Just what Smithdown Road needed: a laidback bar with a good range of craft and keg, unfussy food, plenty of entertainment and no bother. Craft Taproom continues the regeneration-without-gentrification of Smithdown and is a valuable addition to the newcomers that include Naked Lunch, Belzan and Evil Eye, while complementing old favourites such as The Dispensary, Oro and The Willowbank. It’s not so long ago, after all, that Smithdown had a terminal quality to it.
Smithdown may not even be approaching the vaguely absurd saturation of a Lark Lane or Bold Street, but there’s a definite vibe about the south Liverpool high street these days. Friends Chris Welsh, Tom Ward, Rich Midgley and Andy Scott decided to forego another bar in town and refocused on Smithdown Road – attracted by the idea there was something that suggested all of a sudden Smithdown was the place to be.
— craftliverpool (@craftliverpool) March 14, 2018
Chris begins: “A couple of years ago when me and Andy were first looking around we saw this building. Then we saw it a second time and it was still a lot of work but it had been mostly stripped back so it was easier to see it as bar.”
“We had an idea of what kind of bar we wanted to run, the general aesthetic. We got close to getting a couple of places in town, one place we even got the licence, we just never got round to signing the document release. We ended up pulling back and looking around this area.”
— craftliverpool (@craftliverpool) September 5, 2017
The bar is comfy but stripped back – plenty of bare MDF and mismatched furniture – without being affected. According to the owners, it’s the sort of pub they’d like to go to themselves.
“We thought with this place we’d make it somewhere we’d want to go,” says Tom. “Relaxed with no TVs, no sports, just a place you can go and do some work if you want in the day time and then later on have a few beers. We originally thought of an old library aesthetic and that’ll build up as we go.
“There’s a lot of chain bars now, especially in town, and it’s all very nice but it’s also very corporate. This place is like an extension of our personalities, for instance, me and Chris are writers, so we have all the bookshelves. It’s all our own ideas.
“We get a lot of people come in and ask us questions about how we did it; it helps with putting a face to a company rather than just someone who’s put some money into a place and hired some staff.”
So who is Craft Taproom for? Well, anyone, basically, say Chris and Tom.
“It’s a huge mix of people: younger students, older students, people who just live round here, people on their way home from work, people who have lived round here for years. I think because this used to be the student area, the students are moving out but the cheap accommodation and cheap housing is still here.”
Certainly Craft Taproom fulfils the requirement of a multi-functional space: Work, kicking back, food, coffee… pub quizzes. But what pub is worth its salt without a solid roster of great beer? Although much of the beer is chosen through a brewery roster there’s a heap of choice from local brewers, including microbreweries Top Rope Brewing and Mad Hatter Brewing.
“We tried to go the extra mile and find things that you won’t get anywhere else locally. We’ve got some local beer from just down the road from Top Rope – that’s been really, really popular.
“We also got some stuff from America; the Lone Rider and the Crazy Mountain. We ended up speaking to the guy from an American craft beer company and we all just agreed that these are really good beers, especially Crazy Mountain.
“We’re doing a tap takeover with Lone Rider where they’re bringing a lot of their beers over so people can try them and talk to the brewer about them. The idea is ‘here’s this company you may not have heard of, they make really good beer.
“We’ve also been talking to Kraken about having a Kraken night, and that’s stemmed because we all really like Kraken rum. It fits with the Craft Taproom aesthetic as well; sea monsters and giant tentacles as we’ve got a bit of a horror library vibe going on. It’s amazing what you can accomplish by just contacting companies. It’s a bit more personal and I think they like that.”
On top of this there are plenty of non-alcohol based events in the works at Craft Taproom – something a little more out of the ordinary.
“We’re also looking to do more unusual events that other bars and pubs don’t really do,” enthuses Chris.
“We want to do author signings with local writers and things like that. It’s just something a bit different isn’t it? It’s Sunday afternoon, you can come and hear a reading in the back, you know?
“We’ve talked to local artists about a drink and draw event, so if you’re a budding artist you can come down, get together with like-minded people and have a few drinks. We also do a lot of self-published comics so would be looking to do a comics night.”
More lately there’s a range of bar food in the shape of inexpensive burgers and sides – plus there’s Little Furnace pizza next door. In the true spirit of the rejuvenated Smithdown Road the two businesses feel like an extension of one another.
Wrestling, beer, comics, live music? Yes please.
Craft Taproom174 Smithdown Road