smoker and pub poster artist Bernie Carroll (right, left) who will tell you all about Holland and how it has just rescinded the smoking ban in pubs because, guess what, it was destroying the industry.

That’s entertainment
The quiz on Thursday is one of the best known in the city – run with an iron hand by the lovely Rita. At 72, she can still kick a cheeky punter into touch and leave them running and whimpering for their life, as she did on our visit last week.

Tuesdays night is the liveliest pub night in the city with Sidney Bailey's No Good Punchin Clowns raising ther roof and there's a piano open to anyone who fancies a tinkle.

Oh, and there are spiritual happenings.  An L8 Ghost Walk starts from PK's with all proceeds to the Freshfield Animal Centre. But there are plenty of characters at the bar to spook you if you miss it. Not to mention the odd animal.

Think strength of character. As pubs tumble and fall, Peter Kavanagh's at 160 years old, will never, ever be history.

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21 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Peter KavanaghMarch 4th 2011.

EGERTON Street ffs.

'Toxteth'? Only by the Liverpool Echo's definition.

North of WindsorMarch 4th 2011.

Also, you neglected to mention that the tables in the front room that are unique to this establishment - the ones with the integral water-filled ashtrays - were invented by Peter Kavanagh himself and they originally incorporated electric bell-pushes to summon bar service and other useful innovations

Angie the EdMarch 4th 2011.

Soz. You are right, I did neglect to mention the ash trays which I used to use regularly as a former smoker and punter, living in Canning St, Toxteth.

I also neglected to mention that one of the most infuriating things about Peter Kavanagh's is the pedant customer.

But that is because, happily, they don't go there any more, their new home and domestic circumstances on the Wirral making it impossible. Knowarramean, eh, North of Windsor?

Mind you, I did need to take out a second mortgage to get a Delta home to Waterloo (she added feebly)

Old friend across the seaMarch 4th 2011.

There are some cracking pictures in there. Is that Irish Brian? Jesus.

AnonymousMarch 4th 2011.

Quentin Tarantino has been in for a pint: "When are you going to make some nice films?" Rita asked him. His response is unknown.

Fcking brilliant!

EDDIEMarch 4th 2011.


East of Edge HillMarch 4th 2011.

You know, one evening after work a few years ago a chum and I were loafing about in town drinking and we tried that new 'Bar VR' or whatever it was called, the former Lloyds Bank on Boldy. A bloke who was the spitten image of Tarantino was in there and he started talking to us.

After a few minutes I couldn't resist commenting upon his resemblance to Tarantino and I asked his name.

"Jim Morrison" he replied as he walked to the door.

Street IrregularMarch 4th 2011.

Blimey, a real rogues' gallery!

There's Bernie conspiring with teetotal Arnie, chirpy George sharing a joke with Paul O'Grady while Phil Gory harangues Yusuf at the bar!.

Lock-in LolMarch 4th 2011.

It's a shame Peter O'Halligan has stopped drinking in there. Also a shame that the Friday night Irish musicians have stopped playing. Loved that period of Peter Kavanagh's.

Big D NutsMarch 4th 2011.

Good stuff.

Prof ChucklebuttyMarch 5th 2011.

The table bells remind me of tale I may have mentioned before, If so, I apologise. But a certain pub in Wavertree, that I would sometimes frequent,was run by a lady called Lil and also had 2 barmaids called Lil. So there was Lil the manager, Irish Lil and German Helmet Lil. (the interesting hairstyle) The clientele was good natured, if you were given the approval of the Lils but a bit rough n ready. One evening somehow a rather well to do group of three was sitting at one of the tables in the back room on quite a busy night. Two quite posh elderly ladies in fact, having sherry (!)with an elderly gentleman in a smart suit and brylcream. (never seen anyone in a suit there before) The way to the bar was very crowded and one of the ladies said there's a waitress bell on the wall, save you fighting your way through to the bar. Good idea, he said pressing it. No response, is it working? Pressed it sevral more times. Yes I heard it then. Pressed it again. Then once more. you could hear it quite well now as the noise from the bar had lessened. Next thing you know the crowd of people part like the red sea as the wonderful but formidable Irish Lil storms into the room right up to the table and leans menacingly towards the one closest to the bell and shouts, in a volume that made the windows rattle " Wharr else did you get fer Christmas besides a friggin' bell?" then turns and leaves, muttering I'll ring his f*ckin' neck in a minute. They left a few minutes later, didn't even finish the sherry.

W. C. WallMarch 5th 2011.

When I were a lad in more civilised times when teenagers could be sensibly introduced to drinking in the mature adult environment of the pub, I used to regularly visit Ye Cracke.

One day the company in the War Office noticed that there was a bell-push above the banquette, beneath the framed picture of the 'Patent Buck-Passing Machine'.

Somebody pressed it to find out what it was for and if it worked. The voice of Marge, the formidable landlady thundered through from the bar - “Whoever's pressing that f******* bell had better f******* stop it or they're f******* barred!” - and satisfied our curiosity.

AnonymousMarch 7th 2011.

W. C. Wall, were these sensible times in thge late 80's when the yoof were known as punks and spat and swore and were generally awful wastes of space, or in the 70's when they were called mods and rockers and were the same again.

Today's youth are just like every decades youth - youthful and hateful for authority.

W. C. WallMarch 7th 2011.

Dear Anonymous,

This was the long-haired mid-seventies when blond Mick strummed his guitar in the Cracke, just before punks were invented.

Punk had run its course by 1980 and anyone at that time maintaining that "Punk's not dead" were just johnny-come-latelies, probably from Southport or Heswall.

The CrezzMarch 7th 2011.

In the mid-sevs Liverpool white yoof comprised hairies, greboes and boneheads. Hairies had long hair, greboes (a Liverpool appellation for 'greasers') owned (or pretended to own) motorcycles and boneheads wore beige bags, liked footy and went to clubs to fight and cop off.

Boneheads became known as scallies by about 1979.

Treena the ParrotMarch 10th 2011.

@ W C Wall: Blond Mick who strummed in the Cracke was Mike Finucane, still blond, long-haired and strumming right to the end. RIP.

@ Angie the Ed: In the interests of true PK's pedantry, I must point out that the Meakins inherited a pub which already included 4 Egerton Street. It was their doing to take the pub another step along to incorporate number 6.

Reopened Hallowe'en 1977 according to an old photograph, with most of Deaf School either behind the bar or in front of it.

I sat between Messrs Henri and Higgins that evening. An, ahem, interesting session...

Cracke addictMarch 10th 2011.

Is Mick dead? The flamenco guitarist? I had no idea.

Treena the ParrotMarch 10th 2011.

Sad to say Mick died nearly two years back, in May 2009. Google his name as Michael Finucane and an obit will come up from one of the local papers.

In the interests of clarity, I might add that the Henri/Higgins event was (a) not the reopening night of PK's and (b) nothing to do with Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.

George Melly could be an intriguing drinking companion, too, but that's another tale.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
George RichardsAugust 16th 2014.

wish you'd expand on(thats another tale,on George Melly)

GUDDAAugust 16th 2014.

Wish you would expand on (that's anther tale on George Melly) now there was a character!!!

Per GundersenJanuary 27th 2012.

Dear Rita,
Thank you very much for your hospitality when me and my 12 friends from Namsos Norway met our 7 mates from Cheshire in your genuine premises nov. 4th 2011. We had a great party and we sure will be back this year. Cheers!

Per Olav

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