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Breath of fresh air

One-time nicotine addict AA Grill isn't the only thing in Liverpool to be born again, as he discovers on a trip to Rigby's

Published on May 4th 2007.

Breath of fresh air

IT’S nine years since I gave up my last attempt at slow, assisted suicide in the form of 30 fags a day. I quit smoking dozens of times before that. Reformed smokers never say “never again”. One day at a time, sweet Rizlas.

It was always in a pub that I weakened. Half way through the third pint came the “sod it” moment. All these years on, my mind can still conjure that nicotine-charged, knock-you-sideways, best-feeling-in-the-world first drag in three days. Five minutes later, the second ciggie, not the same but still pretty good. Then the third: more your workaday fag but still the relief to be smoking again. Not suffering. By number six, the guilt and shame. Number 10 and you feel sick and depressed . . .

Even a few years ago, I was still feeling benign towards smokers. Who was I to criticise, to demand they be banished to the compost heap? Little by little, my tolerance ebbed and now I truly am a boring-again non smoker, the compassionate, “you really shouldn’t do that, you know?” sort whose faces smokers would like to push their stubs into.

July 1 is the day smoking in all enclosed public spaces becomes illegal, the day that sacred pairing of drink and fag on licensed premises are formally separated. They had always been, for me, the golden couple; Crash ’n’ Becks, Smoke ’n’ Robinson’s, a B&H and a pint of Cains.

As with all change, there is worry. Prophets of gloom predict profits are doomed, and then there are those waiting with a warm embrace. Thomas Rigby’s, in the city centre, is in the latter camp. They even had a dress rehearsal – a whole, smoke-free week, months ahead of the real thing.They told me Thomas Rigby’s had won all manner of awards for its beer, its food and its service, so it was going to have be just about bloody perfect to impress me. And, do you know what, it just about bloody well is.

The ever-present, ever-reliable Okell’s ales and an ever-changing guest list (they do requests) have won favour with CAMRA who awarded Rigby’s the coveted five cardigans.

An enormous range of “world beers” includes the excellent Tsingtao, Corona, Cains Finest Lager, a local hero, and 7.5% Chimay Red Trappist beer, brewed in a Belgian monastery (who says living like a monk is dull?).

There is a safe selection of wines available by the glass, and bottle, but the emphasis is on beer, particularly its relationship to food. Every so often, staff and regulars get together to eat a load of grub and drink a load of booze and then decide which beers go best with which meals. It sounds like a recipe for disaster but this method won them the best beer and food experience award at the industry’s "Oscars" two years running.

Built in 1726, Rigby’s is one of the city’s oldest pubs. Nelson is reputed to have been a regular when he wasn’t fighting Napoleon. It’s what your right arm’s for.

For years I thought it a shame that what should be a great pub, wasn’t. A sleeping giant, Rigby’s by day had a faintly melancholic air, perma-shabby and populated by a few lone septuagenarians nursing a half of something that would have been put to better use cleaning paint brushes.

Now it is that great pub. A makeover in 2003 transformed the place by not doing very much at all. A sensitive, unfussy refurb by new owners Isle of Man-based Okell’s made the most of what was there; centuries-old beams, lovely wooden panelling, a spit-and-polish for the brickwork. It’s that rarity of a pub that you walk into and immediately feel comfortable; staff are led from the front by landlady Fiona Watkin: enthusiastic, hands-on, helpful but not too helpful.

The pen pushers and mouse movers lunch there, but by five o’clock it’s a more eclectic crowd. Food ranges from the standard soup, sandwich and jacket potato variety to “Rigby’s Classics”, hot, hearty food like steak and Okell’s pie with “proper chips”, and a rich, tasty scouse topped with fresh red cabbage. For every hot meal, there is a recommended beer.

You enter Rigby’s from Dale Street, at the business end of town. Turn right for the non-smoking area, once the perpetually-befagged public bar.

Out the back, there is a fabulous courtyard with more features for architecture students to bore their friends with. Come July, the beer garden will be the last refuge of the smoker. Which means, with no little irony, that the unhealthiest place to be on a lovely summer’s evening will be in the open air.

AA Grill

Overall rating 17/20 (Buzz 4.5/5; Booze 4.5/5; Bar staff 4/5; Bar food 4/5).

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wayneMay 3rd 2007.

All joing here and tell everyone about us, this smoking ban experement is not going to work, we are taking the Governmets to the high courts,Its all a scam and cover up for the real reson in the higher cancershttp://www.freedom2choose.info/

AndrewMay 3rd 2007.

I pop into Rigbys from time to time and both the beers and food are top notch. Its a great little pub.

stevie gMay 3rd 2007.

I agree. Good to see a place buzzing at lunchtime with people who don't feel a need to press their noses up against the windows of all these expensive so-called lifestyle bars to look at fat no-marks looking at fat ex-footballers being ripped off at the bar

Mr TMay 3rd 2007.

Rigby's has indeed been transformed in the past few years. It is wonderful in the Courtyard on a day like today where the feel is very City of London but without the knobheads. A few more like these please and ordinary Liverpool office workers might take up drinking in the day again. Yes please!

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