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Bar Essentials: The Elephant

Liverpool Confidential's verdict on boozers it has felt necessary to visit this week – in this case twice, to make sure

Published on September 16th 2010.

Bar Essentials: The Elephant

What's the story?
It's a long one.

I'm listening
Once upon a time, Woolton village was a happy place. By day, its people worked hard and went about their business diligently. Children played gaily around the cuckoo clock in the woods, and muscular men wielded large pick-axes as they toiled at the rock face at the edge of the village.

Their women lived in pretty little houses built from that selfsame sandstone hewn from the quarry, a grotto so big that there was even enough left to build a gigantic Anglican cathedral when they were done.

Naturally, the villagers grew thirsty with all this axe-wielding, so by night would light a fag and pack into the many little hostelries built to bathe their arid mouths: The White Horse, The Coffee House, the Cobden, The Derby Arms, Coach and Horses, The Grapes Inn, The English Rose, The Gardeners Arms and, the most famous pub of all, the Elephant.

The Famous Elephant. I'd forgotten about that
Are you trying to be funny? The Elephant is as synonymous with Woolton history as St Peter's Church and the village fete where Lennon first met McCartney.

The building, a pink, Grade II listed landmark, was for decades decorated by a huge elephant's head that hung proudly on one side. A one-time large and lively Higson's boozer, in 1998, it decided to aim at the younger lager market and out went the casks and, eventually, out went the appeal.

Then, in 2007, the Famous Elephant was taken over by Korova Corps. The building was painted blue and it became Casa Del Cocodrilo, a swishy southern states-themed restaurant and bar swapping jumbo-lia for jambalaya. And then, er...well...

Er, well what?
Unfortunately, when the Cocodrilo refurb was taking place, the elephant's head was pulled down - and without listed building consent. It ended up in a skip, in smithereens, and no magic could revive it.

Even though there was a big, scary, stuffed crocodile and many other items of safari animal taxidermy just inside the door, local people smiled no more. In fact they were really pissed off.

Does this story have a happy ending?
A bright chapter has begun. Just when it appeared that this elephant was an extinct species, it has come back to life, the pub, the head, the pink paint and all.

Godfrey Russell, the genial Irish gaffer of Pogue Mahone's, Seel St, and the Railway in Tithebarn St - and who has lived in Woolton for 10 years - has taken it over with business colleague Mark Mason and his son, Lee. That's Godfrey (right) and Lee, see, just there.

Who goes there?
At the moment, mainly the curious. The Elephant only reopened two weeks ago and the first week it was packed to the rafters with happy villagers and The Woolton Society rubbing their eyes and asking, “Is it a dream?”

We have been twice in the last two days and at various times have witnessed silver haired customers ordering home-made specials like tomato and basil soup, shoppers, ladies lunching, families, couples and well-heeled

yuppies. But don't let the last bit put you off. It's early days yet and its firm clientèle is yet to bed in.

What's the crack?
Shhh! Don't say that in front of the new elephant!

Sorry! OK, what can you do in there?
The emphasis here, right now, seems to be on relaxing and unwinding. There are no fruit machines or games, just a silent TV playing rolling news on a chimney breast. With its handsome leather chairs, dark woods, excellent black and white prints of Woolton landmarks (by Lee's girlfriend, Rebecca Slater) and low piped oldies (the music, that is), it's easy on the senses and a far cry from the glamorous hall of mirrors before.

What's yours?
Four cask ales, Bombardier, Old Speckled Hen, Deuchars IPA and a guest beer of the month.A choice of eight white and red wines in bottles (£11.95 to £18.95) and house varieties at £10.50. And all the usual lager and spirits and stuff. Just don't get trunk and disorderly.

I'm hungry, actually
They are going big on the food. Good, solid pub grub, including Sunday roasts. No catering packs, it's all made freshly by chefs Keith and James who were last seen at The Gallery in Allerton Road.

We gave the steak and ale pie a go (£5.95) whose meat was generous and tender after a long slow braise in beer. Mushrooms and even leek cropped up in there, all topped by a crispy, light, puff pastry lid. The sort of thing normally served to tired, grateful 30-mile hikers in Lake District inns at dusk.

Dusk, don't you mean tusk?

It's not as bad as “trunk and disorderly!”
Well anyway, by the end, we felt as if we had just consumed a small elephant and, as there aren't many fells to climb around here, we anticipate feeling hungry again sometime next week. Perfect chunky chips, mind, too.

Watching people say: “Isn't it great that the Elephant's back,” (even though the head itself, which has been cast from photos of the original at the National Conservation Centre is slightly more Disney Dumbo than majestic beast).

Is there more?
Oh yes. A Bubble Room restaurant is opening next week at the back (in what was once the Baby Elephant). With branches in trendy Cheshire-Set haunts like Alderley Edge and Bramhall, it won't be long before the WAGs start piling in to this Baby. In the kitchen is chef James Connolly, who worked with Michelin boy Aiden Byrne at The Church Green in Lymm, so expect some gastronomic interest too.

The Elephant, 1 Woolton Street, Woolton, L25 5NH@ 0151 909 3909

Ivory toast.

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

DigNovember 11th 2009.

What is it with Korova Corp and dead animals? As handsome and impressive as the bulls head is in Korova the 2 pheasants hanging above the bar have always looked a bit odd to me. I do like the sound of The Elephant though. Especially with the emphasis being on relaxing and unwinding. Sounds like the perfect post work pub. If only it was closer to the city centre and not in the wrong direction to home.

Secret SquirrelNovember 11th 2009.

Ive been twice now (in the same week) very nice! Nice food but the fishcakes could be a shade bigger! However the cajun chicken burger was very nice! Nice atmosphere quite country pub-ish but agree it is full of those who are curious at mo lets hope the opening of the strangely named bubble room to the rear (old baby elephant) doesn't attract the WAGs and the so called Monkey men!

wooliteNovember 11th 2009.

you know, really nice village Woolton. Any chance we can drive the supermarkets out and and save its essence? We got rid of cocodrilo!

The UrbaniteNovember 11th 2009.

Woolton's a weird place. Remember that awful 'Bodega' wine bar with the footie yoberati clientèle? Wasn't there a pub renamed 'Everglades' to lure in the flapping shirt-tail brigade? If ever there's a decent pub that is popular with locals, there's always some idiotic interloper with loads of money who takes it over and ruins it. Good luck to the new regime at The Elephant, but with monkeymen and W.A.G.s in the offing as well as well as the local bottlesucking lagerboys (who are the reason for the installation of ugly steel roller shutters on every shop window there in recent years) I don't think I'll be venturing all the way out there for a simple scoop or three.

AnonymousNovember 11th 2009.


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