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Bar Essentials: The Beer House, Contemporary Urban Centre

The lowdown on the latest licensed establishments we have visited and the tinctures to be found therein

Published on March 16th 2010.

Bar Essentials: The Beer House, Contemporary Urban Centre

What's the story?
Looming like the satanic sibling of the redbrick, Victorian, Cains brewery just across Parliament St, the Contemporary Urban Centre takes up the majority of space in a colossal former warehouse. But do not think of this place as being on "Parlie": The reincarnated building has got a trendy address for the postman - Greenland Street.

Several chest-puffing chefs hereabouts could learn a thing or two from these kids in the kitchen about how to treat a spud and prepare food this fresh

For years, this incredible hulk was known (to those in the know) as an Aladdin's cave packed to the rafters on floor after floor with antique furniture and junk. Colloquially, because of the wild flora that grew from its nooks and crannies, it was dubbed the Buddleia Building.

The tale of how it came to be something else is interesting, in the double-edged, Chinese sense of the word, and this isn't the place to speculate on the mixed past fortunes of this particular cookie. Suffice to say the BB is now the CUC, the Contemporary Urban Centre. It is run by Novas Scarman, a London-based charity that specialises in support for people on the fringes of society. Drug addicts, ex offenders and the homeless et al.

After a couple of false starts, the place got itself up and fully running last autumn. It is a vast, multi-purpose venue with 20,000 sq feet of gallery space, two theatres, a cinema, a small stage, a cafe bar and at least one restaurant. And crucially a pub – The Beer House - which is what we're concerning ourselves with today.

Who goes there?
Not that many people in the normal day to day, which is a pity, for The Beer House has several charms. You see, the CUC is the venue for conferences, parties and other events, and, as a result, this boozer gets pleasantly full when there's a bit of a do. When there isn't, it's all Marie Celeste, save for the odd artist, and, judging by our visit, not just the creative sort.

Why go there then?
Because you might find yourself in that bleak part of town and think there's nothing down for you other than the nearby Mackie Dees, or the Brewery Tap and its rather unfortunate eggy odour which somebody ought to tell them about. Again.

For example, agents from Confidential found themselves in the CUC a couple of weekends ago and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the very excellent Laurie Lipton exhibition was still up, way after it should have been. Work to take it down was delayed because of the snow, apparently, but as there has just been a shedding of staff upstairs, it was anyone's guess how long it might remain in situ.

Get on with it...
The Beer House, on the ground floor, was just the place to ruminate and we made a vow to go back proper.

This open plan room will take you away from the cold, icy blast of the river and into its warm bosom. And every time you have a few, some of the dosh goes to projects in the Novas Scarman charity. Ha ha, so your long suffering partner cannot accuse you of going out and p***ing all your wages away.Not this time, baby.

Our taxi driver vouched for this, having dropped a fare there recently - a bunch of rehabilitated drug users, raving, as it were, about the whole project and its effectiveness.

As ill placed questions go, but it's the format of Bar Essentials, what's the crack?
People, that's up to you. Go forth and create a vibe in your multitudes. As both Barack Obama and Bob The Builder would have it: Yes you can.

Apart from a crowd, the rest of the ingredients that make a good pub are already in place. Service from barman BJ (Bobby Junior to his mum) was impeccable, the drinks menu is huge – and growing. The pub grub, brought through from the Buddleia restaurant kitchen was cheap, big and largely very good indeed, there's cultural stuff all about, and it doesn't remotely smell of Sunday dinner uncles, disinfectant or anything else pub-objectionable.

What's yours?
They say: "The world’s best beers, ales and ciders under one roof, which will

continually grow to bring you even more choice."

We say: Well kept cask ales at £2 a pint. Decent house wines at £12 a bottle (there's stuff you can have from the Buddleia restaurant list too) and labelled spirits at £2.50 which you can make a double for just a quid more. They also showed us a lot of speciality vodkas and there's a bottled beer list that reads like the United Nations.

It's well researched, with award winners like Polish Zyweik at £3.20, Peruvian Cusquena at £2.80, all the big Belgian names, Peroni Gran Reserva, Thai Singha, US Goose Island Honkers, organic ciders and many more. A boring bottle of Becks will set you back £2.40. Hungry?
Starving. Our best attempts to bring you a Buddleia review have been rather thwarted by the fact that it only does an a la carte on Friday and Saturday nights - but not on the two occasions our critic pursued it. The rest of the time it's the bar menu. From it, we devoured a very generous and meaty, if slightly over sweet, Thai beef noodle thing (£5.25) and a good Moroccan lamb burger in pitta bread with a tinglingly fresh mint raita (£5.50). They do all day breakfasts, fajitas, fish and chips and main course salads too, and up until about 8.45pm so you can go out for dinner on budget terms. The house style chunky chips (£1.95) were so impressive that they are still lingering in the "fond memories" bit of the brain.

Several chest-puffing chefs hereabouts could learn a thing or two from these kids in the kitchen about how to treat a spud and prepare food this fresh. Sunday lunches from 12 to 6pm.

That's entertainment
Liverpool Jazz has been putting gigs on there every Thursday and when we showed up, the esteemed Tony Ormesher and a band of casually collected musos were playing as tightly as a gnat's chuff. Then they told us it was the last "as far as they knew."

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

DigFebruary 9th 2010.

I have eaten and drank there since it was The Jamaica Rooms too. Regularly have a pint in The Coburg, Baltic Fleet, The Brewery Tap (I haven't noticed the smell) and Leaf after work.

Eggy O'DourFebruary 9th 2010.

Some people... really!

P. IssheadFebruary 9th 2010.

Of course johnny-come-latelies like Dig will beat their chests over finding this place but I was going there when it was called ‘The Jamaica Rooms’

EditorialFebruary 9th 2010.

As of last Thursday, we understand that there were no immediate plans for any more gigs. This could be because of lack of people or because the people doing the booking are no longer in post. If the situation has changed we would be glad if the CUC people would let us, and the readers,know

DigFebruary 9th 2010.

A cracking gem of a place indeed. Hoegaarden on tap and bottled beers aplenty. I look forward to visiting it without the car on a none-school night so I can sample plenty of the beers I'm yet to try. Last Friday I spotted Les Dennis and some of the cast of HSM, Club Geek Chic's Gemma and one or two of the cast of a certain tv show that shall remain unnamed. A colleague recognised them, not me, I should add.

AndyFebruary 9th 2010.

So, the jazz is no longer on there in future?

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