Cantonese pub

The ‘world famous’ Liverpool pub that many in the city have never heard of

A Liverpool pub that has become ‘a legend among sailors the world over’ now stands empty and largely forgotten in the city centre.

The Nook pub on the corner of Griffiths Street and Nelson Street in Liverpool’s Chinatown became world famous when its name was spread by traveling businessmen and sailors in foreign ports during the maritime heyday from the city.

Since 1940 it has also been known as the Chinese Local, a plaque attesting that it is fixed to its Nelson Street facade and has been called “Britain’s only Chinese pub”.

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Although the presence of Chinese in Liverpool dates back to 1834, it was in the 1860s that the first Chinese immigrants began to arrive thanks to Alfred Holt & Co, better known as the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, trading with the Far East and employing a large number of Chinese sailors.

Boarding houses were opened in the Pitt Street area near the docks, where Chinese sailors could stay with compatriots who spoke the same language.

During the May 1941 Blitz, German bombs wreaked havoc in Chinatown, destroying Pitt Street, Cleveland Square and Fredrick Street. This caused the Chinese community to move further inland to Nelson Street, Great George Street, Upper Parliament Street, Duke Street and Berry Street – areas of the city we now associate with Chinatown.

During Liverpool’s heyday as a trading port, The Nook became a meeting place for seafarers and a hub for the local Chinese community.

However, it didn’t just cater to Chinese sailors and the Chinese community, The Nook was a pub with a cosmopolitan reputation where sailors from all over the world rubbed shoulders with its regulars.

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From 1945 to 1974, The Nook was run by an Irish owner called Eileen Jones – one of the most respected and well-known licensees in town.

She was known to have an amazing collection of wide-brimmed hats and wore a different one every night – a fashion choice more likely to be spotted at Ascot than serving behind a bar.

In 1967, Eileen Jones was also crowned “Queen of Chinatown” by the Liverpool Press Club. Originally from County Cork, she came to Liverpool in 1930 with her husband and they originally owned a pub on Pitt Street.

In an article about Chinatown’s dwindling population from its pre-war heyday published in the Liverpool Echo in 1974, the legendary landlady was quoted as saying: “To me it exists more than ever. My place is their only meeting place. It is a home for many and always will be.”

When she died later that year, her funeral, which was attended by more than 200 mourners, was also echoed under the title: “Chinatown ‘Queen’ Dies”.

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The Nook passed into the hands of his son, Colman Fitzgerald, who carried on the pub’s tradition of calling the time in English and Cantonese.

In a pub review in 1974, The Nook was described as: “[A] sailor’s pub which counts among its regulars sailors from all over the world, but especially Chinese sailors, and the local Chinese community. If you call you will find the customers not only scrutinizing but downright friendly. The decor is oriental, with willow-like patterns on the tables, walls and lanterns, but the vibe is Scouse.”

After being in the same family for 40 years, the keys to the pub were handed over to new management in 1985.

The Nook Pub on the corner of Nelson Street and Griffiths Street in 2021

The pub’s sad decline was documented in another Liverpool Echo review in 2008, when it was recently reported to resemble an ‘abandoned bomb shelter’. But it was still “a lovely place full of character and characters”.

After a pub facelift, the same review described how the portrait of The Nook’s most famous owner “the feisty Mrs. Jones” is now gone, while the “gigantic world map showing the ancient maritime trade routes of yore has disappeared.” also disappeared, collapsing during renovation.”

After having its license suspended in 2009 when counterfeit cigarettes and vodka were found on the premises, Liverpool’s once world-famous and most cosmopolitan pub has closed its doors.

In 2014, there were plans to convert the now derelict and condemned building into a living museum on Nelson Street. The plans involved creating a place where people could walk around and tell their stories, adding to the archives of the oldest Chinese community in Europe.

Unfortunately, the plans have yet to materialize and The Nook is empty. A sad elegy to a once legendary pub whose reputation for hospitality has crossed the oceans.

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