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Original and best?

Angie Sammons is happy to report that Keith's is still crazy after all these years

Written by . Published on April 23rd 2008.


Original and best?

THERE were people dancing on the tables last time I went to Keith's. And the time before. And the time before that.

It wouldn't have happened in "my day". The crowd that I ran with were far too cool, far too intense for that, or either they were too busy slumped, contemplating their mad, or bad, or sad lives through a glass of something. Darkly. And that was only Sunday afternoons.

I remember a certain ex-manager of a certain globally known pop group once coming into Keith's, in his cups, standing in the middle of the room and telling everyone who glanced at him to f*** off, with the rapid fire charm of an AK47

The dregs of the latter bunch are still to be found. Others have moved on.

"Did you hear, Billy dropped dead the other day?" someone mutters in a chum's ear.

Cue another toast to absent friends.

People have grown up with Keith's. Liverpool institution and the original wine bar.

The first time I went I was 15. It was trendy Lark Lane. Named and famed artists, middle aged beat poets and Everyman actors like Roger Phillips sat in combat jackets, discussed nuclear power (no thanks) supped Mateus Rose and got a better grasp of the grape. Anything to do with hops had been skipped from the drinks menu and that meant there was nowhere like it in Liverpool.

After trips to the circus in nearby Sefton Park, the kids would run like uncaged tigers in there, while their parents gave an entirely different meaning to the invitiation to "roll up".

I recognise one or two of those kids as adults, and they are gyrating on the tables. It might be coincidence, but Rolph, who turned up one day a long time ago and volunteered his services as glass collector and guardian of the bar's behaviour, is nowhere to be seen.

Could it be an age thing, or something to do with that patronising phrase "raised aspirations", but is Keith's looking a bit tatty these days? People complain about the WCs, but weren't they always a bit of a toilet? Plaster is peeling, as is the 1930s bistro furniture. The quarry tiles and the huge windows have stood the test of time, as has Tony, the People's Poet, who writes me a free verse (friends and family rate). I look around and see nothing but scuff and nonsense.

Montana chardonnay 2002 (£9.95) from a huge array on a blackboard, was a little too old to be out at night. I am no Frasier Crane, but, rather than being a corker, he may have opined, this very amber nectar from Down Under was simply corked. It was quickly removed by our server.

The bar staff are often students, usually efficient, and have the sense of humour to hang loose and cope well with whatever or whoever Lark Lane throws at them.

I remember a certain ex-manager of a certain globally known pop group once coming into Keith's, in his cups, standing in the middle of the room and telling everyone who glanced at him to fuck off, with the rapid fire volley of an AK47. "What the f*** are you laughing at?" he wailed, singling me out for special sentence.

He had obviously heard about those loos because he re-emerged in the street, up against a lamp post, moments later, "hanging loose" for all to see. And what the f*** were they looking at?

Anyway, back to the bottle. After our waitress had verified its quality for herself, she appeared with a younger model, a South African sauvignon blanc number called Welmoed (£9.95) as a replacement; maybe reasoning that as it was the same price, no further consultation on grape or continent was necessary.

For urgent munchies, some olives (£2.80) were tipped into a saucer from behind the bar while we waited on the arrival of a huge and welcome plate of tortillas, covered in the requisite sour cream and melty cheese. Underneath, lurked a beany tomato stew that I refrain from describing as chilli as the heat was not completely on. But it was pleasant enough, cheap and wholesome.

It reminded me of how unlike anywhere else in Liverpool Keith's still is. You would expect a dozen places of vaguely similar spirit to this in Manchester's northern quarter (the Mancs would never stand for the "charm" of this decor though). But we are lucky. Manchester has nothing like the brilliant adjacent park to wander in beforehand, and/or hand in hand: The first sit-down tryst of many a Saturday night romance has been brokered in Keith's on Sunday afternoon, after a trip through the avenue of Sefton Park trees where participants only have eyes for yew.

Keith's survives on blind love. My cheap and cheerful mate, who eats in there a few nights a week, disdainfully scraped the red powder from his cajun chicken breast (£6). I think tonight was the first time he'd ever put a critic's hat on in here. It didn't look like the best choice, to be honest, from an extensive chalk board of appetisers, light meals and mains that I know to be occasionally glorious.

My own spiced lamb and cous-cous (£6) was not bad at all for a fill-up. The lamb, in a thick sauce, was cooked at a snail's pace, and tender as the night. It was all mega sized, but how much plain cous-cous can you take? To sum the food up, keep bringing it on but don't be afraid to stick a few bells on it. Food like this don't mean a thing if it ain't got that zing.

A generation of Keith's-goers may have grown up, but as the stragglers who still go there know, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Evidenced further by the smoking ban which has had little effect: people still roll up at the door in droves, however the act of clean air has, so far, not merited a new lick of paint to banish the years of nicotine.

But, as the table dancers might say, that's all part of the wheeze.

7/10

Keith's
107 Lark Lane, Liverpool, L17 8UR. 0151 728 7688
Cuisine: Modern European
Opening Times: Mon - Sun: 12:00 - 11:30

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

Hesketh GroveApril 23rd 2008.

Who said anything about OWNING a house?Actually, in the early eighties before it became fashionable with the new-fangled 'yuppies', Victorian and Georgian houses were relatively cheap, you could buy them for £10,000-£20,000.Of course no building society or bank would give you a mortgage on them in those days on the grounds that they either "didn't have a damp course" or "had a cellar". Aspiring dopes who actually wanted to own their own house were expected to buy a Barrett Box.Bohemians don’t own houses, they pay rent (if they haven’t already spent it on gin and opium).

Hadassah GroveApril 23rd 2008.

I have many a fond memory of Keith's. Especially lost Sundays. You are right, there is nowhere like it. Lark Lane as a whole is a bit more than tatty these days, but buy a bottle of chilean merlot for 8 quid, then another, and before you know it you could be anywhere. The magic of Keiths. Long may it live

Hesketh GroveApril 23rd 2008.

Lark Lane always had a shabby-genteel charm which is what attracted people to it thirty and more years ago. Unfortunately the commercialisation of the Lane during the eighties has not only driven out nearly all the proper shops, but led to lovely old local character buildings being torn down to build more of the ubiquitous cramped flats, and attracted a horde of slobs, ruffians and ne'er-do-wells to come and live in the hamlet.

Amorous NatApril 23rd 2008.

To Hesketh Grove: How can you possibly have lived in the fabulous Hadassah Grove and not liked Keith's, or have eaten the Sunday nut roast in there before disappearing into oblivion? Just curious!

Hesketh GroveApril 23rd 2008.

Amorous Nat, I didn’t eat in Keith’s Wine Bar because Lark Lane was still a properly 'bohemian' place when I lived there, i.e., I was too poor to eat out at all really, and I certainly wouldn't have eaten out at the end of my own street! I'd have nipped up the Lane to The Dairy or Fran and Tone's shop for something to cook at home. I think that you are mistaking me for the bourgeois poseurs that populate the Lane now.

You're a guy....April 23rd 2008.

To Andy: What about Uraguay?

Mannering RoadApril 23rd 2008.

Oh yeah!

AndyApril 23rd 2008.

And I even wrote a song about Lark lane in the eighties called "Trendy Riff Raff"

Ivanhoe RoadApril 23rd 2008.

Is there a 'Keith'?

Sid JamesApril 23rd 2008.

Is it Keith?

The Ghost of Mr. SextonApril 23rd 2008.

'Ave you ben parrkin' on 'Adassah Grove?

Matthew StreetApril 23rd 2008.

I too remember a certain ex-manager of a certain world famous combo being barred from the Grapes in Mathew Street. I wish they would bar me. That's a total toilet now, complete with sick on the seats. Yuck. It wasn't like that in "the manager's" heydey!

AndyApril 23rd 2008.

Only place in the world where I have seen bottles of Uruguayan wine on sale!

Hesketh GroveApril 23rd 2008.

I remember the announcement of Keith's Wine Bar opening in the Echo in a short-lived cafe-society column written by Stanley Reynolds, and I even lived in Hadassah Grove for a good while, but I never really liked Keith's. But it was local and better than the constantly-refurbished pubs whose owners vainly chased transient fashions. I even copped off with the missus in there one Sunday afternoon. I don't know anyone who has actually eaten the food in there though.

AndyApril 23rd 2008.

No such place as Uraguay, You're a guy. Get yer dickshonerry out.

Ivanhoe RoadApril 23rd 2008.

You know, there's a bloke who posts on the Guadian Website who claims to have had carnal relations of every female member of staff in Keith's for the last twenty years!

Amorous NatApril 23rd 2008.

How much is a house in Hadassah Grove worth now? Don't try to kid me about being too poor to eat out!

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