Rubber Soul, Sergeant Peppers, Strawberry Fields Cafe — the names lining businesses on Liverpool’s Mathew Street leave no doubt about where you are on the planet. This is Liverpool — home of The Beatles. And with the success of the new Beatles documentary, Get Back, now might be the perfect time to plan a visit.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo are inescapable in Liverpool, never more so than on Mathew Street, a former warehouse district alley now firmly ensconced in the gold record-plated glow of the band that once called the area’s most dingy dive bar home. The warehouses are gone and have been replaced by chain pubs, trinket shops, and all the trappings of a pedestrian tourist zone.
From 1961 to 1963, The Beatles held court at The Cavern Club an estimated 292 times. Many of those gigs were held over lunch breaks for local workers on the front end of a double shift. That’s enough to cement this underground labyrinth as hallowed ground in the history of rock n’ roll, and enough to ensure that rock bands, big and small, continue to book the pint-sized joint with a capacity of around 300 people to this day.
Here’s why you should drop in too.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
The original Cavern Club was demolished in 1973. The modern facsimile is built from the same bricks on the same ground as its historic predecessor.
Descending the winding, tubular stairwell from street level feels like being transported to another time. For music fans used to the weathered confines of blues bars and rock clubs in Detroit, Memphis, New York, or Los Angeles, The Cavern Club will feel instantly familiar. Beatles memorabilia abounds, but so do autographed guitars from the likes of Chuck Berry, Liam Gallagher, and B.B. King.
“When I came in here, I couldn’t even talk,” says Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho, whose latest single “Sane” recently sat atop the Billboard Mainstream Rock Recurrent chart ahead of the Foo Fighters, Pop Evil, AC/DC, Five Finger Death Punch, and Ozzy himself. Jericho joins me from the green room of The Cavern Club’s Live Lounge, a modern addition that occupies the original stage area from the 60s.
“I was just in kind of a daze, walking through the place,” he says. “I said it on stage tonight, but I’ve been a Beatles fanatic since I was nine. And it’s not like I just listened to Yellow Submarine. I knew everything about The Beatles when I was nine. I knew who Magic Alex was. I knew who Michael Lindsay-Hogg was, and I knew about The Cavern Club.”
Jericho says this gig holds a lofty status for himself and his bandmates Rich Ward, Billy Grey, PJ Farley, and Frank Fontsere since its place in rock history rests above even L.A.’s storied Whisky a Go Go, a longtime home for bands like The Doors, Van Halen, and Motley Crüe.
“It’s such a cool sense of accomplishment to play here,” says Jericho. “The only other way to describe it is like the feeling I had when we opened for Iron Maiden at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. As a Beatles fan and a musician and a person, it’s an accomplishment you can’t take away. Even though it’s a small room, to me it is a stadium.”
WHAT TO DRINK
Beer. It’s a rock hall. Though the friendly staff behind the bar can mix just about any standard cocktail you like, the lair-like confines of the Cavern Club are best absorbed with an ale in hand. The taps include an array of staples found across Britain, along with ales from Theakston and Maltsmiths.
Newcastle — good ol’ Newkie Brown — is available by the bottle.
WHAT TO EAT
The Club itself offers traditional bar fare, but those with a more refined palate can make the quick trek upstairs for a full menu at The Cavern Club Restaurant. The full-service eatery is located across Mathew Street from the subterranean club. Try the Cumbrian lamb shank, pan-roasted Loch Duart salmon with chili coleslaw, or the Cheshire pork belly with seasonal vegetables and red wine gravy.
7/10 — The Cavern Club is divided into two-stage areas. The smallest stage is a replica of the original with a smattering of high tops. The replica stage is flanked by seating areas with low tops and ample seating for a crew of four. The brick walls here are lined with memorabilia from musicians ranging from Queen to Oasis and The Rolling Stones.
Opposite the replica stage is the Live Lounge, which isn’t really the sitting kind of place. Chairs are sparse in the Live Lounge, though a few can be found in an elevated balcony area near the bar.
10/10 — For rock lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this. The Cavern Club doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. The day shift offers an opportunity for visitors to sneak in a quick lunch in a subdued setting while house bands belt British cover songs. But on show nights, this spot comes alive. At night, this is a no-frills, brick and concrete bunker that creates walls of reverberating sound with the volume cranked up to eleven.
The true gravitas of this establishment is belied by the diminutive scale of its stages, which is great for music lovers who want a front-row slice of history.
8/10 — This is not the place for your finest fit. It is, however, a place for leather jackets and jeans. There’s something seductive about climbing down several flights of dark, winding stairs and emerging into a dungeon with a well-stocked bar and the three-dimensional reverberations of live music careening through your body.
And if there’s anything we know about leather, dungeons, and music, it’s that they are a dangerously sexy blend.
10/10 — Merge the Ninja Turtle’s hideout with The Ed Sullivan Show and sprinkle in a manic dose of Gallagher history and you’ve got The Cavern Club. Bust out the wide-angle button and head for the historic stage to play your best Ringo Starr.
6/10 — It’s whatever. Rebuilt or not, this is an older structure with bathrooms that do the job. I’m not sure if this is a full-time gig but during the Fozzy show, there was a bathroom attendant with an ample array of hand soap and awkward jokes just humorous enough to score a tip.
BEST TIME TO DROP-IN
Check the Live Lounge show schedule and pop in during the night shift. Disappointed that the historic stage doesn’t host major acts? Paul McCartney held a 1999 reunion in the Live Lounge, just steps from where the original stage was located. The “side stage” is no slouch.
IF I HAD TO COMPLAIN ABOUT ONE THING
Tourists. But that’s what you get in an area specifically designed to attract them. In fact, if you’re visiting the Cavern Club, you’re just another number in that crowd. The themed restaurants and shops surrounding the club can come off as corny, but thankfully the club itself dodges most of that vibe thanks in part to its actual connection to history. Along with The Grapes Pub just down the street, the Cavern Club was damn near the only thing happening on Mathew Street during the early 60s.
WHERE TO GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE NEARBY
Skip the themed restaurants and pop over to The Grapes after the gig. A five-minute walk down Mathew Street will take you to this traditional English pub that once served the same purpose for The Beatles. Back in the day, The Grapes and The Cavern Club were the only friendly doors in this now crowded alley.
The Cavern Club (10 Mathew St, Liverpool L2 6RE) is open every day of the week from 11:00 a.m. The venue closes at midnight from Sunday to Wednesday, 1:00 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 2:00 a.m. on Saturday.