It would be rude not to get intimate in this hidden pub and gin palace

IF ever there was a bar named for the era in which we live, Hard Times & Misery on Maryland Street is surely it. Pending the opening of a bashed-up boozer called The Managed Decline, it captures the prevailing socio-economic mood with alarming precision.

It’s a brave move too to throw down such a brazen challenge to the concept of nominative determinism. Drinkers generally want a brief escape from the endless cycle of debt and drudgery that characterises life in Brexit-baffled Britain, and a bar called Hard Times & Misery might not necessarily deliver the relief they’re looking for. Or so you might think.

This is a good place to catch the edges of other people’s conversations and find yourself drawn in, simply because they are so physically close it would seem rude not to contribute your thoughts

But these suspicions are confounded once you spend a couple of hours in the place. This is a bar in which lone regulars dawdle over a couple of pints – some chatting, others lost in silent contemplation – and small groups of friends pass the time in cosy, quirky surroundings.

Quirky you say? Most certainly. Because while there’s nothing particularly unusual about Hard Times & Misery’s interior – bare brick, a bar made of rough-hewn planks, a naked bulb throwing tungsten shadows in the modern style – its diminutive size gives it all the quirk it needs.

Be under no illusions. This place is small. Really small. It’s the first thing that hits you when you walk in, and it’s likely to carry on hitting you, particularly when you go upstairs in search of the toilet.

But equally, don’t let it put you off. Because although acreage is in short supply, conviviality definitely isn’t. This is a good place to catch the edges of other people’s conversations and find yourself drawn in, simply because they are so physically close it would seem rude not to contribute your thoughts.

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Sardines anyone?

Hard Times & Misery is easy to miss, being squeezed into a narrow brick one-up-one-down at the bottom end of Maryland Street. But once found, it welcomes visitors in with a selection of real ales (served directly from the cask by gravity rather than via hand-pump), along with enough artisan gin to ruin an entire street full of mothers.

According to Greig Peterson, who owns and runs the place and seems ever ready to chat with the punters, all the drinks sold are British, “with the exception of our rum, which comes from British Commonwealth countries”.

Peterson also explains that the selection is completely changed on a weekly basis, so regulars will always be presented with something new – and that includes the gins, of which there are typically over 20 on sale at any one time.

On my visit, in addition to a world of bottled beer, there are three cask ales available – a session bitter, a pale ale and a stout. I go for the pale – a pint of Wolfgang (£3.60), a refreshing quaffer featuring German hops, from Hafod Brewing Company in Mold. Weighing in at a sessionable 4.2% ABV, it packs in all the grassy notes of a freshly-mown school playing field on a Wednesday afternoon in spring. Knees scabbed, tie askew, it all comes back to me with every tasty gulp.

I follow it up with the stout – a pint of Maghull-based Neptune Brewery’s Undercurrent (also £3.60). It’s a thinnish, blackcurranty dark beer with a slightly smoky aroma. At 4.7% it delivers a little more thump, and the combination of brambles and smoky wisps conjures up a Sunday morning in late October 1981 when… no, stop right there. A decent stout consumed in a decent boozer is all it conjures up.

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According to Peterson, about two-thirds of the beer sold comes from local-ish breweries – including those based in Cheshire, North Wales, Lancashire and so on. This isn’t a result of a hardline policy, but is an indication of how rich the brewing scene now is in this region and beyond. And with the coming of six new keg lines to complement the casks, Hard Times & Misery is looking to offer even more of this beery bounty in the near future.

“We haven’t sold the same beer twice since we opened last August,” says Peterson. “It hasn’t been intentional. We just haven’t had to.”

The more time I spend in the bar, the more I realise that despite its restricted dimensions, it’s capable of holding rather more customers than I initially imagined. While the downstairs probably has room for around 15 in intimate proximity to each other, the steady stream of drinkers taking their pints upstairs suggests that some kind of world record attempt may be in progress.

On taking a peep, I am disappointed not to find the ghost of Roy Castle leading a rousing chorus of “Dedication’s all you need,” but am impressed by the number of bodies chatting and chuckling away. Peterson tells me that the space hosts weekly live events, with spoken word and music sessions each Wednesday – and there are ways to increase the capacity when needed.

I can’t help wondering to myself how that’s possible. A hitherto unmentioned upstairs extension, perhaps?

“We take the chairs and tables out,” says Peterson.

He also hints at plans for a summer courtyard in the space adjacent to the building – once the existing detritus has been cleared.

Hard Times & Misery is an appealing addition to the real ale and craft beer circuit that radiates out from Hope Street. While I’m in situ, fellow customers mention that they often couple it with the Pen Factory or the 23 Club, with mentions too for that other dimensionally-challenged gin emporium, The Belvedere Arms, and The Grapes.

There’s a regular post-work crowd (the bar is open Wednesday to Sunday) and weekend evenings are reportedly packing them in. Which doesn’t take much, admittedly.

But still, good to know that even in these difficult economic times, the hard, miserable life remains a crowd-puller.

Hard Times & Misery
2B Maryland Street,
Liverpool, L1 9DE. 
0151 345 6841.
Open Wednesday-Sunday, 4pm-10pm.

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Please note: All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the establishment or a PR outfit. Critics visit unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commercial relationships. 

  • Drinks 4/5

    Crafty and clever

  • Service 5/5

    Fast and friendly

  • Ambience 3/5

    More cosy than comfy

  • Concept 4/5

    Size isn't everything