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The Ex-factor

AA Grill takes shelter from the wind tunnel of Old Hall Street to discover who or what holds the pulling power at The Exchange

Published on November 30th 2007.

The Ex-factor

YOU rarely get a straight response from Sandra, quip-firing queen of The Exchange bar and the patrons’ saint. “About three million years,” she offered, when I asked how long she had worked there.

About two-and-a-half million of those years ago, after a hard day at the office, we would head for The Exchange to drink pints of Tennent’s Extra and forget. I don’t remember exactly what it was we were trying to forget, so it must have worked.

Sandra has all the front – she’s the great British fictional barmaid brought to life: a blonde bombshell with a heart of gold and a putdown for every drunk who oversteps the mark

Newspaper people we were, but all “Extra!, Extra!” meant to us was that someone was getting the round in. Sometimes we forgot to stop and it ended in tears. Sometimes real tears.

Like the time I stumbled the few yards across Old Hall Street into Moorfields Station for the 21.07 to Blundellsands and Crosby. That was the day I stopped asking for a ticket to Blundellsands and started asking for Crosby. (“Buddellsaz please.”
“Buddle . . . Bubble . . .”
“What’s that, mate?”
“Bluvvellsads . . . er, zod it,
Crosby, please.”)

Then there was the “swift” pint that started with daylight and laughter and ended in darkness, the kind of hankie-wringing self-pity that only strong drink can induce, and the realisation that I was not going to make it home on my own. If I hadn’t drank six pints of Tennent's, I might have thought better of asking the good looking barmaid to ring my girlfriend and tell her I needed collecting. Sandra only made it slightly worse for me by scrounging a lift home off her.

The Exchange, also known as “The Exy”, and just occasionally known as “The Sexchange”, is a neat and tidy, but pretty unspectacular looking, subterranean 1970s bar. It’s not old-world charm and it’s not cutting edge cool, but there is something about the place. That indefinable X-factor, not to be confused with the Castlemaine XXXX factor.

The answer, I think, is to be found behind the bar: the ever-willing staff who have come and gone, but, in particular, Richie, co-owner and public face of the management, and Sandra, his trusted lieutenant. Richie’s the quiet one in the corner, his smile warming the crowd. He’s a man of many parts, one of which involved managing one of the best tennis players of his day. “He made it to number 99 in the world and then met his wife. It was all downhill after that,” he recalls.

Richie may be the front of house but Sandra has all the front – she’s the great British fictional barmaid brought to life: a blonde bombshell with a heart of gold and a putdown for every drunk who oversteps the mark. She has a quick tongue and a sympathetic ear, but she won’t stick her tongue in your ear.

A field of food flies out of the kitchen most working days: fish and chips, steak baguettes, pizzas and wraps, a daily-changing specials board and – if they do say so – the “best scouse in town”. All of it good, solid fare. In the thick of the business district, lunchtimes are fizzing affairs when the solicitors, the IT crowd and attendees to the regular press-hall compositors’ reunion pile in for a wrap and the craic.

The Exchange is very much a servant of the office community around it: On Fridays, when there isn’t yet another leaving party (Friday is Firing Day), they host a celebration to mark the weekly unshackling of the wage slaves.

These days you can’t get Tennent’s Extra – it has retreated to north of the border – so Carling Premier is the strong lager of choice. Cask ales include Beacon bitter from Everard’s the consumption of which, Sandra informed me, makes you “ever ’ard", and a Brains beer – Reverend James – which is well regarded by Camra’s cardy army but, for reasons I didn’t altogether follow, is better known in The Exchange as Father Ted’s.

The Exchange has always had a large and loyal band of regulars: among them the fondly lamented former Everton star Brian Labone, who probably spent more time in there than he ought to have, and the man who was Tommy Cooper’s stand-in, known to all as Big Al. When he’s in the mood, Big Al treats fellow drinkers to a taste of his ventriloquism skills.

Ex-US president Jimmy Carter once called in for a couple of Jack Daniels after sitting through dinner at the Town Hall. While Richie kept the former most important person on the planet entertained, his secret service entourage made no secret of their liking for Sandra.

They dropped their guard that night, but Sandra – because she’s not that kind of girl – was dropping nothing.

Breakdown:4/5 Buzz
3.5/5 Booze
5/5 Staff
3/5 Food
Address: The Exchange pub
1 Old Hall Street
Liverpool L3

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

AnonymousNovember 19th 2007.

The Mayflower was an evil office place! Sticky carpet hell.

AnonymousNovember 19th 2007.

There is no fun in work places any more, I agree, but I still like to go in places like the Exchange now and again after work because it's a throwback in a way and reminds me of the way things used to be, you can still smell the nicotine too.

Lew BaxterNovember 19th 2007.

In praise of pubs as the focus for all human frailties and frolics, I'll have ye know that not only was Anderson's a 'locum' office but so was Keith's Wine Bar in Lark Lane,where the wonderful staff would even take messages from anxious news editors etc, and most definitely at weekends - aka the Sunday Mirror and Sunday TImes - the fabulous Belvedere where news and features desks would anxiously call the public phone in the bar seeking yours truly, and often get answered by one of the 'ladies of the night' or an off duty cop from A Division, or a nursing sister and/or a medic having quiet snifters after a tough day at the nearby, then, Women's Hospital or a drug addict or gangster et al....and I recall with nostalgic sighs the many 'scoops' gleaned in such esteemed establishments: one only has to think of the Waltons where a hospital techie, loose-lipped from the gargle, let slip the tale of the lass burdened with six nippers and how the wards were buzzing, or lurid tales of Militant Madness, or exclusive chatettes with Michael Showers and the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee during the so called 'Toxteth Riots', etc... None of this terrific stuff ever came - and still doesn't, as you know - from the syndrome of "A Focus on PR Handouts' that is sadly prevalent in today's newspaper offices. It may well sound like the witterings of an old bastard recalling grander times...but they were certainly grittier and more earthy times...and all goriously fuelled by large Glemorangies and a half pint of cask as a chaser....as ever Lewis D Baxter, one time gutter hack, news hound and former proud imbiber now content with a glass of Ballygowan, sparkling of course....Pip! Pip!

Hugh JarseNovember 19th 2007.

Ah, the days of the business boozer. At one time there was a guy who ran his business from Andersons. He had a fax installed and used to answer the payphone.

London RoadNovember 19th 2007.

Hugh Jarse says.." Ah, the days of the business boozer. At one time there was a guy who ran his business from Andersons. He had a fax installed and used to answer the payphone." It wasn't Frank Mckenna, was it?

London RoadNovember 19th 2007.

There's no way it was Midnight Lew.

that's mr bollocks to youNovember 19th 2007.

Shorry that should read "boozehound" and "Baxter" (too many pints of Corrs at the Exy this dinnertime)

Staggering aroundNovember 19th 2007.

I heard that they have an unwritten one-unit-of-alcohol rule at a certain large employer around there. And bad things happen to people who forget it.

MDNovember 19th 2007.

Yes but who remembers Friday nights in The Mayflower, Fazakerly Street off Old Hall Street on the same side as The Exy. Straight from the Royal Bar to fall down the stairs to the dark & smelly depths of the Mayflower. I remember many a drunken snog & red faces on a Monday morning in work.....or was that just me!!!!

Disco DaveNovember 19th 2007.

Ah, but who remembers the lunch time discos at various venues in the city centre in the 70s? Copping off at lunchtime - how times have changed.

AnonymousNovember 19th 2007.

Let's hear it for the revival of daytime discos and snogging between 1pm and 2. Go on Confidential, get it sorted!

IanNovember 19th 2007.

Anyone remember downstairs discos in the Bradford on Tithebarn Street. Friday dinner time you could see half of Plesseys in there.

Sir Howard WayNovember 19th 2007.

Saucy Jack said "but I do remember The Curzon being the only place you could get a lock-in after 3pm when I worked for the Fringe 84 Festival in Victoria Street." - In those days before all-day drinking there was also the Yankee Clipper. I went in there with a chum early one evening about five years ago with a sense of nostalgia, but the character of the place had drastically changed. The saucy fillums with a loud soundtrack of grunting on the numerous television screens were quite distracting. I got the distinct impression that it was trying to attract gentlemen who were 'good with colours'.

that's mr bollocks to youNovember 19th 2007.

No I think it was legendary hack and boozehounf Lew baster who is still alive and kicking but not, alas, sipping as he's been ordered off the ale.

Boozy BeeNovember 19th 2007.

Better than the Cross Keys for a leaving do, but not as good as the Railway, if you work in this part of the city centre. Does anyone go to Anderson's bar these days?

telfords birdNovember 19th 2007.

So many bars and pubs have been swamped by teenies and the gay community that its refreshing to find somewhere that doesnt really care about target markets or funfilled quiz nights.This is the last of the great whales as far as the pub scene is concerned.I mourn the fact it wont last for more than one or two years. RIP the old gay REX.

Troubled at millNovember 19th 2007.

I haven't been in the Exy for years. The days of having a couple at lunchtime are sadly all but gone now for most of the people I work with, in this frowning age. A pity.

Saucy JackNovember 19th 2007.

"I remember many a drunken snog & red faces on a Monday morning in work". Long time since I had a drunken snog on a Monday morning in work, although one company (which will remain nameless) in the Port of Liverpool Building used to crack open the whiskey for all the staff(which they kept copious supplies of in a filing cabinet) at 11am some days

Saucy JackNovember 19th 2007.

I don't remember copping off at lunchtime, but I do remember The Curzon being the only place you could get a lock-in after 3pm when I worked for the Fringe 84 Festival in Victoria Street. Absolutely no work got done and a lot of drinking did - and all on public money!

angieNovember 19th 2007.

Andersons used to be great on a Friday night - loads of shipping people there.Also they frequented all the other locals including the Exy - sadly those days are long gone and we have no time to lunch.....

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