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Bar Essentials: The Baltic Fleet

With pies, pints, posers and a brewery on site, this is still a Wapping good boozer

Written by . Published on October 4th 2011.

Bar Essentials: The Baltic Fleet

33A Wapping
Liverpool, Merseyside
L1 8DQ
0151 709 3116

What's the story?
It's Liverpool's very own Flatiron Building and in look, history and character, this is arguably Liverpool's most interesting surviving pub.

The Grade II listed Baltic Fleet dates back to the 17th century, or at least there is evidence of a pub on the site since that time – the original sandstone plinth still sits to the south – and from 1812 on to the mid to late 1800s it was up and running as you see it today.

This is no ordinary pub. For a start it is Liverpool's only remaining brew-pub - more of that later - and tunnels runs underneath it. Two, in fact. Above, the roaring, six-lane highway that is the main artery south. But don't get excited: the tunnels have been bricked up so that there is only about 15 feet of each remaining.

Built prior to Jesse Hartley's hefty Grade I listed dock buildings that now stand across the road and bear down over them, the tunnels would have led to the beach. The school of thought is that they were built to allow the bringing of barrels up from there. Others talk of it as a route for smugglers.

A possible third tunnel, so far unexcavated, is said to run towards Shaw's Alley, notorious as a red light area and magnet for sailors in Victorian times.

It is speculated that this might have been an ideal way for sailors to escape the clutches of the notorious press gangs Or perhaps it was a convenient way for ladies of the night to enter or leave the pub with their prospective paramours so as not to give the pub notoriety​?

One thing is for sure: the Baltic Fleet was constantly awash with seamen.

What's yours?
The real USP is the beer. Under the direction of today's BF owner Simon Holt, the Wapping Brewery has flourished, turning out fantastic cask ales for more than 15 years, right underneath the bar in the cellar. Stan is the man, Stan Shaw that is, the master brewer, who has never knowingly skipped on the hops. 

Thus, at any one time, they have five home produced ales on the bar, including Wapping Stout and the lovely and light Summer Haze (all available in bottled gift packs), not forgetting the Hereford Magic Malvern cider at 6.38 per cent proof.

“Is this any good?” I wondered, unused to cider drinking and thinking it rather flat. 

“Is your mouth numb yet?” asked Simon, a dentist in another life. 

“Er, nope,” I replied. 

It was, though, all the next day, which went nicely with like the rest of the head. 

Don't like beer?
There are decent Chilean wines. £3 for a 175ml glass and £12 a bottle, and a big range of malts and other spirits too, but no happy hours or promotions.

Spirits? It must be time to mention Meakin
The fabled John Meakin was the landlord of the Baltic Fleet from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s and no piece on this pub would be complete without it. John and wife Guilda, and parrot Trina, arrived from Peter Kavanagh's and such was their popularity that they brought half the city's trendy drinking riff-raff with them to this outpost. It wouldn't happen today.

He quickly adopted the alter ego of Admiral Meakin and, clad in suitable regalia and mounted on a trusty white steed, took to the streets of Liverpool to clip-clop his self promoting cause at every photo opportunity. Most notably, the loveable Meakin used the guise to turn up at court when he was charged with biting into the buttocks of a customer. He got off.

Meakin, who kept a set of handcuffs on the bar for the wayward, was a great host but a rubbish businessman and, so the apocryphal tale goes, he lost the pub in a card game in 1983. More likely, say pals, is that he was overly fond of giving too much of the booze away to loyal punters (is it any wonder he had such a following?).

Meakin died in 2005, dapper and entertaining until the end.

Dscf9847Helen and Nathan sort the
picture round
What's the craic nowadays?
No jukebox, no fruit machines, no pool tables, just conversation. There is, however an excellent quiz every Tuesday from 8.30pm, run by the lovely Helen Wilkie and Nathan Haddy (last week's winners gave their £46 prize to the Hillsborough Families fund) and a live sea shanty night on the final Saturday of the month.

Who goes here?
Everyone. They get lots of tourists, students, yuppie flat types, boat dwellers and middle aged beer drinking regulars, the sort who quietly contemplate life in the week over a pint, and then treat the wife in there on a Saturday night, so to speak.

Don't be put off by the location
The Baltic Fleet is just five minutes from Liverpool One, if you cut through the Ibis hotel car park, and once settled in you may not wish to leave.


Sadly, the days of the amazing Welsh black beef Sunday roasts are off for the foreseeable, but there is a very good scouse made daily, and a veggie bean stew (both £3), plus delicious pies hand made by Johnson's butchers in the Dingle. Chicken balti(c), mince or cheese and onion, the short crust pastry is a belter. £2.50 for all.

Why go here?
With its log burning fire, stripped pine tables, duck egg blue walls and high windows on three sides, flooding the building with sunny delight even on the darkest days of the year, the north facing Baltic Fleet is possibly the warmest and prettiest traditional boozer in the city.

It had to be this way. Siberian whaling ships gave the Baltic Fleet its name and its crews used to frequent it. They were stern chaps with no sense of humour, and after months trawling the Volga estuary vainly yelling "Comrade, is that sperm ahead, blue or humpback?" you would be the same. So the bar was built five ft high in order that the staff might fend off angry advances when the vodka ran out.

As for the aforementioned doxies: they might have been on high alert when these particular ships came in, but it would be another 70 years before Whale Meat Again - the Saturday night lament of choice - would attain worldwide popularity, courtesy of Vera Lynn.

Today, there are plenty other comely, accommodating charms: Edwardian photographs, maritime artefacts galore and a little bit of tat around the edges. The Baltic Fleet is not just a survivor, it is ship shape in more ways than one.




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

Myles FailbetterOctober 4th 2011.

properly affectionate review of one of my favourite Liverpool pubs, a place of real character

pie eyedOctober 4th 2011.

I remember the buttock biting incident from the newspapers. Then there was the time he locked the missus in the cellar of the Baltic Fleet all night. Happy days!

AnonymousOctober 4th 2011.

I do love the Baltic Fleet. It belongs to the genre of those myriad wonderful London pubs, like a miniature version of The Ship in Wandsworth. Bit fed up that they've stopped doing the Sunday dinners in front of the fire with the jazz going. However, as I only went twice, 12 years ago, I can't really complain!

Pay day treatsOctober 28th 2011.

Mmm. Pies. Have they got the fire going yet, I might pop down after work for several

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2014.

Tom turn the heating on that little stove will not warm the whole pub it is FREEZING.

WilliamJuly 14th 2014.

No juke box ,No one armed bandits , Just loud music coming from the system using the staffs ipods and you listen to what they want you to hear, Or alternately you can have the tv on and listen to the shit that some one likes to watch, killing any type of chat, A good pub ruined.

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